Weekly Planner: Preserve a Romantic Family Story

heart.bmpDid your spouse, father, or grandfather propose marriage in a romantic location or in a unique way? Is there a funny story of how grandpa finally won grandma’s heart? Or vice versa? How did you meet your sweetheart? These are the stories that typically can’t be found in records. Take a few moments to document them so that future generations will know the story too. Have a happy Valentine’s Day!

Finding Family in Religious Service, by Juliana Smith

Last weekend, I got a note from Sandra in Florida. She was looking for her grandfather’s cousin, who was a Catholic nun in the Pittsburgh area, but she didn’t have a lot of information to work with. Since I’ve had a little experience in tracing nuns (we have three in our family tree), I thought I’d give it a shot. But before I could dive into the search, I got an e-mail from a very happy Sandra who had found her grand-aunt in the 1910 census.

Many people have family members who served in religious communities. Learning something about their lives can greatly enrich family histories and lead to other important clues, but finding them in records can present a unique challenge. Questions like Sandra’s come in with surprising frequency, so today, I thought I’d share a few tips for locating individuals who served in religious communities.

Try Census Records
Finding clergy in the census can be a tricky business. A search of the 1930 U.S. census turned up nearly 800 people with the first name “Pastor.” Further searches turned up people with first names listed as Reverend, Rabbi, Father, Sister, and Mother. In many of these entries, no given name is listed, as in Rabbi Zien of Duluth, Minnesota, or Reverend Perry of Little Rock, Arkansas. In some cases the title is included as a middle name, as is the case with John Father Harnett of San Francisco, California.

Sandra found success in doing some creative searching for “Sister Rita” and the location of Pittsburgh. She eventually found her living with the Sisters of Divine Providence in Pittsburgh with Mother Therese listed as the “head of household.” Continue reading

More Census Search Tips

Mr in the census.bmpIn the previous article, we talked about finding clergy in the census by using titles in place of a given name. This can also be a solution for lay people. Search for Mr. or Mrs. and you’ll turn up plenty of hits. (Click on the image to see an example from the 1930 census for Boston, Massachusetts.) And the town doctor could be listed with Dr. as his first name. Dr. and Mrs. Cooneery of Chicago, Illinois, are a good example of this situation. Here are some more tips for census searching.

Search for Initials
Sometimes the census taker decided that listing an initial was enough. In searching for my Kelly ancestors in New York City, I was repeatedly frustrated in my attempts to locate one family—until I left out the given name. When I saw the results I noticed an abundance of initials in place of given names. Once I entered the appropriate initial, I found the family I was searching for—with every family member listed with only an initial.

Leave Out the Name
While it might seem a long shot, sometimes the best way to search is without a name. If you know where your ancestor lived, try leaving out the name entirely and use other facts you have to narrow your search. For example, I know my grandparents were living in Parma, Ohio, in 1930 and had been recently married. By entering my grandmother’s birth year, birthplace of Ohio, residence of Parma, Ohio, and relationship to head of household (wife), she comes up as the thirteenth record on the list of results for that search.

Search for Siblings
Try searching for various siblings. While your direct ancestor’s entry may be hard to read or transcribed incorrectly, the sibling’s entry may be correct. I was helping my uncle find his parents in 1930. The last name was mangled, so I entered his brother’s given name, specified the county, and added in the given names of his father and mother. Even though all three had common given names (Charles, Henry, and Mary) those names, relationships, and the county were enough to allow me to find them. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Reading Your Ancestor’s Newspapers

I suspect many of you begin your day like I do, browsing through my local newspaper over breakfast. I know some of my ancestors did the same thing. I can remember my grandparents coming to visit and poring over every item in the newspaper, exchanging sections, and discussing items of interest. In a letter he wrote home during World War I, my grand-uncle requests that my great-grandfather send him copies of the local newspaper to read while he was stationed in France.

These days we not only have the current news available online, we can travel through time and read the same news that our ancestors sat down and read over their morning joe. Ancestry.com doubled the size of its Historical Newspaper Collection last year and it includes not only newspapers from the U.S., but also from Canada, England, and Scotland.

Next time you sit down and browse through the local news, take a few extra minutes and browse through a local paper from an ancestor’s era. If their hometown paper isn’t available, look for the newspapers of nearby towns or larger cities. They’ll still carry the same national stories and discuss the latest trends, and you may run across stories relevant to your ancestor’s lives.

Click here to search the Historical Newspaper Collection at Ancestry.

Your Quick Tips

Moving Between Censuses
Never assume that a family resided in the same place between censuses. When available, another good resource is the state census. Some states such as Illinois and Kansas had state censuses which were done every ten years, between federal censuses (1825, 1835, etc).

For many years I tried to figure out why a few branches of my husband’s line left Dunklin County, Missouri, and ended up in Alexander County, Illinois. I looked at the 1865 census to see if they had moved there by that time. I didn’t find them in Alexander County but did find them in Massac County, Illinois.

To my surprise I also found my husband’s direct-line great-great-grandparents as well as a long lost half-brother of that great-great-grandfather. His great-great-grandparents had moved back to Dunklin County by 1870 to the same area they were living in 1860, so checking the 1865 state census alerted me to the fact that they had moved around between censuses.

Why did they leave? The family was originally from Indiana. The area in which they lived in Dunklin County, Missouri, was populated with more Confederate sympathizers than Union. The family most likely left to not only support but allow some family members to join the Union forces.

Debbi Geer
St Ann, Missouri Continue reading

The Year Was 1836

The year was 1836 and the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico was hurriedly drawn up even as General Antonio López de Santa Anna and 4,000 Mexican troops surrounded the Alamo where less than 200 Texans were besieged for eleven days. At the end of the siege, more than 180 of the rebels were killed and “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry in the fight for Texas independence.

Texans were even more enraged when nearly 400 more rebels who had surrendered were executed and burned at Goliad, Texas. 

The tide turned when 900 Texans under the leadership of General Sam Houston launched a surprise attack on Santa Anna’s 1,200 troops at San Jacinto on April 21st. In eighteen minutes, half of the Mexican troops were killed and Texans had taken control of the camp. General Santa Anna was captured the following day and his defeat gave birth to the Republic of Texas.

In the Midwestern United States, larger territories were being carved into smaller territories that eventually became states. As a part of this process, in 1836, Crawford, Brown, and Michilimackinac Counties split off of Michigan Territory to become Wisconsin Territory.

The formation of Wisconsin Territory was a step toward Michigan Territory becoming a state, which would happen the following year. But another step needed to be taken to maintain the fragile balance between slave and free states. To keep the number of states equal, southern leaders wanted Arkansas to be granted statehood and on 15 June 1836 it became the 25th state.

After the South Australian Colonisation Act of 1834 became law in February 1836, the first ships bound for the new colony left England with 600 immigrants.

1836 was an important year for family historians in the UK as legislation passed an act requiring the registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The law would go into effect in July of the following year. 

Photo Corner, 09 February 2009

John Foxall Wathew, born 1805 in Walsall, EnglandContributed by Lavender Borden
This is a photo of my third great-grandfather, John Foxall Wathew, born 1805 in Walsall, England, died 1872. He was a goldsmith and watchmaker. I was sent the photo by someone I have never met, through the Internet.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Mary Higgins Dowd, born 1822 in County Cork, IrelandContributed by Carri Maioriello, Los Angeles, California
This is a photograph of my third great-grandmother, Mary Higgins Dowd, born 1822 in County Cork, Ireland. She immigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1891. The photo was probably taken between 1860-1880 in County Cork, Ireland.