It’s Good to Be a Gatherer, by Juliana Smith

I’ve determined I have deep-seated hunter-gatherer genetic roots. This isn’t something I found out through DNA testing. It’s more common sense. It must be why I have compulsion to save everything. But this year as I tackle my spring cleaning I’m going to break with my gatherer ways and get rid of some of the clutter. Technology magazines more than a year old are going in the recycle bin since they’re obsolete by now anyway. The manuals for software I no longer use are history as well. I’m even going through my bookshelves and thinning out the books that I really don’t need–although this can be a painful process for a bibliophile like me! I’ll take comfort in the fact that they’ll be donated to my library or to charity and it will clear space for the ones I use regularly (and make space for new ones).

Despite my new resolve, when it comes to my family history research, I am determined cling to those old gatherer ways. I don’t mean that “she with the most people in her GEDCOM wins.” I’m not one to grab a branch off someone’s tree and graft it on to mine. I want to make sure they’re really my relatives. If I’m only looking at a name, date, and location, they could be imposters trying to weasel their way in.

I like to get to know people before they get added to my tree. For me, adding names and dates only is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle upside down, with the brown cardboard side up. It lacks interest. As I gather the pieces of my family history, I want to see the picture that is forming. So in this manner, I will remain a gatherer and in many ways this is a good thing.

Getting to Know Strangers
I like to think of myself as an equal-opportunity family historian. I not only research my own family lines, I often find myself gathering the records of strangers. This is particularly true of lines where I’m working with common surnames and families with incredibly unimaginative given names.

Three generations of James Kelly–Hello! Not that James isn’t a fine name but you couldn’t sneak in a Seamus or something to shake things up a bit? Then they plop themselves smack-dab in the most populous city in the U.S.–a city that would soon be full of other James Kellys who were fleeing Ireland during the potato famine. This has the makings of a genealogist’s nightmare.

To separate mine from the rest, I had to get to know a lot of James Kellys. There was James the Alderman, James the baker, James the distiller/liquor dealer, James the grate manufacturer, etc. I spent several trips to the Family History Library pulling James Kellys in Manhattan city directories, year after year, tracking them by occupation and by address and eventually compiled a spreadsheet of them with more than 250 listings for James Kellys. With the spreadsheet I was able to sort by addresses and/or occupation and I was able to follow up with census records on Ancestry at home. When I could match a directory entry to a census entry, I was able to see the whole family and add spouses and children to their profile. Sorting through this was enabled me to see patterns and it helped greatly with picking my James Kellys from the rest of the pack. Continue reading

Our History: A Photo at a Time, by Maureen Taylor

There is something voyeuristic about peeking at online photo collections. After all you wouldn’t go into your friend’s house and say, “show me your family photographs.” Yet that’s exactly what we do when we look at digital databases. Both the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian have searchable databases of images. So take a peek, they want you to look at our nation’s history a photo at a time.

The Library of Congress allows users to search its database for images depicting historical events and everyday Americans. Recently the Library partnered with Flickr, Yahoo’s photo-sharing site to promote their materials and get the public involved by commenting on the images. Add your thoughts to specific images by viewing their Flickr gallery. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Remarried and Buried in a Different Location, from George G. Morgan

I located the gravestone of one of my great-uncles, directly beside that of his wife’s in her family’s plot. Both stones were inscribed with a year of birth; her stone was inscribed with the year of her death; and his death year was blank. It was not until I visited the municipal cemetery department that I found he was buried in another cemetery altogether–with another woman with the same surname as his. This revelation led me to records of his second marriage and a whole collection of additional records for his second married life.

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Your Quick Tips, 07 April 2008

“Last Residence” Is Not Always the Last Residence
The Social Security Death Index is a great resource, but keep in mind that the “last residence” shown may not be where the person died–or even where he or she ever lived! This lesson was driven home recently when I needed to look up my late mother’s Social Security number. Rather than dig through my files, I did a quick search of the SSDI, and was startled to find her “last residence” listed as my own city, though my mother never resided in the city or even the state. However, since I was her representative payee during her final months, my zip code was recorded as her “last residence.”

Susan Dakin Continue reading

The Year Was 1780

The year was 1780 and the American Revolution wasn’t going well for the Americans in the South. British forces captured Charleston and 5,400 American troops garrisoned there. During the siege, South Carolina Governor John Rutledge managed to escape and when word reached the British General Cornwallis, he sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to chase him and troops under Colonel Abraham Buford who were escorting him to North Carolina. Tarleton’s men caught up with Buford’s troops near the Waxhaws District six miles south of the North Carolina state line, as Governor Rutledge continued north. Buford’s men put up a brief fight during which Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him. As the American troops began to surrender, Tarleton’s men, thinking he had been killed began renewed their attack on the surrendering Americans. More than one hundred men were killed outright and perhaps another hundred died of their wounds shortly after. 

Up to that point, most thought that the South was going to remain loyal to Britain, but the Waxhaws Massacre became a rallying point for the rebels, with “Tarleton’s Quarter” becoming synonymous with “no mercy.”

The divisions in the South were apparent in the Battle of King’s Mountain, which was fought between two American forces–Tories under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson, and the “Overmountain Men,” American frontiersmen from what is now Tennessee and parts of Virginia. The Americans surrounded the Tories and this time it was they who gave “no quarter” to the surrendering Tory troops. Eventually American officers were able to reign in the troops and the battle was over. The defeat was a turning point in the Revolution in the South and forced General Cornwallis to retreat further south.

To the north, a British spy was captured with correspondence revealing that Benedict Arnold, who had recently been given command of West Point, planned to surrender it to the British. When news that the spy had been caught reached Arnold, he fled to the safety of a British ship and became a brigadier-general for the British, siding with them for the remainder of the war. Continue reading

Photo Corner, 07 April 2008

Essie Mae McCloud and her first husband, Lee Erwin Houston, during late 40sContributed by Raydonna S. Eastland Adams, McCloud Family Historian
My aunt Essie Mae McCloud and her first husband, Lee Erwin Houston, during late 40s. Essie is now 81 and doing well.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Children of Charles Amos and Mary Isabelle (Hopper) Wells: Nora Mae, Grace, Gertrude and Harry, Greenville, Indiana.Contributed by Nancy L. (Engleman) Garcia of Superior, Montana
I’ve always considered this a favorite photo of my mother and her siblings born to Charles Amos and Mary Isabelle (Hopper) Wells.  Girl standing is Nora Mae, Grace (seated center) and seated in front, Gertrude.  The young lad is Harry, their only brother.  They were born and reared in Greenville, Indiana. Gertrude was my mother. 

It’s Awards Season for Genealogy!

Some may think that awards season is over with the Oscars, but for family historians, it seems to be in full swing. While I was off last week, three separate awards announcements came through my e-mail.

RootsTelevision Wins Four Tellys
The first notice I received was an e-mail from Megan to tell me that RootsTelevision had won four Telly awards. The Telly awards honor the best local, regional, and cable television commercials programs and segments; film and video productions; and web commercials, videos, and films. RootsTelevision won for DNA Stories: A Tale of Two Fathers (documentary), Heir Jordan: Extreme Genealogy (entertainment), Roots Books: Psychic Roots (talk show), and Flat Stanley’s Family Tree (children’s audience). The press release is available on Megan’s blog.
Congrats to everyone at! Announced the 50 Most Popular Websites for 2008
ProGenealogists posted their annual list of the fifty most popular family history website. topped the list, with,,, and rounding out the top five. The complete list is available at the ProGenealogists website.

2008 Artistry of Genealogy Awards
According to the website, “the 2008 Artistry of Genealogy Awards (AGA) recognizes excellence in preserving family history through genealogy.” The complete announcement with all the winners is online at 

Congrats to all the winners!

Ancestry Posts Slave Registers from Former British Empire Colonies

Former Colonial Dependencies Slave Register Collection, 1812-1834, Barbados-St. ThomasI was so excited about the IRS records I wrote about last night, that I missed another new database that rolled yesterday–Former Colonial Dependencies Slave Register Collection, 1812-1834. The registers now on include details for more than 2.7 million slaves and 280,000 slave owners from a total of 17 former colonial dependencies, including Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, Honduras and more. The registers list each slave by name and include gender, approximate age and, in some instances, birthplace, as well as parish of residence. Click here to search this database.

Click on the image to enlarge a sample page from this database.

The Taxman Cometh…and He Leaveth Records!

IRS Tax Lists Kelly.bmpI just noticed that Ancestry has posted U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 and I spent a little time tonight playing around with it. This is a record I found of my Kelly ancestors. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Here is more information from the database description:

On July 1, 1862, Congress passed the Internal Revenue Act, creating the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later renamed to the Internal Revenue Service). This act was intended to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government and to pay interest on the Public Debt.” Instituted in the height of the Civil War, the “Public Debt” at the time primarily consisted of war expenses.

The Internal Revenue Act also established the Office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and allowed the country to be divided into collection districts, of which assessors and collectors were appointed.

Taxable goods and services were determined by legislative acts passed throughout the years. All persons, partnerships, firms, associations, and corporations submitted to the assistant assessor of their division, a list showing the amount of annual income, articles subject special taxes and duties, and the quantity of goods made or sold that were charged with taxes or duties. The assistant assessors collected and compiled these lists into two general lists. These lists were:

  1. A list of names of all individuals residing in the division who were subject to taxation
  2. A list of names of all individuals residing outside the division, but who were owners of property in the division

These lists were organized alphabetically according to surname and recorded the value, assessment, or enumeration of taxable income or items and the amount of tax due. After all examinations and appeals, copies of these lists were given to the collector who then went and collected the taxes. Continue reading