Tips from the Pros: Get out of the Rut, from Michael John Neill

After you have researched for a while in a specific locality, it is easy to get into a rut. You use certain records, search in certain ways, and you emphasize certain materials. Without realizing it, you may be using the same procedure to work out every problem. Sometimes this does not work. One way to avoid this pitfall is to go back and read a guide or how-to book for the state or area your research covers. This is good advice even for those who are seasoned researchers; all of us occasionally forget something and a quick review may remind us of sources we have neglected.

Red Book (rev. 2004) provides an excellent overview of each state, summarizing the types of records typically found and where they can be located. The research guides written by the Family History Library  are also good reading material. County genealogical society websites, state historical society or archives websites may also have helpful information. They are easily found by searching the Web. Sites maintained by private individuals may be helpful too, but official sites tend to have more accurate information.

Reading genealogical journal articles on related topics is another excellent way to get your genealogical wheels spinning again. Sometimes I find it helpful to attend a conference lecture or read an article on what I think is a topic “unrelated” to my research. Many times on the surface the topic does not have a direct connection, but I find that learning about something new gets me thinking about my old problems in a different way. I have no Italian ancestry, but a lecture several years ago on Italian research got me thinking about my wife’s German lines. While many of the specifics of the lecture did not apply to my research, the presentation gave me a new perspective. And the discussion of reading and interpreting Latin in Catholic Church records was directly helpful to my work on German Catholic families.

Review what you think you know. Learn about something new. It may be just what you need to get out of your research rut.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this article.

Your Quick Tips

Check with Tourism Agencies
If you want to know more about the area from which your ancestors originated or in which they later lived, a good source is tourism information for the area. This usually will include some local history, maps, heritage sites, and pictures of the countryside.
Many U.S. cities and counties have a magazine-like tourist publication, as do states. Some can be ordered through websites, and they are typically free. Searching with Google for a location plus “tourist information” will provide many sources. I ordered a booklet online from County Fermanaugh, Ireland, because an ancestor was born there in 1722. 

Travel company brochures are another source. Recently, I clipped a scenic picture of the Rhine River in Germany from a river cruise line catalog. An ancestor of mine was born close to that river and traveled it to Rotterdam to sail to America in 1751. I add these pictures, etc., to my family file on the generation(s) that lived there. Keep in mind that such pictures are under copyright and should not be used in a published family history.

Ruth Dunlap
Illinois  Continue reading

The Year Was 1813

The year was 1813 and the Napoleonic Wars were coming to a violent close. Under Napoleon the French Army had won two victories earlier in the year at Lutzen and Bautzen, but after so many years of battles throughout Europe, the army had been weakened. In the fall of 1813, Napoleon’s army met a coalition of Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish troops at Leipzig. After three days Napoleon was forced to retreat through the streets. Also known as “The Battle of Nations,” the Battle of Leipzig engaged an estimated 500,000 men and was regarded as the largest battle in history until World War I. It left the city in ruins and a typhus epidemic in its wake. It was also the beginning of the end for Napoleon as he and what was left of his once mighty army retreated back to France.

Further south in Spain and Portugal, things weren’t going well for Napoleon either. In 1808 Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne, which began the Peninsular War, where Spain and Portugal allied themselves with the British in an effort to rid the region of the French. Sir Arthur Wellesley, who was to become the Duke of Wellington, was in charge of the British troops that were on the offensive and the later battles of 1813 were fought on French soil.

The British were also engaged in the War of 1812 with the United States. After a rough year in 1812, American forces successfully invaded and then burned York (now Toronto), which was the capital of Upper Canada. While the British still had much of the Atlantic coast under blockade, Americans under the leadership of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie. Following the victory, Commodore Perry sent his famous message to William Henry Harrison:

Dear General:
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry

The British retreated from Fort Malden and were pursued and defeated by General Harrison at the Battle of the Thames. Lake Erie was now in control of the Americans. Hurricanes hampered naval operations for both sides as storms hit Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Mary’s, Georgia. The year wouldn’t end well for the Americans. In December of 1913, the British burned the city of Buffalo, New York. 

(For a list of War of 1812 battles by state click here.)

In less destructive news, Jane Austen’s literary classic, “Pride and Prejudice” was first published in 1813, some sixteen years after its original completion. The work was originally rejected sight unseen, but following her success with “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811, she revised it for publication in 1813.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this article.


Photo Corner

Myra Sparks McKeeContributed by Teresa McKee Allen
This is my Great-grandmother Myra Sparks McKee. She is seen here working in the kitchen at the Bridal Veil Lumber Company, Palmer, Oregon, 1907. She was the second daughter of Robert and Julia Sparks, born 30 March 1886. She Married Grover C. McKee, 3 July 1908.

Click on an image to enlarge it.  

Raymond Véronneau and Flora MichelContributed by Fernand
This is a photograph of Raymond Véronneau and Flora Michel. Raymond was born 8 August 1911, in Limerick, Maine.

Enhancements to Public Profiles at Ancestry

Ancestry____logo1.bmpAncestry has added some cool things to the public profile you can create on the Community tab. For example, when you add surnames to your profile, it will search for other members with similar interests and link you to their member trees. You can also build “genealogy karma points” by listing services you’d be willing to provide for other members, such as taking headstone photos at local cemeteries or of local buildings or other landmarks, visiting a local courthouse or library, etc. It’s a fun way to connect with other Ancestry members and to let potention cousins find you.

You can learn more about it in David Graham’s post on the Ancestry blog.

Unclaimed Person’s Case Solved in Six Days

RootsTelevision.bmpMegan sent me a link to a RootsTelevision follow-up story on the Unclaimed Persons story that I linked to last week here on the blog. With the help of genealogy columnist, Kimberly Powell, they were able to solve the nine-year-old mystery and located the brother of John Finch, who is mentioned at the end of the first story. You can read more about the case on RootsTelevision. Congratulations to Kimberly, Megan, and everyone who was involved in the case!

They’ve also launched an Unclaimed Persons group on Facebook (Facebook registration will be required for first-time users) to try to figure out ways to solve more cases like this one.

Weekly Planner: Re-Examine Old Family Photographs

Often when we look at old family photographs, we develop a kind of tunnel vision. We look at the faces and tend to ignore everything else. Take another look. This time grab a magnifying glass and look closely at the background, searching for clues. Check out family heirlooms, things hanging on walls, clothing, house numbers, cars, or whatever else you see in the picture. Write down what you see. You may find clues that can help put a date on undated photographs. Plus, the background details can add interest to your family history.

Using Ancestry: An Immigration Story

by Juliana Smith

Last week as I wrote about enhancing record images, I chose the 1910 census image of my second great-grandmother, Catherine (Huggins) Dennis. As I enhanced the faded record, I found something that made me go back and reassess conclusions I had drawn regarding the family’s immigration.

The 1910 Census
The census image listed Catherine Dennis, age 66, living in the same dwelling as her son Francis and his family, but as the head of her household, which included her step-son William and daughter Margaret. The item that caught my eye as I worked to make the image more legible was her year of immigration. Although still tough to make out, it looked like 1849.

I had been unable to locate the family coming to the U.S. in passenger arrival records, despite some pretty long nights looking through the Immigration Collection at Thinking that perhaps they had come in through Canada as some of my other ancestors did, I had set aside that search to focus on other things. With this find, my curiosity got the best of me and I tossed aside my photo editing article for a bit to explore.

The first thing I did was to pull up the timeline I created for Catherine. The 1849 date didn’t match with what I had previously thought. We had estimated that the family had immigrated to the U.S. somewhere around 1843 or 1844, based on the dates and places of birth of Catherine and her younger sister Anne. Since that date was given to the enumerator more than sixty years after the event, it wouldn’t be surprising for her to have remembered that date incorrectly, but a thought struck me. What if they didn’t all travel together? Continue reading