Ten Places to Find Immigrant Origins, by Juliana Smith

James Kelly tombstone -Calvary Cemetery pic.bmpThere’s a unique thrill that comes when we identify an immigrant ancestor in our family tree. Someone long ago, an ancestor who was born in a foreign place, left their home and everything he or she knew. That decision had a huge impact on who we are today. It determines the label we put on ourselves, whether it be American, Canadian, British, or some other nationality. Sherry Irvine’s column on The English in Scotland was a good reminder to me that these decisions impact people in pretty much every country in the world.

It’s connections like these that the fuel our passion for family history, inspire us to stay up late searching the depths of the Web, schedule vacations around graveyard and courthouse visits, and grill Great-Aunt Madge at the family reunion, seeking that elusive town name in Germany where it all began. (Of course by “grill,” I’m speaking figuratively. Don’t throw Aunt Madge on the barbie at the family reunion. It will just make her mad and you’ll be less likely to get information from her in the future.)

But Madge may not have the answer for you. What then? Here are ten places to look to find that location in the “old world” where our immigrant ancestor made that fateful choice.
1. Family Correspondence and Memorabilia
As with many aspects of family history research, often the best place to start is at home (or Aunt Madge’s home, or Grandpa Joe’s home, etc.). A clue to your ethnic origins may lie in an obvious place like a family Bible, or something not as obvious like a piece of clothing or a piece of lace with a pattern that is native to a particular region. Photographs can hold surprising clues, again, sometimes as obvious as a name on the back as was the case when I identified my paternal great-grandfather’s hometown in Poland, or perhaps in some elements of the photograph like clothing, a sign in the background, the type of housing, or a photographer’s imprint.

2. Birth Records
Locate the birth records of all your immigrant ancestor’s children. While your direct ancestor’s birth record may only include a country of origin (or no information at all), a sibling’s record could include the name of the town or county. Continue reading

Using the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry, by Michael John Neill

Using the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry, by Michael John Neill A while back I searched for some relatives in the database of IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, at Ancestry. I was reminded that there are some extra steps you can take to get the most from this interesting database.

The Trautvetter Dilemma
One of my family surnames is Trautvetter. I’ve discussed this last name before and why searching for it is always problematic. Because I’ve found the name mistranscribed in various ways, I unchecked the Exact box for the last name, checked the Exact box for his first name, George, and for Illinois as the location. I went through the usual variants of Trautvetter, Frautvetter, Frantvetter, and finally found him with a Soundex variant of Trantvetter–Trontretler.

The Geography Factor
Viewing the results requires some knowledge of local geography. On the image of the record, the name of the individual’s post office should appear next to his name, and the district number will appear on the top of the page. For many of the lists the county name will not appear on the page.

When I saw the actual tax image for George in Warsaw, Illinois, I knew I had was the right guy. While George did not actually live in Warsaw, he did live near enough to it that it easily could have been his mailing address. Other residences listed on the same page were from towns located in the county where my George was known to have lived. The only heading on the page was for the district, so it is helpful to know the district number for the county where your ancestor likely lived.

What If I Don’t Know the District?
As Juliana mentioned in an article on these records she wrote back in April, the National Archives website has PDF files with descriptions of what counties are included in what districts. To obtain the descriptions for the state you first need the NARA Microfilm number for your state. Juliana included those numbers following her article, and it includes step-by-step instructions for determining what counties were in each district.  

While knowing the district in which the county is located is helpful, there are still potential problems for those who are unfamiliar with the local geography–the records are organized within a district by county, but the name of the county is not always shown on each page and when browsing through the records, there is usually no clear indication that a new county has started. For this reason users will need to be familiar with local towns in the county in which they are searching in order to make certain they are in the right portion of that district.

Fortunately there are ways that this can be done. There are a variety of maps and online geographic aids. Researchers need to take care that they are using a source that is contemporary with the tax records. Here are a few suggestions:

All of these sites have links to maps that should show small out-of-the-way places that may appear as a location in the tax lists.

Another Ancestor, Another Challenge
Finding the entries for Conrad Haase proved to be a little more challenging and required a different strategy. For starters some entries listed him as “C Haase” and others had his first name completely spelled out. His last name was listed in a variety of ways, including Hoose, Haas, Haase, and Howse. Most of these variants were caught by leaving the “exact matches only” option unchecked for both his first and last name. Because his name was more common than George Trautvetter, the difficulty was in determining which ones were for “my” Conrad and which ones were not.

In the case of Conrad, it only required looking at the district number in order to eliminate some of the matches as being from the wrong area of the state. The Conrad Haase for whom I was searching lived in Hancock County, Illinois, which was contained in district number 4. I could preview each entry in the list of database hits by hovering my mouse over each entry, saving me quite a few click through/click backs.

I also need to know the district numbers for surrounding counties in case the desired person moved and changed districts. Conrad’s likely area of residence was in the southern part of the county, relatively close to the Adams County, Illinois, border and to the Mississippi River. Consequently, Adams County, Illinois, and Clark County, Missouri, (across the river) should also be searched for additional references to Conrad if there are any “gaps.”.

Even If You Think You Know It All . . .
I almost didn’t bother to search for Conrad, but I’m glad I did. Every census listed him as a farmer; that was his only occupation I knew about. According to the tax records in the 1860s he also was a “retail liquor dealer.” Interesting.

Click here to search the IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, at Ancestry.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website

Tips from the Pros: Same Name Blues, from George G. Morgan

George Foreman isn’t the first person to name more than one child in by the same name. Seasoned genealogists find this again and again, especially in cases where the first child given the name died early in life. In other cases, the use of the same name could have been used to honor persons from both sides of the family who shared the same given name. In other cases, it is possible that two persons were called “John”–one may have been named John while the other may have been named Jonathan. Family members may have referred to them as “Young John” and “Old John,” but official primary source documents may have made no such distinction. Study the events of these contemporaries’ lives and look for anything that can help distinguish one from another.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Your Quick Tips, 11 August 2008

Audiotaped Interviews
I have found audio taping or video taping my extended family’s stories helps keep my facts straight, before I transcribe it. Not only does it allow me to refer back, but they often go into far more detail than asking them to write their experiences. I can also ask others to listen to the original story and then ask if that is the way they remember it.
Bonnie Krueger Continue reading

The Year Was 1765

The year was 1765 and the British Parliament was in need of revenue to offset the costs of newly acquired territories in the Americas. Following the French and Indian War, the Treaty of Paris in 1763 had ceded all of the land east of the Mississippi and Canada to Britain and it now required numerous troops to secure these territories. In an effort to raise funds in the American colonies, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act in 1765, which imposed a tax on all paper goods.

In the previous year the Sugar Act of 1764 had caused a stir, and there were rumblings of “No taxation without representation,” referring to the fact that there were no representatives from the colonies in Parliament. Following the Stamp Act, those rumblings increased greatly in volume. In response a small group formed in Boston. The “Sons of Liberty” at first put pressure on those in charge of enforcing the Stamp Act, sometimes with violence. By the end of the year the movement had grown and had a presence throughout the colonies. 

The Quartering Act caused even more strife. It shifted the cost burden of quartering troops who were returning from western posts following the French and Indian War to posts near eastern cities, as well as fresh troops who were being brought in to keep the colonies protected. The Americans viewed this infusion of troops with suspicion and weren’t too happy with the prospect of the additional financial burden this would put on colonial assemblies. Continue reading

Photo Corner, 11 August 2008

Laura Suffern (Livingston) Davis (1891-1967), Howland Davis (1915-2000), Howland Shippen Davis (1886-1969), Katherine Livingston Davis (1917-1983; married name Stonington)Contributed by Howland S. Davis II
Here is a picture of my grandmother, Laura Suffern (Livingston) Davis (1891-1967), my father, Howland Davis (1915-2000), my grandfather Howland Shippen Davis (1886-1969) and my aunt, Katherine Livingston Davis (1917-1983; married name Stonington). The photo was taken approximately 1918/19 based on the age of my aunt. My grandfather served in France during WWI as an officer.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Davis and Elizabeth LanterContributed by Barbara J. (Mayo) Wiar
This is a picture of Davis and Elizabeth Lanter, taken late 1890s in Leavenworth, Kansas. Davis is my great-great grandfather and was a captain in the Civil War.

Dallas Man Salvages the Past and Earns Living Finding a Home for It

I ran across this interesting article online today from a Dallas/Fort Worth newspaper about a gentleman who collects old newspapers, magazines, and other historical memorabilia from the area and cold calls people to sell them the items. I thought this was a pretty neat thing–rescuing history, one item at a time. You can read the entire article online here at QuickDFW.

New Ancestry Search Webinar Now Available in Archive

Ancestry____logo1.bmpLast week Ancestry product manager, Kendall Hulet hosted a free webinar explaining Ancestry’s new search. If you missed it and would still like to see it, you can view it now, along with ten other webinars on these topics:

  • New Enhancements to Family Tree Maker 2008
  • English Ancestry
  • Introduction to Family Trees on Ancestry
  • AncestryPress
  • Family Tree Maker 2008
  • Search Like the Pros   
  • Irish Ancestry
  • Polish Ancestry
  • Italian Ancestry
  • German Ancestry

Click here to view the archived webinars.


Barack Obama’s Irish Ancestors were in Politics

obama.bmpApparently Mark Twain was dead-on when he said, “Why waste your time and money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you!” Of course, he obviously didn’t understand the fun and passion behind family history research! But I digress. Both friend and foe have been digging into presidential candidate Barack Obama’s diverse family history and this week the findings came in part from overseas. Eneclann Family History Research in Ireland has revealed that his political roots run deep. You can read the Eneclann findings here.

In addition, our friend Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak had also been doing some digging into the reasons his ancestor immigrated to America. You can read her findings here.

So, should I decide to take up politics, will someone please help me figure out who Thomas Howley’s parents were? And when was he born? He was terrible when it came to telling people his age! 😉

Illinois State Censuses posted at Ancestry

Ancestry____logo.bmpThis week Ancestry posted a collection of Illinois State Censuses for the following years: 1825, 1830, 1835, 1845, 1855, and 1865. Information available for an individual will vary according to the census year and the information requested on the census form. Some of the information contained in this database though includes: name, enumeration date, and enumeration place. These censuses generally only recorded the names of the heads of household. Other individuals in the household were numbered in age and race categories.

In later years, you’ll find a bit more information, such as Value of Live Stock, Value of Grain Products, Value of other Agricultural Products, No. of Pounds of Wool,  Grist Mills, Saw Mills, Distilleries, No. of Schools (columns for Universities, Academies and Grammar Schools, and Common Schools) and Pupils therein. Other enumerations documented the number of slaves, free persons of color, indentured servants, and mulattoes.

Be sure to read the extended description. The surviving censuses for Illinois do not include all locations. The extended description lists what counties are available for each year.

Although not as informative as some other state censuses, not only do these enumerations allow you to identify your ancestors in a particular location, but they can give you a peek into the economics of your ancestors and the neighborhood in which they lived.

Click here to search the Illinois State Census Collection.