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Weekly Planner: Share a Family History Find

Have you located a record that might interest another family member? Why not take a couple of minutes to share it? You can share images you’ve found on Ancestry by clicking on the share icon on the right-hand side of the image viewer. Even if the person you are sharing it with is not a member of Ancestry, they can view the image through a link in the generated e-mail for thirty days. By keeping the lines of communication open, you are staying connected with family members who may be able to help you out with your research down the road. And who knows, they may respond with an important memory that the record prompted. Try it!

Finding Family in Pre-1850 Censuses, by Juliana Smith

While the U.S. Censuses for 1850-1930 are among the most popular resources for family historians, the pre-1850 enumerations are among the most overlooked. While they may not provide the same detail as later enumerations, they can still help place your ancestors in a particular location during the census year. The tough part is determining which family is yours.

I was recently searching for my Kelly family in New York in pre-1850 censuses and to help figure out where I need to look, I employed the use of a few charts.

First I created a chart that projected how old each person in the family would be for a particular census year. I used a spreadsheet, but this could easily be done on a sheet of paper by hand with a grid.

Across the top I listed each family members name and the estimated year they were born. Along the side of the grid were all of the census years. Beginning on the line for the first census year that they were alive for, I listed how old I thought they would be in that year. Then I just added ten years to each of these and filled out all the years in which they were alive. Now I had a handy chart to work with for my second step. (I’ve copied a portion of it below.







Next I printed out a blank census form for 1840 from Ancestry and put the initial of each family member in the appropriate age bracket based on the census chart I had created. Using my grid chart made it easy to go across the form and figure out which of the family members fell in each age category. Then I just had to tally them up.

A Couple Things to Consider

  • There may be children listed in the census that died young and that I’m not aware of so if there are extra young children, I shouldn’t dismiss a record. There may also be more than just the one family living in the home. Additional adults may be other relatives or the spouse of one of the older children. For these reasons, I didn’t rule out families who had “extras.”
  • Older children may have moved out. To designate, which children might not be still at home in a particular census year, I circled the tallies for children that would have been twenty or older. I did the same for children who would have been in their upper teens. Since some families lived together even after the children were married, I didn’t want to rule them out, but still want to remind myself that one or more of them may have moved out. It was also a reminder that additional adults of the opposite gender could be spouses.
  • For a person whose birth bridged two categories (e.g., a fifteen-year-old might have fallen in the “ten & under fifteen” category, or in the “fifteen and under twenty” category, depending on when his birthday fell and when the census was taken.), I drew a line across the two categories to remind me that I could be flexible with that one.

Using this template, it was much easier to compare my family to the census records as I browsed through all of the James Kellys in New York. Despite the exceptions to the template, by looking at the individuals who would have most likely have been in the house—typically parents and young children—I was able to rule out most of the James Kellys in New York. Now I will turn to other records, like directories and possibly religious records, to see if I can discern if one of the remaining Kellys is my family.

Ancestry members can search U.S. Federal Census records here.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

Taking a Step Back to Review, by Juliana Smith

In a world where we can click and add a record to our tree, it’s easy to lose track of all the details we find in a record. As we continue to gather records, a lot of clues get lost along the way. Periodically it’s important to go back and do a comprehensive review of what we have accumulated. If we look at the big picture, we’re going to spot a lot more opportunities for further research and we may find that the clue you’ve been searching for has been sitting in your files all along. Here are some tips for reviewing what has been found for an ancestor.

Take some time to step out of the search mode and gather all the information you’ve found on an ancestor. Grab a pad of paper or open up a blank document on the computer to take notes. (If you’re like me and are tempted to run off and investigate the first item you find, you might want to stick with the pad and paper and leave the computer off. Many a review session of mine has gone unfinished because I saw “something shiny in the distance!”)

Inventory the records you have collected on the person, and go through and re-read them, taking notes on any thoughts that come into your head. Make to-do lists as you find things you’d like to follow up on.

I use charts liberally in my reviewing. For example, if I have an ancestor whose age is inconsistent in multiple records, I’ll create a chart of all of the places where I have an age for that person, and estimate the year of birth. When I look at the big picture, sometimes it’s easier to figure out what record or records are more likely to be correct. I’ve also created lists of sponsors for families and have often found relations within these lists.

Once you’ve completed a thorough review, you’re sure to have a healthy to-do list. Now it’s time to power up that computer again and start tackling whatever you can online. With the information fresh in your mind, your chances for success are very good!

Tips from the Pros: The “Maybe Relateds ,” from Loretto D. Szucs

When you’re working on common surnames, it doesn’t take very long for things to get awfully confusing. This is especially true if you are working in big cities where there may be hundreds of unrelated people sharing the same last name. And in our case, those families with common surnames had no idea of how they would deepen our frustration by giving their children common first names like John, James, William and Mary. Fortunately, when I took my first genealogy class (way back in the last century), the instructor wisely taught us to keep track of all findings – even when the people found in the records appear not to be related to your family. She suggested keeping a “Maybe Related” file and I can tell you it was one of the best methods I ever learned.  
Before we had the wonderful convenience of indexed census records on our home computer screens, we had to go to a library or an archive and tediously search through page after page of names.  Frankly, I was impatient to zero in and copy only information that pertained to known relatives, but I’m glad I followed the instructor’s teachings. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to do it now, but I made an index card for every Dennis, Dyer, Kelly, Miller, Muller and Nelson that I ran across in census schedules, books and other records. It wasn’t feasible to copy every piece of information on every record, but I did copy names, ages, occupations, birthplaces or other identifying information, along with the name of the record in which the name was found, the page number, the name of library or archive in which it was found and the date it was found. In that way, I’m able to go back to a record if I ever need it again. It sure beats trying to remember where I saw something and wasting precious time wading through collections for a second or third time. In recent years, I’ve transcribed these index cards into lists and spreadsheets on my computer.  I’ve also learned to keep track of people who may or may not be related when I search records on and other internet sites. This file has helped me more than once to figure out who is, and who is not mine.
Keeping track of same-named ladies and gentlemen turned out to be enormously helpful when I went to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City earlier this month.  As I looked for our James Miller in vital records, I found several possible candidates, but looking back on my “Maybe Related” file I was able to see how most of my new finds couldn’t possibly be him because of significant discrepancies in age, birthplace, family composition, or death dates. There’s one James Miller who looks pretty suspicious, however. His age matches, his wife’s name is right, but everything we have says our ancestor was German born. The enumerator noted that this newly-found fellow was Irish born. I copied relevant information anyway and hopefully one day soon, we will be able to sort it all out and know which one might be our ancestor.
If you have common name mysteries in your family, I highly recommend the “Maybe Related” filing system on your computer or even the index card method. Call me “old fashioned” but I still love to pull out the index cards and move them around and analyze them in different ways. As we add to these files, individual and family patterns will emerge and those hidden behind common names will finally reveal themselves. At least sometimes they do!

How do you deal with the “maybe relateds” in your files? Share your tips with us in the comments section below.

Your Quick Tips, 26 January 2009

Google Earth
I open Google Earth at the same time I log on to That way, I can place push pins in the map of places in the archives, and get a feel for the terrain.  Those little 360 degree photos also help you get an idea of the locale. There is a measurement device on Google Earth that will compute mileage “as the crow flies” right down to hundredths of a mile. (e.g., 35.21 miles)

Patricia Continue reading

The Year Was 1881

The year was 1881 and the assassination of Tsar Aleksandr II and rumors of Jewish involvement set off waves of violence against Russian Jews that went on for four years. In addition the the pogroms, the “May Laws” restricted Jewish employment and education, and prohibiting them from living in towns with populations less than 10,000.  It’s estimated that more than 2 million Jews fled Russia as a result of the violence and the May Laws.

More than six hundred people were killed in a fire at the Ring Theatre in Vienna, Austria. The fire started when a stagehand accidentally set some hanging stage props on fire. The fire quickly caught the curtains and spread. To make matters worse, management cut off the gas to the theatre, which extinguished the lights and crowds quickly filled the stairwells. Those caught in the upper decks were trapped and many began jumping from the balconies, killing not only themselves, but those below.

Fire also claimed more than two hundred lives in the “Thumb” of Michigan. (The Thumb refers to the part of Michigan just above Detroit that resembles the thumb of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula.)

The Thumb wildfires were the result of a drought that affected much of the United States in 1881. Extending from New England through the Midwest and into Western states, it severely impacted the corn growing states and drove up prices on many types of produce.

A hurricane struck Georgia and the Carolinas in 1881 left more than seven hundred people dead and completely submerged several of the barrier islands.

On July 2, the President James A. Garfield was shot by a lawyer who had worked on his campaign and had been rebuffed in his attempts to land an ambassadorship to Paris. Although Garfield survived the initial shooting, doctors probing the wound with unwashed hands trying to locate the bullet brought on an infection that killed him two and a half months later.

The “Wild West” of America was living up to its name in 1881. A gunfight in an El Paso saloon, sometimes called the “Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight” was brought on over the investigation of cattle rustlers and the murders of two Mexican farmhands.

Cattle rustling along the U.S./Mexican border had become a growing problem in recent years and the Mexican government was fighting back. As it became harder for rustlers to steal cattle from across the border, crimes on the northern side increased. In Tombstone, Arizona, tensions over recent crimes between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, and the Clantons and McLaurys erupted in one of the most famous gun battles–the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Photo Corner

Hiram Wesley and Mary Elizabeth (nee Ross) WilliamsContributed by Patricia Casjens-Peters
This is a photo of my great-grandparents, Hiram Wesley and Mary Elizabeth (nee Ross) Williams. The photo was taken on 03 April 1919 in Riverside, California.  Mary Elizabeth had a “lazy eye” which remained closed most of the time according to family members.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Jasper Snow Contributed by Gladys Gardner
The picture is of Jasper Snow in his Civil War Uniform.  He served in Company D, 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted as a Private and was appointed Sergeant and 1st Lieutenant in Field Service.