Tackling That To-Do List, by Juliana Smith

In my last column, I was working on my “to-do list” for 2008 and I’ve been energized by the goals I set. Despite some really annoying computer problems over the past couple weeks, I’ve set about accomplishing some of the tasks on my list. My diligence has been rewarded with some interesting leads and I thought I’d share some of the lessons that were driven home as I worked.

The Importance of Inventory
As you progress in your research, it’s important to go over the records you have collected for each individual in your family tree–not just the information you have. This week I was reminded that just because that death date is filled in, it doesn’t mean I have exhausted all death records. I have a copy of a cemetery burial record for my third great-grandmother, Eliza Jane Dyer. It gives her address, age, marital status, date of death, date of interment, the lot and grave numbers, cause of death and a note that she had been “removed to lot 22311 on 2 August 1876.” With it, we had much of the information on her death. But as Mom and I were going through her file, we realized that we had never gone after her death certificate. Mom was in Salt Lake City this past week, so she went after the missing record and found additional information that had not been included on the burial card. Even if you don’t expect any surprises, it’s important to go after every record you can get your hands on.

Even the Briefest of Mentions Can Grow Your Timeline
As I went through the tidbits we had collected over the years on Eliza Dyer and updated her timeline, I found clues in even the briefest mentions. For example, as I try to close in on the date she moved from New York City to Brooklyn, a newspaper clipping with a list of letters at the Brooklyn Post Office from 1846 that included only her name was helpful in placing her in Brooklyn at that time.

I was able to expand on another tidbit we had on Eliza’s daughters by putting it into context. We had photocopied pages from The History of Plymouth Church, which is now also available on Ancestry. Eliza’s daughters were included in a list of members of that church, and that bit of information added a historical element to our family history. The famous Rev. Henry Ward Beecher was pastor of the church at that time, and it was exciting to find a family link to this historic (and sometimes scandalous) parish. Since the photocopy I had was fading, I decided to get a new one from Ancestry that would be easier to read. When I found the new copy, I also found a few more details. It turned out that there were several lists of parishioners in the book: List of Members of Plymouth Church, January 6, 1867; List of former Members of Plymouth Church, who have Died or left the Church by letter or otherwise, prior to January 6, 1867; and List of Members of Plymouth Church, admitted January, 1867, to January, 1873. Since Eliza’s daughters were in the latter list, I can now pin the time they joined the church to a six-year window.

Note Related Surnames
As I went through the file of “maybes” we have on the Dyers, I ran across several transcriptions from the 1865 New York State Census that we had pulled at the Family History Library. While we don’t know whether there is a connection to the family, the proximity to our Dyer family and the fact that they were involved in shipping-related industries (which correlates to a family story that our Dyers were also involved in shipping) landed the records in our “maybe” pile. As I browsed through I noted that there was a Shepard living with one of the families. Later that day, I ran across another record, this one from the New York County, Letters of Administration Index, 1743-1875 from the Barber Collection at Ancestry. Among the Dyers listed was a Samuel Dyer, and the administrator for his estate was Geo. G. Shepard. Interesting! I’ll be following up on this entry to see if I can connect these Dyers to the Shepards and to our Dyers.

Another 1865 census entry listed two Ogdens living with a Dyer family. Although there was no relationship specified, I suspect they may have been the wife’s siblings. A later census shows that they no longer live in the household, but there was now a child bearing the middle name of Ogden. Since I’ve often found children bearing the mother’s maiden name as a middle name, it is even more likely that that is the case. Although more research will be necessary to prove the connection, this is a good way to discover maiden names.

What to Purge
As I went through the files, my intent was to clean house and purge some of the records that, in light of newer information, we can prove are not ours. We have records that were gathered before time frames were in place for certain events and having updated timelines made it easy to see some records that clearly don’t belong to our family. Soon I had a nice sized “not-related” pile to clear out of the “maybes.”

What Not to Purge
While Mom was at the Family History Library, she also followed up on a burial list we had obtained a while back. There were several young children in the plot that we weren’t previously aware of and she went after death certificates for them. One was a sibling of my second great-grandmother, Emma. Her father died when she was very young and her mother remarried. Although Emma took on her step-father’s surname, we were alerted to her real father’s name through a notation on the back of her marriage record and from family stories. The name was given as Miller, and when we ran across records of a James Miller who was Irish, we didn’t pay much attention because we had always heard that he was French or German. The birth record for Emma Miller told a different story though; it listed the father’s nationality as Irish. Here’s a case where a record went from the “not related” file to the “maybe” file. If we can determine that the Irish James was the father, this will be a break in a brick wall that has frustrated us for many years! That’s why I still hang on to those “not-relateds.”

Build a Good Search
One last reminder came when I decided to brave my ornery computer and do some quick searches for some of the “maybes” to see if there were any other records on Ancestry that would turn up anything. Although I’m usually a proponent of directly searching specific databases, I was looking for any and all records on these individuals and decided to use the Advanced Search. With so many family members going back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn, I wanted to search both places, and I was reminded that using the Advanced Search, I could add both cities as residences, thus pulling up records for both locations with one search. To do this, select a country from the “Residences” drop-down menu, then a state or province, county, etc., and then click on the little green plus sign (+) that says “Add Another Residence.” This will tell Ancestry to search for records from both locations.

Have You Started Your 2008 To-Do List?
I’m so glad I started my list. It served as a great inspiration and I now have two family lines that are in order and leads to move forward (or backward in this case!). Have you seen success in your research this year? Share your story with us in the Comments section of the blog.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine 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 Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

5 thoughts on “Tackling That To-Do List, by Juliana Smith

  1. Thanks for the nudge to set goals. I sat and put about 10 pages of information from my files on Family Tree Maker.
    As I did so I ran across information that I didn’t realize that I had. Now I can get the birth records ordered and see what is on them. This is getting excitingk! So thanks for the motivation.

  2. I have 3-4 differenet family history projects that I’ve started and then left mid-stream. Setting goals sounds like a great way to be more organized and more efficient with what time I have to devote to family history.

    Most of all I appreciate the statement: “it’s important to go after every record you can get your hands on.” I’d like to add that it is also important to save every record of our own lives.

  3. I read the stories everytime
    i get the newletter, and tell you they help,just in the past few day with the listing of passports I Fond my great-great grandfathers name,also to be different from what I was told and from there his wifes, now I need to find here maiden name and where here parents are from. Like they say just because the last name is one of history it will not lead to the road you seek, in this case the name is Wharton . and thank you for all the little tips you give.

  4. Juliana, I hope you will continue the updates to your goals and to-do list throughout 2008. The columns have been interesting, and have provided ideas and motivation to continue my own research. Thanks so much, Jean

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *