Genealogy research

Tips for Genealogy Research, of the wittier variety

Bill Dollarhide prepared forty five witty tips for genealogy research, most of which are published below. While each aphorism is intended to produce a chuckle or two, each contains an important element of genealogical truth as well. Consider #15: “Finding the place where a person lived may lead to finding that person’s arrest record.” The point of #15 is that researchers must keep an open mind. No one knows what is around the next bend in one’s ancestral road. Continue reading…

Battle of Lexington, Revolutionary War soldiers pensions

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part II

Editor’s Note: Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck’s groundbreaking book Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905 identifies and recreates the Revolutionary War pension files generated prior to the disastrous fire in the War Department on 8 November 1800, and a second and even more disastrous fire on 24 August 1814 with the British invasion of Washington. Mr. Bockstruck has not only identified many of those pensioners whose files are commonly believed to have been lost but also reconstructed in varying degrees their contents. More than 16,500 pensioners are featured in this work.

The Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s book is a bibliographical essay that both explains the legislative and archival history of the Revolutionary War pensions and identifies the existing sources–primarily the pension records of the Original Thirteen States and various Congressional sources-that the author utilized in this massive attempt at evidentiary reconstruction. This article, published in three parts, is excerpted from that Introduction. Part One was published in last week’s Genealogy Pointers and here on our blog. Be sure to read the conclusion in the October 7, 2014 issue of Genealogy Pointers or here at GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com. 

Revolutionary War Pension Records, Part II

There were a number of pension acts after the one of 1776. The next was that of 15 May 1778, which authorized half-pay for seven years to all officers who remained in Continental service to the end of the war. It did not apply to foreign officers or officers above the rank of colonel. It also provided a gratuity of $80 to every enlisted man who served to the end of the war. The states were to make the payments on account with the United States. The act of 24 August 1780 extended the half-pay provision to widows or orphan children of officers who had died or would die in the service.

Following the resignation of 160 officers between January and October 1780, Congress addressed the problem of a lack of pensions. By the Resolve of 21 October 1780, all officers who continued to the end of the war should be entitled to half-pay for life. Congress did not, however, make any funds available to implement the program. On 23 April 1782 soldiers who were sick or wounded and were reported unfit for duty in the field or garrison were to be pensioned at the rate of $5 per month. The states were to dispense the funds annually and to draw upon the Superintendent of Finance for the money advanced. On 22 March 1783 Congress authorized full-pay for invalid officers for no more than five years or half-pay for life.

Continue reading…

German Genealogy, Double-page from the baptismal record of the catholic St. Johann church in Sigmaringen, 1851 # 23-31

But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy

Editor’s note: The following post on the challenge facing an English speaker deciphering his or her own German Genealogy is written by professional genealogist Ernest Thode. Mr. Thode is an author, columnist, librarian and German translator with degrees from Purdue and Stanford.

You, the family genealogist, have a dilemma. You have discovered that your ancestry is German. Those old family letters in your possession are written in some kind of hen scratching that no sane person could possibly interpret, even though you have a vague feeling that those Germans of a century or two ago may have been successfully communicating with one another. To top it off, now you have researched back to your German-speaking immigrant ancestor couple. You can’t even read the pre-printed part of that form you found in the attic that you think might be a passport, let alone the hand-written words that fill in the blanks. Why, for all you know, that passport might not be a passport at all, but a graduation certificate or a marriage license.

What do you, the designated family historian, do now? You don’t know German other than “Gesundheit” and “Auf wiedersehen.” You face a daunting task, probably an impossible task, or so it would appear to any reasonable person. Even though you have traced your English lines back to the 1600s with much satisfaction at your genealogical prowess, you are practically ready to abandon your German immigrants prior to the moment they set foot on American soil at Castle Garden in 1881 because of the language barrier.

Fortunately, there is help. Even though I had the advantage of at least knowing the German language as I did my research, I became frustrated by the many different reference books I had to look through to find explanations of the words I found in genealogical documents. I had surname books, given-name books, gazetteers for place names, German genealogical guides and word lists, Latin word lists, French word lists, lists of weights and measures, lists of diseases, and guides to the old script. With such a plethora of aids, I saw the need for a “one-stop” German-English genealogical dictionary that could be used in conjunction with a basic German-English dictionary.

For nearly a decade, I pored through records that I had translated, genealogical periodicals, passenger lists, village chronicles, and historical documents, gleaning words and definitions, exhausting numerous German genealogical word lists. Finally, I compiled a reference book that I actually still use myself (you should see the notes in my desk copy!). My reference book, the German-English Genealogical Dictionary, includes the genealogy-related words that regular dictionaries either miss or don’t define in a way that applies to genealogy. There are no etymologies, pronunciation guides, parts of speech, etc. – just pure meanings for somebody translating, literally, word by word. It is just what someone needs to make sense out of a German genealogical document.

Image credit: By baptismal record of the catholic church in Sigmaringen 1851 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

photo to help decipher old handwriting in genealogy

Deciphering Old Handwriting in Genealogy

Just about anyone who takes genealogy seriously is destined to face the challenge of reading original or microfilm copies of records written in an unfamiliar cursive style. If your research takes you back to at least the 19th century, you’ll encounter census records, wills, deeds, and multifarious other records written in old handwriting that you’ll strain to decipher. Records from the colonial period will elicit a double take if you’ve never seen them before. You’ll run into “ff” where you might expect an f,” and an “f” will actually stand for “s.” The ancient abbreviation “Maps” should be read as “Mass” for Massachusetts. The letters “U” and “V,” as well as “u” and “v,” were used interchangeably. On the whole, the following lowercase letters are most difficult to read, especially in 17th-century documents: “c,” “e,” “h,” “r,” “s,” and “t.”

Tips to Deciphering Old Handwriting in Genealogy – Abbreviations

Once you’ve figured out what the letters are, you’ll need to bone up on old abbreviations for terms in common usage today. For instance, “o.s.p.” is short for “died without issue.” “Yt” stands for “that.” “Als” signifies an “alias.” “D.v.m.” means “died while mother was living,” while “d.s.p.” also means “died without issue.” Did you know that “B.L.W.” means bounty land warrant, or that “do” was short for “ditto, or the same as above,” a notation you’ll encounter repeatedly in census records?

The challenges don’t end there. One has to learn to decipher numerals as well as letters. Even after you get familiar with a certain era’s lettering, you may find that what was conventional in 1700 is unrecognizable 50 years earlier. Then, of course, there is the problem of individual styles of writing.

Utilize Resources to Get You Going

For the novice, decoding early handwriting can be an intimidating task.

If you are a beginner, you may wish to save yourself time and headaches and get your hands on Kip Sperry’s excellent handbook, Reading Early American Handwriting. The books is the best tool we know of for teaching you how to read and understand the handwriting found in documents commonly used in genealogical research. This guide explains techniques for reading early American documents, provides samples of alphabets and letter forms, and defines commonly used terms and abbreviations. Perhaps best of all, the volume presents numerous examples of early American records for the reader to work with. Arranged by degree of difficulty, from the relatively easy-to-read documents of the 19th century to those of the 17th, the documents showcase examples of handwriting styles, letter forms, abbreviations, and terminology typically found in early American records. Each document–there are nearly 100 of them at various stages of complexity–appears with the author’s transcription on a facing page, enabling the reader to check his/her own transcription. This strategy allows the researcher to attain proficiency in reading the documents at a natural rate of progression

Using family bible records in your cluster genealogy

Overcoming the Brick Wall Through Cluster Genealogy

Editor’s note: The following article, originally appearing in “Genealogy Pointers,” is excerpted from Emily Anne Croom’s book, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research.

Cluster genealogy is the idea that ancestors did not live in a vacuum but in a cluster of relatives, neighbors, friends, and associates. Studying the history of one person naturally puts the researcher in contact with members of this group, as witnesses to each other’s documents, as neighbors, as in-laws, as fraternal brothers and sisters, as business partners or clients, and so forth. Our ancestors often migrated in family groups, as church congrega¬tions, or as a group of neighbors. They often lived very close to other family members. They worshipped with, went to war with, bought land from, and were buried near friends and relatives.Although we may not know the names of this group when we begin researching a focus ancestor, we must train ourselves to look for its members.

Some researchers call this the “whole family” approach or the “big picture” approach. Regardless of the name, the principle is the same: We cannot have long-term success if we limit ourselves to a one-name/one-person approach. Continue reading…