Courthouse records, courthouse, chancery

Courthouse Records – Why Visiting in Person is Still Necessary

Editor’s Note: The original post, slightly edited and republished below, was written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley and published in 2012. The information she shares on why it is important to visit a courthouse in person, as well as tips for making your research more efficient while you’re there, is no less relevant today than when she wrote this. Please keep in mind that in the last two years some of the information regarding online record availability or pricing may have changed. 

Get thee to the courthouse!

I think that we genealogists may be in danger of falling victim to the need for instant satisfaction. The ability to look at records on Ancestry or FamilySearch, or any number of online resources, is seductive. We like the fact that we don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes – or at least, don’t have to go further than our local library – to do our research. The plethora of materials accessible with ease saves us a great deal of time and effort – and for those of us with asthmatic tendencies — prevents exposure to moldy and musty materials. What could be wrong with this image, you might ask? First, the majority of courthouse records are not available online at this time, although some jurisdictions are more open to digital access than others. Second, in my judgment, when we rely too heavily on easy online access, we risk distancing ourselves from the records themselves, depriving ourselves of a more intimate understanding of their content, organization, and relationship with other records in the same geographical area.

The solution to this online dependency is when at all possible, visit a courthouse in person. If distance prohibits such onsite research, consult microfilm copies of the records. Here are some strategies: Continue reading…

Census, Soundex

Using Soundex

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Emily Croom’s bestselling Unpuzzling Your Past. 4th Edition Expanded, Updated and Revised, an invaluable guide which provides all the tools you need to begin your family research. More information about Ms. Croom’s book can be found at the end of this article.

In the following, Ms. Croom discusses how to utilize the Soundex code for genealogical research, which states have the information for specific census years, as well as issues you may encounter in your research.

The 1880, 1900, and 1920 federal censuses and parts of the 1910 and 1930 censuses are indexed by state using a code based on the sounds in surnames. This indexing system is called Soundex. It is most often available as microfilm of the cards on which basic census information was written . . . . The Soundex is especially useful when you do not know specifically where the family was living in the census year. It will tell you their county and community and where you can find them on the census.

One drawback of the 1880 Soundex is that it includes only households with children age ten and under. If Great-Grandpa’s children were already over age ten by 1880, you cannot find him in the Soundex unless he lived with a family that included young children.

States with 1910 Soundex (or Miracode, a Similar System)

Alabama          Illinois             Mississippi                 Pennsylvania

Arkansas         Kansas           Missouri                     South Carolina

California        Kentucky        North Carolina            Tennessee

Florida             Louisiana         Ohio                            Texas

Georgia            Michigan         Oklahoma                    Virginia

West Virginia                                                                                    Continue reading…

Genealogy, Civil War, Lost relatives

Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People

Editor’s Note: The following post about how to find your relatives, including how to determine whether they’re alive or dead, and if they’re alive how you might find someone who appears to be “lost,” is by Denise R. Larson. This article appeared in the 12/30/2014 issue of “Genealogy Pointers.”

Genealogy is usually a vertical construct with ascending or descending generations, which uses the imagery of a soaring, multi-branched tree and its deep roots to visualize how a family has grown, spread, and at times intertwined through many generations.

There are a couple of new uses of genealogical methods that are horizontal in their approach to finding family members. One looks to the past to help adoptees find their birth parents. The other looks to the future to find lost or out-of-touch family members who can mentor a youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood.

Both types of looking-for-the-living searches use a variety of resources: hard-copy guides, directories, and documents; online databases; and personal contact over the phone and in person.

Not sure if someone is still in the land of the living?

If you already have the name of the person you’re looking for but are not sure if the person is still alive, go ahead and do an online search of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which was started in 1936 for persons born in 1865 or later. Several websites offer free access to the SSDI database. They can be found by doing a Google search for “Social Security Death Index.” If the person is located, then it’s time to order a copy of the Application for a Social Security Number (SS-5) to obtain all the personal information provided at the time of the application. As the Social Security Administration states on its website, www.socialsecurity.gov, “A deceased person does not have any privacy rights.” The application can be a gold mine of names, dates, and leads as to where to look next for living relatives. Continue reading…

genealogy books, Collegiate records

Must Have Genealogy Books for Your Reference Collection

Editor’s Note: Following is a revised and updated post containing the recommendations and personal opinions of the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Her experience as a librarian gave her unique insight into which genealogy books should be a go-to for both amateur and professional Genealogists as research tools, and we wish to preserve that expertise.

As a retired public librarian, I am a firm believer in the use of public libraries (in fact, all types of libraries). In addition, I realize that more and more how-to resources are available online. However, there are basic tools for research that you need to have at hand in your home library, books that you can reach easily from your computer chair. These are the titles that you refer to over and over again, no matter the time of day, or whether your DSL connection has disappeared yet again (I live in the mountains and for some reason this happens all too frequently!).

I started writing this post with a specific number of books in mind; top 6 then top 10, then top way-too-many. What appears, then, is very selective and definitely personal. I recommend these titles both for your home collection, as well as for your local library’s collections of genealogy books.

Methodology / Best Practices

Mills, Elizabeth Shown, ed. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Do not be scared away by the title! I’ve seen this happen in the GPC booth at conferences. This book is for everyone from family historians to professional researchers. With articles written by experts in the field, it describes best practices, defines quality, and offers each of us the opportunity to advance our skills and enrich our research. Topics include lineage papers, proofreading and indexing, family histories, abstracting, evidence analysis, writing research reports, copyright, execution of contracts, and more. Various sections will apply at different times in our research lives, but the aggregation of this knowledge is essential to have available.

Citing Your Sources / Writing

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.

This book is the definitive guide to the citation and analysis of historical sources. The mark of good research is the richness of the documentation. The mark of a good researcher is the quality of the citations provided as part of a research report, periodical article, newsletter article, compiled genealogy, etc. These skills need to be learned from the inception of our research and this book is the best available, discussing source citations for every known class of records, including microfilm, microfiche, and records created by digital media. I recommend this book as one that needs to be within easy reach of your desk. You may want to consider putting its predecessor (and lighter weight!) Evidence (2007, © 1997) in your briefcase when you travel to do research. Continue reading…

merchant marines cadet corps

Researching Merchant Marine Records

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly revised and updated post originally written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley on how to research Merchant Marines that may be part of your family’s history. As Ms. Barkley originally mused, her own curiosity led her to research more about the individuals, ships and records available for those in this career.

Merchant marines have played an important role in American history. Without their efforts and sacrifices, the outcome of many of our armed conflicts would have been quite different. If you believe that there was a merchant mariner in your family, a little research effort will reward you with a new understanding of the life experiences of that individual.Merchant Marine

Historical information is often located (thanks to the power of the Google search engine) in unexpected sources, and I found one of the best historical overviews of the history of the merchant marine on a site dedicated to mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. (Further reading dispelled any sense that this combination of topics was coincidental. During the modern military period, exposure to military materiel and construction exposed civilian and military personnel to high concentrations of asbestos, making mesothelioma a significant medical risk.)

In summary, the historical article outlined events that shaped the merchant marine, beginning with the dependence of the American colonies on the shipment of commercial goods back and forth between colonial and European ports. As the colonies gravitated toward war, so did merchant shipping, and these ships were loosely designated as the “merchant marine.” One seminal event was the June 1775 seizure of the HMS Margaretta by citizens in Machias, Maine, thus preventing its shipment of lumber to Boston for British barracks construction. This action, then, anticipated the formation of both the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, merchant ships and their crews would become crucial for all American war efforts, ferrying supplies and troops to depots and ports where they were most needed. Early on, the relationship between merchant mariners and their government was on an “as-needed” basis, with letters of marquee granted to privateers and other citizen ship owners engaging them to sail with cargo as agents of the government. No official formation of a merchant marine service occurred, however, until the 1920s. Continue reading…