Family history, family tree

Family History – Don’t Just use the Internet

This blog is the offshoot of a family-owned, brick and mortar publishing company, so we may be a little biased in what we’re about to say: We believe that while researching your family history has gotten increasingly easier by using the Internet, relying too heavily upon, or solely utilizing online resources, is detrimental to establishing your true family history.

Certainly there are limitations on how much family history research you can do without the Internet, and we’re not advocating an approach that doesn’t take advantage of online records, forums or search tools. We’ve written previously about how amazing forums can be to getting started in your research, as well as encouraging development into a genealogy expert. But, we love and encourage the roll up your sleeves approach to genealogy research. When it comes to your family history, there are entire decades of information that can’t be found online because your grandmother never put her stories there. There are tasks that are better accomplished in person, like a visit to the county courthouse. Even when you find information online, records ought to be verified by, or based upon, information that exists in its original form offline, like death records.

This article came on our radar back in February. In his piece, Don’t let the internet be your first stop when researching your family history, Dr. Fraser Dunford, a professional genealogist and member of Kawartha Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, discusses how using the Internet as the sole starting point for your family history research can lead to a bad genealogy.

Please read Dr. Dunford’s article below, and let us know how you feel about the role of the Internet in researching your own family history in the comments section:

People deciding to look into their family history often make the mistake of first looking to the internet.

This has resulted in an astounding number of bad genealogies. You have some work to do before looking at what others have done.

We estimate that, of the genealogically interesting records in Ontario, only about five percent are online. If you use only the internet, you will have a rather pathetic family history.

Genealogy has a number of sayings that help keep you on track.  You should remember these sayings and always follow them.

The first saying is: Work from the known to the unknown.

You know about yourself. You know when and where you were born. Do you have your birth certificate? If not, now would be a good time to get it.

You know who your parents are. You know when and where they were married. Do you have their marriage certificate?  That may be a church certificate or it may be government issued. If you do not have it and your parents are no longer alive, you may have difficulty getting a government certificate (more on that in a future article).

You likely know when and where your parents were born. Do you have your parents’ birth certificates? If they were christened, do you know which church?

You may know about your grandparents – birth, marriage, death. You probably do not have documentation of those events.  What do you know of your grandparents’ children, your aunts and uncles?

Now you can start drawing your Family Tree.  (Here’s background on how to do that.)

Start with an Ancestor Tree, with you at the base of it. Put in your father and mother, and your four grandparents. With each name, put in their birth date.

If you have a lot of aunts, uncles, and first cousins, you can try your hand at two descendant trees, one for each pair of grandparents.

Start creating family records. If you have children, do one for your own family. Do one for your parents’ family, and do one for each of your grandparents’s families. That will give you four family records.

In each one, enter everything you know about the father and mother, and enter each child with birth date. For each piece of information, make a note of why you know it. In particular, note those for which you have proof and those for which you have only been told.

If you know anything about your great grandparents, repeat the process for them (you have eight great grandparents).  As you go further back, you have less and less proof, and more and more blank spaces. Now you have very specific questions to ask about your ancestors.

Talk to your family, particularly the older generation. If they are quite elderly, talk to them now. Every genealogist has questions he wishes he had asked his grandparents. Most people like to talk about their early lives so you probably will get a lot of information.

Write it all down.

Remember that oral information has to be verified. It will tell you what to look for but does not excuse you from looking.  You will hear family stories. Write them down carefully but do not make the mistake of believing them.

Here is another genealogical saying: Family stories are usually untrue but tend to be based on something.

Every family has the story of being descended from royalty. It may be nothing more than one of your many-greats grandmother having the maiden name King (of course you are descended from the King!).

Image Credit: Genealogical Tree of Maria Justina und Johann Maximilian zum Jungen, By unknown Middle Rhine Master [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Using tax records in genealogy

Strategies for Using Tax Records In Genealogy

Editor’s Note: recently reprinted Emily Anne Croom’s excellent manual, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research. The Sleuth Book is brimming with wonderful checklists, case studies, and novel approaches for using any number of genealogical source records. Ms. Croom’s book is so full of useful information, we’re quite fortunate to be able to excerpt it here on our blog. The following post discusses strategies for using tax records in genealogy, sources where you can find the information, as well as why the information is, in the cases of some states, priceless in your search:

“He was excited. Excited and happy, like a dog which has followed a cold trail for a long time, and suddenly finds it a hot one.”–Nurse Detective Hilda Adams about Inspector Patton 68

Research in tax records has produced this reaction of excitement for many genealogists and has resulted in many “hot trails.” A number of states and towns have preserved tax records that date to their early years; others have not been so diligent. Nevertheless, the genealogist needs to use them whenever they exist. They are particularly valuable for research in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and early West Virginia when it was part of Virginia. The surviving records are usually found in county courthouses or in state archives. Many have been microfilmed and are available from the Family History Library.

Tax records are kin to land records because residents paid taxes on land they owned, as well as on slaves, horses, cattle, oxen, personal property, and luxury items such as clocks and carriages. In some cases, specific items were taxed in a given year, such as certain items of furniture, mirrors, and window curtains in Virginia in 1815. Sometimes, as in Virginia, the land tax records and personal property tax records are separate. People who owned no land could still have paid poll taxes (head taxes) on themselves, slaves, or sons of taxable age. Widows were not normally taxed except on their land and slaves, although men of taxable age in their households were taxed.

Following the existing tax rolls for a given ancestor over a period of years can give the researcher quite a bit of information. Yet, each state had its own laws, forms, and lists of taxable property. Free men could begin being taxed when they became 16 or 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state and the time period. Slaves were often classified in the tax rolls in age groups, such as those under 12, 12 to 16, over 16, or 16 to 55. These categories also varied from place to place and year to year. Usually, the tax laws designated an age after which a person was exempt from certain taxes.

Information Sometimes Found in Tax Records:

What kind of information, in general, may be shown in these records? Below are some of the standard column headings, but these vary from state to state, even from year to year:

  1. Name of the person charged with the tax, usually the head of household
  2. Names of free men of color being taxed
  3. Number, and sometimes names, of taxable free white males in the household
  4. Number of acres of land owned, sometimes with location information–adjoining neighbors, watercourse, distance from the courthouse, or district number
  5. Name of original grantee of land
  6. Number of slaves in the household each year, sometimes with their names
  7. Rent received on rented property
  8. Number of horses, oxen, or cattle owned
  9. Value of land, slaves, or other taxable property
  10. Amount of tax paid

What other information might the genealogist glean from studying some tax rolls?

  1. Relationships, either expressed, deduced, or suggested
  2. Suggestions of birth order among sons in a family, depending on when they first were named or became a head of household
  3. Suggestions of death year or moving, when someone no longer was listed, when an estate was listed, when someone was named as guardian of the children or administrator of an estate, or when someone is taxed for the property formerly belonging to another person
  4. Occupations, expressed or implied by paying license fee
  5. Suggestions of family groups of slaves, when, over the years, the same slaves were named in a household; sometimes, slaves’ ages
  6. Changes in a person’s net worth or lifestyle, expressed in changes in the number of slaves, livestock, and luxury items
  7. Preliminary identification of neighbors by studying adjoining landowners and watercourses, or when the tax collector dated each entry and it ap¬pears that he visited the households in person.

Image Credit: This image, The Unknown Tax Payer, belongs to Christopher Allen via Flickr.



New York Genealogy

Podcast Features New York Genealogy

We found this radio show, The Forget-Me-Not Hour: Your Ancestors Want Their Stories to Be Told, on the New York History Blog. If you’re unfamiliar with the blog, we suggest you check it out. They have news and historical information pertaining to the state, and it houses resources that may be useful if your family history at any point passes through the Empire State. On Friday afternoons, the New York History Blog compiles the best stories about New York history from around the web, and puts them in an easy to read format. You can find all of their weekly web round-ups here.

The Forget-Me-Not-Hour began in November 2010 on WHVW 950 AM radio in Poughkeepsie, New York. Hosted by professional genealogist and contributing editor of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Jane E. Wilcox, The show features two one-hour shows each month. The first covers New York-area genealogy and history, and the other is more general. The New York genealogy show airs on the first Wednesday of the month at 10:00 a.m. at The variety show airs on the third Wednesday of the month at 10:00 a.m. Both shows can be accessed on-demand after the show airs.

The April 1st episode of The Forget-Me-Not Hour featured the presenters of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society-sponsored New York Track at the National Genealogical Society’s 2015 family history conference in St. Charles, Missouri.

The New York Track includes Karen Mauer Jones with two topics: New York Land: Patroonships, Manors, Patents, Rent Wars & Land and Records Created by New York’s Towns and Cities: Uncommonly Rich Resources; Terry Koch-Bostic with City Directories: Antiquarian People Finders; and radio show host Jane Wilcox with two topics: The New York Gateway: Immigration and Migration and New York City and State Vital Records and Their Substitutes. Terry Koch-Bostic will also give the NYG&B Luncheon talk Intuition and Genealogy Success: A Sixth Sense, Chance, Coincidence, or Serendipity?

You can listen to the April 1st episode of The Forget-Me-Not Hour on demand here.

Original Source: Podcast Features New York Genealogy, by Jane E. Wilcox, April 1, 2015.

Image Credit: Smokehouse 1907 postcard showing Ten Mile Point, Lake Skaneateles, New York. By Smokehouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Ayr genealogy

The People of the Scottish Burghs: Ayr Genealogy

The Scottish city of Ayr, within the historic county of Ayrshire in Southwest Scotland, has a rich history. It is one of the most agriculturally fertile regions in Scotland, and has enjoyed prominence for its crop bounty as well as a later history as an industrial hub. Ayr is now a popular seaside resort town, bringing tourists just the short distance from Glasgow to walk its beachfront and charming esplanade. Before it became a post-industrial tourist spot, the port of Ayr served as a major hub for Scott and Scotch-Irish emigration to the West Indies and the Americas, as well as in the settlement of Ulster. If you need to track your Scottish or Scotch-Irish relative back to the seventeenth century, you may find a challenge in the records related to Ayr genealogy. We’ll discuss a bit about Ayr, as well as one particular resource, by the acclaimed author Dr. David Dobson, that can help.

FamilySearch has a concise lay of the land for Ayr:

Ayrshire, an extensive county on the western coast of Scotland, is bounded on the north by Renfrewshire, on the east by the counties of Lanark and Dumfries, on the south by the stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the county of Wigton, and on the west by the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Channel. It is about sixty miles in length and nearly thirty in extreme breadth. It comprised an area of about 1600 square miles or 1,024,000 acres. It includes forty-six parishes and is divided into the districts of Carrick, Kyle, and Cunninghame. It contains the royal burghs of Ayr (the county town) and Irvine. There are thirteen towns and numerous large and populous villages.

Ayr was founded in 1205 based on a charter granted by King William the Lion. Initially it was a small village around a royal castle, but by the 17th century it had grown to become an important market town and a leading port on the west coast of Scotland. Ayr, as a burgh, was semi-autonomous, with its burgesses controlling much of the social and economic life of the community. The burgesses were all male and came from the elite of the urban society. Burgesses were either craftsmen or merchants; they elected a council that was headed by a provost.

From the medieval period onward, Ayr had shipping links with England, Ireland, France, and Spain, and from the mid-17th century onward, it had links with the West Indies and North America. During the 17th century, when substantial numbers of Scots crossed over to Ireland to settle, much of this traffic went via the port of Ayr, thus tying the port to the Ulster settlements as well. At the same time, trading links were established with the West Indies and the Thirteen Colonies, which facilitated emigration there.

The Scottish Census did not begin until well into the 19th Century, presenting challenges to the researcher relying on those records for information. However, given it’s importance to Ulster, and through two centuries of emigration to the Americas, it’s crucial to find another way to track your relative through Ayr.

In The People of the Scottish Burghs: The People of Ayr, 1600-1799, Dr. David Dobson’s latest book in his series on inhabitants of the Scottish burghs during the 17th and 18th centuries, he references between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants in the city or Ayr during the period. Many of the men listed in this book were burgesses of Ayr. Most of the entries herein provide a man’s name, occupation, a date, and the source. In many instances we are also given the name of at least one or more relatives, date of birth and/or death, names of witnesses, education, or more.

While he doesn’t claim it’s an exhaustive list of all residents, The People of the Scottish Burghs: The People of Ayr, 1600-1799 provides a critical piece of information not found elsewhere. Thanks to Dr. Dobson’s hard work, the distillation of hard-to-find data found in disparate records is presented in one accessible place for your research.

Image Credit: Pinkerton’s extraordinary 1818 map of the southern part of Scotland. Covers from England in the south to Angus Shire in the north. Includes parts of Adjacent England and Ireland. Covers the entire region in considerable detail with political divisions and color coding at the regional level. Identifies cities, towns, castles, important battle sites, castles, swamps, mountains and river ways. Title plate and mile scale in the lower left quadrant. Drawn by L. Herbert and engraved by Samuel Neele under the direction of John Pinkerton. This map comes from the scarce American edition of Pinkerton’s Modern Atlas, published by Thomas Dobson & Co. of Philadelphia in 1818. By John Pinkerton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Massachusetts Genealogy, "Endicott cutting the cross out of the English flag", illustration depicting an event that occurred in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.

Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy

Like Virginia, many who trace their family history in the United States will at one time or another find Massachusetts genealogy tied into their research.

Here on this blog we have discussed several types of specific research related to Massachusetts genealogy, from Resources to Mayflower Research to Lighthouse and Life-Saving Service Records. Massachusetts genealogy even comes into play when researching your saintly ancestors, as we discussed in our post, Noble Ancestry Leads to the Saint in Your Family.

But what if you’re just getting started, or you aren’t sure yet how to tackle the Massachusetts ties you are sure you’ll encounter?

Author Denise Larson answers this question with Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy Research. In this quick and handy research aid Ms. Larson begins with an excellent summary of Massachusetts history from its Puritan and Pilgrim beginnings through the mid-19th century. Next comes a discussion of local records, for, as with other New England states, Massachusetts’ records are organized by town, not by county. The author then identifies the major statewide, regional, and ethnic repositories with genealogical and historical collections. The guide concludes with a listing of the major websites for Massachusetts research as well as the principal published sources for early Massachusetts genealogy.

If you aren’t familiar with Ms. Larson’s work, she is the acclaimed author of Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. We have featured her informative and incredibly reader-friendly work on our blog in recent posts including Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People, and Maine Genealogy Resources Part I and Part II.

Digging into your family history can be a labor of love. Ms. Larson’s contribution of Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy Research makes tackling your Massachusetts genealogy considerably easier.

Image Credit: “Endicott cutting the cross out of the English flag”, illustration depicting an event that occurred in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. By Howard Pyle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.