Need the Luck of the Irish in Your Research?

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Monday, March 17th, is the day when everyone claims to be Irish. For many of you, however, your research has already documented a bit – or a lot – of green in your family tree. You may have known all along, judging by family surnames such as O’Meara, Hennessey and others. For some of us, the discovery may have been more of a surprise.

Some years ago, tired of the brick walls in my own research lines, I turned to my son’s paternal ancestral lines for a fresh start. I knew that his great-grandmother’s maiden name was Susan Holdcraft and that she lived in Frederick County, Maryland – but not much more. Having looked at the name from time-to-time, I had assumed (never a good thing to do) that the surname was German. Knowing absolutely nothing about German genealogical research, I ran in the other direction! The time, however, had come to do some research, German content or not.

An IGI search indicated that Susan was born 12 February 1870 at Brook Hill in Frederick County, Maryland, the daughter of James Patrick [alternately given in other resources as Patrick James] Holdcraft and Catherine Ann Sophia Dutrow. No sources were provided. The Dutrow line clearly would lead to German research as it included surnames such as Ramsburg and Devilbiss. A further IGI search – again no sources – indicated that James Patrick Holdcraft was born in September 1836 at Keagh’s Cross, co. Louth, Ireland, the son of James Holdcraft and Rose McCabe. A James Patrick Holdcraft was in the United States at the time of the Civil War, enlisting in June 1861 in Co. K of the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Foot Volunteers, later Co. K of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry. “Left behind� by his unit in Maryland in 1862, he stayed in Maryland so long that he feared arrest on charges of desertion. He enlisted in Co. D of the 1st Regiment Potomac Home Brigade, Maryland Cavalry on 29 July 1863, but did so under the name of James E. McCabe. Further reading of all of his service records, an enormous (three folders) widow’s pension file and research in Frederick County records, documented that the James Patrick Holdcraft born in co. Louth (and the James E. McCabe who served in the Maryland Cavalry) is the same James Patrick Holdcraft who married Catherine Ann Sophia Dutrow. I now have Irish research to pursue (while letting the German lines languish until a later date).

Any time you begin research in a new geographical area, whether in the U. S. or elsewhere, the best way to begin is with a good overall research guide. For Ireland, one of the best is John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, now in its third edition (2006). Grenham discusses the major sources (civil records, census records, church records, and land records) as well as wills, emigration, deeds, newspapers, directories, and Genealogical Office records. Ireland has records unlike other countries, and it is important to understand such resources as Griffith’s Valuation, Tithe Applotment Books, Flax Tax records, and more. In addition, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors includes county source lists. To assist me in my Holdcraft research, Grenham provides me with find a list of co. Louth census returns and substitutes beginning in 1600 and ending in 1911. The census substitutes include such things as voter lists, a 1796 Spinning-Wheel Premium List, Brewers Lists, and more. In addition, there is a list of local histories, local journals, directories and county guides, publishing gravestone inscriptions, and estate record lists. A section on Roman Catholic Registers includes a map of co. Louth with twenty-three churches in three dioceses and lists which baptismal, marriage and burial registers are available for these churches, as well as the location of the registers. I now know what records are available, often where they are located, and can read about the purpose, contents, and use of each.

An additional great strategy for learning about new areas and resources is to attend national conferences and attend lectures by experts in the field. David Rencher, Elizabeth Kelly Kerstens, and Paul Milner are several to look for on conference programs.

Genealogical Publishing Company titles that will assist you in your research include:

Selected other resources include:

Duffy, Sean, ed. The Macmillan Atlas of Irish History (Macmillan, 1997)
Grenham, John. Grenham’s Irish Surnames. CD, Eneclann Ltd.
Index of Irish Wills, 1484-1858, CD, Eneclann Ltd.
MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland, 6th ed. (Irish Academic Press, 1991)
Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History (Ancestry, 1988)

Playing Favorites with Books

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Can you name your favorite book? Can you name just one or does the list just grow and grow?

I’m in the process of having built-in book cases installed in my home office/library. The process of removing books from the shelves to get ready for the new ones to arrive has provided me with the opportunity (that’s a cheerful way of looking at all the lugging and stacking) to take a renewed look at my collection. There’s something very satisfying about handling books and peeking into their contents. Sometimes the moving gets put on hold as a particular book, perhaps one that I’ve forgotten about, catches my attention and I have to spend time dipping into its contents. This work has led me to consider which ones are favorites.

Some books, particularly fiction, are favorites due to the enjoyment they provide. One of the joys of retirement has been the time to read for pleasure. On the other hand, some books are favorites because of the success they offer in genealogical research for ourselves or our clients. For me, my favorite book-of-the-month (actually one of my favorites of all time) is the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. It sits within easy reaching distance of my desk chair and laptop.

Our research may focus on one main geographical area, but inevitably, some ancestor moved to another state, sometimes at quite a distance from the rest of the family. This move instantly makes us beginning researchers in the new geographical area, requiring us to familiarize ourselves with county names and the chronology of county formations. The Map Guide is the book for you. The preface states that the Guide “shows county outline maps at ten-year intervals, the old county boundaries being superimposed over the modern lines…The maps begin with 1790, the earliest federal census, and end with 1920.� Counties in existence for a particular federal census are in black; names and lines in white illustrate the difference between the specified census and 1920. In some cases, maps are included for state censuses if the lists were sent to Washington, such as the map for Nebraska in 1885.

In addition to the maps themselves, explanatory notes discuss border disputes, county creation dates, census availability, year of statehood, and other helpful information to assist researchers. Examples include: the loss of the 1790 federal census for all counties in Delaware; an 1885 Nebraska state census map where notes indicate the transfer of partial counties from the Dakota Territory to Keya Paha and Knox Counties in 1882 and also the extension of Burt, Cuming, and Wayne Counties into part of Omaha and Winnebago Indian lands; and a listing of the Indian jurisdictions in the Oklahoma Territory when it was created in May 1890.

If you are beginning a new segment of research in a state or county unfamiliar to you, The Map Guide will quickly become your favorite book and one that is indispensable for your home library. It provides a quick look-up to help move your research forward.

If you need even more detail, check out GoldBug’s Animap, a county boundary historical atlas for Windows users. This software, available on CD or as a download, provides 2,300 historical maps showing changes in county boundaries for each of the forty-eight contiguous states for every year since 1776. This software is very helpful if you have a town which has disappeared from modern maps or which is no longer in the same county it was in the year your ancestor was living there.
You may also wish to consult the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website which allows you to search the names of cemeteries, churches, geographical features, hospitals, and more, both domestic and foreign.
Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 is definitely one of my favorite and most often used books. What’s your favorite? I hope you’ll comment and let us know!

Genealogical Conferences – Best Bet for Learning and Fun

By Carolyn L. Barkley

I attended my first national genealogical conference in 1985, when I traveled to Baltimore for the National Genealogical Society’s Conference in the States. While I had been to local and state genealogical seminars prior to that time, this trip was my first foray into the national genealogical scene. Wow – were my eyes opened – and occasionally drooping in exhaustion! Imagine waking up and finding yourself in the midst of the brightest and best professional genealogists, lecturers and related resources. Welcome to the world of national conferences!

There is no better return for your money than attending either (or both) the National Genealogical Society’s Conference in the States in the spring or the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference in late summer. These conferences are for everyone, regardless of skill level and experience. Beginners and experienced researchers all benefit from exposure to new methodologies and resources as well as refreshers in a variety of subjects.

Yes, it does cost money to attend, but for the price of your registration, you can select from over 100 lectures. For a little extra money, you can attend luncheons with interesting speakers, take tours of the conference city, research in local institutions and attend the conference banquet. In addition, your conference badge admits you to an expansive exhibition space full of vendors offering the newest books, CDs and software, as well as demonstrations of new products, online resources, used books, and more. For three or four days, you can fill your mind, further your understanding of your research problem, add to your home library, and take home new skills – not to mention a lengthy wish-list for the next holiday gift-giving season. Best of all, it’s fun! Conference hotel room rates are often one price regardless of how many are in the room, so find a friend to share the room with you, and have more money available to explore the sights of the conference city.

This year’s Conference in the States is scheduled for May 14-17 in Kansas City, Missouri, where NGS is joined by co-sponsors the Missouri State Genealogical Society, the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Northland Genealogical Society, Heartland Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and the Johnson County, Kansas, Genealogical Society. While the conference itself begins on Wednesday, May 14, librarians may want to attend the ProQuest-sponsored librarians’ preconference scheduled for Tuesday, May 13. The conference hotel is the Hyatt Regency Crown Center with room reservations at the conference price open until April 25. Preregistration for the conference is available until May 4.

First-time conference attendees can feel overwhelmed with the offerings and activities. The most important thing is to pace yourself during the conference. I used to go and believe that I had to go to a lecture in every time slot. Inevitably I would come to the point when I could just not cram one more thought into my head! To prevent that glossy-eyed look and mentally-exhausted feeling, I recommend reviewing the conference program carefully in advance. Pick those programs that are most essential to either your particular research project or skill improvement needs. The outlines from all the sessions will be included in your syllabus. Have breakfast. Leave plenty of time in your schedule to visit the vendors and to socialize with other attendees. Have a leisurely dinner in a nice restaurant. See the city. All of these elements combine for good learning, new friendships, and lots of things to carry or ship home!

I hope you’ll take the time to stop by the Genealogical Publishing Company, Clearfield Company, and Gateway Press booths at the NGS conference and check out the books for sale, blog demonstrations, author signings, and share your thoughts with us.

Winner of DearMyrtle’s Best of the Internet for Genealogists Award for Blog posting, 2 March 1908.

Dear Myrtle

Military Records Can Bridge Gap Until Release of 1940 Census

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Modern research can be difficult. The 1940 census won’t be released until 2012 and many records concerning the individuals enumerated in it are closed due to privacy regulations.

One source available for some – but not all – states may provide the answer. On April 27, 1942, the Selective Service conducted the fourth in what would be six draft registrations. Prompted by the needs of a nation at war, this fourth registration, often referred to as the “old man’s registration,� included men born between April 27, 1877 and February 16, 1897 (aged 45 to 64). The intent was not a military draft, but rather one that could serve as an inventory of manpower resources available for national service. As draft cards for all other registrations are still in the custody of the Selective Service System and protected under the Privacy Act, these fourth registration cards are of particular importance for our modern research.

These registration records include the registrant’s name; serial number; residence; mailing address; telephone number; date and place of birth; name and address of employer; registrant’s height, weight, race, hair color, eye color, and distinguishing marks; his signature; and the name and address of a person who would always know the registrant’s address. The records are arranged by state and then alphabetically by surname.

The original cards are in the several regional archives of the National Archives, many of whom are filming the records. When the regional center completes its filming, a film copy is made available at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Currently microfilm is available for Connecticut (M1962), Delaware (M1936), Maryland (M1939), Massachusetts (M2090), New Hampshire (M1963), Pennsylvania (M1951), Rhode Island (M1964), Vermont (M1965), West Virginia (M1937), and New Jersey (M1986). Unfortunately, the fourth draft registration cards are no longer extant for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. DPs (descriptive pamphlets) are not yet available for these microfilm publication numbers, but a “green sheet� is available and its information has been summarized in this posting.

Here’s an example of what these draft records can accomplish. Late one night recently, I decided to research a gentleman who owned the farm up the hill from my grandfather’s summer home in Huntington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. He had been a fixture of all of my summers until I was about 14, but I really knew nothing (or remembered nothing) about him other than his name, Allston Gleason. After several hours searching on and, I had developed several generations of an Allston family that I believed was the correct one and had discovered a World War I draft registration card that I believed was Allston’s. My problem was that this Allston F. Gleason was born in Kansas, had lived in Westborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts as a young boy, had registered for the World War I draft in California, and had lived in at least two different places in western Massachusetts according to the 1920 and 1930 censuses. Nothing I had found placed him in Huntington, where I expected him to be living in the late 1940s.

In a subsequent trip to the National Archives in Washington DC, I consulted the World War II fourth draft registration for Massachusetts and looked for Allston F. Gleason. I found the registration for Allston French Gleason, aged 54, born October 8, 1887 in Moore Township, Kansas (M2090, page 59). He listed Edwin E. Gleason of Los Angeles, California as the person who would always know his address. I knew from records I had previously found that Edwin E. Gleason was Allston’s brother who lived in California and that French was his mother’s maiden name. Best of all, however, the record listed his current address as Norwich Hill, Huntington, Hampshire Co., Massachusetts. I did indeed have the correct individual and could now document the family pedigree from Allston to his great-grandparents, Elijah Gleason (1795-?1850) and Lucy Fay (1785-?).

I hope you’ll look at these records. They just may solve a problem in your modern research.

For more information on World War II records research at the National Archives, go to Published World War II genealogy research how-to resources are beginning to become more available. Two titles to look at are:

World War II Military Records: A Family Historian’s Guide by Debra Johnson Knox, published in 2003 by Mie Publishing of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Finding Your Father’s War: A Practical Guide to Researching and Understanding Service in the World War II U.S. Army by Jonathan Gawne, published in Philadelphia in 2006 by Casemate. Please note that this title does not have an index.

Puzzling Over Census Enumerations

By Carolyn L Barkley

I can remember giving lectures not that many years ago in which I said something along the lines of “Everything will not be on the Internet, for example, don’t expect to find the census online.� How times have changed! Census data, although easily available on and, represent a resource that perhaps more than any other raises expectations of problem-solving success only to have these same expectations dashed in the course of searching the files. How many times have you heard someone say, “I looked, but they aren’t there�?

Sometimes they are “not there� due to the vagaries of on-line indexing that turn us into detectives and prompt us to try increasingly bizarre search strategies to locate the missing individual. Stories abound, my favorite being the free blacks in 1860 Virginia’s Princess Anne County [present day Virginia Beach] who were indexed as Filipinos when the indexer did not realize that entries that looked like “fl� were really “fb.� While Virginia Beach now has a large Filipino population, it definitely did not in 1860!

Sometimes the inability to find a specific name is not the fault of the indexing. For example, what possessed the enumerator in Jamesville Post Office, Martin Co., North Carolina, in 1860 to omit the names of children, merely noting “familyâ€? along with sex and age? Check out Celia Davis, a widow aged 49 who is living with two spinsters, aged 27 and 25; two male field hands aged 19 and 17; two younger females, aged 12 and 10, and a 23 year-old female named Sally James. All of the unnamed individuals are listed individually as “familyâ€? – and to add insult to injury are often indexed on as “Farnley.â€? I discovered this issue after wondering why there were so many people in this area indexed with the given name of “Farnley!â€?

In addition, they may not “be there� due to our undernourished understanding of what was enumerated in each census cycle. Authorized in 1790, the census was a result of the continuing controversy between large and small states. The Articles of Confederation had created a single chamber legislature with one vote for each state. At the Constitutional Convention, the smaller states lobbied to maintain their representational equality with the larger, more populated and more wealthy states. A compromise created a bicameral legislature with the Senate meeting the needs of the smaller states for equal representation, the House of Representatives meeting the needs of the larger states to have representation based on their population and wealth. Leaders at the time realized that a growing nation would require adjustments in the states’ representation in the House and thus decided to enumerate the population every ten years. As the subsequent enumerations were conducted, a numerical count to insure proper representation was no longer sufficient and the government began to ask for a more detailed measurement of factors that were having an impact on a developing nation. These additional measurements add to our understanding of our ancestors and the times in which they lived. For example: 1820 added occupation and the number of unnaturalized foreigners; 1830 added a count of blind slaves and colored persons, white deaf mutes, and white aliens; 1840 enumerated individuals engaged in mining, agriculture, navigation, etc., as well as the names and ages of military pensioners, number of students, and free whites over 20 years of age who could not read or write; etc. Special agricultural and manufacturing censuses painted a detailed picture about the country and our ancestors. More modern censuses enumerated such things as households with radios, value of property, rent or mortgage payments, etc. A wealth of information became available describing the world in which our ancestors lived as well as the particulars about them as individuals and families.

An understanding of what the enumerator was supposed to do (and how he may have deviated from his instructions) will assist you in unlocking the puzzle. The instructions and forms are available at

The following titles are among other census related materials available from

  • Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920. Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. This title, published in 1987 and reprinted in 2007 is indispensable for conducting census research. The guide shows all U. S. county boundaries from 1790 to 1920 with old county lines superimposed over the modern ones to highlight boundary changes. A must for any researcher starting research in a new state.
  • State Census Records. Lainhart, Ann S. Published in 1992 and reprinted in 2004, this title shows describes what is available in state census records. These records are an important resource standing as substitutes for some of the early census enumerations that have been lost. In addition, enumerations may have been conducted in the middle of the ten-year span of the federal decennial censuses and can therefore locate individuals on the move.
  • American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790. Green, Evarts B. and Virginia D. Harrington. This 1932 publication, reprinted in 2006, is an exhaustive survey of the population lists, estimates, and statistics that were produced in the American colonies before the first federal census of 1790. For each type of list, Green and Harrington provide the location of the manuscript source or a reference to the published account.

The following titles are also useful in supporting successful census research:

  • The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes. Dollarhide, William. (Heritage Quest, 1999).
  • Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians. Hinckley, Kathleen W. (Betterway Books, 2002).
  • Finding Answers in U. S. Census Records. Szucs, Loretto Dennis & Matthew Wright. (Ancestry, 2002).