Henry the VIII, Henry the 8th, Genealogy Research, online genealogy, ancestry, family search

Fishing or Real Genealogy Research?

Note: the following post is written by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, an expert in genealogy research related to maritime Canada. Since the 1970s, he has published numerous books on Scottish, Irish and French immigration. He has written other posts for this blog, including the popular How our Ancestors Died. Below, Dr. Punch discusses the pitfalls that can trip up an unsuspecting Internet researcher, and how having a thorough research plan can help keep the course.

Fishing or Researching?

Before the Internet was generally in use, people seeking their family trees sooner or later went to an archives in search of information. We spoke with relatives to elicit stories and details about the family. Some hung around cemeteries or called in at the local Registry of Deeds or the Probate Court. Pastors and parish clerks came under siege as dozens of family historians beset them with requests for records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Still, in the long run, for most of us the archives was “Mecca.” In some ways, it still is.

During the 1990s material began to appear on the Internet, a trend that has grown exponentially since 2000. As data was keyed onto websites and links to collections multiplied, increasing numbers of people took up genealogy as a hobby, a quest or an obsession. For anyone living several hours’ drive from a major repository, Internet genealogy was a blessing. The remote, the disabled and the elderly could research at home. Alas, as so often is the case, there may be a worm in the apple.

Well-intentioned people spent hours putting material on the Internet; good, bad, and indifferent. We learned, “junk in, junk out,” when what we believed was reliable information turned out to be filled with mistakes. Some helpful postings were unsourced, i.e., there was no citation telling where the information came from. It matters whether data is authentic or merely the product of someone’s imagination.

Was the person who posted the information working from a primary source, meaning a document created at or near the event by someone actually there, or at least a photographic reproduction thereof? Was that story just what great uncle Ron cooked up after his third double scotch? Was grandmother embarrassed about her oldest brother being a 6-month old baby, so she put back the date of her parents’ wedding by a year so that there was no hint that her parents had indulged in pre-marital sex?

I am sounding a note of caution to the beginner or the trusting: Items found on the Internet should be treated to the same scrutiny as any other information.

Look for corroborating evidence, or at least other sources which support the context of the specific information. Look out for anachronisms. Bishop Charles Inglis did not marry someone in 1821 because by then he’d been dead for five years. Captains in the Royal Navy in 1810 did not ‘jump ship’. Abraham Lincoln drove a Ford?

This is not an assault on the usefulness of websites and their contents; far from it. But we need to be clear that there is junk as well as buried treasure available on the web. Our job is to learn to tell them apart or else wind up convinced that our 20 times great grandfather was Richard the Lionhearted, Ali Baba, or perhaps one of the forty thieves! Given the propensities of Louis XIV or Henry VIII and others, there may be quite a few royal descendants scattered about. Family historians are sometimes humble people, seeking to prove that they descend from someone who was a Big Cheese. Remember that genealogy is not defined as “tracing yourself back to better people,” a hope which seduces some to buy into falsehoods.

Avoid the Online Genealogy Research Trap

It is easy to mistake a fishing expedition on the Internet for genuine research. The first weapon of a good genealogist is an open mind. Unless a person is prepared to accept whatever authentic details they find about ancestors, they would be well advised to leave the job to a cousin or other relative who won’t be shocked at finding a forebear of another ethnic origin or religious persuasion. The second is for the genealogist to make a plan before fishing on the Internet for forefathers and mothers. There is just so much genealogical material on line that you need to have a firm grasp of what you seek and what you are looking at. Otherwise the sheer volume of information can overwhelm and lead you astray, and you spend months thinking that the wrong lead was the right one and you compound the original mistake by building on it.

For example, you were looking for the parents of Evan Bowen, born about 1775 in Wales, and online you find a family with an Even Bowen born in 1777 in Wales. If you then and there assume he is your man and proceed back from him to Evan’s father Owen and find that Owen’s father was Howell ap Owen ap Twdor, you could be shocked to learn that there were perhaps two dozen other Even Bowens born in Wales during the 1770s and you may have latched onto the first one you found, unaware of that fact.

There is so much genealogical material on the Internet that it is easy to get lost. You need a good grip on what you are seeking or you can be misled. My advice is that you get a logical research plan and adhere to it. Doing so can make the difference between success and failure for your research. Remember when using the Internet that it is better to stick to a plan. Too many fishers of the ‘Net become fish because they take the bait. Don’t let that be you.

Image credit:  Henry VIII of England on Horseback. Hand-coloured woodcut. Hans Liefrinck (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

genealogy gifts, Lee family, Virginia,

‘Tis the Season for Genealogy Gifts

Editor’s note: The following is a version of a post originally by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Her ideas of what to give the genealogist in your life are just as awesome today as they were several years ago when this post was drafted. As technology has improved and prices have changed, some edits and updates were necessary. 

We hope this list inspires you to give the perfect present to both the naughty and nice genealogist in your life.

Genealogy Gift List

Do you have a genealogist on your holiday list? Perhaps, you are a genealogist who needs to provide a list of gift ideas to a family member. Here are five ideas to help your holiday shopping.

Give the gift of books

Thomas Jefferson stated “I cannot live without books.” There are many titles that would be great additions under your tree. Examples include any – better yet, any combination of titles – from the Genealogy at a Glance series from Genealogical.com. These laminated, four-page basic research guides make great research travel companions, weighing little and consuming minimal suitcase space. Library Journal, in its December 2012 issue, includes a “Short Takes” in which it states that “offering vetted online resources, further reading suggestions, and practical tips…these pamphlets will provide novices with a starting point, while more advanced researchers will likely discover in them a detail or two they hadn’t considered.” Currently, there are thirty-one titles in the series including research in the Family History Library, ethnic research (French, Italian, Scottish, Cherokee, African American, French-Canadian, English, Irish, and German), research in various states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia), and several other topics including American cemeteries, Ellis Island, immigration, U. S. federal census records, and Revolutionary War genealogy. The cost is perfect for filling that Christmas stocking – just $8.95 each.

Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners: the Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation is a great book for a cold winter evening. Perhaps one of the best gifts would be a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (3rd ed., Genealogical Publishing Co., 2010. $59.95), a must-have for anyone’s home genealogical library. Continue reading…

library of congress

Utilizing the Library of Congress Genealogy Website

The US Library of Congress (LOC) is the greatest repository of published works in the country including genealogy, local history books and periodicals.  Whether or not you are planning to visit the LOC, located in Washington, DC, in-person soon, it will benefit you to visit its website.

To get on the LOC site, start at its homepage: www.loc.gov. Allow yourself time to browse the site as a whole. For example, at the American Memory collection you will find a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the U.S. The site offers more than seven million digital items from more than 100 historical collections – from Ancient Greece to Athens, Ohio. Other popular items that can be accessed from the LOC home page include online exhibits, like one on Bob Hope’s vaudeville career (just to break up your family history research), world cultures, congressional legislation, and a link to an explore and discover area of the Library.

After you tear yourself from the aforementioned diversions (thank goodness for the “back” button), return to the Library of Congress home page. Now scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on “Especially . . . for Researchers,” which will take you to the Resources and Reference Services page. Next page down to the link, “Local History and Genealogy,” which will bring you to the home page for the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services. Continue reading…

federal land patents, Federal Lands

Federal Land Patents – Using the General Land Office Site

Editor’s Note: In a recently revived two-part post by the late Carolyn Barkley, she discusses the importance of land records to genealogical research. In Part II of those posts there is brief mention of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM website has a huge amount of original source information. Ms. Barkley wrote another post on utilizing the BLM site as an information goldmine. We have updated and edited her post as much as possible as the search functions she describes have changed. However, the information is still incredibly relevant and meaty, so we are presenting it in two parts. Part I, below, gives an introduction to the types of records you can find in the BLM’s General Land Office and an example of Federal Land Patents, one type of those records. Part II continues the discussion with the two other types of records that are most useful for genealogical research, Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes and Federal Land Status Records.

BLM – General Land Office

As mentioned in an earlier post on land records, the Bureau of Land Management website offers such a significant collection of original source documentation it deserves a fuller exploration. The BLM’s General Land Office (GLO) Records Site provides “live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States… [and] image access to more than three million Federal land title records for Eastern Public Land States issued between 1820 and 1908.” In addition, the BLM is currently adding images of Military Land Warrants.

Federal land states are those in which land was initially controlled and dispersed by the United States government: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. These land records cover a wide variety of types of records including those for homesteads, military bounty lands, mining claims, and agricultural and timber management. Public lands were first granted to individuals in 1785, with the first land office opening as early as 1797. The government’s intent was to raise revenues to compensate for the costs of the Revolutionary War, grant lands (rather than financial payments) to soldiers, and sustain burgeoning migration to the west.

If you are unfamiliar with the federal township and range system, you may find it helpful to read Graphical Display of the Federal Township and Range System and Range Maps for Dummies before you begin to search. For a very quick overview with little explanation, see here for a graphical display of the federal township and range system. Additional background information can be found on the BLM site’s Understanding Land Patents and searching the Glossary section. A principal meridians and base lines map for public land surveys may be viewed online as well.

The General Land Office records includes four separate sections: Federal Land Patents, Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes, Federal Land Status Records and Control Documents Index Records. We will discuss the first type below, and the two additional types (Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes, Federal Land Status Records) that are most useful for genealogy in a later blog post.

Federal Land Patents

These records are the richest source for genealogists, allowing you to associate a specific individual (a patentee, assignee, warrantee, widow, or heir) with a specific piece of land at a specific point in time. Please note that the states included do not include the original thirteen colonies, territories, and some other states. Select “Search Document” from the top navigation bar of the General Land Office Records page. This will bring you to a search page where you have access to all four record types. Select “Patents” on the left side navigation. If you wish to search land patents for a surname in a specific state and county, complete the information requested. A drop down box will provide you with a list of the states available as well as the counties available within each state. You may also search across all counties within a state. If unsure of specific state information, you can use wildcard options as discussed in this search guide, which I highly recommend reading before you get bogged down with any issues. I entered my standard “Barkley” and “Barclay” searches which yielded 18 pages (about 25 entries per page) of Barkley patents and 16 pages of Barclay patents. Digital images are available for all images except those printed in italics as they are not yet indexed. Certified copies of documents may be ordered online for a nominal fee.

To see how this section works, I looked at two Barkley/Barclay entries:

David Barkley patented 39.75 acres in the “southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 23 in Township 6 north of Range 17 west.” This acreage represented all but a quarter acre of the 40 acres contained in a Bounty Land Warrant (#82038) for 40 acres originally granted under the Scrip Warrant Act of 28 September 1850 (9 Stat. 520) to Thomas Owens, a Private in Captain Padgett’s Company Florida Militia in the “Florida War.” The land was located in Holmes Co., Florida, and the transaction was handled by the Tallahassee Land Office. The assignment of this land to Barkley was dated 2 November 1854.

Charles Barclay received a patent from the Glasgow, Montana, Land Office for 320 acres in Roosevelt County in that state on 24 April 1914 under the authority of 20 May 1862 homestead legislation (12 Stat. 392) which secured “homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain.” Subsequent legislation in 1910 (36 Stat. 583) stated that there was reserved to “…the United States all coal in the lands so granted, and to it, or persons authorized by it, the right to prospect for, mine, and remove coal from the same..” The land description stated that the 320 acres were in 4 parcels, located in the “northwest quarter, the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter, the north half of the southeast quarter, and the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section twenty-eight in Township thirty north of Range fifty-eight east of the Montana Meridian…”

I also looked at a Barkley related entry:

James B[arkley] Yellowly, of North Carolina, received a patent on 27 February 1841 for 241.15 acres in Attala County, Mississippi, as a cash sale under legislation of 24 April 1820 (3 Stat. 566). The acreage was in 3 parcels, described as the “East half of the North East quarter, the West half of the North West quarter, and the East half of the South West quarter of Section nine, in Township twelve North of Range five East in the District of Lands subject to sale at Columbus, Mississippi…”

In each of these three examples, a digital image of the patent document was available and could be printed or saved to my computer. Printer friendly options allowed for quick printing of textual information.

Image credit: A U.S. General Land Office land patent for 40 acres of land in Dixon, Illinois, dated September 1, 1845. It is signed on behalf of President James K. Polk by Col. J. Knox Walker, the President’s private secretary and nephew. By US General Land Office. (The Cooper Collection of Historical US Documents.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.



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.