The Census is Wrong?

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1929 Shawnee Agency Census

As a researcher, I have learned that records are not perfect. I have also found that many people believe that they are always correct. Records are only as good as the people who provided the information.

The U.S. census was taken every 10 years beginning in 1790. The census only included white people and Indians who paid taxes. In 1885, the U.S. government decided that they wanted to keep a record of all of the Indians living on the reservations after the Dawes Act. So as a result, a census was taken yearly on all the reservations from 1885 to 1940. The Indian agents were supposed to compile a census of all the people living in their agency; however, some were more diligent than others. Some tribal agencies did not take a census every year while others just copied the previous year’s census and submitted it without doing the survey again.

As I was doing my own research I came across an entry of one of my ancestors in the 1929 Shawnee Agency Indian Census. I searched for my ancestor and found her listed as “Mary Ann Crumbo Hurd dead.” I had traced her up until that point so I believed that she had died within that year. I searched for her death record but could not find it. I had just assumed it was because of the lack of records common in Indian research but months later I found one reason why I could not find it. I was working on learning more about her family and  was researching her children when I came across a history written by her daughter, Phoebe, in the Sand Springs, Oklahoma Community History. In it she stated that in the same year she got married (1920), her mother, Mary Ann Hurd Crumbo died. The census was wrong! It had shown Mary Ann Crumbo Hurd living well past 1920.This is a perfect example of how censuses are imperfect. In this specific case, I believe that the Indian agents most likely kept adding years to the censuses without going to house to house every year to check the information.  The agent probably didn’t get around doing an actual survey of the reservation until 1929, and so that is the first year that Mary Ann’s death was recorded.

Censuses are a great resource for information but the information found on them is not always perfect. This taught me to use the information provided on the censuses as a starting point but to remember that they are not always completely correct.

When Disciplines Cross

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I began my undergrad career as an archaeology major.  When I discovered that I enjoyed working with paper records, I switched to family history.  Although the similarities are not immediately apparent, archaeology and family history are fairly similar fields.  The main goal of both is to better understand the lives of people in the past.

Last week, archaeologists in the UK made an exciting discovery.  They believe that they have found the bones of the English King Richard III.  What is exciting about this find (to me!) is that archaeologists are using some very genealogical sounding resources to decide the identity of the bones.  Church records from the Franciscan Friary where Richard III was supposedly buried have been consulted for details about his burial.  Military records that detail his service and battle wounds have also been used to compare to the injuries found on the skeleton in question.  DNA is also going to be extracted from the bones and compared to living descendants of Richard III, who are known thanks to diligent royal recorders and the help of modern genealogical researchers.

While our families can’t all be as well documented as the royals, DNA research is becoming a more and more useful tool in genealogical research.  Imagine a thing inside all of us that has the ability to connect us to individuals in the 15th century and beyond!  You can read more about the lost king here, and more specifics about the use of DNA in the case here.

 

Hiring a Professional Genealogist Part Two

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Thinking about hiring a professional genealogist? There is a lot to consider.

Obviously, if you consider hiring a professional I do hope you consider Global Genealogists, but the most important thing to me is just that you hire someone who is good—who has the skills, background, and record access to perform your research accurately and well. This doesn’t mean that they will always find the answers you seek immediately, of course, since the findings always depend on what the records have to say, but it does mean that they will adhere to industry standards and best practices. You should consider the following areas when choosing a professional.

Credentials. It can be very helpful to ask where the genealogist learned his or her skills. Did their only training come from watching a few free online lessons, or did they complete an in-depth, serious course of study? As in other professions, serious professional genealogists usually spend years honing their craft and knowledge in order to provide their clients the best possible service, often in formal education. In the genealogy field, such professionals are often part of professional organizations, have degrees in genealogy and family history, and may be active in genealogy education.

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of years that a person has been doing genealogy is not always a good indicator of their skill level. The extremely fragmented nature of genealogy records, and the many different areas of search and strategy, mean that training in each area is extremely helpful for obtaining pertinent experience. Many years of experience does suggest some skill, of course, but the skill levels vary widely among those with much experience, from extremely good to very poor. Some of the best professional genealogists in the world never got a degree in genealogy and learned everything hands-on; other researchers with decades of experience may barely be able to get past the census records.

Price and value. With genealogy, as in many other areas of life, you often get what you pay for. I have had many clients hire me after initially hiring someone else on the basis of price alone, only to find that the reason the work was so cheap was that the person had little skill or record access and could not produce any intelligent research.

Undoubtedly, a random person in China who doesn’t speak English will happily perform a Google search for your ancestor for ten dollars per hour, but this is not going to give you any useful information, nor will the presentation of the research be helpful or solid. This does not, of course, mean that price is unimportant, simply that there is often a reason the cheapest are the cheapest. I recommend considering the full value proposition of the genealogist: what they provide for the amount they charge.

Past clients. Does the genealogist have a number of past clients providing referrals or testimonials? If he or she does not have past satisfied clients, you may want to carefully consider why.

Personal service. No one wants to hire a faceless company, especially for something as personal as genealogy and family history. It is important that you know who is in charge of your case work, ideally by interacting with them directly.

Overall, professionals can be extremely helpful if used properly and if you make an informed decision on who to hire and how to have the work done. If you have further questions, you can contact us through email or phone via our website, www.globalgenealogists.com, and we will be happy to assist you.

Hiring a Professional Genealogist Part One

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When to hire a genealogist? Many genealogical researchers reach a point where they are simply stuck—on certain lines, or with their overall history. Others become concerned about the validity of the research they have or have access to, especially if obtained online. Still others are very interested in the story of their family, but cannot or do not want to try to do the research themselves. And people often seek services, such as large printed family trees or professionally written and bound archive-quality family history books, that they cannot do themselves. Whatever the reason, people around the world hire professionals to help them in all aspects of genealogy and family history.

When my clients hire me, some of the main reasons I have noticed are my training and experience, access to good records, and expertise in implementing basic and advanced methodologies in finding ancestor information. Full documentation and professionally researched and written reports also play a role.

It can, of course, be expensive to hire a professional genealogist. Perhaps surprisingly, then, one of the most important reasons to hire a professional is that doing so can save money and time. If you have little access to the record sources you need, especially to a top archive, your choices are to try to do the research yourself by traveling to the archives, by ordering the records you need, or by hiring someone there.
Travel, however, is both expensive and time consuming. Ordering the records can be helpful and is often cheaper than a plane ticket, but in addition to taking weeks or months to complete a single research step, many records are unavailable. By contrast, the right professional can perform the work you need quickly, thoroughly, and with no hassle to you. It is important, though, that you carefully consider who you hire.

Reading Old Handwriting

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It doesn’t usually take long to get to a point in your research where you have to decipher someone else’s handwriting.  Really, the title of this post could simply be, “Reading Handwriting,” as the newest of handwriting can be just as challenging as older handwriting.

One of the more helpful websites I have found is http://script.byu.edu/.  It has tutorials on English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian handwriting.  They are in the process of adding Portuguese and Dutch as well.  The tutorials have samples of actual handwriting, as well as extremely useful vocab lists and links to websites with more information.  http://paleo.anglo-norman.org/empfram.html and the UK National Archives both have very good information about reading English and early American documents.

When I am transcribing a difficult document, it helps me to fill in each letter that I can recognize.  If there is an entire word that I can recognize, then I use that as a sample for each letter in the word, and I look for those letters in the rest of the document.  It is important to remember that letters should be consistent throughout the document.  The scribe probably wrote “t” the same way throughout, even if it doesn’t look like a “t” at first.  There are several handy quizzes online that you can check your transcription skills on.  If you know older English hands and you are feeling ambitious, you can even play the ducking stool game (almost like hangman).  Check it out!

 

Using the Census

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from the Library of Congress

The census can be one of the most rewarding genealogical resources.  Not only can the name of your ancestors be found but you can also see little glimpses into their lives.  Many people are unaware of how beneficial a census record can be.

 When many people locate their relatives they look at the first couple lines, name and age; they do not realize the wealth of information the other lines can hold.  Reading through the other lines can help give clues for further research. Did your ancestor own land? If he did you now know to look for land records for the area he lived, but if he did not claim land ownership you now know to save land records till the end of your research. Maybe you have never found a record for children born to a relative, but when you looked at the 1900 census the mother lists 11 children who died in infancy. Or you have not been able to find records for your relative’s parents, but by looking at where the informant lists their parents as being born in, you now have a starting place to begin your research.

These examples only skim the top of the many examples of help a census can give.  Some others are but not limited to:

  • Names head of household and household members
  • Land owned
  • Schooling
  • Occupation
  • Color/race
  • Years married
  • Number of children alive/dead
  • Year of birth
  • Marriage year
  • Birthplace (state or country)
  • Birth place of parents

A federal population census is not the only census resource; mortality schedules, state censuses, veteran schedules, Indian schedules, slave schedules, and agriculture schedules, were also taken. These other options contain information that are not found on a federal census; for example mortality schedules contain the names of the people who have died in the last 12 months, their age, month of death, occupation and cause of death.

Through censuses we can learn so much from our ancestors if we just choose to read all of the information they have given to us.

How much information is online?

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I came upon a review for Ancestry.com this week that sparked my interest. The review, found here on the PC Magazine website, talks mainly about how Ancestry.com can be used to build family trees and store your data. There are a few lines from it that drew my attention. As the reviewer closed her story she stated, “There’s no need to dig around libraries and county halls anymore because Ancestry.com puts centuries of documents at your fingertips.”

So, is there still a need for the records at libraries and county halls? Yes!

Do the resources at Ancestry.com and other internet archives provide valuable resources that greatly help in researching your family? Yes!

Both the internet and physical libraries and archives are needed to find your family.

One of the first thing I try to teach people about doing research is that there are a wealth of records about their ancestors and most of them aren’t online. I always start researching my own family by looking at records online. These records are easily available and save my time at the archive. My basic search when doing online research, or my preliminary research, follows these steps:

1. Search public trees on Ancestry to see if other people are researching the same people. There is no need to start from scratch, but there is a great need to verify information.

2. Make sure I have census records for every available census year. Many of these are available for free at www.familysearch.org.

3. Do a google search for my ancestor. I include the name and either a birth, marriage, or death date. I’m amazed at what I can find by doing this simple search, and it will often gather information from Rootsweb.

4. Search any other applicable databases on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com. Every family is different so the databases are different each time.

The important thing to remember is to verify information published online. Good research always goes back to the original source. That is why my online research is only my preliminary research. The research that solves my brick walls usually happens in archives in original documents. More and more original documents are being put online, and it is a most valuable tool. Just remember that there is more waiting to be searched than can be found through your computer.

Writing Your Own Family History: Part 1

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Passing on History

One of my favorite client requests is to create a family history book. It is fun to look past the dates and places and search for the stories that make the people come to life. Everyone wants to have a family history on their family, but the project is often too daunting a task to start. I am going to posting a series of tips and steps to help you write your own family history.

Where to begin? Most people who want to write a family history have already started gathering names, dates, and places. Many people already have this information in a genealogy program. If you don’t already, organize your information with one of the many genealogy programs. It doesn’t matter which one you use. Just find which one works best for you.

My next tip will cover why it is so important and how you can use any one of these programs to give you a jump start on writing your book.

Here are my top four programs.

PAF: Personal Ancestral File is a free program provided by FamilySearch. It is a great program for the beginner. Free downloads can be found here.

RootsMagic. This is usually my program of choice. It is similar to PAF, so there isn’t a steep learning curve if you are familiar with PAF. It has extra features that helps me stay organized better. There is also a free download for RootsMagic Essentials here. It has the core features of the full RootsMagic program.

Family Tree Maker. Produced by Ancestry.com, it’s biggest feature is that it syncs with Ancestry.com and it is easy to go back and forth from researching on Ancestry.com to imputing data into your tree. There isn’t a free download, but you can view more features here.

Legacy. I have the least experience with Legacy, mostly because I was introduced to it after the others. I have used it and it is a great program. It is the program of choice for many of my colleagues in the genealogy community, due to it’s advanced features. There is a free download of the standard version here.

So pick your program and start entering all of the research you have been gathering!

Preserving Photographs

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Almost all of us have old photographs sitting somewhere in our house – in a box, in the attic, in a dresser. For years, my mother kept photographs from her great-grandmother’s family in an old hamper. Photographs are often stored in less than perfect settings. Although very few of us have the equipment or time to house our photographs in the best possible way, we can do a few easy things to help our photographs survive the passage of time. Here are a few of the main things you should consider to help your photos:

Temperature:

Unfortunately, the most common storage place for photographs is also the worst. Temperatures in the attics and basements of most houses fluctuate drastically throughout the year. The change between sweltering summer heat and freezing winter frost stresses photographs. Constant temperature and humidity for photographs is extremely helpful. Storing your photos in a room that stays a comfortable temperature throughout the year will prevent cracking and other damage to your photos.

Light:

The effects of light, whether natural or man-made, can be quite severe over time. Leaving photos by a sunny window is one of the worst things for them, and indoor lights can also do damage. If your photos are not on display, they should be kept somewhere dark – inside of a box, an album, or a closet. For photos that are on display, museum-quality glass can be purchased from almost any craft store. Museum glass filters light like sunblock, keeping most of the harmful rays from affecting whatever is underneath it.

Acidity:

Almost all paper is acidic, and some plastics are as well. The problem with acidic materials is that they react with whatever they are touching. Have you ever left a newspaper clipping in a book, only to see it turn the pages of the book yellow? Newspaper is one of the most acidic types of paper, but almost all paper has some level of acidity. In order to prevent yellowing and staining over time, there are several things you can do. Archival companies like Gaylord or University Products offer acid-free tissue paper for interleaving. Storing your photos in acid free boxes is also a good idea. As far as plastics go, Mylar is the top of the line option, but it can get expensive. If you want your photos in plastic, polyethylene or polypropylene plastics are a good alternative.

Permanence:

Generally, it is a good idea to avoid doing anything to your photos that will permanently alter them. Glues, even those in self-adhesive photo albums, will deteriorate and yellow your photos over time. Staples leave holes and will rust over time. Ideal photo storage should be able to be done and un-done without damage to the photos.

One of the best things you can now do for your photos is to have them digitized. Scanning your photographs and putting them on a CD or hard drive (or both!) is a great idea. You can share digital photos more easily with friends and family, and if anything happens to the original you can still have the image.

If you are very concerned about your old photographs, try looking up a photo conservator in your area. The above guidelines apply generally to photographs, but material and chemical composition has changed over time, from the tin-type to the Polaroid. A professional will be able to give you the most detailed and accurate guidelines for preserving your photos.

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