Archive for March, 2019

CensusIf the family I’m looking for is in the US, after 1790, I like to start by looking at a census record. The United States took a census every 10 years beginning in 1790. Privacy laws limit use for 72 years, therefore, the most current one available is from 1940. The easiest way to access a census is to go to familysearch.org or use your library card and look for digital records on your public library website, searching their sites for Heritage Quest. Both FamilySearch and Heritage Quest services are free.

The concern of the census was numbers of people, ages and statistical information. Your family surnames maybe have been spelled however the census taker heard it, and ages may vary depending on the date the census was taken.

Once you are into the search system, enter the name of the person you are searching for and the place they may have been living, keeping in mind that they need to have been alive between 1790 and 1940. Remember to look at alternative spellings of the surname if you aren’t successful at first.

The wonderful thing about census research is that if you find your person, they are generally listed with their family, or whomever they were living with. In the censuses from 1850 to 1940, the head of household is listed followed by all the people living in the household. You can find out a lot, depending on what information they were collecting that year. Usually, it lists their name, and age, and sex, and may list the relationship of each person to the head of household. Also included may be where they were born, where their parents were born, marital status, if they owned their home, what their occupation was, the value of their property, if they could read and write, if they were a citizen, and if they attended school.

Some censuses collected additional unique data, for example, the 1900 census asked how many children a woman had and how many were living, and if they immigrated, what was their year of immigration. Questions like these can give you clues to further your research.

When you find your ancestor, check out a couple of pages before and after their name. People often lived near other family members and you may locate other relatives nearby. One family, I was searching for ended at the bottom of one page and continued on the next page. The family surname was indexed as Tinney on one page and Finney on the second page. I would have never found them if I had relied on an index alone, or had not looked at additional pages.

If you can’t find the ancestor you are looking for try searching for another member of the family who could have been living at home.

Don’t depend on the index alone. I found my father in the 1920 census and he is listed correctly with his family at age 2. In the 1930 census, he is listed with the family who was raising him as he had been orphaned a few years early. His age was indexed as 62 and his first name was spelled wrong. If I had only been looking for Ferron Bliss age 12, I would have missed him. Whoever indexed the census transcribed the first name wrong and also missed the age. Fortunately, the town had less than 300 people and it didn’t take me long to find him.

Study your census records carefully and try to glean as much information as you can from them. This means you will want to look at the original record, not just the transcription. Understand that what you are seeing is a copy of the original census, so there is a chance that errors in copying could have occurred. Also sometimes the information was not given by an adult in the home but may have been given by whoever was home, and that may have been a child, or if no one was home a neighbor may have been asked.  Enjoy these records, they are easily accessible and free.

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When trying to locate an ancestor most of us like to just search for one particular individual.  But our ancestors did not live isolated lives. Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 4.49.23 PMThey not only had parents, but siblings, aunts and uncles, neighbors,  and friends. This group of people that surrounded our ancestor has gone by many names, but currently, you will most often hear it referred to your Ancestors FAN Club [ie Friends Associates Neighbors]. I have heard them also referred to as Family Associates Neighbors. These are people who keep turning up near our ancestors and they can give us valuable clues to the lives our ancestors lived and can make our ancestors easier to trace.

We need to become familiar with those persons whose names continually come up in our ancestors’ records, letters, and newspaper articles. This could be a sibling, a spouse or someone who attended their church or lived in their neighborhood. I like to keep a list of surnames that continually keep showing up with a particular ancestor that I’m researching.

How The FAN Club Helps:

  • Your missing ancestor may not have left a record, but a family member may have named him in a will or purchased property with him and named him and identified their relationship in the document. A family member who had no children would often leave property to a niece or nephew.
  • Neighbors often turn out to be relatives. Families often moved together, attended the same church, and are likely buried in the same cemetery. When you find people consistently living near each other, they should all be examined closer.
  • By researching more than one person, you also increase your chance of making connections.
  • You will usually need more than a single record to prove an ancestral relationship. Searching the FAN for those additional records will give you more documents and will support more accurate research.
  • Knowing the names of your ancestor’s relatives and friends can help you track them as they moved from place to place.
  • Newspaper articles such as wedding announcements and obituaries often mention family members, and where those family members lived
  • A book about the community may list your ancestor and so may a family history written by a neighbor.
  • The FAN Club often immigrated on the same ship or moved with them as they migrated across the county.

One mystery I solved through FAN Club research came by reading a will, but not the will of an ancestor. We had been told that Leonard Johnson and his family came from Schenectady, New York. There were family stories of many trips from Missouri back to Schenectady to “visit with family”. Research, however, led me to believe that Leonard was more likely from Whitehall, New York. Looking at neighbors of a Leonard Johnson from Whitehall, I found a will for Moses Kibbe. That will listed the daughter of Moses Kibbe as “Mary Jane Kibbee Johnson” from Novinger Missouri. I knew that Leonard’s wife was Mary Jane and that they lived in Novinger Missouri. The will also named two other children who were living in Schenectady. This will gave me the needed clue to comfortably focus my research on Whitehall and find many more family members, thereby moving the research back two more generations.

By widening your research focus, you allow yourself a bigger target and increase your chances of success.

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