Ancestry’s Keyword Search…An Occasional Trick

Ancestry’s “California, Death Index, 1940-1997” is one of those databases that contains data elements that are not indicated in the search screen. The query box for this database includes:

  • First, middle, and last names
  • Date and place of birth (location based on Ancestry’s “geographic drop down list”)
  • Date and place of death
    (location based on Ancestry’s “geographic drop down list”)
  • Last name of father and mother
  • and keyword search

The problem is that like many of Ancestry’s databases, one does not know what other elements could be used as search terms until one sees the results of a search. The Social Security number of the deceased is one of the data elements that are a part of database entry. It’s worth remembering that not everyone may have had a Social Security number.

However, one can search for an entry in this database if the Social Security number is known. This could be helpful if the the last name is unknown or it is believed that the name is so difficult to read that the entry is impossible to find using direct search methods. It does require that the Social Security number be on the death certificate, that it be recorded correctly, and that it be transcribed correctly.

Have you looked to see what you could possibly use for a keyword search at a database at Ancestry? Find a database entry (searching for Smith is a good way to guarantee you get one) and look at the items included. Are there items included that can’t be searched on? Then try a keyword search. Experiment first to make certain the keyword search is actually working in the way you think it should–trying to find an entry you know is in the database using only the keyword is a great way to do this.

This approach is how I found out there were two death certificates for individuals with the same social security number in this California database. And the two entries have the same dates of birth and death–just different names.

What you find might not be quite as unusual as what I did. But you still may make a discovery.

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Sister Ehme and What’s Germane

Jurgen Goldenstein died in Hawthorne, California, in 1972. His estate was probated in Los Angeles County and his siblings and their descendants were determined to be his heirs.

Since I only obtained selected documents from the estate file, I have no way of knowing who provided the information on Jurgen’s family. It is possible that another court filing or document indicated who provided the information. However there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the relationship information since all the heirs were sent a notice from the court regarding the estate and it would be highly unusual given the large number of heirs (30) for one to be left out without someone noticing it. I’m also personally familiar with the family (5e Dorothy Ufkes is my grandmother) and there were no names with which I was not already familiar.

The “Petition to Determine Interest” in the estate indicated that several of Jurgen’s siblings had pre-deceased him. Their dates of death are included in the petition. Personally I would use the dates in the petition as a springboard to locating actual death records. The petition would not be considered to be providing primary information on the dates of deaths of siblings who pre-deceased Jurgen. It should be noted that the document makes no mention of where anyone dies.

That’s because the court does not care where the pre-deceased heirs of Jurgen died–it’s not germane to the estate settlement. The precise date of their death really is not germane either–just that they were dead before Jurgen, were his sibling, and left descendants is what matters.

Jurgen’s brother Ehme is mistakenly referred to as a sister of Jurgen in the petition. That’s clearly an error as he’s referred to as a brother in a separate document. It’s easy to see why the person compiling the document could have been confused on Ehme’s gender:

  • Ehme is not the most common first name and it is very likely the attorney and any administrative staff were unfamiliar with it.
  • Ehme Golden did not use the last name of Goldenstein as his brother Jurgen did. It’s also possible that someone writing up the list of heirs assumed that someone with a different last name had to have been a married sister.

While it may be fun to speculate, the reason does really not matter. I know Ehme was a brother and left several children of his own. The “sister” reference is a simple error. It happens. When I transcribe the document, I’ll type it as it is and use the [sic] notation after the “sister” reference. I’m not going to correct the document.

The petition listed all thirty of Jurgen’s heirs. The most helpful part was having their residential addresses as of 1972. That information would be helpful in tracking down obituaries and other information on the heirs who have been slightly more difficult to trace in later records.

Estate records of this type are almost always helpful to the genealogist. They’ve become even more so when working with DNA matches. Just remember that with these records it is the relationships and being alive that are most important. You cannot inherit from an intestate estate if you are not a living heir. Other minor details and even the occasional error may be overlooked.

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Migratory Clues in Yearbooks?

The 1925 Carthage College yearbook’s reference to Clara Engelhardt indicated that “this year her thoughts wander to Philadelphia.” There’s no mention why the student at the Illinois college was thinking of Pennsylvania.

On the surface, it is difficult to determine just what is causing Clara to think of Philadelphia. Yearbook comments are not always based on reality and “inside jokes” can be difficult to determine a century after the fact. However it’s possible that future studies or a current suitor caused the writer of the comment to make the reference. If Clara “disappears” after the yearbook reference, Philadelphia may be the place to look.

The entry for Mildred Daugherty does not mention her future, but it does mention her past–attendance at Culver-Stockton. There may be additional records on Mildred at this small liberal-arts college on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.

Yearbooks are more than just pictures and records of high school or college activities. They can provide additional clues about the lives of the individuals mentioned in their pages.

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ThruLines Sometimes Tells You Nothing

There was some time when I believed that William C. Rhodes (born in 1831 and lived for some time in Macon County, Missouri, where he married Lucretia Matilda Jones) was the son of Levi M. Rhodes. After looking into Levi a little further I became less convinced. This post is not about that research.

It is about whether ThruLines provides any DNA evidence of William’s descent from Levi. ThruLines shows that William is Levi’s son, yet there are no connected DNA matches with the testee that descend from another child of Levi other than William. This does not provide any DNA evidence that William is the child of Levi.

This is in contrast to the ThruLines for William being the father of Clara Ettie Rhodes (grandmother of the testee). That chart indicates that the testee has shared DNA matches through two of Clara’s siblings–confirming the paper evidence with DNA. This chart “ThruLines for William C Rhodes” confirms the paper relationships.



The ThruLines for Levi does not do anything other than repeat information from someone else’s tree. There’s no DNA evidence of that parent-child relationship between Levi and William based on this Thrulines chart. There is DNA evidence of the sibling relationship between George, Gertrude, and Clara Rhodes based on the shared DNA. This does not mean that they are not related–just that this chart provides no evidence of that connection.

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US Court and Probate Records Webinars Download Available

We are excited to offer new and updated sessions of these two popular presentations. If you pre-ordered a copy, email me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com if you did not get your copy.

Introduction to US Probate Records

This session will provide attendees with an overview the US probate process and how records created fit into that entire process and the basic terminology required to understand and interpret the records correctly. Included will be a discussion of ways to interpret and understand the records, determining what additional records should be searched, and ways to access probate records—including search approaches and use of indexes. Handout included.

Introduction to Local US Court Records

This session will provide an overview of local courts in the United States and ways to locate and find information about applicable local court records for personal research. While all court cases can provide genealogically relevant information, this session will focus on those most likely to provide that information and provide examples of “non-typical cases” that were genealogically relevant. Included will be a discussion of ways to interpret and understand the records, determining what additional records should be searched, and ways to access probate records—including search approaches and use of indexes. Handout included.

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Helped to Bury Him in 1854

Widow’s pension applications are full of statements by neighbors, associates, and relatives testifying to the marriage of the widow, her residence in a specific area, her not remarrying again, the veteran’s military service, etc. Usually specific relationships by biology or marriage are not stated in these affidavits as documenting the relationship is not the purpose of these statements. It’s also possible that mentioning a close relationship may suggest that the affiant is biased towards the claim being approved.

That said, the statements can contain clues–big and small. At the very least the amount of time the affiant has known the widow or veteran can be helpful in documenting moves and migrations.

In August of 1856, Thomas Kirkland and William Yeager, both residents of Washington County, Kentucky, testified that they had known Thomas Brown for the past eighteen years and that he had been purported to have been a War of 1812 veteran. They also stated that they lived near him when he died two years ago and still live near the widow. In fact, William Yeager assisted with Brown’s burial.

Kirkland and Yeager made out their affidavit before a Justice of the Peace in Mercer County–not Washington County. This suggests that the Browns, Kirkland, and Yeager lived near the Mercer/Washington County line and this provides at least some direction for where they lived. Yeager’s assistance with the burial of Brown may suggest that there’s a relationship there besides a geographic one. Neither man made any specific statement regarding Brown’s military service and their vague reference to it would not have been sufficient to establish service. Fortunately there are other records in the pension application to document Brown’s service.

Brown served in Captain E. Berry’s Regiment, Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812. Fortunately his second wife was his widow long enough to qualify for a pension. There are significant clues in the short affidavit made out by Yeager and Kirkland. The area of residence within the county will be helpful if the Browns did not own real estate or appear in other records that can tie them to a specific piece of geography more narrow than the county.

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Descendants Besides You?

Readers know that I hate genealogy “games.” I think most of them are time wasters and I cannot see any real purpose in completing them just to say that I completed a challenge in some made contest. However as something of a more practical challenge, I decided to see how many other descendants of my great and great-great-grandparents show up in my DNA results at AncestryDNA.

  • Neill great-grandparents–no matches other than me.
  • Trautvetter great-grandparents–two other descendants
  • Ufkes great-grandparents–two other descendants
  • Habben great-grandparents–three other descendants
  • Neill great-great-grandparents–ten other descendants
  • Rampley great-great-grandparents–eight other descendants
  • Trautvetter great-great-grandparents–three other descendants
  • Sargent great-great-grandparents–none
  • Ufkes great-great-grandparents–four other descendants
  • Janssen great-great-grandparents–none
  • Habben great-great-grandparents–two other descendants
  • Goldenstein great-great-grandparents–seven other descendants

It should be noted that the matches with descendants of my great-great-grandparents descend from a different one of their children than I do.

None of my DNA matches are also descendants of my Neill great-grandparents. That family was relatively small compared to my other great-grandparents’ families and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have tested (at least I hope not). I do have matches who are descendants of my Neill great-grandparents’ parents (and their grandparents and their great-grandparents–just not shown in this chart) and who share amounts of DNA consistent with our genealogical cousin relationship. The concern would have been if I had discovered no matches of both sets of their parents or earlier generations. That’s not the case as there are numerous descendants from earlier branches of that family.

I do have shared matches who are descendants of my other three sets of great-grandparents. In most cases I was aware of their interest in their family history and their appearance was not a surprise.

Of my eight sets of great-great-grandparents there are only two sets who do not have descendants showing up as DNA matches (other than my closer cousins who descend through the same set of great-grandparents as I do). There are no shared matches in my set of results who are also descendants of my Janssen and Sargent great-great-grandparents. Both of these sets of great-great-grandparents had three children–including the one who is my ancestor–and none of those other children had large families. The other six sets of great-great-grandparents all had significantly larger families thus increasing the pool of possible descendants who could test.

Next on my list: looking at my 3rd great-grandparents.

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BLM Tract Book Discovery

FamilySearch has had the Bureau of Land Management Tract Books (titled: United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908) on their website. Using the books takes a little bit of patience and a little bit of knowledge, but it’s not impossible.

William Newman purchased property in Tipton County, Indiana, in the 1850s. Locating that parcel in the index was my first foray into using these materials.

This was known because Newman was located on the BLM website as having obtained a patent for property in section 29 of township 22N 5 E in Tipton County . A query was performed on the BLM website to determine the names of all others purchasing property in that section. One of them was William Tinsley, brother-in-law of William S. Newman.

This table shows all the entries from patents in the Bureau of Land Management website for the same section of property as the  William Newman purchase (29).

NamesDateDoc #Aliquots
COOK, JEFFERSON12/1/184932698NE¼SW¼
FLETCHER, STOUGHTON A1/1/185033006NE¼NE¼
HALL, ROBERT1/1/185032751W½SW¼
JACKSON, JOSEPH3/20/184932070S½NW¼
NEWMAN, WILLIAM S1/1/185032863NE¼NW¼
RABB, SAMUEL G5/1/185034185NW¼NE¼
STEWART, ROBERT12/10/185034391NW¼SE¼
TINSLEY, WILLIAM1/1/185032862NW¼NW¼
WOLFER, LEONARD1/1/185032990S½SE¼
WOOD, THOMAS5/1/185034358SE¼SW¼

The BLM database indexes completed patents. The tract book contains additional references and notations. The tract book indicated that William did not intend to just purchase the property for which he finally obtained a patent. His name is also listed in the tract books as having made an initial payment on another forty acres in the section, but that his deposit was refunded in 1854.

The entries in the tract book are helpful, but the actual patents (on the BLM site) indicate the county of residence of the purchasers, which is helpful in distinguishing between individuals and something that is not indicated in these tract book entries. The materials need to be used together–not in isolation.

I knew that William’s patent was in the volume for the Indianapolis land office as that was indicated on his patent image obtained on the BLM website.

Vol 1, Indianapolis, page 71–part of the left hand side.

Vol 1, Indianapolis, page 71–corresponding right hand side.

There were no huge revelations, but I was surprised to see that William had also started the process to purchase additional property in this township.
On my list of things to do with this information are:

  • Look at the residences of the other purchasers to determine where they were from at the time of the completed patent. Newman and Tinsley were from Rush County, Indiana. It is possible that other men–particularly those obtaining property at the same time–were from that area as well.
  • Plat out the parcels to allow me to visualize the relationships between the locations.
  • Look at purchasers of property in adjacent townships.
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An 1817 Ohio Land Purchase

There is something gratifying about finding your ancestor’s name in a record, particularly one that is not indexed.


This image is part of the entry for Thomas J. Rampley from the Bureau of Land Management Tract books for Ohio. And while these books are not indexed by name, there is organization. It is just that the organization is by location and not by name. I knew that Thomas made an initial payment for property in Section 5 of township 5-7 in Coshocton County, Ohio. The location was the information that allowed me to locate this reference. The tract books cannot easily be searched by name only.

This reference styles Thomas as “of Coshocton County, Ohio” on 15 November 1817. This is the earliest document I have that provides evidence of his residence in Ohio. 


The image shown here is just part of the image–there is a right hand page as well which contains more payment information. And there’s another man who made his initial payment for property in the same section on the same date. 
From other sources, I already knew the other man was an associate of my ancestor and knew him back in Harford County, Maryland, where Thomas was from. I will look at the names of other men purchasing property in the same section. A map of the township would also be helpful and (in this case) the township to the north should be a part of my search as well because section 5 is along the northern line of the township.

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