The Whys That Are Not There

The records our ancestors left behind only tell us a part of the story. One has to be careful reading more into documents than is actually there.

Johann George Trautvetter and his wife Sophia Elisabeth (Derle) Trautvetter immigrated from Wohlmuthausen, Thuringen, Germany, in June of 1853 with their three sons and one daughter. They arrived in July of 1853 in Baltimore and immediately settled in Hancock County, Illinois, where they purchased property. Approximately in 1869 Johann George returned to Germany and died there in 1871. His funeral entry in the church register at Bad Salzungen indicated that he had returned to Germany and left his wife and family in America.

He and Sophia sold their farm to their youngest son in the late 1860s.  No reason is given. It could have been as simple as they were retiring, wanted to avoid the eventual costs of an estate settlement, and needed the money from the sale.

And I really can’t speculate as to why he returned. There’s no diaries, family letters, or records that provide any specifics. Did he return for a visit and become too ill to return to his family? Was he unhappy in America? Was the marriage an unhappy one? Did he want to return to Germany while Sophia refused to leave her children? While the biography of one of their sons simply says Johann George “returned for a visit” to Germany and died there, that explanation may have been one that put a positive spin on his travels and looked better in publication than the actual situation.

All I have are records. I don’t have reasons.

And I’m hesitant to spin a story explaining someone’s behavior when that person is dead and gone and did not leave reasons behind.

There are times where it’s a little easier to see the probable reasons behind someone’s behavior even if those reasons are not stated.

It’s slightly different when a woman with small children is widowed by her husband in the 1850s and remarries in short order. In that case it’s reasonable that economics forced her hand. The same is likely true of a widower in a similar situation during the same time period.

A young male who leaves Prussia in the late 1860s probably did so to escape serving in the Prussian Army. Probably. But is there anything specifically stating that he did? Such a story may be in a biography, obituary, or family story passed down through the generations. And even the family story may have been started by relatives long after the immigrant himself was dead.

Try and stick with the facts as evidenced by records as much as possible. In some cases there is an amazing amount of detail in what records are left behind without

Would you want your descendant taking the documented details of your life and spinning stories around them?



Google That DNA Username

Individuals who set up internet accounts often use the same username on multiple sites.

If a DNA test submitter has no tree and does not respond to messages and you can’t figure out who they are, try a Google search on their username. That’s helped find quite a few people who had profiles or accounts on other sites–Facebook, MySpace, etc. Sometimes those profiles or information on those websites is enough to determine who the person is or provides another way to contact the person.

More Pooling DNA Matches

Analyzing DNA matches is part science and part art. It also takes some practice. While working with the results of a new DNA test, I’m “grossly” sorting the matches into three categories based upon the known heritage of the testee with a Chicago-born mother and a Missouri-born father. The Chicago-born mother had a father of unknown origins (due to adoption) and a mother who was native of upstate New York who came Chicago around 1900 with her father.  The Chicago-born mother met her Missouri-born husband when he came to Chicago in the 1930s looking for work. Based upon the paper pedigree, I’m sorting the matches as follows:

  • French-Canadian–for the maternal grandmother. I’m not separating these out by specific families yet because there’s too much intermarriage and working on these families is not my immediate goal. Looking at the matches for this submission so far has indicated that (in this case) if they match one French-Canadian line, they match only other French-Canadian lines. These matches are being put into two categories–French-Canadians whose tree has a match and a connection I can figure out easily and those French-Canadians whose tree match I can’t find.
  • Southern–for the maternal grandfather. The maternal grandfather’s parents and grandparents are known. If the person has a tree and I can quickly determine the relationship, I note it and put it in the group for the correct family. If a treeless match is shared with one of these matches, I place it in the “Southern” category for later sorting and analysis. These families are not as inter-married as the French-Canadians, but they tend to follow the same general migration pattern with origins in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas. At this point these families are not my focus. My operating procedure is to figure out quickly the ones that I can easily to facilitate sorting of matches with no trees, unresponsive submitters, etc.
  • Other–for the maternal grandfather, a man whose heritage is completely unknown, but was born in the Chicago, Illinois, area in the 1880s. This is the man for whom I’m really looking.  In my “initial sort,” I’m not trying to determine any specific relationships as I don’t have any real paper trail on which to  hinge my matches.

The sorting is based upon my goal (learning more about the mysterious grandfather) and what I do know about the heritage of the testee. That approach varies from one testee to another.

Match sorting is discussed in more detail in my AncestryDNA webinars.

Virginia Births in 1640 Can Exhaust Major League Ball Players

There wasn’t baseball in 1640…but we needed a homemade illustration.

We’ve mentioned “exhaustive search” several times in various posts on this blog. Generally it’s the idea that you search all records that would reasonably expect to provide information to assist in answering a specific research question. Genealogy professionals and academics espouse the “exhaustive search” as a part of the Genealogical Research Standard.

Exhaustive search does necessarily mean that you have to obtain every document that might contain the event date or location for which you are looking. It usually means getting that record that’s most likely to provide you with the best information (usually original source, primary information, reliable informant). “Most likely” and “best” are not as well-defined as some us would like, but genealogy research is full of terms that are sometimes necessarily vague. That’s part of the way in which genealogy is part art and not just science.

Many times an exhaustive search is location and time period sensitive. If I’m trying to establish the birth date for my grandmother born in Illinois in 1924, it’s probably sufficient to obtain her birth certificate. Probably–unless there’s something unusual about it. There’s another problem–I don’t know what’s unusual about a 1924 birth certificate unless I’ve seen several from that same time period. That’s another reason to research more than just a very narrow band of people.

What’s exhaustive changes when the problem is establishing a parentage in Virginia in 1640. That’s a whole different ball game from a research standpoint (a 1924 Illinois birth is usually junior high softball compared to the Major League Baseball of establishing a 1640 birth in Virginia).  Frankly it’s a time to look for everything you can on that person and their probable family. Everything. Whatever record you can get whether it could mention any detail of the birth or not

I’ve long been a proponent of when I’m really stuck to look at everything.  Even if something on that list of “everything” might not answer the particular question. Everything.

That’s how I used a 1909 christening record to establish that someone was alive in 1953. You never know what something will say until you look at it.


Pooling the Pages of my DNA Matches

penciling out possible relationships is always helpful

I have 393 pages of DNA matches at AncestryDNA. I will never get through all of them. I have no intention of getting through all of them. I have 475 matches at the 4th cousin level or closer. I’ll never get through all of those either–at least it doesn’t seem like it.

I had 12 matches that were second or third cousin matches. I have those figured out. I have figured some of the fourth cousins, based upon their trees, our shared matches, or direct communication with them. I’ll never get through them all. There are always a few more popping up. Determining who they all exactly are has never been my goal–much like it has never been my goal to locate all the descendants of each of my fourth great-grandparents.  Roughly sorting them is necessary, if only to help figure out the ones who may contain clues to problems I am actively working on.

My own “sorting” for the fourth cousins matches is initially crude and based upon my own heritage, which generally can be broken up into the following chunks:

  • my maternal lines–all 18th century immigrants from basically three very small villages (and environs) in Ostfriesland, Germany, who essentially settled in two adjacent Illinois counties. Many relatives are related in more than one way. Church books and other records have allowed me to extend these pedigrees to the late 16th century. Unless it’s a match whose exa
  • ct relationship I can easily figure out, I classify it as a “maternal match” and move on.
  • my Irish great-great-grandparents–I don’t have many matches here and I use some of the descendants of my Irish great-great-grandparents to sort these people out. I’m really interested in these matches.
  • my paternal “Southern” people–two of my great-great-grandparents have almost all of their ancestry from Maryland and Virginia. The families are intertwined. One fourth great-grandmother in this mix was from southern Pennsylvania, which isn’t “Southern” but is in my genetic mix of “Southern” people, so that’s where she gets lumped. It’s too small a segment of my background to separate out.
  • my Germans from Southern Germany–my paternal grandmother has grand and great-grandparents who immigrated from probably three areas of Germany in the 19th century. This area is a significant distance from Ostfriesland where my maternal people are from.
  • my more Northerners–two of my paternal great-great-grandparents are essentially of New England and New York ancestry–with stops in Ontario and Michigan.

It’s been helpful for me to think about the “mix” of my own background in sorting out my matches. Compounding the problem ever so slightly is the fact that there are two other families other than my own who descend from som

e of my maternal and paternal ancestors. Fortunately those intermarriages are all mid-twentieth century so the number of potential matches who share my maternal and paternal lines (besides me) is relatively small. But it’s always something to consider.

Your heritage will be different. But thinking about how your background “pools” can be a helpful exercise in analyzing your own matches.

This is


A 1909 Confirmation Suggests Life in 1956

Anna Katherina Tammen was confirmed on 4 April 1909 at the Immanuel Lutheran Church south of Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. This image was obtained from digital images of the church records at made from microfilmed materials from the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

There is a notation that her confirmation entry was copied in March of 1956 by the minister. The minister makes no indication why this copy was made. This notation is a clue in and of itself. It indicated that someone needed a copy of Anna Katherina’s confirmation record. The most likely reason Anna Katherina needed a transcription was to provide evidence of her date of birth or age in lieu of a birth certificate (her birth is listed as 17 August 1892 in the record). The typical church record to be copied as proof of age or date of birth would be the baptismal record. The fact that Anna Katherina’s confirmation was copied (instead of her baptismal record) would make one hypothesize that she was not confirmed in the church in which she was baptized. This should be checked by manually reading the church’s baptismal entries.

The second clue is that Anna Katherina was probably alive in March of 1956 when the copy was made. She is the most logical person to request proof of her date of birth or age.

If I indicate in my database that Anna Katherina died after March of 1956, I would cite this confirmation entry as the source of that statement.

Anna Katherina’s 1909 confirmation entries contains a notation suggesting she was alive in March of 1956.

That’s not something one usually finds.

And that’s why one needs to look at everything–even the records that one thinks might not address the problem you are trying to solve.


Why What Record It Is Matters to the Pragmatic Genealogist

A researcher sent a copy of a death certificate that had the letter “P” stamped on it. This post is not about that letter “P.” It’s about why it is important to know what you are looking at and to create a citation that clearly indicates what you actually have. Just calling it a “death certificate copy” is not specific enough.

The researcher had made a digital image of a printout of a microfilm copy of the record. That’s what she did.

That’s different from a digital image she might have made of a photocopy of the original record she obtained from the courthouse. Or a digital image made from a photocopy made from the state office of vital records.

And that’s different from a digital image made from the original record itself directly.

If she had obtained the digital image from a photocopy of the original, that “P” may have been stamped on the photocopy, but not on the original record. It’s a little difficult to stamp an image on a roll of microfilm, so we’ll eliminate that possibility. Because she had an image made from a paper copy of a microfilm image, it lead me to believe that the “P” was actually stamped on the death certificate.  Of course there’s no way of knowing completely beyond all doubt if the original is not seen. Seeing the original is not always possible or practical.

But if she just said “here’s the death certificate” and gives me nary a clue of how the image she sent me came to be, I won’t be able to easily determine where the “P” might have come into play.

Her citation won’t get her kicked out of the genealogy club if her commas and semicolons are in the wrong place. But her analysis will be easier if she’s indicated that her paper copy was made from a microfilmed copy of the image at the state office of vital records. That can be written without punctuation. The grammar people may care and quibble, but the pragmatic genealogists will be satisfied.



“A Good Farm Out In the Sticks” and What’s Not In the Paper

Real estate is often about one thing: location…at least on the surface. Genealogical research is never about one source.

The value in location was apparently true about the Riley Rampley farm in Hancock County, Illinois. At least that’s what the newspaper seems to be implying.

The Warsaw Bulletin mentioned the partition sale of the sale of Riley’s farm in January of 1909. I’ve known about the partition suit for some time and (other than the residences of the purchasers) all but the last sentence is information easily verifiable using court records. The newspaper would not be an original source for this information. The original source would be those court records.

It’s the last sentence that intrigues me.

This is a low price for the property, its situation off the main road being to its disadvantage and affecting its value but not in the least its producing qualities.

The farm is in the sticks. There’s no doubt about that. In fact, when Riley’s widow, Nancy, applies for a military pension there is information about the location of her farm in the application. The special examiner mentions the difficulty he had getting to the farm. The location of the farm could have negatively impacted its value.

But there’s a little more to the story than that. And possibly a little more to the price of the farm than the location. The newspaper does not tell the real reason behind the partition sale.

The farm was owned jointly by the heirs of Riley Rampley–wife Nancy and their ten children. Nancy wanted to sell the farm and move to the nearby town of West Point. Had the heirs been in agreement to a price, they could have sold without court action and without a public sale. But they couldn’t.

Riley and Nancy’s youngest son Virgil was too young to execute a deed. They could not have arranged a sale among themselves even if they had wanted to. A partition suit was necessitated by Virgil’s age.

It’s easy to see how the scenario played out.

Nancy goes to the local justice of the peace, notary public, or someone else locally who “knows the law” and says she wants to sell the farm–perhaps to her two sons who have agreed to pay her a price the family agrees to. He tells her “Mrs. Rampley. You can’t sell the farm by yourselves this way. Virgil’s too young. The law won’t let him sign a deed. There ain’t no way you can do it without going to court.”

And so a partition suit is filed and the auction is the end result.

It’s also possible that other bidders at the auction are not seriously bidding against the Rampley brothers. It would not be unheard of for locals to not “bid against the family” in an auction of this type. Peer pressure can be a powerful force and the neighbors were probably well aware that the family’s only option was a public auction. Sometimes there are ways to slightly work around the law.

And the newspaper…it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Which is why we never rely on just one source.


ELCA Database at Updated–Just Don’t Ask How has again that their database of microfilmed materials from the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has been updated. The title of the database is now “U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1826-1945.” I’m not exactly certain how the database has changed (their blog is silent on the issue), but I suspect that there are more recent records included in the index than before as when I searched there were results for more recent family members than I originally remember getting.

If there are any other aspects of this that were updated I am uncertain. Users are reminded that names of sponsors at baptisms are typically not indexed in this database. There may be digital images of communion and membership lists for churches that are not indexed at all by in this database(but the images are there if they were microfilmed0. Users are encouraged to browse the images in the  ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) database of records to determine exactly what is available online for the congregation of interest. It may be more than just records of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals. Those records are indexed.

It’s frustrating when any database on is “updated” with nary a clue as to what the update entails. Because if the nature of the update is unknown users do not know if they need to search it again or not. This one is personally more frustrating than most as I have numerous families who attended churches whose records are in the database.