The Death Register’s “Organization”

I’ve been using a death register from Adams County, Illinois, in the 1870 and 1880 time period.

It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. The entries in the death register appear to have been created from the actual death certificates. That means that technically what is in the death register is secondary information since it was copied from another source (the death certificate). That also means that the death register may contain errors–intentional or otherwise–that were not present in the actual certificate.

The ordering of the entries in the death register is an additional challenge. They are not in numerical order in the death register. They appear to be somewhat alphabetical based on the first letter of the last name, but then there seems to be entries for other surnames thrown into the “wrong letter section.”

The reminders:

  • Always ask yourself “what am I looking at?”
  • Ask yourself “how did information get into this record?”
  • Determine how the records are organized.

I initially thought the arrangement was alphabetical by the first letter of the last name and then in certificate order. In other words all the “A” entries were together sorted by certificate number. That was not the case as there were entries for other letters thrown into the “A” entries.

It took some doing to find the entries of interest, even though I had dates of death and certificate numbers from an index. Never assume anything is organized the way it initially appears to be. You may be wrong.

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A Troutveller Feller

I’ve known about Theodore Trautvetter’s disappearance from Warsaw, Illinois, in the early 1890s. I also know that the middle-aged farmer returned home from his absence and lived out the rest of his life in the area.

This post is not about that.

It’s a quick reminder about a few things involving newspapers. The last name in a one sentence mention of Theodore in Chicago’s Inter Ocean, is written as Troutveller. That’s a typographical error at some stage of the game, but it’s not an error of the OCR software that read what was typed.

Troutveller is a variant spelling that results from the final two ts not being crossed. It’s not the sort of typical incorrect spelling that is based upon consonant or vowel sounds being interpreted differently.

The other reminder is that sometimes people who made “national news” may be mentioned in newspapers a distance from their residence in a location where they lived.

Had this disappearance been a discovery for me I would have looked for a reference to it in local newspapers as they likely had more information on the disappearance. My search should not stop with this one entry.

Because there’s more information on the Troutvetter feller in his hometown newspaper.

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Sorting out Some Potential DNA Trasks

One of the reasons for having my father-in-law do a DNA test at AncestryDNA was to see if I could make any headway on the ancestors of his ancestor, Samuel Trask. Samuel was born approximately in 1814 in Boston and moved to the Midwest by the 1840s where he married and had a family.

There are DNA matches with the test kit from descendants of three of the children Samuel Trask and his wife Lucinda Ramsey had. For purposes of hopefully sifting things out a little better, I am only looking at the shared matches the test kit has with the descendants of the two other children of Samuel and Lucinda. That way the shared matches are more focused on Samuel and Lucinda’s family. I’m calling these shared matches “pot A.”

Fortunately I have shared matches with the test kit that are known descendants of Lucinda’s parents–via siblings of Lucinda. I’m calling these shared matches “pot B.”

Pot A and Pot B have names in common. Some of the individuals who are related through descendants of Samuel and Lucinda are also related through descendants of Lucinda’s sisters.

But there are people in Pot A who are not in Pot B. These people are likely related through the Trask family and not through Lucinda’s family. Depending upon the amount of shared DNA, they may connect through an earlier member of the Trask family.

So those matches, shared matches with descendants of Andrew and Lucinda Trask’s children (from lineages other than the one through which the testee descends) that are not matches of Lucinda Trask’s sisters’ descendants, are potentially related to the Trask family only. Those are the ones I’m going to look at first for a potential Trask clue.

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Tracking While You Research

Downloading images from websites for personal research use is always advised. Then the researcher has the images even if they no longer can access them online for one reason or another.

While I should rename files as I download them, I will admit that I do not always do this and often wait until later. I do try and take advantage of the way in which the images are automatically named by the site when they are downloaded. For this reason, before I download too many images from a site, I look in my downloads folder to see how they are named.

This is done to see if there is some way I can use that automatic naming system to my advantage.

I was using Archion.de to view church records for Bad Salzungen, Germany, for members of several families. I was downloading any record that contained one of two names of interest for more detailed review later. I noticed that the file name included the “title” of the record as given in Archion’s system along with the image number. The image number was on my screen as I was viewing it. Instead of renaming the file right after I downloaded the image, I made notes as I was viewing the images and downloading them. There was one note for each image, which included at least the following:

  • image number,
  • name of interest on the record,
  • year of the entries on the page if not obvious,
  • anything else of interest.

At the very top of my note, I wrote the name of the website, the date, and other identifying information–including what names I was looking for when I viewed the records.

Between the image name for each individual download and my notes, I need enough information so that I know what I am looking at later; I know why I copied that particular page; and I can create a complete citation. Church records such as these are notorious for not always having page numbers, not including the year of the event on each page, not indicating what type of record is on each page, etc. This is why capturing all that information is crucial–because the creator of the record did not think it was necessary to repeat all that on each entry.

Missing out on clues is what happens when we pull only one entry or one page from a set of records.

I preferred to take the notes by hand on a sheet of paper while viewing and downloading the images, but electronic notes could be taken as well. When I was done viewing one set of images, I moved all the downloaded images to a new folder whose title was the name of the record set (Bad Salzungen–Church Burials–1784-1799) I then took a picture of my notes and put that image in the same folder along with the images.

The key is to track all the information later needed to understand and cite the record. I also find it helpful if the “save record” process is one that does not interrupt the research process. For me, I am more efficient when viewing records that are difficult to read, if I can concentrate on looking through those records and easily save each one as I find them.

Your process may vary. But it is key to capture identifying information about where you got the image, what type of record it is from, and why you copied it–as you copy/save/download the file. Find a way that gets that information and fits well with how you work.

But do not just take download after download and give no thought to how those images are named or organized. That is just asking for additional confusion.

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Genealogy Thoughts on “Connie’s Memories”

The picture based on my Mom’s memories got me thinking about genealogical research and how we put pieces of information together, how we remember information, and how we create a picture of an individual based up information we have obtained.

The items in Mom’s picture all existed. None of them were figments of her imagination. But I’m doubtful that they were all ever out in one place at the same time as they were in the painting. The bracelets from her birth were attached to the inside front cover of Mom’s baby book and from the way it looked they had been attached there for some time. However, I cannot really speak to how long the items were actually in the book. I can only speak to how long it appears they have been in the book.

That’s a good reminder about keeping in mind that we do not always know what we think we know. Appearances can be deceptive.

I also can’t imagine my grandmother letting Mom actually have the bracelets out to play with. But I could be wrong. The same goes for her baby shoes. Again: I was not there. I can’t say what happened twenty-five years before I was born. Some days I can’t remember what has happened twenty-five years after I was born.

Mom gave the painter pictures of the items from her childhood and the painter created a scene with them. It is somewhat similar to how we take pieces of information about a relative’s life and create a verbal picture of that life.

The artist had more leeway in creating her painting than we do with facts we discover and records we locate about an ancestor. The artist also told me that she had to guess about the color of certain items and the fact that she worked from black and white photographs in some cases. The artist was creating a new memory from old ones but had to either take artistic license or make a conjecture in order to complete the painting. Genealogists are trying, as best they can, to re-create a narrative as accurately as they can using records that often only provide information in bits and pieces.

We need to always consider the chronology in which events happened and make certain the time frame is as correct as we can make it. We need to remember things that are possible and things that likely are not (like Mom playing with the bracelets) when we are reaching conclusions.

We need to take care when we add unknown details to a record or a family situation. We need to make certain that unstated facts we infer are justified by the underlying structure of the records we used, the situation for which they were created, and the laws and customs in effect at the time that record was created.

The painting reminds me that human memories that we use in our family history research, even while accurate in certain details, may be off in terms of chronology. Record those memories as they are told to you for the memories themselves tell a story about how the teller viewed the events. Those who tell family stories may not be painters, but they are giving us a verbal picture with the memories which they share with us.

For me, the picture serves as a reminder of the fragility and the importance of memories.

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A Painting From Memory

“Connie’s Memories,” 2009, Marian Stamos, artist. Item in collection of Michael John Neill. Image used with permission of the artist
https://www.mstamosart.com/

The red rocker in the picture is nearly eighty years of age and is in amazingly good shape. I have it. It’s color is still vibrant given how much time has passed. The table and chairs have had the light blue paint stripped and have been refinished in a natural color, but are still functional. The stuffed bears have long since gone to that land where stuffed bears go when one last “surgery” is not very practical. The baby shoes strewn on the floor (with an apparent pair of socks) I think I actually have in storage box. The cat is likely one who never would have been allowed to set foot in the house the little girl lived in as a child. But it does resemble one that would sit on that little girl’s lap over six decades later long her granddaughters were significantly older than she is in this picture.

The two small bracelets on the table are from the birth of that little girl who weighed slightly less than five pounds when she was born in 1942. I have them and have held them in my hand. They are small. I realized that the little girl was smaller than my slightly over five pound grandson born just a month ago. A little boy who, while he flourished, was small. And then I remember that my mother, the little girl in the picture, was even smaller and the little blue bracelet with her name on it is a physical reminder of just how small she was and how lucky she was to survive.

The painting is one that my mother asked a friend to paint in 2009 to include Mom as a child along with things she remembered from her childhood. The picture was not intended to capture a specific moment but rather was to serve as a reminder of a larger time in Mom’s life. There’s been a little bit of artistic license with the time frame.

I reached out to the artist to get her permission to use an image of her painting in this blog post and to see what she could tell me about the creation of the picture. I knew the artist’s name without even looking to see what it was. She was in my parents’ wedding. She went to school with my Mom. Her annual Christmas card arrived from somewhere seemingly exotic and sophisticated (at least to me) and Mom would always be excited to receive it. The long-term friend of my Mom’s-turned-artist was, as we like to say back home, “a little bit of relation.”

Permission was graciously granted for me to use an image of the painting. We discussed several things in an email conversation, and it seemed that “Connie’s Memories” the painting had transitioned into “memories of Connie.” The one thing that I will share is that, unbeknownst to me, the artist met me when I was still a newborn.

My own memories do not extend that far.

I’m not certain if the book on the table is a special book or not. But I do know that a photograph of my mother was used as inspiration for the girl shown in the picture. Mom had that color hair as a child although the black and white pictures I have do not show that. The artist would know.

It’s a nice painting and it reminds me of Mom and the things that some of us have from our childhood–either physically or only existing in our minds–that serve to remind us of that childhood. I think those things and those memories were a comfort to Mom. And maybe that little girl is looking out the window and wondering what life will hold for her in the future.

Ironically it makes me think about the past.


Don’t forget before you use any images created by other individuals–paintings, photographs, digital imagery, sketches, etc.–get permission to use those images or images of those items online. Possession of the original is not sufficient to allow you to plaster images of something all over the internet.

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AncestryDNA Ethnicity Now Includes East Frisia

AncestryDNA‘s ethnicity estimates now include East Frisia–more affectionately known as Ostfriesland.

I’m glad to see they’ve started to work on refining geographic areas within Europe, but I’m still viewing these estimates as pretty much entertainment because they are estimates based upon some actual data, some assumptions, and some guesswork.

The only time I put stock in them is when they are significantly different from what is expected. Examples of my loose definition of “significantly different” would be:

  • Someone who thinks they are Swedish and English showing that they are 25% Italian.
  • Someone who thinks they are entirely Italian and Greek showing that they are 15% Irish.

My own current ethnicity estimates at AncestryDNA are numerically inconsistent with my genealogical tree which is:

  • 50% Ostfriesian
  • 12.5% Irish
  • 12.5% German
  • 25% Likely English, Irish, Scot, and German

That said, they are not geographically inconsistent. People moved over centuries. The regions where I have significant concentrations according to
AncestryDNA (Sweden and Norway) but have so far found none in my background are not geographically inconsistent with having northwestern European ancestry or English ancestry. My low Irish percentage is likely because at least half of my Irish ancestors were Protestant and likely from Scotland.

So I may joke about my DNA results, but they are not that inconsistent from my tree. That’s what matters.

These estimates are just that: estimates.

Although that low Irish percentage bothers me and my mother (from whom I get all Ostfriesland ancestors), would likely be a little bit irritated.

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StoryScout Flubs It Up

Ancestry.com’s 1920 census index transcription for Nancy J. Rampley of St. Albans’ Township, Hancock County, Illinois, correctly transcribes her “race” as “white.” It’s easy to read on the actual census.

But while looking at Ancestry.com’s new “StoryScout” entry for Nancy, I wondered why it was talking about voting rights for African-Americans. The county in which Nancy lived was overwhelmingly white throughout her lifetime and certainly so during the time of the 1920 census.

Why was StoryScout discussing it? It was particularly odd since StoryScout seems to pride itself on being relevant to the life of the ancestor it is discussing.

Then I realized that for some reason, apparently StoryScout thinks Nancy Jane was black. This statement is made in a section of the “story” where it discusses Nancy’s 1920 census entry.

This is what happens when stories are autogenerated with key elements pulled from the depths of a database that apparently has incorrect information. Nancy Jane was not African-American. To the best of my knowledge every record for her that provides an answer for “race” indicates she was white or Caucasian.

Nothing wrong with being Black. Nothing wrong with discussing how Americans have been striving to vote since the country began. But lets get the details straight so you know what elements of the automated story to plug into the “story” that’s being written.

The story also says “your 2nd great-grandmother lived in Saint Albans, Illinois.” That is just awkward. No one says that. It is Saint Albans Township. Nancy lived in the village of West Point. Auto-generated stories often result in phrases that are at best awkward and, at worst, incorrect. To a local person or anyone familiar with local geography and place names, this sounds like it was written by someone who really did not know what they were talking about.

The 1920 census even indicates that Nancy was living in West Point Village–not just the larger area known as St. Albans Township.

I realize these “stories” are an attempt to get people engaged in their family history.

But lets get the details right.

To top it off, I don’t know what Nancy thought about women getting the right to vote. She may have been all in favor or it or she may not have. She is one of the thousands of women who did not leave a record behind of her feelings about getting the right to vote.

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Many Katherines have a Vicky

One of my DNA matches, Katherine, is a descendant of my ancestor, Samuel Sargent. Her tree indicates that she descends from the same Samuel Sargent that I do. To be certain she and I were actually related through Samuel Sargent—and that there was not some other shared ancestor I simply had not located on her tree—I looked at the shared matches I had with Katherine.

I looked at what I am calling Katherine’s pool of matches. That pool consists of each of her matches and the shared matches have with those matches. If the majority of Katherine’s matches also descend from Samuel Sargent (or someone reasonably connected to him on my genetic tree) then I’ll feel pretty certain that I’m correct in concluding that the genetic connection I have to Katherine is through Samuel Sargent.

Katherine’s pool was created from the five matches she shared with me.

Tyler—No matches I share with Tyler are already identified to a specific connection to me. Matches of matches were also unidentified, but two matches did have the surname of Dingman which was the maiden name of Samuel’s daughter-in-law who is my ancestor. That may be a coincidence.

Alexia—First shared match with Alexia was a descendant (LOT) of my great-grandparents—those in my line of descent from Samuel Sargent. Second shared match with Alexia was a known descendant of Samuel Sargent. Other 15 shared matches with Alexia have connections that are unknown but they all had LOT as a shared match consistent with a Sargent connection.

William—William’s genealogical connection to me is unknown. William’s first shared match was another descendant (GIH) of my great-grandparents who are in my line of descent of Samuel Sargent. Another of William’s shared matches with me had LOT and GIH as shared matches. Another of William’s shared matches is a known descendant of John Powley whose granddaughter married a son of Samuel Sargent. The other six shared matches could not be determined.

Michael—Two of Michael’s shared matches with me are known descendants of Samuel Sargent.

Fred—One shared match with Fred is a known descendant of Samuel Sargent. Seven of the other eight matches are names that appeared in the shared matches I had with the other matches I shared with Katherine. Then there was Vicki.

ThruLines pegged Vicki as a descendant of my ancestors Johann and Elska (Fecht) Janssen. Vicki’s short tree only extends to her grandparents, but I didn’t need ThruLines to tell me how she was related as I already had her grandparents in my database. The amount of shared cM she and I have are consistent with that genealogical relationship. Confirming the relationship with Vicki was the fact that the first six matches on our shared list of matches are individuals I have already documented as descendants of Johann and Elska (Fecht) Janssen—including two of my Mom’s first cousins.

Here is why Vicki matters and why the analysis of your DNA results is not always as simple as it appears. I have many families who overlap geographically. Physical proximity of families means that in some cases my DNA matches and shared matches with those matches can be confusing because of multiple relationships or matches of mine sharing ancestors with each other that I do not have.

Then there is Vicki’s genetic connection to me. She’s a shared match with several of my Sargent matches, but her ancestral connection to me through the Janssens is closer (a set of third great-grandparents) than my connection to Katherine and the other matches I share with Katherine. The connection to Vicki is also in a different geographic location: Ostfriesland, Germany, via Hancock County, Illinois. Even if I had been unable to determine the relationship with Vicki based upon her tree, her shared matches told me that she was not a Sargent descendant. She has entirely too many matches with my maternal families.

The Sargent family in my background did not marry into my extended set of Hancock County, Illinois, families until 1898 after arriving in the county in 1880. My other Hancock County families lived in two general parts of the county and many had been neighbors back east or in Europe. The Sargent family was the exception.

Vicki and I only have one shared segment of 21 cM of DNA.

Somewhere, at some point in her tree, Vicki probably had an ancestor who is also an ancestor of some of my Sargent relatives—but is not an ancestor of me. It is possible that Vicki and I have more than one genealogical connection. My suspicion is that Vicki is related to a small subset of my Sargent DNA cousins.

When you look at that list of shared matches you have with a match (particularly once you get past second or third cousins), do not assume that they all have to be related in the same way or even through the same general family. There could easily be the occasional shared match with a match who is related to you in a different way.

That match you cannot figure out can be an outlier.

Many Katherines have a Vicki.

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