Superficial Purposes

In the most recent issue of Casefile Clues, I discussed two Civil War pension affidavits from 1915 that were used in support of a claim for a veteran from Missouri. One of the affidavits gave the names of the parents of the veteran and his siblings. I’m reasonably certain he knew who his parents and his siblings were. I’m not doubting the accuracy of the information he provided, but it is possible he provided inaccurate information.

I did have an issue with the names as I read through the list. It was not that I thought the names were incorrect, but that the list appeared to be incomplete.

The list as provided did not include at least one other known child of the parents–a child who was actually living in 1915 and who survived until the 1940s. I suspect that it did not list children who had died before reaching adulthood.

Then I got to thinking about why the veteran made out the affidavit. It was not to leave a complete family record for someone to uncover a hundred years later.

It was done in support of his pension claim.

Documents in Civil War pension claims for the veteran usually appear for one of two broad reasons:

documenting the veteran’s service

documenting injuries and illnesses that resulted from that service

His deceased siblings would not be able to testify to any of that. Some of his living siblings would not be able to testify to that either–particularly his war service for those siblings born during the war. His parents were dead in 1915, so they could not testify either–I was lucky that they were even mentioned.

To throw another monkeywrench into the list of siblings, the veteran indicated that “his parents” had the children who were named. Not mentioned in the affidavit was the fact that the veteran’s father had been married to someone else before he married the veteran’s mother. He had children with that first wife. Were those children listed? After all they weren’t technically children of “his parents.”

When looking at any document or statement one has to get below the surface of what’s stated and get to the purpose of the document.

Sometimes that is easier than others.

The first wife of the veteran’s father was a sister to the veteran’s father’s second wife.

But that’s another story.



Is It Worth It?

Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. Genealogical curiosity can kill your budget and bank account.

An earlier post discussed Soundex cards to Baltimore passenger lists in the 19th century. The cards located were for several members of my family. I’ve seen the actual passenger lists for this family so locating the cards for me was an academic exercise.

As mentioned in the blog post, the cards referenced the back of the card in the location where “other family members” were to be listed. The back of the cards were not filmed. Because of how the  cards were created, I decided it wasn’t going to be worth it to obtain a copy of the back of the card.

And then I got emails saying that I should see the back of the cards.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what it would cost to get the copy of the back of the card. And while I realize curiosity is a good thing for the genealogist, curiosity must be balanced with practicality and reality. As mentioned in the blog post, the cards were a finding aid to the actual manifest. Information on the card was simply taken from the manifest decades later in the creation of the index.

Here is where thinking about how the records were created and why they were created is important. The cards were a finding aid for someone who needed to locate his date and place of entry into the United States. The names of others who were travelling with the person on the manifest were added to assist the searcher in locating the desired name. This way if the “right name” could not be found by searching for it directly (because it was written incorrectly on the actual manifest and hence indexed in the same way), a searcher could search for others that the immigrant remembered traveled with and if their name was located on an index card, the name of the person of interest should show up as someone in the “traveling with” section of the card. It’s worth remembering that these cards were created before computerized database searches and searching for other family members was a good technique. The cards were not created as a genealogical source.

While it may be desirable to obtain a copy of every record created on your relative, there are some things to consider:

  • What is the cost of obtaining the record?
  • Was this “record” really a new record or was it created from information on another record (ie. an abstract)?
  • Is the probable informant on this record one whose “opinion” or “information” I don’t already have?
  • What information is typically on this record?
  • How reliable do I perceive the information to be on this record?
  • How was this record created and what was its purpose?
  • Do I already have this information from reliable sources?
  • Is this record likely to provide really new information?
Of course, sometimes it interesting to have any record on an ancestor and any record can contain new information. But sometimes some thinking and reflection may make you decide if obtaining the record is actually worth it–especially if the cost is significant.
Because we can’t always afford everything.

Unnamed Children of the Unnamed Father-It Doesn’t Matter

An affidavit from 17 June 1915 made out by C. W. Smith of Marceline, Missouri, addresses the family bible of the parents of Civil War pensioner William Lake.

The affidavit indicated that the bible contained the family record of the claimant’s father–who is not named. It does not use the word “mother” in the statement.


The affidavit indicated that there were thirteen births referenced in the bible. Only two of those births are mentioned:

  • William on 10 January 1848
  • Sarah on 19 December 1848

Apparently the proximity of the dates is the problem and the affidavit stated that William’s date of birth should have been in 1847. In may be frustrating that the other children are not mentioned, but there is a reason:

their dates of birth were not germane to the pension claim of William Lake

Documents of this type are in pension applications for a reason. They are not in the application to provide information for future genealogists. They are in the application to help the application get approved and provide documentation for key aspects in the application. In this case that was William’s date of birth. Sarah’s birth is only mentioned because the dates are a little too close for comfort for the affiant. That’s the only reason Sarah is mentioned at all this affidavit contained in her brother William’s pension application.

Too bad the others are not mentioned.

And what about why it says record of “father” and not parents? That could be the result of bias on the part of the man writing out the affidavit.

Or it could be because John Lake, William’s father, was married more than once (which he was) and had children with both wives. That may be why it said records of the births of William’s father.

Records don’t exist solely to provide us with information and don’t assume we know why something was stated the way it was.

There may be something we don’t know.

William Lake was a private in Company I, 49th Missouri Regiment. This affidavit is from his pension application.


The Missing Shared Matches–Part II

The testee in “Missing Shared Matches” (using the autosomal DNA test at  AncestryDNAhad two close maternal relatives that also tested:

  • the grandson (referred to as A) of his mother’s sister
  • the grandson (referred to as B) of his mother’s mother’s brother

The testee obviously will have shared DNA matches with both A and B. The testee, A, and B share a set of great-grandparents (Louis and Marie). The testee and A share a set of grandparents (William and Mary). Mary is the daughter of Louis and Marie.

The testee and A should have more shared matches that the testee does with B. A is more closely related. On paper:

  • A and the testee should have 1/2 of the same genealogical ancestry–they share two out of four grandparents, four out of eight great-grandparents, etc.–because their mothers were siblings
  • B and the testee should have 1/4 of the same genealogical ancestry. They share two out of eight great-grandparents, four out of sixteen great-grandparents, etc.


The paper percentages are a guideline of shared DNA and proportions of shared matches because:

  • the amount of DNA you inherit from a great-grandparent may not be exactly one-eighth of your DNA–it’s been split and passed a few times by the time it gets to you.
  • shared matches at AncestryDNA depend upon the size of your family, how many relatives have tested, and how much DNA the testee got from a specific ancestor

So just because A and the testee have 1/2 of the same paper pedigree and that the testee and B have 1/4 of the same paper pedigree does not mean that the number of shared matches B has with the testee will be half of what the testee has with A.

But when the shared matches were reviewed there was a problem.

The shared matches the testee had with A and the shared matches the testee had with B were all the same or could be traced to a relative of Louis and Marie. The testee had no shared matches with A that were not also a match with B or who could not be shown to be a relative of Louis and Marie.

Louis and Marie were ethnic French-Canadians born in upstate New York. William was born in Chicago.

But shouldn’t the testee and A have shared matches with each other that are not shared matches with B?

Stay tuned.


Census Misconceptions

  • This is a fake census entry for illustrative purposes. Do not email me about the Guffermans. 😉

    Pre-1850 US census records tell you nothing. They can provide some information about general members of the household, but the analysis is not as easy as with census records 1850 and after.

  • Tax records can be a good census substituteTax records can be used as part of an extensive research plan and they are helpful when census records are not extant, but keep in mind that tax records serve a different purpose than do census records. Census records were theoretically meant to count everyon
  • e. Tax records usually locate people who have property to tax…usually.
  • Census records are always inaccurateCensus records can be correct or they can be incorrect–just like any record. Some families were better about giving more accurate information (or tell the truth) than others, some were easier to understand than others, some enumerators did a better job than others, etc. Don’t assume the census is always wrong. It’s not.

Census records contain details that were considered useful at the time. They served a certain purpose and they were created by humans–just like any other record. And they should be analyzed in the same way–just like any other record.


Getting the Signature of Andrew Trask

This is the only signature we have of Andrew Trask, born ca. 1814 Mass. died in Mercer County, Illinois in the 1880s. It comes from his land purchase in Clinton County, Illinois, in 1845. Cash land sale files (available from the National Archives in Washington, DC) typically contain little in the way of identifying information. Usually these files contain only receipts for payments that were made on the property. Credit sales may have more receipts, but outright cash purchases usually contain little genealogical information.
Although sometimes, depending upon the precise genealogical problem, the signature can be helpful. It wasn’t really helpful in this case, but it is the only image I have of Andrew’s signature.

Now if we could just get his picture.


State Records are not Federal Records: Andrew Trasks’ Two Illinois Purchases of Government Land

Confusion often results from a lack of knowledge.
Years ago, I located a relative in the “Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database” on the Illinois State Archives website as shown below.
Andrew Trask acquired property first in Clinton County, Illinois, and then in Mercer County, Illinois. Records in Mercer County clearly indicate the entries are for the same person. That’s not really the question or the point of this post.

The problem is that when I searched the Bureau of Land Management website for Andrew, the only results I obtained were for ones in Clinton County, Illinois, as shown below.

No amount of clever searching located the  Mercer County entries.

Was there a mistake?


The problem was my lack of knowledge about the databases at the time. The property Trask purchased in Mercer County, Illinois, was in section 16 of the township. That section is part of the clue as to why the entries were not in the Bureau of Land Management database. The Northwest Ordinance of 1785 reserved section 16 of townships in the Northwest Territory for schools. This land (for schools and other general improvement) was donated by the federal government to the states and it was the state that issued a patent for the property, not the federal government.

That’s what happened in Trask’s case. His purchase of the property in Mercer County was not a federal transaction–it was a state one.

The Clinton County acquisitions were cash sales of federal land–that’s why the entries in that location are in the Bureau of Land Management’s database of patents.

The Mercer County acquisitions were also cash sales, but it was of state land–that’s why those entries are not in the Bureau of Land Management’s database.

Understanding the history and the origin of records can cause you to make fewer incorrect assumptions.


The Missing Shared Matches

There are reasons to sort out your DNA matches for those families that you have no desire to work on and who were not the “reason you took the test.” That’s not just because you may change your mind about one of those families. Sorting out the families you “weren’t going to work on” may help you sort out the ones you really are after in the first place.

A relative recently took a DNA test at AncestryDNA. The reason for the test was to possibly determine the identify of the maternal grandfather. The maternal grandfather was believed to have been born in Chicago, Illinois, around 1888 and was adopted sometime in the mid-1890s. He was the reason for the test. The other three grandparents were relatively well documented and not the purpose of the testing.

The adopted grandfather’s wife was of French-Canadian origin. Born in upstate New York in the 1890s, she and her father came to Chicago around the turn of the 20th century. Her ancestry can be traced into numerous families from Quebec. She’s almost entirely of ethnic French ancestry and most of it is well documented.

The testee’s father was born in Missouri, came to Chicago during the Great Depression where he met the testee’s mother in the 1920s–the testee’s mother was the daughter of the adopted man and the French-Canadian woman. The testee’s father’s family has been traced back several generations and with family generally from Kentucky, Tennessee and Southern US states east of those locations.

The testee’s DNA results were put into three pools of distinct matches:

  • French-Canadians
  • Missourians
  • everyone else

It was thought that “everyone else” would be relatives of the adopted grandfather.

And “everyone else” probably was. One of the fairly close relatives (FCR) who tested was a descendant of the adopted man and the French-Canadian wife. The relative was their great-grandchild. The testee was their grandchild.

I had the pool of French-Canadians and “everyone else.” They were relatives of the testee’s mother. The testee’s mother and the grandmother of FCR were sisters.

But when I looked at the shared matches of the testee and FCR they only had the French-Canadians in common.

Not one member of the “everyone else” pool was a shared match with FCR. And not one member of the “everyone else” pool shared any matches with the Missourians–relatives of the testee’s father.

There was a slight fly in the ointment.




Some Ways to Save Genealogy Money

This list is not by any means comprehensive, but here are some ways to save money on genealogical expenses:

  • utilize local genealogical societies–through the mail, their website, their Facebook page, etc.
  • utilize local libraries where your ancestor lived
  • use FamilySearch to access the record images they have on their site
  • use your local Family History Center to access records at FamilySearcthat cannot be accessed at home
  • determine what your local public library has access to
  • don’t buy overnight copies of documents
  • coordinate research with others
  • consider having someone consult on your research instead of actually hiring them
  • organize your research before hiring a professional
  • consider asking for genealogy presents at holidays instead of things you might not really ever use
  • use trial periods for sites when you’ll actually have time to use them
  • improve your research skills and your knowledge of methodology

Remember that genealogy cannot be done completely for free–particularly if people are helping you, getting records for you, etc. Some people are able to help for free–if not all the time, at least some of the time. But remember the other people. They have to eat.


Seven Freed Slaves in Bath County, Kentucky in 1840

The will of William Newman of was admitted to probate in December of 1840 in Bath County, Kentucky and states in part:

My negro man Sam I give him his freedom & an axe my negro woman Hannah I give her her freedom one ten gallon kettle a large oven a pair of Smoothing irons and a tea kettle and a sifter and a table my negro woman Mary I give her her freedom one Ten gallon kettle one Small kettle and a linnen wheel I also give Marys children their freedom Martha Sam Milly & Hannah with all her increase forever

I wrote about the will itself in a recent issue of Casefile Clues, but did not really address Newman’s slaves in that commentary. As a reader pointed out, based upon the names of the children, it appears that the slaves freed in this will were a family (two children of Mary were named for other slaves).

William’s 1840 federal census enumeration in Bath County, Kentucky (as Wm. Newman) includes the following individuals:

  • white male between 70 and 79 [presumably Newman]
  • 2 male slaves under 10
  • 3 female slaves under 10
  • 1 female slave between 36 and 54
  • 1 female slave between 55 and 99

Newman’s will was written in 1836. The four year gap could easily account for any additional children Mary had in the interim. The adult Samuel does not appear to have been in this enumeration. Mary is presumably the female between 36 and 54 in 1840 and Hannah is presumably the female between 55 and 99.

As those with enslaved ancestors are well aware, research during this time period is difficult. However this will does suggest a family relationship which is why researchers with enslaved ancestors often utilize records of their ancestors’ former owners.

To help try and understand this apparent family unit a little better, we’ll take a look later at Newman’s pre-1840 census enumerations and see also if there are any records of the manumission of his slave in local deed books in Bath County where his will was probated.

Whether the freed slaves stayed in Bath County or left the area is something that is not known at this time.