More than Fifty Letters

A collection at the Nebraska State Historical Society contains over one hundred letters written to a first cousin of my second great-grandfather in the late 19th century. At least a dozen of those letters are actually written by my third great-grandfather, Johann Goldenstein (1814-1891) who spent his entire life in Wrisse, Ostfriesland, Germany. The vast majority of letters were written by family members to Johann’s nephew, William Ehmen of Gothenburg, Nebraska. Some of the letters were written to Ehmen’s wife and daughter.

There were a lot of them and the limits of my budget dictated that I focus on ones that I thought would be most helpful to my research. That list consisted of over fifty letters written by my ancestor, his daughter, his brother, and a few other select individuals.  I decided to not obtain copies of letters written by non-relatives and by one cousin of William that wrote approximately fifty letters. Sometimes one simply has to maintain a budget.

Staack-Ehmen Family, “Collection Record,” Nebraska State Historical Society

The inventory of the letters is specific and details the date of each letter, to whom it was addressed, and by whom it was written. That made determining which letters I wanted copies of fairly easy. The inventory was posted as a PDF file and I was tempted to simply have the computer search the text for specific last names in which I had an interest so that I saved time and did not overlook any references. That would have been a mistake. There are many letters from non-relatives and individuals who knew Ehmen before he lived in Nebraska (Ehmen was raised in Germany and lived in Adams County, Illinois, and Mendota, Illinois, before moving to Nebraska).

Staack-Ehmen Family, “Collection Record,” Nebraska State Historical Society

There were two letters from a Trientje Behrend[sic] of Keokuk Junction, Illinois (the original name for the town of Golden). One is undated and one is dated 1874. Members of the Goldenstein-Ehmen family are fairly well-documented. There is no Trientje Behrend in the family. It was the only name that stood out to me other than relatives of Ehmen.

But I am descended from a Trientje Behrends who lived near Golden, Illinois during the time frame in which the letters were written. It’s possible that the 1874 letter and the undated one are written by her. While I’m waiting for a copy of the letters, I need to determine if there was any other Trientje Behrend(s) living in or near Golden besides the one who is my relative. That will help me in determining if the letter was written by my relative or not. This Trientje is not related to the Goldenstein-Ehmen family at all, but simply lived in the same general area as family members did in Adams County. I cannot assume because the name Trientje Behrends is not all that common that there was only one person in the area with that name. While the population of Golden, Illinois, is small, it was heavily settled by Ostfriesen immigrants. Trientje is a common first name within the Ostfriesen community. Behrends is not as common, but it is not a rare surname either.

I’ve taken the inventory of letters and created an excel spreadsheet using the inventory details. That will help me to make certain I’ve got all the letters I wanted. It will also help me to craft citations when I get to that point. I can also include a column in the spreadsheet for the file name(s) of the images and any comments about the image when I’ve had a chance to look at it. That will help me to stay organized and give me something to do while I wait for the images to arrive.

That and try and determine how many Trientjes there were in Golden in the mid-1870s.

Specific comments and thoughts:

  • letters and similar material written by someone may be in an archives thousands of miles from where they lived
  • sometimes a manual search is necessary-I would not have found the Trientje Behrend reference otherwise
  • never assume your family “never left letters”–I’ve been researching this family for thirty years and never dreamed I’d find this sort of material on the family
  • organize material before you get it if possible–that will save time and confusion later
  • never assume that there is only one person in an area with the same name

Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards

Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills is off the presses and ready for  distribution. This volume is an entirely new replacement for the 2001 edition of this well-received guide to developing a career in genealogy. Times have changed.

This is a revised guide to developing and maintaining a professional genealogy career and contains excellent advice for genealogists at any stage of their career–not just those getting started. It also contains good advice for those who may have developed their career in a series of fits and starts. If you’ve been thinking of taking your research “up a notch” and migrating to a career in genealogy, there is a great deal of information to help you make that decision.

Remember that some professional genealogists are full time researchers (or lecturers, writers, etc.) and others are professional on a a part time basis–perhaps enough to “pay for their habit,” supplement the income when their significant other has full-time benefited employment, or augment income after retirement from their first career. Not all professional genealogists are full time and not all professional genealogists work directly in a genealogical field.

It’s not a guide to how to research. There are other books for that. It’s important to remember that if you are thinking of turning your genealogical research into a career, there are quite a few things to think about. Starting a genealogy career is more than simply calling yourself a professional after having researched for a while and putting out your shingle. This book, with chapters written by a variety of experts in the field, will guide you through that process.

You may decide professional genealogy is for you or you may decide it is not. But giving some thought and consideration to the process is advised. This book will help you to do that.

Table of Contents for “Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards,” courtesy of Elizabeth Shown Mills.


New York, Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers, 1865-1939 has “New York, Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers, 1865-1939” as  “recently added database.” It is probably more accurate to refer to it as a database that I recently noticed.

There are significant biographical details on the prisoners included in this database. The content does vary over time, but ages, place of birth, aliases, names of relatives, occupation, crime committed, physical, description and more are included.

Please read the description of the database before searching if you are unfamiliar with these records.

A Few Quick Reminders–From Michael and Riley

Riley is sitting on my lap as I review some recent discoveries. His advice is related to taking appropriate breaks, not losing your leash, and remembering boundaries (his are limited to the limits of our yard,  but there’s a point there as well).

Just a few quick reminders from me–apparently I need them as much as anyone else:

  • discoveries can always be made no matter how long you’ve researched an ancestor
  • no matter how completely you think you have researched someone there could still be something “new” out there
  • many of the “tree compilers” on various websites only use what is on other trees–they never get beyond the trees
  • a record on your relative could be filed in a repository thousands of miles from where they lived
  • your DNA matches may not be nearly as interested in research as you are–and that’s fine
  • nurture relationships with other researchers who are as interested as you are–you will be glad you did some day. Loyal genealogy friends can come in handy for a variety of reasons.

Married in Kentucky in 1820–Now What?

The problem was simple–“My ancestors were married in Kentucky in 1820 and I have no idea how to find their parents.” Unfortunately, there was no straightforward answer. Pre-1850 research in states that were not recording births and deaths can be challenging, particularly if the area was still a “frontier.” This week we look at some suggestions for one researcher dealing with a couple who married in 1820.

Knowledge of local records is helpful. If you are unaware of the types of records kept in Kentucky in the early nineteenth century, read the appropriate chapter of Red Book or the Kentucky Research Wiki from the Family History Library. Even if you have researched in this state for a while, a review of the materials may help you notice a source that has been overlooked. It is also advisable to see if genealogical periodicals have published articles on similar families.

The Census
Try to locate the couple in every census from 1820 until their deaths. Depending upon the exact date of the marriage, the couple might have been living with their parents as single children at the time of the 1820 census, or in their own household. Look for households bearing that surname (or the wife’s maiden name) that include a male and female of the correct age. Even if they were married before the census date, they could have easily been living with one set of parents on the enumeration date.

In later censuses, it’s possible that you’ll find that a parent moved in with them, although in enumerations before 1880 those relationships will not be stated. In census records before 1850, the appearance of an “older” male or female may suggest Grandpa or Grandma has moved in.

In every enumeration that you locate the married couple, look several pages before and after the entry for an older couple with the same surname as the husband or the maiden name of the wife. Of course, these individuals may also be uncles, aunts, cousins, or totally unrelated people, but you’ll want to cover all bases.

Online Family Trees
Consider performing searches on WorldConnectFamilySearch, and the Public Member Trees at Ancestry. Bear in mind that these compilations are secondary sources and should be validated and confirmed with other records, so do not simply copy information from these trees into your own family file. However, they may give you clues and you may find names or e-mail addresses of other researchers who have more information.

Tax Records
The census taker might occasionally miss people, but chances are the tax man will catch up with them. Look at tax lists in the county (and in collar counties) for two or three years before and after the marriage. Ferret out names of potential fathers of the couple. Many tax lists for the 1820s era have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library, and through it, at a local Family History Center. It may also be possible to obtain them through interlibrary loan. Some have even been transcribed and placed on the Web.

Pay particularly close attention to arrangement of the names. If the names appear to be alphabetical, clues as to the neighborhood will be lost. Otherwise, people whose names are near each other in the records are likely living within close proximity to each other. Once you locate name in a published or transcribed record, look for copies of the original, which will most likely be in microfilm format.

Court and Land Records
Records of court actions involving your ancestor may mention other family members, particularly if that court action involved the settlement of an estate. Court, land, and probate records should be searched for the potential parents. In some cases, this may be an extensive search (especially in cases where you are searching for a Smith who married a Brown). The search should start with probate records and continue to other court and land records. These records are generally county records and Red Book can provide more information.

Researchers should determine if any of these records have been published. One place to begin searching for printed local records (such as probate, court, and land records) is by searching WorldCat.

Did You Get All of the Marriage Records?
Marriage records in Kentucky in 1820 may also include marriage bonds in addition to a reference in the marriage register. These bonds would have likely been signed by a family member (or at the very least someone who knew the bride or groom well enough to know that there was no legal impediment to marriage). Unfortunately, not all locations will have marriage bonds and not all of the places that required them will still have extant copies.

There’s More?
There are other sources that might answer this 1820s question, but these are some good first steps. It really boils down to learning about the extant records in the area of research and finding out names of contemporaries of the couple who are old enough to be their parents. The next step is to exhaustively search available records in an attempt to determine which contemporaries are the likely parents. We have scratched the surface here in an attempt to get the researcher started. But just scratching the surface has the drawback that the itch to know the answer may not be cured.

A Discovery on ArchiveGrid

ArchiveGrid searches materials inventoried and cataloged in special collections across the United States. It is a wonderful way to locate unique materials that one can’t necessarily find online in Google and other internet searches.

It is important to remember that letters or family ephemera may be located hundreds or thousands of miles from where the person actually lived. I located letters written by a third-great-grandfather in an archives over a thousand miles from where he lived.

There may be restrictions on using these materials because they are in an archival collection and I’m waiting for a response about how copies can be obtained. It’s important to remember that just because you are the descendant of someone who wrote a letter or painted a picture you do not have automatic rights to use that item however you see fit–if you do not have possession of the actual item. If it is in an archival collection in a facility, that facility may have restrictions on how the item can be used.

So stay tuned.

Hopefully we will have an update–complete with images.

While Waiting for DNA Results and FamilyTreeDNA are having “DNA Day” sales.’s sale end on 29 April and FamilyTreeDNA’s sale ends on 28 April.

If you have one of the tests done–despite which one you do, time spent waiting to get the test and time spent waiting to get the results is not time that should be wasted. Think about your goals for the autosomal test. Think about the individuals and families you are hoping to make discoveries on.

But don’t forget the families you think you already have figured out. There’s two reasons for this:

  • you may make discoveries you didn’t even dream of on families that are “done”
  • working on the families you already know will help you to sort your matches

We’ve written before about what to do while waiting:

We’ve also written a few posts with some things to think about in terms of analyzing and interpreting your results:

FamilyTreeDNA DNA Day Sale - Celebrate With Big Savings!Taking a DNA test is not just as simple as spitting in a tube and waiting for your genealogy answers to be spit back at you in the form of test results. It will take time and patience to analyze your results.

Preparing for those results will help you to utilize the information you do receive. And remember that DNA will not answer every question. It will help you to make sense of some of the information you have already located and may give you some direction on other families.


A Genealogical Reminder from Barbara the Cow’s Pedigree

I’ve written about this before, but sometimes I am still amazed that livestock pedigrees as far back as 1938 are online at the American Angus Association’s website. Searching them is not so easy.

The image shown was for “Barbara 41 of Greenview” a cow born in November of 1938 and owned by my paternal grandfather.

Non-members can’t search by breeder or owner numbers–only by name. I did not know the name of any of my late Grandfather’s cattle, but a search for “Carthage” pulled up several references and I eventually found an animal with that word in its name.

Other than documenting a few animal sales, I didn’t really make any great discoveries on this site. But as with any piece of information, one needs to be careful in interpreting it. This cow was born in November of 1938 and lists my grandfather’s address as the owner. There’s no guarantee (based upon what is on this image) that he was living there in 1938 because the breeder’s name is not given and that date would be tied to the breeder and not to the owner.

A minor nuance to be certain.

But a reminder to think about what we find–what it says and what it does not.

I’m not certain if  Evidence Explained has a citation for livestock pedigrees in its pages. I’m reasonably certain this would be like citing any online database.

Swedish American Church Records are not on–yet

It’s apparently in progress, but for now it is just a big tease. There is a link on‘s “U.S., Evangelical Covenant Church, Swedish American Church Records, 1868-1970” for records of the Swedish American Church. The link has not worked in over a week as of this post. Apparently it is in the pipeline to be completed–I just wish would wait to make links to things after they have actually been posted.

Current as of 12:24 PM central time–20 April 2018