Thoughts on Another Spelling

As mentioned on Genealogy Tip of the Day, I recently discovered another variant spelling for my ancestor Franciska Bieger’s name: Francis KaBücher. That discovery reminded me of several things beyond just being aware that there can always be an additional spelling variant.

The spelling came from the 1895 marriage in Hancock County, Illinois, of Franciska’s daughter Ida Etta Trautvetter. It was not the spelling for Franciska’a name that was on Ida Etta’s marriage application (which was a part of the license). That spelling was Franciska Bücher. When the clerk went to write the entry for the marriage in the marriage register, he apparently read the name as Francis KaBücher. Since he likely was unfamiliar with the name it is easy to see how this could happen.

The marriage register is a summary of what is on the marriage license. It contains no additional information. The marriage license would be considered an original source and the marriage register would be a derivative one (in this specific instance). That’s because the information was put on the license first and then from the license put in the register. The information on the marriage license is a combination of primary and secondary information.

Some may wonder why even bother with the register since it (in this instance) contains derivative information that is already contained in the license. There are reasons. A notation may appear on the register that is not on the license. There may be something on the license that is now illegible or the licenses may no longer be extant and the register may be all that is available.

I’m always glad to obtain additional spelling variants for an ancestor’s name. Those variants help me to search more effectively for that person in other records and give me some insight into how the individual likely pronounced their name. In this case it confirmed (for me) that some members of the family pronounced the last name of Franciska (which was actually Bieger) as something close to Bücher. This flies right in the face of advice I received from a German expert years ago, very early in my research, who told me that Bieger and Bücher were not variant spellings.

They might not be in German. While Franciska’s father was of Germanic origin, I’m not researching him in Germany. I’m researching him in the United States where the records are in English. There are no records on Franciska’s father, Peter Bieger, where he actually wrote his own name. The records that contain his name were all written completely be a records clerk–there was no signature.

Which has me thinking: was the name actually Bücher?

At this point I am not certain. I’m not certain that it matters at this point. What does matter is that I use all the variant surnames I have and try and make certain that no matter what the rendering of the name is that I have tried to be as certain as humanly possible that I have the same person, no matter how the last name is spelled–as long as it’s relatively close one of my Bieger or Bücher alternate spellings.


Those Were “L”s and Not “T”s

It would be easy to conclude that these letters are lower-case “t”s with a cross. They are not.

The image above is a summary of the grantor/grantee information for those using the record copy of the deed. The actual deed record, shown partially in the image below clearly indicates that the first names of both men were intended to be William.

This image comes from FamilySearch‘s “Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986” and is actually from Middlesex County Deeds  vol 1, pp. 170-171.

The lines on the names are meant to indicate that letters have been omitted.


Why You Should Read the Introduction

This is a page that appears before a microfilmed copy of declarations of intent for Hamilton County, Ohio between 1848-1851 (Family History Library film 1415117). A big clue that something was different about these records would be the consistent handwriting from one page to the next and the fact that every signature was the same.

This might explain why I am having trouble finding the arrival of Peter Bigger on a date that matches the one on his declaration of intent that appears on this roll of microfilm.

Read those introductions–you might realize you’ve overlooked something.


Genealogical Misconceptions

This originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 2/29/2000

This is a semi-serious look at some misconceptions that genealogists (and non-genealogists) have about family history.

1) We all have a famous ancestor, somewhere. I have found the names of over three hundred of my ancestors and have yet to have any of them qualify as “famous.” In some cases, you may want to reconsider being related to someone famous. Hard-working, law-abiding relatives are nothing to be ashamed of. Try and document your ancestors accurately, whether they were famous or not.

2) There are no “early” babies or shady stories in my family tree. Trace your ancestry completely for six generations and then we will talk.

3) There were three brothers with the last name of [Takeyourpick] who came to America. We descend from the youngest (oldest, middle, tallest, smartest, etc.). If this is true, then the number of families who had three sons is beyond statistical expectations. Check it out.

4) Immmigrants were all poor. There’s no doubt that the vast majority of them were and came to America with only the clothes on their backs. Once in a while though, you’ll find one who had a little bit of money and came to America hoping to make more.

5) Life before 1900 was one of bucolic pastoral bliss, dotted by barn raisings and church socials. Life before 1900 was hard. No running water, no electricity, no law (in some areas), rudimentary medical care (if any), child labor, and few of life’s creature comforts. This only scratches the surface. I’m not even so certain life was “simple.” If I want a loaf of bread, I go to the store. Great-great-grandma likely did not.

6) Everyone likes to hear the tales of “notorious” ancestors. Not everyone will think the story of great-great-great-grandma’s four husbands, two divorces, involvement in a murder, and the running of a tavern should be included in the family history.

7) Census ages are always correct. You must be kidding.

8) Official records should not contain errors. They do. The best way to deal with it is to try and research around it where possible.

9) Genealogists are all retired. Not so. There are genealogists out there who have yet to hit forty or retirement. If you see one who has yet to hit puberty, tell them to interview their grandparents now. Most of all encourage them, gently.

10) Genealogy is not an intellectual hobby. Ever tried to read through (and understand) sixty pages of court records from the 1840s? I’ve taken calculus exams that made more sense. Same thing goes for platting property in metes and bounds. Talk about applied mathematics.

11) My family has a castle in Europe. Some did, but don’t believe it until you see it. Don’t really believe it until you see the deed, title, etc.

12) My ancestor served with Washington, Lee, Grant, etc. Choose your war . . . take your pick. There are lots of these stories. Check them out before believing them. Document your ancestor’s service, accurately.

13) I got it on the Internet, therefore it must be true. Nope.

14) I got it on the Internet, therefore it must be false. Nope.

15) I can do my genealogy entirely via the Internet. Nope.

16) I can do my genealogy without the Internet. Possibly, but it really saves time.

17) The records in State Y are closing because it was posted to the genealogy mailing list for that state. Check out rumors before you spread them. Think before you forward or copy and paste this type of information to other people or lists.

18) I can do all my research using only vital records, obituaries, and census records. Goodness! There’s a vast treasure trove of other sources out there that you can utilize.

19) My surname has always been spelled the same way; we never changed it. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

20) Everyone replies to e-mail immediately. Some genealogists have non-genealogy commitments, such as family and employment. Be patient and wait a few days before posting a follow-up e-mail.

21) I can trace my ancestry in one afternoon at the computer. Time for a reality check.

22) I can trace my ancestors in one afternoon at the Family History Center. (see number 21)

23) Someone has already traced my entire family tree. I Just Have to Find It. That’s the tricky part—finding it! Then comes the fun of documenting it.

24) Documentation is only for genealogical geeks who get cheap thrills by asking, “Where did you find it?” How will you ever compare three different birth dates for Grandpa if you don’t know where you obtained each date?

25) Genealogists are nuts. More likely they are truly focused on their research. However, one correspondent told me that working on genealogy “beats spending all my free time at a bar.”

26) Genealogists are rude at the courthouse or library. Genealogists are people and a few are rude. Just make certain it’s not you. No family historian wants to walk into the courthouse just after the most obnoxious genealogist on the planet has left the building.

27) Genealogy is boring. You must be kidding. I’ve learned a great deal about history, culture, and myself researching my own family.

28) You ought to be done with that family history by now. Well, I would except every time I find one ancestor I have two more parents to learn about.

29) There is one best genealogical software package. Most have their pros and cons. Pick one that works for you, keep alert for new packages, but only change when you have good reason to. Time spent upgrading and upgrading and constantly learning new packages can be spent doing research.

30) You are completely addicted if you search the ingredient list of your breakfast cereal for your ancestral surnames. This is likely true, but I’m not admitting to this one in public!

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. Learn more about it.


A Trade Off to Build Your Genealogy

Writing is an excellent way to refine your research and notice mistakes, omissions, and opportunities. This is true even if you have no intention of actually “publishing” your research.

Consider this challenge. Ask a genealogy friend (preferably who is NOT related to the family you will be writing about) if they will work out a trade with you.

You will write up one family or research problem. Your friend will write up one of their own research problems. Both of you should write up problems on families on which the other one is NOT working. You should cite sources. You and your friend can set a word length or range (2,000-2,500 is good, but entirely optional).

Trade writeups. Your assignment then is to:

  • find 4 resources you think the writer should utilize in searching the family.
  • gently comment on any reasoning or logic you do not understand.
  • write down any assumptions the writer makes that you think might need to be changed.
  • anything else that you think might help the researcher to solve their problem.

Your job is not necessarily to edit grammar and the like (unless both parties agree to that). You are to be polite and gentle if there is some glaring error or omission, not mean and spiteful. The goal is to help each other with your research. Remember that your reader does not know the family like you do. You will have to provide background information where necessary.

You and your friend have a lot to gain. Are you up to the challenge?


They Stole My Stuff

Note: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on the Internet. Seek legal counsel if you have serious copyright issues you wish to pursue legally–but remember–it ain’t cheap.

I realize that they are “your” ancestors and you probably have some emotional attachment to them. That’s perfectly normal.

You may also have some emotional attachment to facts that have taken you a long time, some money, and a great deal of time to ascertain. Let’s say that you “discover” that Johann Schmitpluffer was born on 12 August 1739 in Gottareallylongschmirkingname, Germany, the son of Erasmus and Anna (Umlautholder) Schmitpluffer.

You decide put those facts online, perhaps including your analysis along with those facts. It is a very long and detailed analysis, reflecting your research and your own creative way of writing up the analysis. Creative here meaning that your prose is eloquent, engaging and keeps the reader on the edge of her seat. We do not  mean “creative” in the sense that you made it all up.

Your distant cousin from Bangor decides to use the fact that Johann Schmitpluffer was born on 12 August 1739 in Gottareallyloneschmirkingname, Germany, the son of Erasmus and Anna (Umlautholder) Schmitpluffer in his genealogy database, his blog etc.

Oh, your “taters are irked.” You fly off a nasty email–it is not eloquent and it is not engaging. He has used “your” information and he needs to pull it.

Sorry, it’s not your information. It is a fact and you have no more right to use that fact than anyone else.

Your distant cousin from Seattle decides to copy all your eloquent, engaging prose and use it in its entirety in her own material. The Seattle relative does not give you one whit of credit. That’s a problem and that’s a violation of your copyright because your paragraphs of writing were used. Whether you can get the Seattle resident to remove their material or cease from using it is another story. You can try and convince them nicely to remove the paragraphs of your writing, but they may choose not to. Enforcing your copyright may not be easy and if you decide to hire lawyers it certainly isn’t cheap. You may contact the ISP or the web host that houses the information and prove that the prose is yours. You may get lucky and they may remove it.

And if your cousin in Seattle removes the prose and replaces it with:

Johann Schmitpluffer was born on 12 August 1739 in Gottareallyloneschmirkingname, Germany, the son of Erasmus and Anna (Umlautholder) Schmitpluffer.

There’s not a lot you can do.

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. Learn more about it.


Thinking of Genealogical Proof as an Infant

I’ll be honest, I don’t like the phrase “genealogical proof.” There I said it. If I’m in trouble, so be it.

I use it, but I don’t like it. I don’t have to like it. I’m trained in mathematics, where when you have a proof, you have a proof. If your logic and your analysis is correct, it’s done. Over. Complete. There is no changing the conclusion. Others may deduce other proofs that reach the same conclusion or others may find a more “sophisticated” or “elegant” proof, but if your conclusion is sound, you’re done. And if you were the first, then you may even have a theorem named after you. And if your approach is clumsy you may be chided for it, but at least you got the job done.
But genealogical proofs are not quite like that. And it’s not just that a genealogical proof won’t be named after the writer.
A genealogical proof can change if new evidence, stronger and more reliable that was was originally known to exist, is located.  Two different genealogists may even use the same information to reach a conclusion. In mathematics, if the assumptions are the same and the reasoning is sound there are no alternate answers. A genealogical proof is not a mathematical proof. It is not the same sort of proof as a mathematical proof. And it should not be judged or viewed in the same way as a mathematical proof.
Of course, if the genealogical proof standard is applied completely and accurately, a change in the conclusion should rarely happen. Yes, genealogical proofs are more subjective than mathematical proofs. After all, we’re dealing with humans and with records that don’t always tell the whole story. The genealogical proof standard requires though that an exhaustive search be conducted and that an analysis be complete and clearly written (among a few others things). Is it hard to meet the genealogical proof standard? Sometimes. It is hard to meet the standard  if one gets bogged down in terminology and is unwilling to learn it, is scared of learning what one does not know or understand, refuses to search for every record possible that could answer the question, and is not willing to admit they could be wrong. A proof, even one written by an experienced and highly regarded genealogist could need to be revised.
That revision usually is the result of something “appearing.” A new record could come to light in an old archives. A new finding aid could locate a reference that clearly contradicts previous material and that new reference contains “better information” that was originally discovered. However, if a new record “appears” in a place where one really should have expected it, then the exhaustive search was not applied.
If a researcher “knows the records of the area and time period” the chance that something is overlooked should be minimal. And creating a genealogical proof is not impossible or onerous. It is less so if one chooses not be be afraid of the terminology. Writing a genealogical proof is not like writing a proof in a geometry class.

Should the word “proof” even be used when there are other words, such as inference, that have a similar interpretation? Perhaps, but it’s worth remembering that there are may words that are used in different disciplines and have different meanings in each. A legal document may refer to an infant. A medical document may also refer to an infant. The lawyer writing the legal document probably is referring to someone under the age of majority. The doctor writing the medical report probably means someone less than a year or so of age. Completely different things in different disciplines.

Do we tell the doctor that he can’t use the word infant because the lawyer already uses it to mean something else? No.

Just because another profession or discipline uses a word is not reason for us not to use it. A discipline is free to use words of its choosing as long as the definition of those words is clearly agreed upon by members of the discipline. The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual defines these terms. It may be that various members of the discipline disagree on some of the details.

I may not think the word “proof” is the best word to use, but if I want to play genealogy with others concerned about standards, I’ll have to use agreed upon terms.

Just like I had to write mathematical proofs “by the rules” when I took Sets and Logic all those years ago.

And sometimes I didn’t like those either (grin!).


Three Missing 1870 People

I have three people I cannot find in the 1870 census.

One I think must have simply been overlooked. She should have been living in southwestern Hancock County, Illinois, in Walker, Rocky Run, or perhaps Warsaw Township. Sophia Trautvetter was born in 1808 in Germany and was in Rocky Run in 1860 with her family in the census where they settled after arriving in the United States in 1853. Sophia died in 1877 and is buried in Tioga, located in Walker Township. I simply cannot find her, but no evidence indicates she returned to Germany or moved elsewhere–even temporarily. Her children were all living in those townships in 1870.

The other two are younger individuals and in their cases I’m not exactly certain where they lived at the time of the 1870 enumeration. Young adults, single, with no children are more likely to be mobile than adults in their sixties with several children Most likely the residence of these individuals was west-central Illinois, but they could have temporarily moved away only to return. Johann Ufkes (born 1838 in Ostfriesland, Germany) and his sister Antje cannot be found. From 1880 until his death in 1924, Johann is in Hancock County, Illinois, listed in a variety of records with no significant time gaps. He immigrated from Germany in 1869 and lived initially in Adams County, Illinois, near Golden. Antje also immigrated before 1870, but cannot be located in the census either. She has been located in the 1880 census with her husband in Hancock County, Illinois.

Searching for the Ufkes siblings is an excellent situation where the researcher needs to track every online search as it is conducted in order to make certain a specific search has not been overlooked. Otherwise it is VERY EASY to go in circles and overlook the same search set of parameters that could be successful. And without tracking how you are searching, it is difficult for anyone to help you and provide suggestions that you have NOT already done.

Manual searches have been conducted of the 1870s census for the townships where these individuals were reasonably thought to have been living.