It’s Not All On the Internet and Genealogy Methodology

Sometimes one has to shift one’s point of view.

You can tell people that everything’s “not online.” You can type it in uppercase letters to visually shout. But, for some, until you show them something interesting that was “not online,” or you tell them that you solved a problem with sources that were only in their original paper format, they won’t get the importance of utilizing those sources.

It’s not really about whether sources are “online” or “not online.”

What it is about is being aware of all the records that were created at all jurisdictional levels that might have mentioned your ancestor. That’s the “prime directive.” Then one needs to determine how to get at those records. Accessing records has always been a concern. One can easily use their computer and the internet to facilitate learning about and accessing those records.

Good genealogy methodology indicates that we access all records that could directly or indirectly answer our problem. Access may be a problem–but an awareness of all those records is what is key.

It really is that simple.


Images on Railway Map

This comes from a map in the Railroad Collection at the Library of Congress. This one for Hancock County, Illinois, was one of Galbraith’s railway mail service maps, published in Chicago in 1897 and drawn Frank H. Galbraith. It can be seen completely at

I’m trying to figure out what each of the pictures is for the locations in Hancock County, Illinois. Most I have figured out, but there are a few I don’t. Here are the ones I think I get:

  • Webster–Webster’s dictionary (although that Webster had nothing to do with this Webster).
  • Burnside–the guy has sideburns
  • Plymouth–the Plymouth Rock rooster
  • Stillwell–a well
  • Warsaw–a saw
  • West Point–military cadets
  • Star–a star
  • Augusta–he’s written “June July” above it

I don’t get the woman’s picture by St. Mary’s–is it supposed to be “St. Mary?” The other one I don’t get is the ball player near Adrian.


Recording Fees for Deeds

There are several reasons why deeds don’t often tell genealogists as much as we would like, but here is a good one: money.

This image comes from the 1891 Illinois Revised Statutes and indicates that the current recording fee at that point in time was 8 cents for every one hundred words.

Chances are no one was going to pay extra to record words that were not necessary to be included in the document.


As Precise as it Gets

The 1910 census for your relative indicates that she was 60 years of age and was born in Ohio.

You have a date of birth for your ancestor of 5 January 1850 with the location being Jackson Township, Coshocton County, Ohio.

If you connect sources to dates and locations in your genealogy database, should you link the 1910 census to the 5 January 1850 birth in Jackson Township, Coshocton County, Ohio?

There is a difference between being consistent and saying the exact same thing.

The census enumeration is consistent with a 5 January 1850 birth in Jackson Township, Coshocton County, Ohio, but it does not provide evidence of that level of precision. The census only provides evidence of the Ohio portion of the place of birth. The age is only as of 15 April 1910, which means the person was born between 16 April 1849 and 15 April 1850. This is because a person could be aged 50 on 15 April 1910 if:

  • They were turning 51 the next day (making them born on 16 April 1849)
  • They had just turned 50 on the census date (making them born 15 April 1850)

Tie your sources to what they say and avoid indicating they are more precise then they are.


Webinar Closeout Followup

I’m wrapping up some issues we had with our coupon on our webinar closeout offer.

Coupon code SAVE50PERCENT at checkout will reduce your order price by half. We’ve extended it for some regular readers who missed our offer over the weekend. Downloads are immediate. Viewing can be done whenever. The final shutdown of will take place on 8 am on 10 May–so I can prepare for my research trips and other summertime genealogy activities.

Offerings can be seen at:



A Little Fiction…

note: This was written some time ago and was intended as fiction, food for thought, or a warning. Take your pick.

Jefferson County—A Digitized County

(c) 2010 Michael John Neill

(do NOT copy/paste without permission)

Jefferson County Historical Society Meeting, 1 April 2010, secretary’s minutes

“The monthly meeting was brought to order…..

“Michael Neill mentioned that his human ‘sources’ at the courthouse indicate there is a move to digitize all the records before 1900. While he feels this is a good thing, he is concerned that the original records may be destroyed after the scanning and that there might be a variety of problems with the scanning itself (he mentioned something about someone’s brother-in-law, but I didn’t get that part recorded). After discussion, it was decided that the society does not have adequate computer knowledge to deal with this matter and that it will be tabled…”

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2011

The Jefferson County Board today authorized the scanning and digitization of all pre-1900 records at the courthouse. We Scan For Less, of Dallas, Texas, will begin scanning the records as soon as their work schedule allows. For the time being all access to records pre-1900 will be limited, as authorized by the County Board.

While no opposition to the project was expressed, representatives from the Jefferson County Historical Society indicated that the records needed to be inventoried, cataloged, and organized before scanning began. The Board saw no need to delay the project in this fashion. Kevin Hanson, county courthouse chairman indicated the urgent need to begin the project as soon as possible and that “all the records are there and they will be scanned. This organization is a delaying tactic.” Vocal opposition was expressed by Michael Neill, society member, but there was no further discussion by the Board.

Jefferson County Examiner, 23 June 2012

The Jefferson County Board today authorized the recycling of all records created before 1900 today at their regular board meeting. Beginning next Monday, old county records will be systematically placed in the courthouse’s “blue bins” and sent to Waste Management, Inc. for re-use in consumer products. “Imagine, if you will,” said Kevin Hanson, courthouse committee chairman, “that great-grandma’s marriage license will go to make your next grocery bag. It will give new meaning to the phrase ‘paper or plastic.’”

Before the vote on recycling, Michael Neill, radical activist with the Jefferson County Historical Society, staged a disruptive protest. He was quickly removed from the chambers by sheriff’s deputies, and the meeting went on without further incident. Charges against Neill are pending. Reached by phone this morning, Neill’s only comment was “maybe they’ll scan my arraignment papers and misfile those too.”

The pre-1900 records have all been digitized and are stored on CD-ROMs available at the courthouse and the local library. This more efficient means of storing the information was lauded by Chairman Hanson as providing a cost-effective measure saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars a year in maintenance fees. “Besides, the old records are a fire hazard. The CDs will not easily burn and Mr. Neill can quit complaining about people smoking near the old records.”

Jefferson County Genealogist, Fall 2012 Edition, “News Bulletin”

An in-depth analysis of the CD-ROM materials at the Jefferson County Courthouse indicates that there are problems with the scanning of the records. Some materials, while scanned, are not labeled correctly and some records are apparently out of order. Deed Book 102 appears to not have been scanned at all and the marriage records between 1840 and 1860 have significant portions that are barely legible. It is unknown whether this was due to the condition of the original records. As the records have been destroyed, there is no recourse and the records are effectively lost. Society members are currently analyzing the CD-ROMs for further difficulties and a complete listing of irregularities will appear in our next issue. The company that scanned the records has filed bankruptcy.

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2034

It has been discovered today that the digital copies of all pre-1900 documents at the Jefferson County Courthouse are somehow deteriorating. The original CDs have “data irregularities” which are being analyzed by computer professionals at the local university. There are duplicate copies of the CDs which are being located and analyzed to determine if they contain similar defects. It is hoped that other copies do not have the problems that have been located on the master records. For the time being, those inquiring about local records before 1900 are referred to the Jefferson County Historical Society which has been abstracting the digitized records for some time and creating a variety of indexes. Their collection, according to a spokeswoman, is “incomplete, but we have done the best we could and have indexed thousands of records. We are grateful for the ease of digitized access, but wish the County Board in 2000 had treated the digitization process with more care. If they had, we probably would not have the problem we do today.”

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2035

A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Courthouse confirmed today that a significant proportion of the digital images from the pre-1900 records are virtually unreadable. Computer professionals and computer archivists have been called in from the East and West Coast and have been unable to determine the problem or to remedy it. Michael Neill, longtime radical records activist, could not be reached for comment. A nursing spokesmen at Shady Pines Retirement Center said he was under “heavy sedation” and unable to take calls.

Federation of Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference 2036 flyer

Louella Smith’s session will cover “Research Techniques for Digitized Counties: Not all that Different from Burned Ones. Jefferson County as a Case Study.”


Which Copy Do You Have Habben?

One of the necessary items of citing genealogical sources is what copy of a document was actually used. The image shown here is a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Intent for Rolf Habben, made out in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1886. This image was made from a photocopy of the copy which was contained in the homestead file. Rolf Habben had a handwritten copy of his declaration of intention. At one point in time, Hancock County had the originals of these declarations of intent. There was the “real deal” at the county courthouse, the copy Habben had, and the copy made from Habben’s copy that was included as a part of his homestead file. Then there is the photocopy I have (of the copy in the homestead file). Then there’s this image I made to post on the website. Then there’s the PDF file I made that contained a high quality scan of the entire homestead file (one of the documents in that file was the declaration of intent).

Which copy of a record do you have?


Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing German Genealogy Documents

Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing German Genealogy Documents by Katherine Schober is not going to make you an immediate expert. Only practice can do that and no book, no matter how detailed and exhaustive, can include every little nuance. Humans create handwriting and individuals variants abound. But it will give you some direction and specific hints to work on translating German language documents if you have been hesitant to begin translating yourself and Schober’s work gives the reader some ways to work around writing idiosyncrasies that all genealogists face.

Short, to the point, and based on Schober’s years of experience, it’s even a good set of reminders for those who have already made their initial forays into deciphering German handwriting. Schober provides specific examples of errors she’s actually made and how to avoid making them. That’s a nice change of pace from those books that say “here’s everything I do and the right way to do everything.” Showing errors is a good instructional device.

Schober’s section on “letter swaps” is particularly helpful and readers may wish to even write the ones they notice in the margin of their book. The book is not meant to be a German genealogical dictionary although there are definitions scattered throughout the book. That is not its focus and there are other books that serve that purpose. Some of Schober’s tips and tricks work just as well in other languages–just make the appropriate substitutions.

There are two things that I would add and I apologize to Schober if they were in the book and I missed them. Non-German speakers and readers have the easiest time with German language documents from the late 19th century and after–particularly those items written on pre-printed forms. That’s the time period to begin working on records in German for those unfamiliar with the language and the script. Then work your way back earlier in time.

Practice writing common German genealogical words in the actual script. That helps to cement the image of the letter in your mind and provides some firsthand insight to writing variants.

All in all, a good book.