When Ancestry.com Indexes an Index and Doesn’t Include Adequate Geography

It is important to understand what this database is. It is an index of various indexes to naturalization records. It is not an index to the actual records themselves. The index entry for Samuel Neill links to a digital image of an index card for Samuel that has microfilmed by the National Archives as a part of the “Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840-1950,” and originally published as National Archives microfilm publication M1285. This index includes records outside of Illinois, including the court in Hammond, Indiana, where Samuel naturalized and is described in the NARA pamphlet written about NARA microfilm publication M1285.

Samuel’s index card only contains key elements of his naturalization–enough to find him in the actual records and distinguish him for other individuals of the same name. After all, that’s the purpose of the index. These cards were originally sorted by the Soundex code associated with the last name (that’s the N400 in the upper left hand corner) and then further sorted alphabetically by the first name of the individual. The cards are in order on the film, just not in strict alphabetical order based upon the last name.

I wanted to find the index entries in Ancestry.com‘s database for other members of Samuel’s family (particularly his father and his siblings) who also likely naturalized in the same place as he did. Ancestry.com‘s “U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project)” does not include the specific court for individuals in this database whose index card images were taken from the NARA publication M1285. The database entry for the court of naturalization of these individuals is “Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa” as shown in Samuel’s entry from the Ancestry.com index.

I wanted to restrict my search of Ancestry.com‘s database to other entries from publication M1285 as I didn’t need to search all the geographic locations included in the database. The problem was that the Ancestry.com database did not include any of the specific location information of Samuel’s naturalization in his entry and it likely would not for any of the others whose names were included in the Ancestry.com index from the M1285 index cards.

My workaround was to place “Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa” in the keyword box of the search interface (including the quotes). This approach worked and allowed me only to search the same microfilm index from which Samuel’s card was taken.

Entries were located using this approach for Samuel’s father and siblings. Had this approach not worked, I could have searched the digital images of M1285 manually–as they are sorted on the microfilm (first by Soundex code for the last name and then by first name for all individuals whose last name have the same Soundex code). Had that not worked, I could have searched the actual records manually. That was my last resort and was not necessary as my initial approach worked.

Here it is clear that the researcher needs to know what they are searching and how it is organized. Sometimes that’s easy to determine and other times it is not. That process is often easier if one has researched the records in the “pre-digital” era.

In an upcoming post, we will take a look at the actual naturalizations for Samuel and his family. They were a great find.


The Science Behind Ethnicity Estimates

I recently posted to my personal Facebook wall:

Ethnicity estimates: a marketing tool that ends up making people question the whole thing.

We’ve mentioned the ethnicity results before here. For the most part, my view is that they are entertainment except in situations where a parent or grandparent is totally unknown (and then the estimates are only a broad clue). The ethnicity estimates are based on samples and assumptions which makes them guesswork from the start. Calling the estimates “science” doesn’t change that, but the use of that word suggests they are wrapped in a cover of accuracy that is more of a foggy damp cloud.

AncestryDNA recently announced a “launch” of their Irish DNA regions. Being one-eighth Irish, I was curious about the results. I’m no longer curious, but I am just as uninformed a I was.

Then my updated ethnicity results at AncestryDNA indicated that I wasn’t Irish at all–at least ethnically according to their database and interpretation. My most recent “ethnicity estimate” at AncestryDNA indicated:

  • 56% England, Wales,and Northwestern Europe
  • 37% Germanic Europe
  • 5% Norway
  • 2% Sweden

I was hoping for a sliver of Irish in my estimate. There was none, probably because at least half my Irish were not really Irish at all and probably haled from Scotland. I used to think it was somewhat educational to “reverse engineer” the results based upon my own known pedigree. Using historical information about migrations and political boundaries, it was fun to play the game of “how’d they get that?”

I’ve decided that game is no longer fun. It is beneficial to know about migrations and political boundaries. It also is a better use of my time to apply that information to my research than to sit and figure out “how Ancestry” got these ethnicities. My time spent with my DNA results is best used in analyzing the matches I have, the shared matches, etc. The science behind that is entirely different than the science that says “You’re 50% German, get out the lederhousen.” The cousin relationships are what matters, not the ethnicity estimates.




Subpoenas Spell the Names

The 2 April 1902 will of Barbara Haase includes the names of two witnesses. One was written in English and the other was written in German. I didn’t do too bad of a job reading them, but wish I had read the entire set of documents from Barbara’s probate before I did.


The subpoena from 12 July 1903 provides another rendering of the names of the witnesses to the will of Barbara Haase. The signatures are not all that difficult to read, but researchers should be aware that there may be additional records in the probate file that provides the names of the witnesses in a handwriting that may be easier to read.


Names of witnesses are always potential clues. The names are easier to use if they have been read and interpreted correctly.

Another reason to copy the entire file.



Do You Mention It?

Let’s just say this image comes from the “insanity” record of a relative.

“On the 6th of June she developed a sever[sic] attack of delusional insanity with homicidal tendancy, which has continued up to the present time.”
This document was dated June 14. It is a late nineteenth century record.
How much of this would you share with relatives? I’m not posting any identifying information about the individual (at least not yet). Additional information in the file provides more details about her threats and her behavior. It also indicates two siblings were also insane–a record of commital was also found for one of them as well during the same time period. I have not yet looked for any mention of the scenario in the local newspaper, but that is on my list of things to do.
You never know what you will find looking through court records. How much to share is potentially another question.

I Ain’t Going to Carthage to Sign That Mortgage

It always pays to read the entire document and think about the entire document, not just select portions of it. Sound research methods require it, like those discussed in Evidence Explained  and the BCG Genealogy Standards Manual. 

The image shown in this post is a larger portion of the 1905 mortgage mentioned in a blog post recently.

I had wondered if the Neills had actually signed “ONeil” on the mortgage or if the clerk in the county recorder’s office had simply miscopied their signature using what was written on the top of the mortgage document.

Then I offhandedly commented that maybe they signed it that way because that’s the way it was written on the top part of the mortgage by someone at the bank holding the note. It was meant to be sarcasm.

And like many comments made in jest, it may be closer to the truth than I originally thought. It’s the locations that matter–genealogy without geography is simply misplaced research.

The bank was located in Carthage, Illinois, the county seat.

The Neills and Rampley lived in the southern portion of Hancock County, in St. Albans and Walker Township. The property being mortgaged was located in Walker Township.

The Neills and Rampley signed the deed before a Justice of the Peace in West Point, Illinois. West Point was closer for the Neills and Rampley than going all the way into Carthage in the days of horses and buggies. There’s no scale on the map, but each of the square townships shown is six miles on a side, providing a perspective.

It would have been a 4-5 mile buggy ride to go to West Point. It would have been a longer ride to get to Carthage. They could have taken the train to Carthage, but it’s clear they didn’t. After, the Justice of the Peace states that he was in West Point.

It seems possible that the bank wrote out the top portion of the mortgage and had the Neills sign it in front of a Justice of the Peace. There’s some details about which I’ll never be certain.

After all, we only have the document upon which to base our conclusions.

And you thought mortgages were boring.


A Little Late on Not Stating New Year’s Resolutions

These were my “not New Year’s Resolutions” from 2015—but they are worth repeating.

I’m not big on resolutions so I won’t make them. Instead we’ll take a different approach to the new year.

Here are some research suggestions to remember in 2015:

  • Use contemporary [to the problem] maps
  • Cite sources
  • Avoid using record transcriptions
  • Determine a record’s likely informant
  • Question the reliability of the likely informant
  • Ask “how did this record get to me from its original location?”
  • Question (respectfully) the conclusions of others
  • List the assumptions that have been made
  • Reorganize the information in a different way?
  • Do other record sources have copies of the same record?
Not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but certain to keep most of us thinking in 2015!

Three Signatures on a Mortgage

This is the signature portion of a mortgage executed by three of my ancestors on 15 December 1905 in Hancock County, Illinois.

This image is not from the actual mortgage itself, but rather from the record copy of the mortgage recorded in the Hancock County Recorder’s Office. The holders of the note (the bank from whom my ancestors borrowed the money) retained the actual original signed copy of the mortgage.

Speaking from personal experience, I know the last name of Neill gets spelled a variety of ways and I understand spelling variations and errors. In the initial portion of the mortgage, where the mortgagors are named, these three are styled as “Charles O’Neil, Fannie O’Neil, and Nancy J. Rampley.” I can easily understand how the name may have gotten spelled “O’Neil” in that initial part of the mortgage.

But it’s not the original part of the mortgage that I’m wondering about. It’s the part of the mortgage shown here–the part with the names in front of the “Seals.” That’s the part of the mortgage that the Neills and Nancy Rampley actually signed. Of course their signatures aren’t reproduced exactly in this record copy of the mortgage as they were on the original–the clerk used his own handwriting. After all, it was 1905 when this mortgage was recorded  and typed or handwritten copies were the norm.


I’ve seen numerous documents signed by Charles and Fannie Neill–never once did they sign their name “O’Neil.” Not on their marriage record, not when Charles testified in a pension case, not when Fannie signed court documents in 1907, etc. They wouldn’t have signed their name with an “O.”

Unless maybe they were told to because that’s the way it had originally been put in the initial portion of the document.

Just something to think about.

And that’s what we are supposed to do when we analyze the records we find-think about them. It’s what makes our research better, causes us to notice things that others overlook, and helps us migrate from merely collecting data to allowing the data and records we find to tell us as much of the story of our ancestors as possible.

All from three signatures on a mortgage.


Quarters and Quarter Sections in a 1929-Era Probate

I’ve always found land descriptions and land records fascinating. Maybe it’s just the math geek, farm kid, and genealogy nut coming out in me, but they are fun nonetheless.
The image with this post comes from the estate inventory of John J. Johnson. John’s estate was probated in Hancock County, Illinois, from 1929 through the early 1930s.
The real inventory is typical of those in the location during this time period. The “understood” acreages are never listed. Those are the ones shown in green and blue in the image that accompanies this post.
A theoretical section of property is 640 acres. A quarter section would be 160 acres. As a result, the property shown in green in the illustration would have been 80 acres (half of a quarter section). The property in blue would have been 40 acres (a half of half of quarter section would be one quarter of a quarter section’s 160 acres).

And the last 38 acres? It’s spelled out a little more specifically because it can’t be described using halves and quarters. The land description system in Federal Land States is big on halves and quarters. Other, non-standard sized properties, are usually described more explicitly—often more explicitly than is shown here.

The estate settlement for John J. Johnson does not mention what happened to his real estate. I will have to look in the land records for those transactions. John J. Johnson will not be the grantor on those deeds–likely his administrators (and sons-in-law), Fred Ufkes and William Tammen will be. The probate records do not mention anywhere that Ufkes and Tammen are sons-in-law of Johnson.

And while I’m at it, I should be looking for the deeds where Johnson obtained the three parcels he owned upon his death.