Getting Out of My Habits

All of us have research habits based upon previous experience. Those habits often stem from where our relatives lived (and what records were generally kept and are accessible) and what has worked for us in the past. It is important to get beyond  some of those habits so that we do not overlook sources that can be helpful. It’s imperative we get beyond those habits if our research journeys into a new location or time period.clickhere

My own bad habit of sorts is how I search the Family History Library card catalog. I have to force myself to look at records created at the town level. Most of my ancestors I researched early in my research lived in areas of the United States where there really are not records kept at any level of jurisdiction smaller than the county. Those who did attend church went to churches that generally did not keep any sort of record or, if they did, did not allow those records to be microfilmed. Since records and published materials cataloged at the town level either weren’t helpful or weren’t often in the catalog, I didn’t always think to look for them in the catalog.

When my research transitioned to my New England ancestors and some of my children’s French-Canadian ancestors in upstate New York, I had to change that approach. There are records in New England at the town level and the individual churches attended by many of my children’s ancestors have records that have either been microfilmed or published in some sort of extracted form.

Habits such as citing sources, taking more-than-adequate notes, researching the entire family, etc. are good habits to be in.

Other research habits, even if they’ve been developed over time and seem to work, may not be ones that are “good to be in.”

Do you have any research habits it is time to get out of?


Standardizing What We Should Be Transcribing: Born in the State or Country of Tioga


Records with clear errors present challenges to transcribers.

Actually they only present transcription challenges when the handwriting is difficult to read. Transcribers are supposed to transcribe records as they appear, not as they wish they would appear and not as they are “supposed” to appear. The directive is fairly clear. When the handwriting is easy to read, errors are not that hard to transcribe. When the handwriting is difficult to read, transcribing an error presents an addition layer of fog for the transcriber to navigate.

The problem is compounded when the information being extracted is being put into a database with pre-populated fields from which the transcriber has to choose.

And that’s the dilemma that likely met the transcriber of the World War II Old Men’s Draft card for Henry William Trautvetter that appears in their “U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.”

Henry was born in Hancock and Hancock is located in Tioga. That’s not a typographical error.



The printing on the draft card is clear for Trautvetter’s place of birth:

  • Town or county: Hancock
  • State or country: Tioga

There is no doubt what the card says.

Trautvetter’s card indicated he was living in Lima Township, Adams County, Illinois,  when he registered in April of 1942. The person who would “always…know your address” lived in Tioga (no stated listed) suggesting it’s near where Trautvetter lived at the time of the registration.  Tioga is also where Trautvetter was born.‘s indexer apparently decided that this Hancock in the state of Tioga was actually Hancock in the state of New York. That is how it appears in the database made to index these cards.


Part of the problem is that to facilitate the indexing of these records to streamline the search process, has standardized the place names that can be used. There is no state of Tioga and never has been a state of Tioga. Because of this, it does not appear on‘s list of states.  During the indexing process, someone decided that Hancock in the state of Tioga was actually a reference to Hancock in the state of New York.

The database entries at are not exactly transcriptions–particularly where the place names are concerned. In some cases, they are standardizations made to facilitate search.

And there’s a difference between a standardization and a transcription–just like there is a difference between Illinois and New York.

NoteFamilySearch also has a database of these cards, but as of this writing the database is more complete than the one at FamilySearch. The one at is also searchable as well. The images at FamilySearch are alphabetical by state.

Second note: Trautvetter is a brother to George Adolph Trautvetter (1869-1934) my great-grandfather.

White Trash: A History of Class in America

The genealogist who fails to understand social history does themselves and their ancestors a grave injustice.  It is in an attempt to broaden my understanding of social history that I decided to purchase the somewhat provocatively titled, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America after seeing it mentioned on Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained blog.

It’s not going to mention types of records that are more inclined to reference those ancestors who are cashless and landless.

It’s not going to provide research case studies of families who were cashless and landless.

But maybe it will add to my perspective.

After all, not all of our ancestors were well off enough to leave an abundance of records. Anything that might help us understand some of their struggles can help us to more effectively research them and tell their story as best we can.



Twenty Years Elsewhere

It all depends upon your angle.

Louis Demar was born in Clinton County, New York, in the 1850s. He lived there until approximately 1900 when he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he stayed through 1920. Most of the time he worked for the Pullman Car Company and it’s likely job opportunities were what brought him to Chicago. After his retirement, he returned to Clinton County, New York, in time for the 1930 census. He died in Clinton County in the 1930s.

Two of Louis’ daughters never left upstate New York and were still living there when he returned. Many of his siblings (and there were many) stayed in the Clinton County area. But three of his children left Clinton County. His two youngest daughters followed him to Chicago, raising their own families in the Midwest. His son Levi spent time in Montana and Oregon before finally settling down in extreme northwestern Wisconsin.

Researchers of Louis approach him from one of two angles–the “Illinois” angle or the “New York” angle. The angle they approach him from depends upon their relationship to him.

And that angle impacts what they know about him. It’s easy for the Illinois angle people to find him in the Chicagoland area in the 1910 and 1920 census and in city directories during that same time period.  He’s living in the same general neighborhood where his two daughters are living during that time. Then he seems to disappear after 1920.

Those researching him from the New York angle, easily find him in 1860-1880 census records and in the 1930 census. He’s in Clinton County where his two daughters and numerous other family members are. It’s the intervening years where he seems to be lost.  One could even conjecture that he simply was overlooked in those census years where he cannot be found or that his last name, which gets spelled Demare, De Mar, Demarrah, Dmarra, Desmarais, etc. was simply listed in a way that is not recognizable.

It is not known why Louis returned to Clinton County, New York. It is possible that after he ceased working for the Pullman Car Company in Chicago, he simply wanted to return to the more rural lifestyle in upstate New York where he had spent the first forty years of his life.

What are the genealogy lessons from Louis? Perspective obviously impacts how we research and what we know. In this case, initially Illinois researchers were missing the New York information on Louis and New York researchers were missing the Illinois information. People can “go home” after spending a decade or more in a new location, even if children live in that new location.

And the reason why we may be “missing” a person in a census year may be because that person has moved to a completely different location. It’s not always the census taker’s fault. Sometimes people move around.


Spring Break Webinars-Brick Walls



Already Given

This hour-long presentation (aimed at advanced beginner and intermediate researchers) will focus on research approaches to get you past “brick walls”. We will look at reasons why we have “brick walls” and how we may be making our own “brick walls.” Focus will be on problem-solving, getting past assumptions, realizing what we know versus what we think we know, and completely analyzing and understanding what we already have.

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There Won’t Always Be A Precise, Documentable Date

Some individuals and even some genealogical groups “insist” on having a date for every person:

  • a date of birth
  • a date of marriage
  • a date of death

Doesn’t work that way.

The reality is that in some locations and time periods, given the available records, these dates are simply not going to be known precisely.  There are just not the direct records specifically providing such dates. Other records are usually only suggestive of an age (usually being able to legally perform some act) on a specific date or that a person was alive on a certain date.

It’s difficult to pin down an exact date of death for someone who died in Virginia in the late 18th century. Are there records for some individuals during this time that give precise dates? Of course, but individuals for whom death dates can be pinpointed down to the day during this time period are in the minority. Generally speaking the date of death has to be estimated with either a range of dates based on records where the person is mentioned or a “dead by” date based upon a probate. In other locations (eg. New England) there are more records and the likelihood of obtaining a precise date is more likely.

Generally speaking, the more completely exhaustive your search, the better able you will be to either determine the exact date of an event or to approximate it as best you can.

Always source the documents that allow you to reach your conclusion about when an event happened. Even if the time of that event is approximate. In fact, it’s probably more important to cite your sources if a date is approximate and to include your rationalization for why the document(s) suggest that range of dates.

My approximation for the time frame of birth for Peter Bieger (born in the 1820s in Germany) is based upon:

  • The fact he was at least twenty-one when he made a declaration of intention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1847.
  • The fact that there is no guardian granting him permission to marry in Ohio in 1849.
  • The age range given for him in the 1855 Illinois State Census.

One document alone was not used. All are cited. My notes include a discussion of the documents and my conclusion. Since all sources were used to obtain a range of years of birth, it’s crucial I cite all three documents–not just one of them. That’s so:

  • someone else knows what records I used and can view them
  • I know what records I thought were on “my” Peter Bieger (in case a review of the records is done later to make certain I have the same person in all records)
  • I can see what records were not located

There won’t be an exact date for every event. That’s not my genealogical end game. My end game is to locate as many materials I can so they can be interpreted and analyzed to paint as complete a picture as possible of my person of interest.

If I get the exact date of birth, fine.

But if I can only narrow it down to a year, that’s fine as well.




A Google Book Reference for a 1764 British Convict

Periodic searches of GoogleBooks are necessary for just about every ancestor, no matter how unlikely it may seem that their name will appear in print.

James Rampley was a resident of County Suffolk England who was transported in 1764 to the Americas. He appears in Peter Wilson Coldham’s The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775 (Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988.), serves to index entries in court records that reference transportation to the Americas.

Occasionally I search for James in GoogleBooks on the hope that some printed material from Baltimore or Harford Counties in Maryland (where he settled) will mention him and provide some additional clue about his life.

I never dreamed he would be mentioned, even in passing, in a study of crime and justice in 18th century England.

And yet he was. A search for him on GoogleBooks located such a reference.


The recently published Fields, Fens and Felonies: Crime and Justice in Eighteenth-Century East Anglia apparently mentions James and his conviction. The reference to James is apparently brief. However, I am tempted to purchase the reference if only to gain some understanding of the system that caused James to be transported to Maryland in 1764.

James is not the first person I found in GoogleBooks  who was a complete surprise and I’m hoping he won’t be the last. The reference to him was on the second page of search results on GoogleBooks–that’s a good reminder to work past that first page of results. Google doesn’t always put all the “good stuff” on the first page.

World War II Draft Registration Cards–Old Men’s Draft


Old Men’s World War Two Draft Registration, 1942, Levi Louis De Mar, Jacobs, Ashland County, Wisconsin. recently announced an update of their “U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.” This draft registration is commonly referred to as the “Old Men’s Registration,” registered men who born on or between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897 and was conducted on 27 April 1942.

The following states are currently in the database at

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • New York City
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

NoteFamilySearch also has a database of these cards, but as of this writing the database is more complete than the one at FamilySearch. The one at is also searchable as well. The images at FamilySearch are alphabetical by state.

The Lucky Seven Children of Kentucky’s Nelson Sledd

The “Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1963” on is an excellent source for those with Kentucky connections.  The ability to search based upon parents’ names is a wonderful way to query the database. That’s exactly what I did to locate seven children of Nelson Sledd of Nicholas County, Kentucky. I wanted to see what information they provided on Nelson, particularly his name and place of birth.

The following chart was created using the search results from “Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1963” and adding a column for name of father and place of birth for the father. The columns marked with * were copied and pasted directly from the  database. The columns marked with ** were manually transcribed from the actual record.

Name* Birth* Birth place** Death* Death County* father** father place of birth**
Mrs Eliza Sledd Dale 28 Jan 1847 Robertson County, Kentucky 18-Apr-33 Montgomery Sledd, Nelson Virginia
James Breckenbridge Sledd 30 Mar 1856 Nicholas County, Kentucky 21-Dec-22 Robertson    
  Sledd, Nelson Virginia
Henry Scton[Seton] Sledd 17 Aug 1860   16-Sep-40 Nicholas    
Kentucky Sledd, Nelson Kentucky
Graves Sledd     25-Nov-22 Montgomery    
Kentucky Sledd, Nelson Kentucky
William Sledd     9-Jul-24 Montgomery    
Kentucky Sledd, Nelson Kentucky
Joseph Stedd 22-Feb Kentucky 22-Mar-14 Fayette    
  Sledd, Nelson Kentucky
Mrs Esscueth Stephenson 1 Sep 1845   11-Apr-27 Nicholas    
Kentucky Sledd, Nelson Kentucky

There was no specific place of birth given for Nelson and one of the records indicated he was born in Virginia. All of these certificates provide secondary information on Nelson’s place of birth, but that does not inherently mean they are incorrect. One of the certificates indicated he was born in Virginia. I cannot conclude that he was born in Kentucky just from these records and because the that is what the majority of them say. I need to search for other materials that may provide Nelson’s place of birth.

I also need to determine if there are other children for Nelson in the database. These results were located searching for a “Nelson Sledd” listed as the father with the exact search turned on. It is possible the name was spelled Sled or that he is listed with a different name. It is also imperative that I track how these search results were obtained so that I can more effectively search for remaining children who may be in the database. That’s assuming all of Nelson’s children died in Kentucky during the time period these records cover.

I’d like to locate the names of more of Nelson’s children in the database if possible. Part of the reason for locating all of their death records was to determine their middle names. It is possible that those names have some family history significance. Of course it is possible that the family history comes from their mother’s family and not the family of Nelson Sledd. It is also important to remember that the names could also have come from historical figures, local non-relatives, or simply were pulled out of thin air.

But analyzing the death certificates is a good start.

I just need to remember that the information related to the parents of the deceased is secondary information (and could easily be third or fourth hand information besides) and that there may be other children of Nelson Sledd in the database that were not located because of how my search was conducted. Census and other records will help me to determine if there are more children for Nelson.

And they may not all have died in Kentucky during the time period this database covers.

Always be aware of the limitations of the records being used, the database created from those records, and how searches were conducted.