Do I Include the Red Saks 5th Avenue Box in the Citation?

Note: The 4th edition of Evidence Explained has just been released by Genealogical Publishing Company. We’ll be featuring it in several blog posts over the coming months.

The Saks Fifth Avenue Box

Documenting items in private collections (often housed in just a spare room of someone’s home) is one of the things covered in Evidence Explained. This example illustrating this post was used in an earlier edition of
Evidence Explained. At the time the citation was created, the school register was in my Mother’s possession.

The register was found in a red Saks Fifth Avenue box in my great-grandmother’s home after she passed in 1986. Fortunately the register and the red box were rescued before they met an unfortunate demise. It’s still in the red Saks Fifth Avenue box, but it’s no longer in my parents’ home and has now passed to my possession. There’s a reason why citations such as these include the date: things change. The citation in the illustration needs to be altered to say:

“School Register, 1898-1911,” page 3; Union Grade School, Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois; privately held 2024, by Michael John Neill, [address for private use,] Galesburg, Illinois, who inherited it from his mother Connie (Ufkes) Neill, who inherited it from her grandmother Trientje Ufkes of Carthage.

I’m not precisely certain how my great-grandmother came to acquire the register. Her husband, Frederich Ufkes, attended the school at the turn of the 20th century and his children would attend it when they were grade-school age. The one room school is no longer standing. Frederich Ufkes, according to family tradition, was on the board of the school when he was an adult. It is surmised by this writer that through his membership on the school board he came to acquire the register.

I chose not to include any speculation about the provenance in the citation to this item. The red Saks Fifth Avenue box is also not mentioned. It’s not archivally safe and on my list of things to replace in order to store items in an archivally safe way.

The bigger question (at least for me): Where did my great-grandmother Ufkes get a Fifth Saks Avenue box? Luxury department stores were decidedly not her “thing.”

Note: The illustration from Evidence Explained was used with permission of the author and publisher.

Genealogical Publishing Company has announced the release of the new 4th edition of Evidence Explained. Check it out on their website. 


Brick Walls and Being Stuck

I posted this to one of my Facebook pages and decided it said what I wanted to say and that I didn’t need to spend time writing it over…so here it is.

I’ve been thinking about “brick walls” for a post I’m writing on my blog where I post lengthier pieces. Some say brick walls exist. Others say that there are no brick walls at all and that it’s your methods and lack of knowledge about resources and genealogy in the area and time period that are the problem.

I’m a huge believer in genealogical education–in knowing about all the records that were created at all levels in the time and place when your ancestor lived and in knowing why those records were created, how they were created, how they were maintained, and how you came to view/access them. I’m a huge believer in knowing about the history of the area and time period in which your ancestor lived–including details about your ancestor’s background, social class, educational level, occupation, religious experience, etc. And I’m a huge believer in understanding the laws and legal system during the time and place in which your ancestor lived. And it’s good to organize your information to see if there are patterns or approaches that you may have missed.

It’s also good to reach out to others with accurate knowledge of the time and place in which your ancestor lived–and not knowledge they acquired by reading random social media posts by influencers who don’t necessarily know anything.

After all that…you may be stuck.

You may get to a time period where there simply are no more records. It happens. Of course you should make certain you’ve searched thoroughly, but there are times and places where you have hit the end of the road in terms of the paper trail.

You may also get to a person who for one reason or another, intentional or not, seems to have appeared out of nowhere. There are approaches to try on these people–sometimes they work and sometimes they do not. Sometimes DNA helps and sometimes, depending on how far back the problem is, how many descendants the person/family had and what paper trail there is, sometimes it does not. Autosomal DNA has its limits as one goes further back in the pedigree and strict maternal and paternal tests have limits as well.

Of course a person keeps trying and staying aware of finds or approaches that may help or things that might have been overlooked. But sometimes you do really reach the end of the discoverable lineage.

Just my two cents.


Do You Warn Them?

If you encourage a family member to take a genealogy DNA test, do you warn them of the potential to uncover family secrets of which they may be unaware?

You may encourage your father’s brother’s child to take a test to help with your (and his) paternal ancestry. The test results may cause them to discover things about their mother’s family that they did not know at all and that you, not being related to the mother’s family, had no idea about either.

You may discover that this first cousin of yours is not your first cousin at all.

I’m not saying not to have those relatives test. But make them aware that the test could potentially result in discoveries of secrets that their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. thought had been taken to their grave. Some may welcome such discoveries and new family members. Others may not.


I’ve Never Seen “Star Wars”

There’s a meme that floats around that purports to show your grandparents waiting to see “Star Wars.” The intention of the meme (I think) is meant to be funny as it shows a picture of people waiting in line to see a movie. I’m not certain it’s funny or not.

What I’m reasonably certain of is that none of my grandparents saw “Star Wars.” I’m 100% certain my grandfather who died in 1968 never saw it. And, based on what I know of my grandparents who were alive when “Star Wars” was in theaters, I’m reasonably certain they did not see it. My paternal grandmother never went to the movies (she did not drive). My maternal grandparents never mentioned going to see a movie that I can remember. I’ve never seen it either. I only have first hand knowledge of my “Star Wars” attendance.

But this post is not about “Star Wars,” movies, or having first hand knowledge of an event. It’s about making assumptions about something a relative would have done because it was popular or “everyone was doing it.”

Genealogists need to look for evidence that something happened. They should not just assume it. It is great to use pop culture and contemporary trends to get to know more about a time period or a location. Just do not assume your ancestor was doing something “because everyone else was.”


He’s Got a Copy

Apparently Conrad Haase had an “original Paper” copy of his naturalization in his hands when he had the Hitchcock County, Nebraska County Clerk create a transcription of that naturalization. The naturalization transcript was used in Haase’s Timber Claim as proof of his citizenship.

Haase’s claim was for 160 acres in Section twenty-six of township 4 North Range 36 west in Hitchcock County, Nebraska. The Haase claim was for the southeast quarter of the section. His claim was approved and a patent was issued.

But what kind of copy is this?

It is a decidedly derivative copy. The original copy of Haase’s naturalization is apparently on file with the Circuit Clerk of Hancock County, Illinois, where Haase was naturalized. The copy Haase on his person was a transcription of that original and apparently was made on the same day he was naturalized in May of 1864.

The image in this post was made from the transcription of Haase’s copy of his naturalization which was made in Nebraska. Unfortunately the image I have, from the completed timber claim file, does not include the back of the transcription made in Nebraska. The back of the document likely indicated when the transcription was made.

So I need to get an image of the back of this page from the completed timber claim file for Haase. But what I have now is a derivative copy. I have no doubt as to its authenticity, but if I cite this document I need to clearly indicate what it is.

Also on the to-do list is to get a copy of Haase’s original naturalization from the office where it was created in Hancock County, Illinois.

And this makes me wonder…”how common was it to have a transcription of your naturalization in the mid-19th century?”

Note: Completed Timber Claim files are at the National Archives.


Mapping Out Grandma’s Farm…and the Memories

“Made Your Own Map?” appeared recently as a tip of Genealogy Tip of the Day with the map accompanying this post as the illustration.

The map is a rough sketch, but drawing it was a really good exercise for me. As soon as I finished it, I realized the scale was slightly off, the position of several buildings was skew, and I had left a few things out. But drawing it really got me to remembering things I had long since forgotten.

There is an aerial photograph of my Grandparents’ farm that was taken in the mid-1950s. That’s approximately twenty years before my memory starts. I did not allow myself to look at the aerial photograph until I had drawn my own map. When I looked at the photograph, it became clear to me I had the relative position of some of the buildings incorrect. There was at least one building standing in the 1950s that had been torn down before my memory starts. The garage cannot be seen in the 1950s photograph (because of the trees).

The drawing of the photograph made me think of things besides the buildings. Things about my Grandma, things about the time I spent there, and things about the farm. The physical act of creating the map apparently triggered memories that have long been dormant.

So that relative who cannot remember things? Have them draw a map of the farm, the position of rooms in a family home, or something else from their childhood. You might be surprised at what they remember.


Rabbit Hole Genealogy

My post was partially in jest. Is there a limit to how far out one needs to research?

There’s a practical limit to how far into the network of the non-biologically connected people to an ancestor a researcher should delve. At least there is in my research world. I know there are some who believe that researching the step-father of your third cousin’s blacksmith is a valid research approach, but I’m not one of them. There’s a limit to how much time and money one can spend.

I will admit that curiosity got the better of me briefly when I saw the name of the notary on the 1946 mortgage signed by my grandparents for their farm near Carthage, Illinois. I was curious because I did not recognize it. The mortgage was likely signed at the nearby small bank that held the mortgage. It was the same bank where the family banked until the bank closed.

But I knew that the connection my grandparents had to the notary was fleeting and that the chance of garnering any real genealogical knowledge was essentially nil. The likely scenario was that the notary was an employee of the bank who served as notary on bank documents when needed. My quick search for information on her did not mention her bank employment, but did indicate that her sister was later my high school English teacher. The failure to locate an obituary or other reference to the employment was not surprising as many women during era had a short-term job that they terminated before or upon their marriage.

Was I surprised that I had a tenuous, peripheral connection to this person? Not really. This was nothing more than one in a long-standing series of connections that one discovers when one is from a small town where your family has lived for some time. The bigger surprise would have been if there had not been some connection of this type.

This search was not a “what connection did the notary have to my Grandparents?” search. It was a “who is this person search?” There’s a difference.

If this had been a notary on an 1848 document for a set of ancestors about whom I knew very little, I would have had a different reason for the search for more information on the notary. But even in this case, I need to ask myself “what connection did my relative likely have to this person,” “was this connection a ‘one-off’ meeting in a clerk’s office,” “did my relative interact with this person on other documents,” etc. But I also have to ask “does knowing more about this person tell me more about my ancestor even if they have no other connection than the one on this document?” It’s always possible that if I know little about my ancestor that information on a notary public will help me determine when and where my ancestor was in a certain place. That can be helpful.

There are times to go down the rabbit hole. Just think before you dig. And know when to stop.


An Original 1946 Mortgage

It’s really not all that unique of a document. It’s simply a mortgage for $2500 signed by my grandparents in 1946 that references 101 acres of real estate they owned at the time.

The legal description of the property contains a partial metes and bounds description of the real estate due to a railroad track that ran along the west border of the property. The legal description even references an 1875 deed involving the railroad property from the then owner of the property.

Recording information is included on the top of the mortgage (the instrument number and the book and page number) and in a special section of the document created for that specific purpose. A record copy of the document is maintained at the Hancock County, Illinois, Recorder’s Office. The mortgage was signed and recorded on the same day. Given that the location of the bank (Ferris, Illinois) and the Hancock County Recorder’s Office (Carthage, Illinois) are about five miles apart, the mortgage being signed and recorded on the same day is very reasonable–also note that the mortgage was recorded at 3:05 in the afternoon.

The mortgage is not stamped “paid,” but I also have the release signed by an officer of the bank when the obligation was paid in full a few years later.

We often talk about original sources versus derivative sources. This is an original source. The record copy in the courthouse, while it is the legal equivalent of the original copy that I have, is still a derivative copy.

I may have to get a copy of the record copy to see just in what format that record copy was made. I’m guessing that in 1946 it was not a typewritten transcription.

But do I really need the record copy of a 1946 mortgage when I have the original? Probably not.


Precision, Pictures, and Perspective

I’ve been writing about tombstone pictures on Genealogy Tip of the Day. As time has gone on, I have become a bigger fan of taking overview photos to provide perspective and indicate the location of the stone.

Sometimes I get told “GPS” will take care of that. I understand how GPS works. It’s worth noting how close some stones are together and potential inaccuracies with GPS precision based on this article on I also know that sometimes it’s easier to have a visual to see relative positions instead of numbers indicating position. Images such as the one in this post can be used to create maps (hand drawn or digital) of appropriate sections of the cemetery showing relative positions of stones.

I tend to be borderline excessive in my taking of photographs at cemeteries because I do not want to miss anything and I like the landscape photos that show relative positions of stones.

Do not just rely on GPS. Pictures can be worth a thousand words. Take them.

Another article on GPS accuracy on indicates some phones accuracy can by off by 33 to 66 feet. It’s worth noting that adjacent stones can be much closer than that distance and that if you are moving around while taking pictures–which you obviously would be–trees may be impacting the accuracy of your location.