Have You…I Wonder

(this appeared in the Ancestry Daily News in 2000 and I thought it worth repeating for those who might not have seen it. Bits and pieces are dated, but there is still some good food for thought.)

“HAVE YOU . . . ? I WONDER,” by Michael John Neill
Genealogists ask questions of relatives, record keepers, librarians, 
family members, archivists, historians, and just about anyone who 
might have knowledge to assist them in their ancestral search. Family 
historians need to ask questions of others; after all, it’s a great 
way to learn. But questions should not only be directed outward. 
Sometimes it is helpful if we ask a few questions of ourselves. Here 
are a few you should ponder.


And I wonder:

– Have you entered the information into your genealogy database?
– Have you completely analyzed the document?
– Have you thought about what other records the document suggests you 
– Have you filed the document so you can find it?
– Have you adequately cited the document so someone else can find the 


And I wonder:

– Have you read the document out loud?
– Have you typed the document?
– Have you asked someone else to look at the document?
– Have you read the entire document?
– Have you read the document backward?
– Have you looked up words you do not understand?
– Do you have the entire document?
– Do you have an incomplete transcription or abstract?


And I wonder:

– Have you looked at the entire family?
– Have you looked for unknown family members?
– Have you analyzed the neighbors?
– Have you read local histories?
– Have you read regional histories?
– Have you considered geography?
– Have you considered economics?
– Have you considered migration trails?
– Have you considered chain migration?
– Have you considered boundary changes?
– Have you traced the person’s life as far as you can?
– Have you started with the most recent events and worked backward?


And I wonder:

– Have you interviewed all the relatives?
– Have you interviewed former family neighbors?
– Have you identified all the family pictures?
– Have you considered all the spellings?
– Have you considered all the pronunciations?
– Have you taken a break and worked on another line or family?
– Have you written up what you already have?


– Have you checked vital records?
– Have you checked land records?
– Have you checked court records?
– Have you checked probate records?
– Have you checked local records?
– Have you checked state records?
– Have you checked federal records?
– Have you checked church records?
– Have you checked occupational records?
– Have you checked ethnic organizations?
– Have you checked fraternal organizations?
– Have you researched every organization to which your ancestor 
belonged (church, fraternal, ethnic, military, etc.)?


– Have you checked your assumptions?
– Are you researching from the present to the past?
– Have you organized your information?
– Have you double-checked research you did when you were new to 
– Have you put queries on appropriate bulletin boards?
– Have you posted your question to appropriate listservs?


And I wonder:

– Have you attended a relevant workshop or seminar?
– Have you read an article or book on the subject?
– Have you listened to a conference tape?
– Have you read an appropriate reference work?
– Have you subscribed to an appropriate listserv?
– Have you looked for articles on the Internet?


And I wonder:

– Have you contacted the compiler?
– Have you located the original source?
– Have you located records the online source suggests?
– Have you considered that the online source might be incorrect?
– Have you considered using offline sources as well?
– Are you using the Internet source as a clue?


And I wonder:

– Have you made certain you know how the index is compiled?
– Have you read the compiler’s introduction (it might list record 
– Have you considered typographical errors?
– Have you considered transcription errors?
– Have you considered searching the records themselves?


And I wonder:

– Have you considered reading the original records?
– Have you read the published material’s preface?


And I wonder:

– Have you read research guides to that area?
– Have you located maps of that area?
– Have you contacted the local genealogical/historical society?
– Have you considered joining genealogy listservs for that area?
– Have you seen the USGenWeb page for that county?
– Have you seen the UsGenWeb page for that state?
– Have you checked Cyndi’s List for that state?
– Do you understand the political boundaries of that area?
– Are you remembering that each area has different records?
– Are you remembering that each area may have different laws?
– Are you aware that each area has a different culture?

There are a lot of other things I could wonder too. This listing is 
not meant to be comprehensive. However, if it makes you wonder about 
your own research, then it has served its purpose. (After writing 
this article, I realize I have a lot of work to catch up on as well!)


Avoiding a DNA Conclusion Jump

I’m always tentatively excited when I get a new match that appears to fit into my family of my great-great-grandparents, Samuel and Annie (Murphy) Neill. The key word is “tentative.” I’m always hoping it will help to to connect back to earlier generations of my Irish heritage.

This match, “S,” was noticed because it was a new match to one of my known DNA matches who is a Neill-Murphy descendant–LS in the image. When I looked at the shared matches I had with S, I noticed something: we didn’t share many of the known descendants of the Neill-Murphy relationship who I have already identified. We didn’t even share other unidentified matches that match several known Neill-Murphy descendants. It could just be the way the DNA passed down.

It could be something else.

I noticed that three Neill-Murphy descendants this new match shared with me were not spread through the entire family. The shared matches I had with the new match were all known descendants of one first cousin once removed of my grandfather Cecil Neill (a grandson of the Neill-Murphy relationship). We’ll call that woman “K.”

That could be because whatever bit of Neill-Murphy DNA S and I share was also the same bit that was passed down through K’s family and it was just the luck of the DNA inheritance. It could also be that that S is not a Neill-Murphy descendant at all. S and I could connect on some other family and S and the descendants of K share some non-Neill-Murphy connection. This is something to consider.

That’s one reason why in my notes, I don’t like to just put down the common ancestor but also the line of descent. It’s difficult to notice things of this type if you don’t.

If you’re looking to buy tests, AncestryDNA is offering some sales until this coming Father’s Day. Just remind the testee that there may be some unexpected discoveries. Some people welcome those. Others do not.


Migration and Occupational Clues in Homestead Records

A “reasonably exhaustive search” in the genealogical lexicon means, generally, to look at everything that could reasonably answer a genealogy problem or question. That’s a good approach, but sometimes “brute force,” or looking at everything and anything works as well. And, “brute force” may give you answers to questions you did not even know you had.

My great-great-grandfather, Focke Goldenstein, was a German immigrant who originally settled in Illinois in the 1870s, homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1880s with his wife, Anna, and returned to Illinois in 1889. He was one of a number of immigrants from Ostfriesland who followed that same general path: immigrate and settle in Illinois and move to Nebraska.

Homesteading was limited to individuals who were United States citizens and immigrants would have to document their citizenship as a part of the homestead application process. This usually meant including copies of their declaration of intent (if they weren’t completely naturalized when they applied for a homestead) or their final citizenship papers. Focke’s homestead application included a copy of his naturalization which was completed in Knox County, Illinois, in the 1870s. His cousin, J. T. Ehmen was one of his witnesses. Focke lived in Adams County, Illinois, after he immigrated–he had married sisters who already lived in the area. He married an Adams County resident, Anna Dirks (a daughter of Ostfriesen immigrants), in 1881. His naturalization in Knox County–which is a distance from Adams County–had always slightly puzzled me.

I’ve been browsing homestead applications for other Ostfriesen immigrants to Nebraska–particularly ones who also initially settled in Adams County (and the adjacent Hancock County) who were either distant relatives or from the same village as my Ostfriesen immigrants. I discovered that Focke was not the only one who went to Adams County, Illinois, and naturalized in Knox County, Illinois, and had J. T. Ehmen as a witness to the naturalization. Looking at these homestead applications (which include a naturalization since the individuals in which I am interested were immigrants) has helped me to document where they lived before they homesteaded.

For years, I had initially thought that Goldenstein went to Knox County to naturalize because his cousin lived there, was established there and knew how to navigate the process. Those things may still be true. But since I have found others in the same area I’m starting to think that more may have been going on. Ehmen was known to have worked for the railroad and during this time period, Galesburg was a railroad hub and the railroad was (and still is) one of the largest employers in the area.

I’m wondering: did Ehmen get Goldenstein a job on the railroad in Galesburg? Did he help the others get jobs on the railroad in the 1870s?

More work to do and more questions to answer.

Given the way naturalization records are indexed (only the name of the subject being naturalized is indexed), there’s no way to find Ehmen as a witness on naturalizations other than to perform a manual search of each record. That may consume more time than I am willing to spend. But pulling the homestead records of other members of the larger Ostfriesen immigrant community–focusing on those who originally settled where mine did or who were from those villages–may give me more information on which to formulate additional searches.

US Homestead Applications are online at Ancestry.com. The originals are at the National Archives. You’ll have to draw the conclusions yourself. Just remember that there’s more in these records than how many acres were under cultivation and the size of the family home.


Who Else Naturalized on that Day?

In performing a manual search of naturalization records for Hancock County, Illinois, I discovered a large number of naturalizations that took place on 12 October of 1858. There were a total of twenty-two men who became United States citizens on that date.

Given the location and the population of the county, that seemed like a large number. Knowing that “seeming” doesn’t mean something is true, I did some further looking and looked into the dates of naturalization for individuals between 1858 and 1859 in Hancock County. The naturalizations only took place during March, May, June, and October during those two years and usually on a handful of days during those times. The May and June dates were close to each other. That suggested to me that the naturalizations were not taking place at random times. In this case, my working idea is that naturalizations were taking place during the term of the court. That is something I need to verify, but it would explain the clustering of the dates.

It did not explain the fact that on all the others days on which naturalizations took place in Hancock County, there were between 1 and 10 individuals who took the oath of citizenship. There was only one day that had ten naturalizations–4 October of 1858. The other days all had between 1 and 4 individuals taking citizenship oaths on the same day. The 22 on a day and the 1`0 on a day (both in October of 1858) suggests something else was going on.

And something else was going on: the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the Illinois senate seat. That election was in January of 1859 and, based upon the two year search of Hancock County naturalization records there were no naturalizations in 1858 after those in mid-March of `1858 (the next ones were in March of `1859).

Note: When this discovery was made, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the furthest from my mind. When I discovered the spike in naturalizations, I guessed that voting was involved. After all, what is one of the basic rights one gets when one becomes a citizen?


Orange County, Virginia, Chancery Records on LVA

The Library of Virginia Chancery Court records website has added images of court records for Orange County, Virginia, to their website. Counties are being added on a continual basis. This is an excellent way to preserve these records and make them available to researchers.

There is one court case in which I’m particularly interested: one over the will of Benjamin Hawkins (LVA case number for Orange County 1796-012 ) We will be discussing this case in an upcoming post. The will only names some of Hawkins’ family, but his other heirs appear to be listed in the list of parties directly involved in the case.

The packet of papers contains an unsigned copy of his will and depositions regarding the content of the will, it’s drafting, and Benjamin’s intent. These case files are a wonderful augment to court order books and other transcriptions.

The will and accompanying documents suggest that court order books and land records for this family also need to be utilized.

Stay tuned.


Across the Road

The photograph of my Mother pushing a doll in a stroller was taken in the 1940s. That I’m sure of. What I am less certain of is the location. Given where Mom and her grandparents lived, I’m reasonably certain the photograph was taken in Hancock County, Illinois. But where within the county I am not so certain.

The road isn’t a huge clue. The picture is somewhat blurry, and I can’t be quite certain if the road is dirt or gravel, although I think the chance it is paved is fairly slim.

I don’t think the picture was taken in Mom’s paternal grandparents yard as, based on the property they owned across the road and how long they had owned it, I doubt there would have been a fence line running perpendicular to the road right there (the barns were on the same side of the road as my mother would be and livestock were pastured on pasture they owned that was not across the road). The farm ground behind the road gives (to me) the impression that it was owned by two different individuals at the time the picture was taken or at least reasonably close to when the picture was taken. That’s not the case with the property across the road from her paternal grandparents’ home/front yard.

It could be in her maternal grandparents’ yard, but it would have to have been the side yard and not the front yard–there was a state highway, paved since the 1930s (road maps verify this–not just my second/third hand knowledge). The road does not appear to have been a state highway. I think the road on the side yard road was gravel and need to look at a county map in the 1940s to be certain. But upon further reflection it could not have been in their side yard either because of the fence in the background. My great-grandfather’s brother’s home would have been in the background if the photo had been taken in the side yard.

I’m left with concluding that the picture was likely taken where her parents lived in the 1940s.

Background in pictures can be helpful in determining where a photograph might have been taken. If you think you know where a picture was taken, see if the background matches (at least reasonably closely) what should have been there at the time. In this case, county plat books or atlases could have been helpful. Road maps would also have been useful in determining what type of road was in use at the time.

Also do not jump to conclusions and give yourself some time to analyze something. Upon first analysis, I forgot that my maternal great-grandfather’s brother’s was to the east of his and, given it’s location across the road, should have appeared in a picture taken in their side yard.


Jamboree Schedule Live!

The schedule for the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Genealogy Jamboree has gone live and registrations are now being processed.

I’ll be giving two talks. One is on converting ancestral stories to children’s stories and the other is on DNA analysis when you have quite a few double and triple relationships to reasonably close cousins.

More details are on the Jamboree website.