Is It Worth It?

Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. Genealogical curiosity can kill your budget and bank account.

An earlier post discussed Soundex cards to Baltimore passenger lists in the 19th century. The cards located were for several members of my family. I’ve seen the actual passenger lists for this family so locating the cards for me was an academic exercise.

As mentioned in the blog post, the cards referenced the back of the card in the location where “other family members” were to be listed. The back of the cards were not filmed. Because of how the  cards were created, I decided it wasn’t going to be worth it to obtain a copy of the back of the card.

And then I got emails saying that I should see the back of the cards.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what it would cost to get the copy of the back of the card. And while I realize curiosity is a good thing for the genealogist, curiosity must be balanced with practicality and reality. As mentioned in the blog post, the cards were a finding aid to the actual manifest. Information on the card was simply taken from the manifest decades later in the creation of the index.

Here is where thinking about how the records were created and why they were created is important. The cards were a finding aid for someone who needed to locate his date and place of entry into the United States. The names of others who were travelling with the person on the manifest were added to assist the searcher in locating the desired name. This way if the “right name” could not be found by searching for it directly (because it was written incorrectly on the actual manifest and hence indexed in the same way), a searcher could search for others that the immigrant remembered traveled with and if their name was located on an index card, the name of the person of interest should show up as someone in the “traveling with” section of the card. It’s worth remembering that these cards were created before computerized database searches and searching for other family members was a good technique. The cards were not created as a genealogical source.

While it may be desirable to obtain a copy of every record created on your relative, there are some things to consider:

  • What is the cost of obtaining the record?
  • Was this “record” really a new record or was it created from information on another record (ie. an abstract)?
  • Is the probable informant on this record an informant whose “opinion” or “information” I don’t already have?
  • What information is typically on this record?
  • How reliable do I perceive the information to be on this record?
  • How was this record created and what was its purpose? 
  • Do I already have this information from reliable sources? 
  • Is this record likely to provide really new information?

Of course, sometimes it interesting to have any record on an ancestor and any record can contain new information. But sometimes some thinking and reflection may make you decide if obtaining the record is actually worth it–especially if the cost is significant. 
Because we can’t always afford everything.

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When the Story Becomes the Truth

I’ve taken an ancestral incident in Kentucky in the early 19th century and turned it into a bedtime story for my grandson.

I did not review the records of the resulting court case before I started telling the story. There was no preconceived plan to tell the story. I just started one afternoon when it was naptime and a book was not within reach.

The story had been told several times before I reviewed the actual records. My concern when telling it had been to keep it age appropriate and not overly detailed. The story originated from a court case over the theft of some hogs in Kentucky in the 1810s. I took out some of the gruesome details involving the actual butchering of the hogs and the inclination of my ancestor to attempt to murder the perpetrators of the crime.

I knew before looking at the court records that the story I told my grandson was not the story given in the court records. But I thought I knew what the actual story was.

I was wrong. There were details I thought were in the court records that were not. Sometimes my memory was close to what was in the records. Other times it seemed I had consumed too much Kentucky bourbon when I read the records the in the first place (I had not).

I’m a fan of telling children stories of their ancestors–just make them age appropriate. It is a great way to potentially generate some interest in family history. If you’ve altered the story slightly, just remember that you’ve done it.

The lesson? The reminder? Our memories of events can easily be incorrect and it’s important to review any materials before quoting them, discussing them, or analyzing them.

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Troutfelters, Troutfeathers, and Broad Searches of the Census at Ancestry.com

Broad searches are fine as long as they work in a way that the researcher expects. That does not appear to be the case with a search I recently conducted of the 1850 census on Ancestry.com

A “broad” search for Troutfelter in the 1850 census brought about ten results, including three with the spelling of Troutfeather. That’s fine, it is a reasonable variant.


1850 Census results at Ancestry.com for “Troutfelter” as a broad search.

But what is interesting is that a “broad” search for Troutfeather only get three results: the Troutfeathers. It does not catch the same ten results that a broad search for Troutfelter did. It would seem that if Troutfelter catches Troutfeather as a broad search that Troutfeather should catch Troutfelter as a broad search.

1850 Census results at Ancestry.com for “Troutfeather” as a broad search.

Just something I noticed.

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The Littlest Clue

I wrote about these checks from my Grandpa Neill in Genealogy Tip of the Day but realized that there’s another very small clue in these two checks–one that reminds us of the importance of looking at everything and every detail.

The checks were written in 1941 when my grandparents and their two children were living on a farm a few miles north of Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. They had lived there since the very late 1930s when they purchased the farm and are enumerated there in the 1940 census.

But why was Grandpa writing checks on a bank in Augusta, Illinois? While located in Hancock County, it’s a significant distanced from where they lived (approximately 25 miles). Carthage was the county seat. There were banks in Carthage. Ferris, Illinois, was not far away either and also had a bank where Grandpa banked for some time. But in 1941 my grandparents had not lived on the farm north of Carthage very long.

After their marriage in 1935, my grandparents “took to housekeeping and renting a farm” from my Grandpa’s uncle near Plymouth, Illinois. They were living there when the oldest son was born in 1937 and until they moved to the farm near Carthage in the very late 1930s. The likely scenario is that Grandpa still maintained his banking relationship with the bank in Augusta.

At the very least the location of the bank would have been a clue that they had lived in the area if I had not already known that.

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The Death Register’s “Organization”

I’ve been using a death register from Adams County, Illinois, in the 1870 and 1880 time period.

It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. The entries in the death register appear to have been created from the actual death certificates. That means that technically what is in the death register is secondary information since it was copied from another source (the death certificate). That also means that the death register may contain errors–intentional or otherwise–that were not present in the actual certificate.

The ordering of the entries in the death register is an additional challenge. They are not in numerical order in the death register. They appear to be somewhat alphabetical based on the first letter of the last name, but then there seems to be entries for other surnames thrown into the “wrong letter section.”

The reminders:

  • Always ask yourself “what am I looking at?”
  • Ask yourself “how did information get into this record?”
  • Determine how the records are organized.

I initially thought the arrangement was alphabetical by the first letter of the last name and then in certificate order. In other words all the “A” entries were together sorted by certificate number. That was not the case as there were entries for other letters thrown into the “A” entries.

It took some doing to find the entries of interest, even though I had dates of death and certificate numbers from an index. Never assume anything is organized the way it initially appears to be. You may be wrong.

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A Troutveller Feller

I’ve known about Theodore Trautvetter’s disappearance from Warsaw, Illinois, in the early 1890s. I also know that the middle-aged farmer returned home from his absence and lived out the rest of his life in the area.

This post is not about that.

It’s a quick reminder about a few things involving newspapers. The last name in a one sentence mention of Theodore in Chicago’s Inter Ocean, is written as Troutveller. That’s a typographical error at some stage of the game, but it’s not an error of the OCR software that read what was typed.

Troutveller is a variant spelling that results from the final two ts not being crossed. It’s not the sort of typical incorrect spelling that is based upon consonant or vowel sounds being interpreted differently.

The other reminder is that sometimes people who made “national news” may be mentioned in newspapers a distance from their residence in a location where they lived.

Had this disappearance been a discovery for me I would have looked for a reference to it in local newspapers as they likely had more information on the disappearance. My search should not stop with this one entry.

Because there’s more information on the Troutvetter feller in his hometown newspaper.

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Sorting out Some Potential DNA Trasks

One of the reasons for having my father-in-law do a DNA test at AncestryDNA was to see if I could make any headway on the ancestors of his ancestor, Samuel Trask. Samuel was born approximately in 1814 in Boston and moved to the Midwest by the 1840s where he married and had a family.

There are DNA matches with the test kit from descendants of three of the children Samuel Trask and his wife Lucinda Ramsey had. For purposes of hopefully sifting things out a little better, I am only looking at the shared matches the test kit has with the descendants of the two other children of Samuel and Lucinda. That way the shared matches are more focused on Samuel and Lucinda’s family. I’m calling these shared matches “pot A.”

Fortunately I have shared matches with the test kit that are known descendants of Lucinda’s parents–via siblings of Lucinda. I’m calling these shared matches “pot B.”

Pot A and Pot B have names in common. Some of the individuals who are related through descendants of Samuel and Lucinda are also related through descendants of Lucinda’s sisters.

But there are people in Pot A who are not in Pot B. These people are likely related through the Trask family and not through Lucinda’s family. Depending upon the amount of shared DNA, they may connect through an earlier member of the Trask family.

So those matches, shared matches with descendants of Andrew and Lucinda Trask’s children (from lineages other than the one through which the testee descends) that are not matches of Lucinda Trask’s sisters’ descendants, are potentially related to the Trask family only. Those are the ones I’m going to look at first for a potential Trask clue.

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