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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Tracking While You Research

Downloading images from websites for personal research use is always advised. Then the researcher has the images even if they no longer can access them online for one reason or another.

While I should rename files as I download them, I will admit that I do not always do this and often wait until later. I do try and take advantage of the way in which the images are automatically named by the site when they are downloaded. For this reason, before I download too many images from a site, I look in my downloads folder to see how they are named.

This is done to see if there is some way I can use that automatic naming system to my advantage.

I was using Archion.de to view church records for Bad Salzungen, Germany, for members of several families. I was downloading any record that contained one of two names of interest for more detailed review later. I noticed that the file name included the “title” of the record as given in Archion’s system along with the image number. The image number was on my screen as I was viewing it. Instead of renaming the file right after I downloaded the image, I made notes as I was viewing the images and downloading them. There was one note for each image, which included at least the following:

  • image number,
  • name of interest on the record,
  • year of the entries on the page if not obvious,
  • anything else of interest.

At the very top of my note, I wrote the name of the website, the date, and other identifying information–including what names I was looking for when I viewed the records.

Between the image name for each individual download and my notes, I need enough information so that I know what I am looking at later; I know why I copied that particular page; and I can create a complete citation. Church records such as these are notorious for not always having page numbers, not including the year of the event on each page, not indicating what type of record is on each page, etc. This is why capturing all that information is crucial–because the creator of the record did not think it was necessary to repeat all that on each entry.

Missing out on clues is what happens when we pull only one entry or one page from a set of records.

I preferred to take the notes by hand on a sheet of paper while viewing and downloading the images, but electronic notes could be taken as well. When I was done viewing one set of images, I moved all the downloaded images to a new folder whose title was the name of the record set (Bad Salzungen–Church Burials–1784-1799) I then took a picture of my notes and put that image in the same folder along with the images.

The key is to track all the information later needed to understand and cite the record. I also find it helpful if the “save record” process is one that does not interrupt the research process. For me, I am more efficient when viewing records that are difficult to read, if I can concentrate on looking through those records and easily save each one as I find them.

Your process may vary. But it is key to capture identifying information about where you got the image, what type of record it is from, and why you copied it–as you copy/save/download the file. Find a way that gets that information and fits well with how you work.

But do not just take download after download and give no thought to how those images are named or organized. That is just asking for additional confusion.


Genealogy Thoughts on “Connie’s Memories”

The picture based on my Mom’s memories got me thinking about genealogical research and how we put pieces of information together, how we remember information, and how we create a picture of an individual based up information we have obtained.

The items in Mom’s picture all existed. None of them were figments of her imagination. But I’m doubtful that they were all ever out in one place at the same time as they were in the painting. The bracelets from her birth were attached to the inside front cover of Mom’s baby book and from the way it looked they had been attached there for some time. However, I cannot really speak to how long the items were actually in the book. I can only speak to how long it appears they have been in the book.

That’s a good reminder about keeping in mind that we do not always know what we think we know. Appearances can be deceptive.

I also can’t imagine my grandmother letting Mom actually have the bracelets out to play with. But I could be wrong. The same goes for her baby shoes. Again: I was not there. I can’t say what happened twenty-five years before I was born. Some days I can’t remember what has happened twenty-five years after I was born.

Mom gave the painter pictures of the items from her childhood and the painter created a scene with them. It is somewhat similar to how we take pieces of information about a relative’s life and create a verbal picture of that life.

The artist had more leeway in creating her painting than we do with facts we discover and records we locate about an ancestor. The artist also told me that she had to guess about the color of certain items and the fact that she worked from black and white photographs in some cases. The artist was creating a new memory from old ones but had to either take artistic license or make a conjecture in order to complete the painting. Genealogists are trying, as best they can, to re-create a narrative as accurately as they can using records that often only provide information in bits and pieces.

We need to always consider the chronology in which events happened and make certain the time frame is as correct as we can make it. We need to remember things that are possible and things that likely are not (like Mom playing with the bracelets) when we are reaching conclusions.

We need to take care when we add unknown details to a record or a family situation. We need to make certain that unstated facts we infer are justified by the underlying structure of the records we used, the situation for which they were created, and the laws and customs in effect at the time that record was created.

The painting reminds me that human memories that we use in our family history research, even while accurate in certain details, may be off in terms of chronology. Record those memories as they are told to you for the memories themselves tell a story about how the teller viewed the events. Those who tell family stories may not be painters, but they are giving us a verbal picture with the memories which they share with us.

For me, the picture serves as a reminder of the fragility and the importance of memories.