Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Coming Soon To A Computer Near You. . . . .

April 2, 2012. Monday morning! In less than a week the National Archives and Records Administration will release the 1940 US Census. Are you ready?

I trust that by now you have completed your list of people you want to find in the new census. You will definitely need the addresses of everyone on your list since the initial view of the census will not be indexed and you will need Enumeration District numbers in order to narrow your search for your relatives. If you are like me, you have a pretty good idea where your parents or grandparents lived in 1940 and you can easily confirm this by checking a city directory. If you are unable to locate your people in a city directory, there is the possibility of a phone book listing. Just remember that not everyone had a phone in 1940. That is pretty hard to imagine in this day of Iphones and Droids and Razrs.

If the phone book and city directories aren't working for you, there are other options. You just need to use your imagination. Do you have anything stashed away in one of those old department store Christmas boxes where your mom or grandma used to store memorabilia?  Maybe a letter with an address on it. Or even a return address. Do you have a death certificate of someone who died shortly before 1940? Check the address for the next of kin who may have provided the information. How about a birth certificate? Maybe even yours! There's your mom and dad at home in 1940! Maybe you are like my husband who goes down to Kentucky looking for Aunt Mattie's house or the place where Cousin Jerry  used to live and all he can remember is "well I know it was off this road somewhere."  If nothing else, it gives you a place to start looking and narrows down the Enumeration District where you will have to look. You can even take a chance that where they were in the 1930 census is where they will be in 1940. Use your imagination -- I found an address in an old  cookbook once.Other sources are military records, obituaries, or photographs.

Once you have your names and addresses, you will want to go to to find the Enumeration District numbers. I have found that this website is very user friendly and not at all complicated.
From a menu in the upper left corner of the website, select US Census. This will give you a drop down menu. Scroll down to Unified 1940 US Census ED Finder and click on it. This will take you to a page where you can select state, county, city and follow some very clear, easy to use instructions. Use the 1880-1940 ED Definitions (from the original drop down menu on the home page) to find rural areas. Just enter the state and county, click search and you will get a list of township information.

There are several places where the 1940 US Census will be available. will have the census for free until 2013 and Family Search will have the census for free indefinitely.  Other places you can locate the digital images for the census will be Archives, National Archives, and Find My Past. Ancestry states that the National Archives will turn over the images at midnight. I am not sure if this means the census will begin to be available at the stroke of midnight, but I intend to find out!! (See below for links to websites.)*

Volunteers are needed for indexing the 1940 Census. Indexing is not as difficult as it sounds so please don't be intimidated by it. Also, 1940  handwriting is not going to be as hard to read as something written in the 1860's, but I am sure there will still be names that will be hard to read. There are tutorials and plenty of instructions and help for those willing to volunteer. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your part to provide free online records for other genealogists.

Happy hunting in the 1940 Census and I hope you find everyone you are looking for!

*Where to find the 1940 US Census:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Taking the Bus to Kentucky!

There was a lot to digest in the Jerome Bettis episode. Character traits, misspelled names, African American research, death certificate information, and that feeling of standing on the spot where your ancestors lived.

When it comes to misspelled names, everyone will  have a problem sooner or later. I don't care if you are looking for Jones, it will eventually be misspelled! Someone, somewhere will find a way! My mother's maiden name is not only misspelled, but also mispronounced. Whoever was recording a surname from immigration officials to census takers would spell it the way it sounded. They were also good at dropping syllables and rearranging vowels. Even in today's world, Google is misspelled (it should be Googol)!! So I really find it difficult to believe that census takers purposely misspelled African American names, but that is just my opinion. Once again you need to be flexible. Take a blank piece of paper and write down all the ways you think your ancestor's names could be spelled. Be creative!! And be prepared to be surprised!

Death certificates can be a wealth of misinformation. My grandfather's death certificate is a good example. The date of death was wrong.. I was trying to figure out how this could happen and then a week ago I had to take my husband to the Emergency Room at 3 in the morning. In my mind it was still Saturday night, but in reality it was really Sunday morning. That is probably what happened with my grandfather's date of death since he died early in the morning.  However, everything else can be wrong simply because the person providing the information may not have all the facts. In the case of my grandfather, his place of birth is wrong. You really need to look at the person who is providing the information on the death certificate -- wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, neighbor. I have recently come to the conclusion that the only fact you can actually count on being correct is the fact that the person passed away.

Jerome Bettis traced his mother's family back to the days of slavery. His 3 times great grandfather, Abe Bougard, was born a slave in Kentucky in the mid 1800's. This birth date was estimated from the information on his death certificate. Abe's parents were named as Jerry and Eliza with no known surname, which suggests that they were slaves. Research found the estate of Joseph Bougard, a white slave owner, who willed two slaves named Jerry and Eliza to his wife. Slaves frequently took the names of their owners after they were freed, but I understand this is not always the case, and the whole Bettis family research looked extremely easy. I would imagine there are a lot of brick walls and frustration involved in African American research.

In the last few years, I have noticed that there are more lectures on African American genealogy at the conferences. This could be due to the interest in genealogy we have seen from Who Do You Think You Are. Every new season brings out a whole new group of family detectives. I have noticed from my own research that wills in the southern states are a great source of slave information. Make sure that you get the entire packet of information including estate inventories and sales. Every piece of information should be looked at as a clue.

As always with any type of genealogical research you need to have a plan. Also, don't forget to  record what you find and where you find it. This eliminates any repetitive searches and possibly any unnecessary expenses. Try to stick to your plan as much as possible, but also allow yourself to wander off occasionally. This will lead to those serendipity moments all genealogist love. This is a moment when a book or a record grabs your attention for no apparent reason. Or you start talking to a stranger at the library who turns out to be a distant cousin. Serendipity moments lead to information that could otherwise take you years to discover, if at all. I always think it is my ancestor's way of nudging me in the right direction!

What do you inherit from your ancestors? Jerome Bettis found that he is descended from a couple of very strong willed men who stood up for what they believed to be right in a society of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and lynchings. Maybe this is why he was known as "The Bus" when he played for the Steelers. He was out to win. Aside from your physical characteristics, you will eventually begin to see your family traits. I have found that you won't see them in yourself, but rather in your children. I see my grandfathers in my son. I see Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors in my younger daughter. And I see my Aunt Daisy in my older daughter.

Next on Who Do You Think You Are. Helen Hunt goes to San Francisco to find a connection to Wells Fargo she never knew about. Friday, March 23, 2012. 8/7 Central.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Beautiful View of Ohio and Kentucky

When I go back to my roots in Clermont and Brown Counties in Ohio there is one place I always visit -- the ferry to Augusta, Kentucky. My Kentucky Perkins eventually became my Ohio Perkins. I think the ferry had a lot to do with that!

If you will be attending the NGS Conference in May (see events for information), I highly recommend a trip along the Ohio River on Route 52. The ferry to Augusta is about 43 miles east of Cincinnati and well worth the trip. There has been a ferry of some sort at this location since 1798. I took my first ride on this ferry over fifty years ago when I was a teenager and  it never gets old! Better than any ride at Disney World. It runs seven days a week from 8am til 8pm. The cost is $5 per car. People on foot ride free as long as there is at least one car making the trip. The ferry does not run on a set schedule, just park and wait! There is an on-board phone (606-756-3291) if you are impatient or running out of time. It is such a beautiful view though, I would just wait patiently and enjoy the view of Kentucky and the Ohio River. By the way the view out in the middle of the Ohio River is spectacular! I think it is the closest I have ever felt to my ancestors from southern Ohio.

Augusta, Kentucky is a fascinating river town only a couple of years older than the ferry. Part of the TV mini-series, Centennial (1978), was filmed there. Augusta played the role of St. Louis, Missouri!! It is also the hometown of George Clooney! You really should make sure you have enough time for sightseeing. Augusta has a great website.

If you take your car over to Augusta,  you might want to think about making the trip to Maysville, Kentucky, only about 20 miles to the east on Route 8. My Perkins and Rice ancestors lived here after the Revolutionary War. From here you can cross the bridge back into Ohio and head west toward Ripley, Ohio, a wonderful little village on the river. The Rankin House, a famous stop on the Underground Railroad, sits high on a hill overlooking Ripley and the Ohio River. You can see forever from the view on top of Liberty Hill and the house should be open in May.

** After I wrote this, I realized that this trip might merit a whole day and you might want to add another day to your conference trip. So you need to throw some stuff on ebay or have a garage sale. After all it is time to get out last year's summer clothes. I have always said that a possible genealogy trip can really help get rid of those vintage clothes in your closet that don't fit any more. Think positive!! Think ancestors!! Downsize!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I do not think you can successfully research your family without asking "why". Not why am I doing this; rather, why did my ancestor do that! In the fourth episode of Who Do You Think You Are, Reba McEntire asked many questions that began with why. For one, Reba wanted to know why her 6 times grandfather, George Brasfield, was sent to America in 1698 by his father when he was only 9 years old. The answer -- he was an indentured servant. Many of the people who came to Colonial America (mainly Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia) in the 17th century were indentured servants. Knowing the "why's" of this group could be an extremely important tool for researching our colonial ancestors.

An indentured servant was a person who agreed to exchange free labor for the opportunity to travel to America. In the early 1600's,  colonists who were able to afford the passage to America in search of a new life soon found out that they needed help in order to clear and maintain their newly acquired land. At the same time many Europeans were suffering due to the bad economic times and could only dream of a new life in the New World. Therefore, in order to be able to realize their dreams many of these people decided to become indentured servants.

Most of the indentured servants were from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Germany. Mainly they were single men under the age of 21 who basically provided the workforce the Colonies needed so desperately in the 1600's. However this group also included many women and many more children than any of us of would like to think about. It was not an easy life and many were lucky to survive the trip across the ocean and the years of their servitude.

There are many stories about how these men, women, and children came to be indentured. For many, it was voluntary; for others, not so much. Many children, like George Brasfield - Reba's ancestor, were sent to America by parents who no longer could afford to take care of them and wanted to give them the chance of a better life. Others were the victims of "assisted" immigration. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time! And, some countries used it as a method to "thin out" rogues, scoundrels, and criminals. But, for all, it was their ticket to the New World.

Every indentured servant had a contract that guaranteed his or her freedom at the end of their indenture. In exchange for a free trip to America plus lodging, food, clothing and sometimes training, the servant agreed to work for a specified number of years. The length of indentured servitude ranged from 3-7 years, with 5 years being the average. At the end of this time, the person received freedom dues. Some knew who their benefactors would be and even traveled to America with their new masters. Others were bound over to ship captains who in turn sold their contracts when they arrived in the colonies. Note that the contracts were sold, not the people; and this, in many cases, was the only difference between indentures and slaves. 

Life as an indentured servant varied. Some were very fortunate and became part of the family group they worked for. Others faithfully served their time of indenture, eventually realizing their dream of owning land and became the ancestors of many present-day American families. Unfortunately, many were treated poorly by unscrupulous masters. In general, indentured servants  were not allowed to marry or have children until their contracts were up. Their time of servitude could be increased for violating these laws or trying to run away. When their contracts were finally fulfilled, most indentured servants received their freedom dues -- a modest parcel of land plus a gun, food, clothing and other supplies along with their freedom. However, as land became scarce along the coastal areas of the colonies, many were encouraged or forced to move westward. 

 As it turned out Reba McEntire's ancestor went on to own land and establish the Brassfield family in America. At the beginning of her search, Reba asked, "Why am I like I am." I think she got the answer!

Indentured servants were the backbone, the core, of America in the 1600's. They were the rugged, hard working, strong willed individuals who made up a major portion of the workforce who created this nation. These early settlers were some of the first people to move west into the wilderness. If you have ancestors who came to the colonies in the 17th century, it is possible they came here as indentured servants. I have ancestors in Maryland and Virginia that could possibly fall into this category. A quick search of the Virtual Jamestown website has revealed the surnames I am looking for, but only time will tell if they are a match. 

Don't forget to watch. Friday, March 9, 2012. Who Do You Think You Are. 8/7central. Jerome Bettis, former Pittsburgh Steeler, walks in the footsteps of his ancestors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

NGS Conference - Places to stay.

If you are attending the NGS Conference in May and looking for a hotel in the Cincinnati area, I suggest you check out the the Drury Inn & Suites North. It is located off of I-75 at Exit 15. The rooms are moderately priced, but the best parts are the free breakfast and dinner buffets. We have never stayed at the Cincinnati Drury Inn, but we did stay at one in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was a wonderful place to stay. We took our teenage granddaughters on a genealogy trip to Logan and Muhlenberg Counties in southern Kentucky and, believe me, those buffets were a blessing. If you are going to the conference with a friend, this could be a great way to save a few $$. The motel is about 20 miles from the Duke Energy Center (a quick trip down I-75) and you will need to figure parking cost into the budget, but if you remember to car pool, it could be just what you are looking for to cut down on conference expenses.

Another place I like to stay when I am attending a conference is La Quinta. There are 4 in the Cincinnati/Kentucky area. I have found that I can usually find a room for under $100, sometimes as low as $59. They have a La Quinta Returns feature that you can join and accumulate points toward free nights, travel, dining or gift cards. I have found this to be a very comfortable place to stay.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Brick Walls - a lack of forward motion

On the third episode of Who Do You Think You Are, one of the first genealogy terms Blair Underwood learned was "brick wall." In African American research, this usually means any research after the 1870 census may be difficult. This is because slaves were not listed by name in the US Census taken before the Civil War (1861-1865). But this does not mean that your research has come to a complete stand still. (For more information on African American research I recommend Also, has the 1850/1860 slave schedules.)

Blair Underwood chose to use DNA testing to deal with his brick wall. DNA is still relatively new to the world of genealogy and relies on individuals entering their information in databases. It can also be expensive. If you have a limited genealogy piggy bank, I would suggest that you try other brick wall solutions. 

Just as slaves disappeared in the pre-Civil War census, most women and children disappear in the census taken before 1850. In fact a lot of information is missing from these records. Another genealogical headache that stops forward motion in your research is the courthouse fire. And then there is the problem that many of our ancestors just plain took off and left for greener pastures. Or gold! But there are solutions. The trick is to keep a positive attitude and an open mind.

It may take a while before you finally admit there is a problem with your research. Just remember the number one rule of genealogy -- doing the same thing over and over with the same result is . . . .well, not good! When you reach this point it is a good idea to make sure all of you data is accurate. Sometimes you have heard something so many times that it begins to be true (in your mind, only). And other times there is that one little fact that you keep ignoring that could be the one clue you need to get moving again. The fact that I kept ignoring was my mother telling me her family was Pennsylvania Dutch. Couldn't possibly be true! Didn't fit with my image of that part of the family! Now I am taking another look at that piece of information and Pennsylvania has become a new place to research.

If everything looks good with your research then it is time to take another route out of town. The best way to do this is to put yourself in your ancestors' shoes. What were their lives like? Did they live in the city or on a farm? Did they have sisters and brothers? Where did they go to church, to school? What ethnic or military organizations might they have belonged to? Remember your ancestor did not live in a vacuum. My husband has an ancestor who lived in a cave in the 1790"s in Kentucky. We found him!!

Your ancestor and his siblings had a lot of the same background information, however there is one thing that could be different. Mom or Dad. Many women died in childbirth and their husbands remarried. Always compare birth dates and marriage records in order to check for a step-mother on the census form. Many times the husband married his wife's sister, so check death certificates to see if both wives had the same parents. Once you have brothers, sisters, and cousins you will have other records to check for missing information. Also, remember that life on the frontier was dangerous and many wives remarried after losing their husbands. 

Ancestors have a tendency to disappear into thin air. When this happens you need to look at history and weather. Both can change people's lives. Losing everything due to war or weather could be an excuse to move. Fear of war could have been a reason to leave the old country for the hope of a better life elsewhere. Actually the hope of a better life is a major reason a lot of our ancestors moved, period. I am a firm believer in making a timeline for an ancestor who is causing problems. And also remember a lot of our ancestors went west during the Gold Rush. Some came back home and others started a brand new life. The latter will be the rascals in your family!

There are so many more options available to the family detective today as more and more old records are brought up out of dusty courthouse sub-basements. Although some courthouses burned destroying valuable records,  other records have been found to recreate our ancestors lives. Pension records for the Revolutionary War veterans can also be a wealth of information. 

Compiled local histories can be a great source of clues. Just remember that these books depend on information submitted by family members. Sometimes the information is accurate and sometimes it is embellished to make the family look good! But it is always a good place to start and hopefully the book with your family in it is indexed!!

Last, but not least, our ancestors paid taxes and if you can't find one year, there is always the next. Ya gotta love those tax records!

The most important thing to remember when faced with a brick wall is to be patient and have an open, inquisitive mind. Our ancestors had real lives that extended beyond their birth, marriage, and death certificates. Blair Underwood had a lot of help and a certain amount of DNA luck. This might not happen for you, but you will have a lot of fun looking and maybe even be amazed at what you find.

Remember to watch Reba McEntire, March 2, 2012, on Who Do You Think You Are, 8/7 Central.