Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bigger Picture

When dancing with the ancestors, I've found that I can't focus in just one direction when digging for information. Going in a straight line and refusing to step outside the proverbial box will often result in, no pun intended, dead ends.

Sometimes, you have to rethink your search methods.

Example: Mary Tate, one of my many times removed great-grandmothers. I don't have her maiden name. Why? Well, because society not too long ago only cared about the patriarchal line, and not the matriarchal line, meaning that the wives surnames weren't important and often weren't recorded.

Great. Fine. Dandy.

What's a researcher to do when trying to create a complete picture of their ancestry if he/she can't find the surnames of said ancestors?

Well, more often then not, there's not a damn thing that researcher can do.

Then again, I rarely back away from a challenge . . . which would explain the night, in the days of my youth . . . well, never mind . . .

So, what to do when all you have is a first name and no surname?

Here's my thoughts on the matter . . .

. . . more often than not, back in the day (1700s, 1800s, early settlement of this country) people married within the small area they settled, often marrying first, second, or third cousins, or other members of the same familial line. Yeah, a bit of an eeewww factor in there, but . . .

. . . then, there are the neighbors.

For example, my paternal great-grandfather John L. Smith, after the death of his first wife, married the daughter of his next door neighbor.

So, when faced with a situation where I don't have a surname for a female ancestor, my thoughts, now, are to investigate the neighbors.

The problem: until 1850, census records didn't list the names of all the members of the family.

Great. Fine. Dandy.

So, now, what to do, what to do? Well, my mind works in mysterious, and often scary ways, and I thought . . . what about witnesses to last wills and testaments?

Hmmmmm . . .

I have noticed, in finding last wills and testaments of various ancestors, that quite often the in-laws were referenced. So . . .

. . . in looking for Mary Tate's maiden name, I'm going to see what information I can find about the people who were mentioned in her husband's last will and testament, and/or were witnesses to said document, or other documents back in that time period.

Yes, it's a long shot. But . . . if I don't look, don't try, then what's the point of dancing with the ancestors in the first place?


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

EMail . . .

When dancing with the ancestors don't be afraid to email strangers. Seriously. I have emailed quite a few distant cousins when trying to confirm information. So far, they've all responded and been quite helpful.

I had one distant cousin send me all her information. Woo-hoo! Another send me a copy of their book on the Hagan branch of my maternal family, along with a bunch of additional information not included in the book.

Another cousin has been a big help in digging a bit deeper into my paternal grandmother's family. In fact, he found a census record for one of my great-half-aunts. Woo-hoo!

So, when you're dancing with the ancestors and you stumble across a site devoted to your ancestor, and you find an email address, give it a shot. You just never know what little tidbit of information your distant cousin might have.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


Whatever you do when dancing with the ancestors, do not let some one's misinformation stop you in your tracks.

Example - my great-great-great grandfather John Halterman (or Holtman, Haldiman, Haldeman, Hallerman).

I did a simple Google search - John Halterman, son of Christian Halterman - and came across a website that totally dismissed John Halterman as being Christian's son. Totally! Dismissed! Okay, the site did reference another site that listed John as one of Christian's sons, but then went on only to deal with the other children of Christian and his wife Eve, totally omitting any reference to John. Totally! Dismissed!

Well, being the stubborn individual that I am . . . I kept digging around and - voila - came across the last will and testament for Christian Haldeman that listed all of his children, including John, and his wife. HA! Yes, that's me being snarky at the other researcher who failed to keep digging.

Dancing with the ancestors isn't easy. It takes a lot of work, patience, and definitely perseverance. Dig, dig, dig, and then dig some more. Somewhere - in this age of technology - out there, is the information you need to confirm your descent. Somewhere.

Then again, sometimes, you just can't find it, but . . . my experience so far is, that if you keep digging, you'll probably find what you're looking for.

And, as I have said repeatedly in this blog, the reason to add all the siblings of your ancestors, is to help fellow researchers as they're dancing with the ancestors. The more information out there, the easier it is to confirm the information about your own ancestors.

Prior to finding the last will and testament of Christian Haldeman (Haltiman, whatever), I had the list of his children . . . which were confirmed as I read through the excerpt from his will.

So . . .

. . . put the information out there, people, if not when you first build your tree, then later as you dig deeper into each family name.



This whole cousin thing has me confused. I mean, I know that my first cousins are the children of my parents siblings. Got that one all figured out. My second cousins are . . .

. . . well, that all depends on who you ask. Ha!

Seriously, one site I found states that second cousins are the children of first cousins. For example: my nephew and my cousin's child would be considered second cousins. Got it? But, what type of cousin is my cousin's child to me? Ah, that's the question of the moment, isn't it? Ha!

The child of my first cousin would be a second cousin to my nephew, but would be a first cousin once removed to me. Oy!

But . . . that's only one site I found about cousin relationships. Trust me, you don't want to know about some of the sites I found when I Googled cousin relationhips. Eeeew!

Now, another site indicates that first cousins share grandparents. For example, my cousin Susan and I have the same grandparents, so we're first cousins.

That same site states that second cousins have the same great-grandparents as me, but not the same grandparents. Say what?

To simplify: my grandmother was one of 15 children. Her parents are my great-grandparents. Her parents are also the great-grandparents of her siblings grandchildren. Get it? So, with that logic, the grandchildren of my grandmother's siblings would be my second cousins.

Yeah, it's confusing. Oh, and the removed part of the equation usually indicates there is a difference in generation, i.e., I'm one generation removed from my cousin's child, therefore, that child is my first cousin once removed. OY!

So, as far as I'm concerned, if there's a blood/dna relationship, and you're not an aunt, uncle, parent, sibling, great-grandparent, or whatever, you're, well, a cousin. Enough. Written!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Listing the Siblings of Direct Ancestors

When dancing with the ancestors, it is important - at least for me - to track all the siblings of my descendants. Why? Well, because often, knowing the siblings can help in the verification process, especially if you stumble - as I have done many times - across a last will and testament which lists the children of a direct ancestor. This is invaluable information.

Seriously, people, forget creating family trees with a single line of descent, like . . .

Ezekial McGregor - m - Mary McGee
Mary Jane McGregor - m- James Douglas Tate

Instead, give other researchers a bit of information that helps in your search, such as . . .

Ezekial McGregor - m - Mary McGee
They had the following children - Ezekial Jr., John Houston, William Bartley, James L, Mary Jane, and Richmond C.

The reason . . . by tracking the other siblings through census records, you can often find information out about a direct ancestor.

For Example: Mary McGee McGregor. I knew when she was born, but didn't have a date of death. I knew her husband died in 1861, and that she was listed on the 1860 Warren County census with him, so, in 1860, she was still alive. So, the other day, I decided to check out some of the children, and - voila - on the 1870 census Mary was living with her son William Bartley and his family. Woo-hoo!

So, now, rather than a blank for her date of death, I have put in: after 1870. I haven't been able to find her past that date, at least not online, but plan to check out the 1880 Warren County census records on my next visit to the State Archives in Nashville, TN.

So, when dancing with the ancestors, adding the siblings of your direct ancestor to your family tree can help in solving the mysteries you're sure to encounter when, well, dancing with the ancestors.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Revise Your Search Methods

I've said it before, well, wrote it before, and I'll write it again . . . it's all in how you search when you're dancing with the ancestors.

Paternal: Mary McGee McGregor, wife of Ezekial McGregor. I had a date of birth, but not a date of death . . . which is quite common the further back you research. So, I decided to try and figure out her date of death, or rather, an approximate date of death.

What did I do? Well, I'm glad you thought of that question. Ha! What I did was . . . research census records regarding her known children and . . .

. . . yes, indeedy, I found Mary on a later census record. Woo-hoo! So, at that point, I knew she was still alive in 1870. Woo-hoo!

I hit a dead - sorry, no pun intended - after that, so I've listed her death as after 1870, which, at least for me, is better than not having a date of death.

So, when dancing with the ancestors, revise your search, check out census records involving the siblings. You just never know what you might find.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Last Wills & Testaments . . .

. . . are a great source of information, if you can find them.

Normally, the wills will list the name of wife/husband, children, and often grandchildren and in-laws. By finding the last wills and testaments of various ancestors I have been able to verify the siblings and children of my ancestors.

Normally, I just do a simple Google search, such as "last will and testament of philip edelen" and see what pops up. I've been pretty lucky so far, finding quite a few excerpts or complete wills for my ancestors.

So, when dancing with the ancestors, look for their last wills and testaments. The information contained in those documents are a great source of information.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Middle versus First Name

I've spoken about stumbling blocks and perseverance when dancing with the ancestors. Well, today (well, technically yesterday, since I'm scheduling the post for today, and not yesterday when I actually wrote this post), when researching one of my ancestors I kept hitting dead (ha!, sorry, no pun intended) ends. Try as I might, nothing seemed to work until . . .

. . . I came across an archived copy of the last will and testament of Dennis Duvall (maternal line). Woo-hoo!

Silly me kept searching for James Dennis Duvall. Who knew that he, like me and many of my relatives, went by his middle name and not his first name. Woo-hoo!

So, lesson for today: if coming up with nada in your search results, try searching a different way, i.e., middle name instead of first and middle.


Friday, September 2, 2011


The key, at least for me, to dancing with the ancestors, is organization.

Or, as the title suggest . . . O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N!

Okay, first, I'm not the most organized person in the world. Trust me, with family research comes lots and lots of paper (yes, I've increased my carbon footprint - I try not to, but . . .), which I put in stacks, and then stack other stacks on top of the previous stacks until, well . . . it gets ugly, really, really ugly.

So, yesterday, in an OCD moment, I organized my stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks of paper.

First - separated the stacks by maternal and paternal.

Second - separated the maternal/paternal stacks into well, maternal and paternal again. Ha! Seriously, I took my mother's side and separated those stacks into paternal (her father's surname) and maternal (her mother's surname) stacks, and did the same thing with my father's family.

Third - I got a bunch of different colored folders - manila, red, green, and purple - and I began to put the different stacks (separated by surname) into each folder.

Fourth - I labeled the folders.

Now, with my paternal side of the family, it was a bit easier to label the folders.

For example, when working with my dad's paternal side of the family, I did this label: Mitchell - Paternal - Mitchell or Mitchell - Paternal - Tate (and whatever other names on this line of the family). Then, I did the same thing with his mother's line. Woo-hoo.

Now, with my mom's side of the family, it was a bit more complex, so I took a more simple route.

Example: Boone - Blandford

The reason: too many dang names and trying to keep it all accurate, well, impossible. So, I took the easier route, but . . .

. . . on the front of the folder, I traced the descent pattern as follows:

Blandford - Wright

Blandford - Beaven

Blandford - Hagan

Blandford - Hagan (don't get me started, it's complex, and a bit twisted, but they weren't brother and sister - HA!)

Hagan - Boone

Boone - Hagan (again, don't get me started)

Boone - Duvall

Boone - Watson

Boone - Sweat

I did this on every folder related to the maternal line of my family tree. Yes, it took a bit of work, but, when I pull out the folder to work on that branch of the tree, I don't have to pull up Ancestry to check the descent, I have it right on the front of the folder. Okay, at some point I'll run a descent report and put it in every folder, but this just gives me ease of access to the information.

So, rather than do what I did, when you begin dancing with the ancestors, create the folders in the beginning so you don't have to spend hours and hours one sunny day organizing the stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks of information you'll accumulate when you begin dancing with the ancestors.