I’ve recently been searching for a family with the surname “Thomas” and discovered a quirk with Ancestry’s search filters. Ancestry does not appear to be using a Soundex system for name searches.
Soundex is a code based on the first letter of the surname and the next three consonants. Consonants are divided up into six groups of letters that sound similar to each other. Vowels and the letters “H,” “W,” and “Y” are not considered in the Soundex system unless they fall at the beginning of a name. So two names with the same consonants in the same order should be found on a search.
I was searching the 1940 census on Ancestry for Cordelia THOMAS born in Nebraska. I could not come up with her. I finally had to resort to a first-name only search and use some additional first names of other people I expected to see in the household. With that grouping of names, I eventually hit upon Roy THOAMS and family.
When I looked at the census image for the family, the enumerator wrote THOMAS – however the indexer for Ancestry transposed the “M” and “A” and indexed it as THOAMS.
THOMAS and THOAMS have the same consonants in the same order. In a true Soundex system, they would be indexed in the same group of names. But Ancestry does not always put them together. I have found dozens and dozens of THOMAS families indexed as THOAMS. And in my spot check of people listed with the surname THOAMS in Ancestry, every single one I looked at on the census was a THOMAS.
A couple of takeaways –
If you know other family members in the household, try searching just by first name. Unfortunately, I don’t always know other household members.
Remember that Ancestry doesn’t use a straight-up Soundex. You might have to think of alternate ways to spell even simple surname. And be sure to consider transposition errors.
if you are interested in more strategies for finding people on the census, check out my "Censational Census Strategies" talk. You can see when I'll be giving it presentation schedule on the "Lectures" tab of my website.
I love teaching! It’s great to be able to share what I know, and a wonderful bonus when one of my students teaches me something.
About a year ago I wrote a blog post, “Spreadsheet Magic - Importing Data from Ancestry.com.” Importing data from a website into an Excel spreadsheet can give you the chance to play around with it, make notes, and manipulate the data to help to see patterns and find more about your ancestors. I demonstrated this at a recent presentation I gave at King County Libraries, and Marvin, one of my students, taught me a new trick. Seems my way of importing is “so 2016.” There a new tool on the block, Power Query, that whittles the importing process down to one quick step.
Power Query is a Microsoft tool, included as part of Excel 2016 and available as a downloadable add-on for Excel 2010 and Excel 2013. You can download it here:
Once you install Power Query on your computer, it will show as a new tab on the Ribbon at the top of your Excel Window. When you open that tab, you will see several icons. In the left most section, “Get External Data,” there is an icon, “From Web” which will allow you to import data quickly from a web page.
I am curious why my husband’s Irish immigrant ancestors settled in Madison County, Ohio in the early 1850s. If I research some of the early Irish settlers in that community, those who were born in Ireland and lived in Madison County by 1850, I may find one who was from the same place as Mark’s great-great grandfather, Bartley Roddy. I’d like to do a search on Ancestry to find a list of these people, and then use a spreadsheet to track and study them and record my research notes.
I did a search on Ancestry for everyone born in Ireland and living in Madison County, Ohio listed on the 1850 census.
I could type all that data in, but it would take me quite a bit of time to record all 130 names. But with Power Query, I can copy the URL from the top of the page and get a direct import of the first 50 names. (For the remaining names, I can copy the URLs for the second and third pages of results, and repeat the process explained below)
To do the import, open up the Power Query tab, click on the “From Web” icon, and a pop-up window appears with a box where you can paste in the URL you copied from your Ancestry search.
Click OK. A new pop-up appears where you can click on “Table 0” and the “Load” icon at the bottom.
And voila!!!! An Excel table I can sort, filter, and manipulate to my heart’s content with space to record my findings. I’m going to crack those Roddy origins, yet!
Have fun importing web searches of your own. And thank you, Marvin, and all my other class participants who have taught this teacher such great stuff!
My family tree grew another leaf today. Pardon my inattention to my blog while I hold this bundle of joy, Leila Rose Roddy. I'll be back next week....
So you’ve found your relative on FindaGrave. And there’s even a picture of the grave marker. Score! But could there be another relative buried nearby with no marker, or with an illegible stone? As far as I’ve been able to tell, many FindAGrave memorials are created because someone walked through the cemetery and wrote down the graves that they could see. Nothing to see - no memorial. So of course, you’ll want to contact the cemetery sexton or other official to see if the cemetery has records on who else might be buried in the plot or elsewhere in the cemetery, perhaps in an unmarked or illegible grave.
I have not had great success in googling the cemetery to get contact details for the sexton. Yes, I can perhaps get a satellite image of the cemetery, and probably a link back to FindAGrave, but no contact information.
And then I got an idea. Who would have reliable contact information for a cemetery official? Why, the local funeral home, of course! If the cemetery is still taking new burials, the local funeral home is certain to know how to get in contact with someone in charge of the graveyard. Just do a Google search for funeral homes in your town of interest, and give ‘em a call. They’ll point you to the cemetery director and you’ll be on your way to getting your questions answered about just who might be buried there.
A series of TV commercials runs these days asking “What’s in your wallet?” The advertiser wants it to be their credit card. But I want it to be library cards. A lot of them!
As I tell people in my genealogy presentations, “If you only have one library card, you’re not doing it right.” I’m not advocating getting library cards you’re not legally entitled to, but often libraries have reciprocal agreements with other library systems. It has something to do with the way tax dollars are allocated.
But why do you need several library cards? Many libraries provide databases for their patrons to use, often for free, from home. Most have an Ancestry.com Library Edition subscription patrons can use when they are in the library, but many offer other resources including Heritage Quest, an Ancestry subsidiary which has a full collection of US Federal census records as well as some city directories, the social security death index and more. Other offerings for library patrons at home include newspaper websites such as “America’s Genealogybank,” “Newspaper Archives” and “19th Century Newspapers.”
A great database I’ve been using at home today is the Digital Sanborn Maps. Many libraries only provide this for their own state, or perhaps their own and the adjacent states, but I’m fortunate that Seattle Public Library provides the Digital Sanborn Maps for the entire country. These maps were produced by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company to help them assess risk when they were considering whether to insure a parcel of property. But today we can use them to see what our ancestor’s neighborhood looked like “back in the day.”
Using FamilySearch today, I found a deed for the purchase by my great-great grandfather, John Springer in 1856 of a quarter acre parcel located in Liverpool, Onondaga County, New York. The deed tells me the lot was located in Block Number 40, gives me the boundaries “Beginning at the north west corner of said block and running southwesterly along Tamarack street five rods thence easterly on a line at right angles with Tamarack street eight rods, thence westerly on a line parallel with the line of Tamarack street five rods to Fourth street thence northerly along Fourth street eight rods to the place of beginning.”[i]
While the earliest Sanborn map I can find online in the Seattle Public Library database is from March 1911, the plots of land are still laid out in the same way, and I can see on sheet 6 in the upper left hand corner Block 40 and see just where John Springer’s property was, on the corner of Fourth and Tamarack streets. Jacob and Nicholas Springer purchased the adjacent property later that same year.[ii] The houses may be in different locations but the property boundaries are just the same on this map as they were when John and Jacob and Nicholas bought the parcels.
I love that I can sit in my home in Seattle and get a bird’s-eye view of a lot my great-great grandfather purchased over 160 years ago. All because of my library card! What’s in your wallet?
[i] Onondaga County New York Deeds, Vol. 123, p. 341, Hatch to Springer, 11 February 1856, (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9WL-CWPV?mode=g&i=211&wc=M7C8-RPJ%3A358132901%2C360397201&cc=2078654 : accessed 23 May 2016)
[ii] Onondaga County New York Deeds, Vol. 127, p. 21, Paddock to Springer and Springer, 15 December 1856
On Sunday I posted a transcription of a letter my uncle wrote to my grandparents on 8 July 1942 describing leaving his home in San Francisco and traveling to Navy boot camp in San Diego.
When you are reading and sharing your family letters, it will be a much richer experience if you take the time to understand the context in which the letter was written. Here are some ideas to get you started in researching the context.
Look for images. Warren mentioned several places in his letter, among them the Federal Building in San Francisco and the Santa Fe railroad depot in Los Angeles. I was able to do image searches on google and find historical photos of those buildings. Libraries and state archives are another good resource for finding vintage images of buildings. With these searches I was able to go back in time and see what my uncle saw.
I knew that Warren was in the navy, and I was able to use Fold3 to discover a bit more about his experience. A 31 December 1943 muster roll from the submarine Searaven showed an enlistment date of 6 July 1942, just two days before he wrote the letter. That immediately got me thinking about what my 21-year-old uncle might have been feeling – excitement, fear, homesickness and more.
I thought about the date. July 6 was a Monday. Just two days after Independence Day, the most patriotic of holidays. I imagine the first 4th of July after Pearl Harbor must have held some particularly impassioned celebrations. Might those have perhaps prompted Warren to enlist? What was going on in San Francisco and the world at that time?
I looked at the San Francisco Chronicle and found some answers. On Sunday 5 July 1945, page 1 of the comics ran the cartoon, “Terry and the Pirates.” In this strip, the evil Chinese captor threatens Muzz and derides her independence. Mazz ponders the words of the Declaration of Independence regarding the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and how we must invest in our futures to keep those rights.
Elsewhere in the same paper, above the masthead on page 1 of the news section, was a striking photograph, the full width of the page, captioned “Yesterday, San Francisco saw a parade. San Francisco has seen other parades, many of them, but never one like this. For passing grimly down Market street marched sudden death. This was typified by a 3200-man combat team of the Army of the United States. Armed to the teeth, this unit, however, was not unique. It was only representative of hundreds of other such units in the United States and over the world ready – and anxious – for a scrap. Above, infantrymen of the unit march by with fixed baoynets.”[i] Other page 1 stories included “New Zealanders Pile Into Rommell; The Tide MAY Be Turning in Battle of Egypt,” “First Yank Flyers Skim Dutch Housetops to Bomb 3 Airdromes in Nazi Europe” and more.[ii] It seems that every day the first several pages of the Chronicle were filled with accounts of the war. Warren must have had those stories in his mind when he enlisted and as he wrote his parents of his experiences as a new recruit.
When you’re reading old correspondence, make sure you spend some time studying the history, reading the local newspapers of the time, and finding images to make your family letters and the people who wrote them come alive.
[i] San Francisco Chronicle, 5 July 1942, page 1, col 1.
[ii] San Francisco Chronicle, 5 July 1942, page 1
I took a week off from the blog. I spent some time with family celebrating the life of my dear Auntie Wilma who passed away last month. Her memorial service was on 5 May, what wold have been the 71st anniversary of her marriage to my Uncle Warren.
A few years ago when I visited Wilma, she pulled a bag of letters Warren had written to his parents, my grandparents, during his service in the Navy in WWII. I organized the letters i chronological order in a binder. I believe the letter below is the first one he wrote home, telling his mother, father and his youngest sister, Babe, what his first full day in the navy was like.
July 8, 1942
Dear Mom, Dad, Babe
Russ and I are both well and enjoying ourselves her at the San Diego Naval Base. I hope this letter finds you all well. I guess you would be interested in what has taken place the last couple of days so I’ll try to let you in on it.
After Dad left the Federal Building we stood around until about 12:00 N. and then we got a 39¢ meal ticket for lunch. We were back at 1:00 P.M. and off again about 4:30 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. During this time we had dinner with Jeanne and Nat who were waiting for us when we came out at 4:30. The took some pictures of us.
About 7:00 P.M. we left the Federal Building on Santa Fe buses and went to Oakland where we boarded the Santa Fe train. We left about 8:00 P.M. We didn’t get much sleep last night on that darn train. It was bucking and rocking and pitching all night. I dressed about 5:00 A.M. this morning hand we had breakfast in Bakersfield about 6:00 A.M. After breakfast we left by bus and arrived in L.A. about 10:00 A.M. I sent you and Ida and Jeanne and Nat cards from the Railway Station which by the way is a very beautiful building. We had a good lunch there and left by Santa Fe and pulled into San Diego about 4:00 P.M. We were then sent directly to the Naval Base where we were assigned to our bunds, had chow, and took showers. The sun is about down now and they are just striking the flag. We are supposed to hit the hay now, I think, there is a black out here every night.
Well, I think I’ll close now. I can’t give you any return address now but I’ll write again in a few days and I think I can give it to you then.
Your loving son,
P.S. Say hullo to Geo. And Rose for me. Tell them I think I will like it here. I’ll write them as soon as I get their address.
I will follow up this post on Tuesday with a bit of strategy on analyzing the context of letters like this. Stay tuned.
 - Letter from Warren Hardy Brown to Mary Jane, Ira, and Iris Brown, dated 8 July 1942.
It’s far too tempting to see a cemetery marker for an ancestor and assume she died in that place. And then spend hours trying to find the death record there. But it’s important to consider that she might have died hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even a long-time genealogist can forget this when she really really really wants to find that death record. (Now who could I be talking about....Mary??!!!)
I recently researched the Smith family of Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan. Smith is rarely a fun name to research and this one was no exception. I found a death record on Seeking Michigan for Robert Smith, age 66 who died in Vernon and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. FindAGrave shows a memorial for him. Though no spouse is linked to him, the photo of the memorial for Elizabeth Smith who died 13 June 1907 at age 71 is clearly another side of the same grave marker.
And that’s where the cautionary tale starts. I spent ages looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Shiawasse and later all of Michigan on the SeekingMichigan website. I searched for everyone named Elizabeth who died in June 1907. I searched for every person who died on 13 June 1907. I searched for all the Smiths in Shiawassee. I could not rustle up a death certificate for her. But she’s buried right there! Next to her husband!! Where, oh where, is her darn death certificate?!!!
I finally had to put Elizabeth on the back burner. Searching on Ancestry and FamilySearch I found a San Francisco area funeral home record for Robert Smith, Jr., Elizabeth and Robert’s son, which included a newspaper clipping of his death notice. Lucky for me, Robert Jr.’s sisters and daughters married people with far more imaginative surnames, including Dorward and Coppelberger. Names a genealogist can truly love.... Newspaper searches soon turned up a Flint, Michigan article indicating Elizabeth died in Los Angeles.
And then I dove down another rat hole looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Los Angeles. Another cautionary tale - don’t believe everything you read in a newspaper. Eventually I searched the California Death Index on FamilySearch to discover that Elizabeth died not in Los Angeles but in Alameda County. I guess to the reporter in Flint in 1910, one city in California is as good as the next!
So remember, just because someone is buried somewhere, it doesn’t mean they died anywhere near there. Be willing to search far and wide for a death certificate.
Thank you to my friend, Karrie, who lets me research her ancestors like they're my own...
 Michigan Certificate and Record of Death for Robert Smith, Sr. County of Shiawassee, Certificate No. 238. Date of Death 29 Aug 1897
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39077645 for Robert Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=smith&GSfn=robert&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=24&GScnty=1304&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=39077645&df=all& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39074584 for Elizabeth Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Smith&GSiman=1&GSsr=41&GScid=638&GRid=39074584& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1835-1979," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JNVX-C8M : 28 November 2014), Robert Smith, 15 Nov 1916; citing funeral home J.S. Godeau, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, record book Vol. 20, p. 1-404, 1916-1917, San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History and Archive Center.
 “Death of Mother,” The Flint Daily Journal, 18 June 1907, page 8, col 3 (GenealogyBank.com : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKSM-DGFS : 5 June 2015), Elizabet Smith, 13 Jun 1907; citing 13872, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
I have bits and pieces on one branch of my family gathered by my father’s first cousin, Thelma. She sent Dad a packet of information including copies of letters and other random documents. Few of them have any sources attached. With some, a little research may lead me to the source. With others, all I have is a (poor) photocopy of a clipping, maybe from a newspaper, or perhaps from some other source. Some items are translations from German-language documents, with no indication the translator’s identity.
The genealogy professional in me cringes at the lack of sources for these documents, but the great-great granddaughter in me needs to share with my siblings and cousins the tiny bits of information I have about our intrepid ancestors who braved an ocean voyage to settle in a land where they didn’t speak the language and came with only a few resources. They bought land and started businesses. They raised families, and educated their children. Because of their courage and tenacity I am where I am and who I am today.
I only recall meeting Thelma once. She was a sweet and kind lady. The summer after I finished graduate school, my husband and I set off from San Rafael, California on an epic 10,000 mile trip across the country, and one of our stops was in Webster, New York, Thelma’s home and my paternal grandfather’s birthplace. I didn’t want to impose so Mark and I headed to Thelma’s for dinner only after setting up our tent in the local campground, knowing she couldn’t insist too hard that we stay the night with her if it would mean leaving our belongings unattended overnight. As we drove into the campground after a lovely dinner and a skunk crossed our path, I had a twinge of rethinking our strategy. What were we in for?!!!
Alas, I was young and foolish and not the least bit interested in genealogy. Oh, if only we’d agreed to stay the night and I’d had the chance to hear all the family stories Thelma had to share…
Below is one document from Thelma’s packet to my dad. A 17-line faded clipping written in German, printed in gothic type accompanies the translation. It appears to be the obituary of my great-great grandfather, Johannes Springer.
“Brother Johannes Springer of Kappeln, state of Bavaria, died in Liverpool, New York on October 3 in his 42nd year. The one who passed away looked for and found about 14 years ago the forgiveness of his sins by the blood of the Lamb. Also, since then he has been a devout member of our church, beloved and respected by everyone in the community. Sickness over the years had a few times before brought him close to death. This time nerve fever caused his death. He lived as a Christian and endured his burden as it is expected of a believer. He passed away peacefully and blessed in Christ Jesus. His widow, three minor children, four brothers and sisters, and many relatives mourn his death. May the Lord comfort all with his healing grace.
A note on the page beneath the translation says “Above is the translation of the German account of Great Grandpa Springer’s death. Louise Sutter has the original clipping.”
What I know and what I have discovered so far:
I will continue to research this family and share what I discover with my family and friends I welcome input from any cousins who want to join in on the fun!.
 Cemetery listing for Liverpool Cemetery, Liverpool, Onondaga, New York found at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyononda/CEMETERY/Liverpool_Cemetery.html Note, the FindAGrave memorial 23987756 for him lists a death date of 3 October 1864, but he appears with his wife and three children in the 1865 New York Census in Salina.
 1865 New York State census, Onondaga County, New York, Salina, p. 36, dwelling 281, family 284, John and Margaret Connell; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 August 2016); citing Census of the state of New York, for 1865. Microfilm. New York State Archives, Albany, New York. Note, although “Frank” is identified as a male, she is actually a female, my great-grandmother Frances who later married Charles Conrad Kircher of Webster, Monroe, New York.
 1870 U.S. census, Onondaga County, New York, population schedule, Salina, p. 13 [penned], dwelling 110, family 110, Louisa Springer; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 April 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1061.
 Cemetery listing for Liverpool Cemetery, Liverpool, Onondaga, New York found at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyononda/CEMETERY/Liverpool_Cemetery.html
 "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZXK-96L : 14 July 2016), Nicholas Springer, Liverpool, Onondaga, New York, United States; citing enumeration district ED 193, sheet 235B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0906; FHL microfilm 1,254,906.
I am kicking around the possibility of becoming a certified genealogist. I’m not certain I will take this step, but regardless of whether I do or not, I know that I can train myself to be a better genealogist by creating some of the documents necessary for a portfolio.
One of those documents is a Kinship-Determination Project, or KDP. According to the Board for Certification (BCG) Application Guide the KDP is a “narrative genealogy, narrative lineage, or narrative pedigree that documents and explains linkages among individuals through three ancestral generations.” The KDP should include “names and known vital data of the children of each couple in the genealogy, lineage, or pedigree,” and should include “documentation of every statement of fact that is not common knowledge.”
As I work to create a KDP, I’ve come up with a spreadsheet that is helping me to gather some of the data necessary for the report. In it I list all the children of the three generations with columns for their birth, marriage and death information. I want to gather as much of this information before I start writing, and have it all in one place. I think this will make my writing process easier and more efficient.
Disclaimer: Because my actual spreadsheet is “under wraps” since it would be unethical of me to get help or input from other genealogists with my research on the family I’m using for the KDP, I’ve filled-in my spreadsheet with fictional characters and random documents that don’t belong to my own ancestors or the fictional ones in the sample spreadsheet below. The links probably don’t support the names and dates for the events shown. But I hope this might be a tool for genealogists to use to organize their data, either for writing a KDP for BCG or a report to share with their family.
I have included a link to the spreadsheet here. You are free to download it for your own use and modify it to suit your particular family. Below are a few features I have included.
In addition to the event date columns, I have columns for “Source.” It is important for me to be able to tell at a glance what my source for an event is. Am I using her death certificate to determine her birth date or do I have a birth certificate? Is it an actual certificate or am I using a derivative source such as an index? I created a key at the top of the sheet “MC” for Marriage Certificate, “F” for FindaGrave, “I” for Index, etc.
In my spreadsheet, I inserted hyperlinks on the letters I typed in the “Source” column. These hyperlinks can take me to a website such as FamilySearch, or they can link to a scanned image or other document I have saved on my computer. To create these links, I simply right click on the cell where I have typed my source abbreviation. A dropdown menu appears. I click on “Hyperlink” and paste or type in a web address or browse through the documents on my computer to find the certificate image I have saved.
Many of the documents I have used here were ones I found online on FamilySearch. With these, there is often a “record details” page which gives an abstract or transcription of the document, and then a link to the actual image of the record. Where possible, I linked to the “record details” page for a couple of reasons. First, while the transcriptions are not perfect, they are helpful. Second, FamilySearch usually provides a “Citing this Record” section at the bottom. I know that FamilySearch citations are not perfect, but I have a place to start with my own citation.
When my worksheet is “complete” with vital information for each family member, I am ready to start writing. With the hyperlinks embedded in the worksheet, I can click on any of the links and immediately see my documentation for that event. Everything is handy in one place.
One more feature I have used in this worksheet is “comments.” You can insert these as easily as you insert a hyperlink. Just right click on the cell, and when the dropdown menu appears, click “Insert Comment.” You can type anything in the box. When you are finished with your comment, click somewhere else in the worksheet, the comment box will close, and you will see a little red triangle appear in the top right corner of the cell with the comment. Just hover your mouse our cursor over the cell and the comment will appear. Right clicking on the cells will also allow you to edit or completely delete a comment. I use these for notes to myself, maybe thinking about other research ideas. In the case of my KDP spreadsheet, I’ve used them for information of people who have married into my KDP line.
Even if you aren’t thinking of creating a KDP for submission to the Board for Certification of Genealogists, you could create one of these spreadsheets to share with your family. When you’re using images from free websites such as FamilySearch for your links, your relatives will be able to click on the links and see the source documents. If you are using a subscription site such as Ancestry for your documents they would also need to have a subscription to see the documents on the website. However, you could save the document images to your computer and send relatives a folder which would include your spreadsheet plus the document images.
I hope you find this spreadsheet helpful. Please leave a comment below about ways you have or will use it, or ideas to make it even more useful.
 BCG Application Guide 2017. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Washington, DC. http://www.bcgcertification.org/brochures/BCGAppGuide2017.pdf
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.