Just Ask a Question
Recently I found myself researching some relatives in a tiny village in County Durham, England. I’ve tracked my family of interest from the 1851 through the 1881 census and then they disappeared, likely taking their final rest in the local Catholic cemetery. I reached out via email to the parish, asking if the church had any cemetery records from the 1880s and 1890s. A deacon kindly wrote back that after a period of time has passed, his church sends its old registers for safekeeping to a regional archive.
But it seems the deacon did more than just point me to another repository. He also passed my email on to the secretary of the parish council, Jim McLean. And Jim and I are definitely kindred spirits. In the most delightful week of email exchanges, I’ve told Jim a bit about the family I’m researching and he’s provided countless details of local history and culture. “239 coal mines in Co. Durham have all disappeared.” “This area used to be called "LITTLE IRELAND" because of the number of people from Ireland who came here for work - usually in the coal mines or shipyards.”
Jim walked the cemetery for me looking for Grahams, but the earliest grave he found was from 1924, too late to be the people I seek. Apparently it is common in his locality for graves to be emptied after many years so that the land can be used again.
He’s helped me with local pronunciations – Leadgate’s initial vowel is a short “e” like the metal – and he even sent me pictures of the church (20 miles away from him) where my great-great grandmother’s sister was married in 1854. He looked through the archives for those parish records and found one of the two I was looking for. And just for fun he sent me some pictures of Old Hall in Wessington, the ancestral home of George Washington.
I may have been able to repay the favor in kind a bit today, locating a newspaper article about one of his relatives who died in California in 1874. Jim knew the date, but not the circumstances, and I’m excited for him to read the article and see the death record and 120 page probate file I found!
The last week of correspondence with my new-found friend has been delightful. I look forward to more. My advice to you? Ask a question. You just never know where it might lead.
The Great American Eclipse
Did you see it? My husband and I did and I was overwhelmed by just how wondrous it was. I remember seeing a partial eclipse as a kid with my shoebox viewer and ever since I have wanted to see the full-meal deal.
Knowing just how short a drive it would be for me to see it, I’ve had the August 2017 one on my calendar for 18 months, and I even made my husband block it out on his calendar – paper and phone! – so we’d be sure to be able to go. As the scary hype increased – there will be 75 kajillion people on the roads – no gas, no cell service, no air left to breathe – we wondered if we were doing the right thing. But I knew if I didn’t at least try, I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life for having missed it.
So we outfitted ourselves with supplies for any emergency, (we’ll be eating granola bars for the next 27 years!), we left early, and we made it with plenty of time to spare. My “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, we’ve gotta do it” argument to my husband immediately turned into “When’s the next one?!” search. Um...I think we’re looking at a genealogy-cum-solar-viewing trip to Illinois 8 April 2024, honey.
The eclipse got me wondering about my ancestors. I remember my dad saying his mom reminisced often about seeing Halley’s comet in 1910 when she was in her early 20s. I had the 1986 one on my radar for 20 years, waiting and waiting for the spectacle, but sorry to say it was kind of a bust. I’m not sure I’ll be around to see the 2061 comet return– it may take a medical miracle, but who knows.
But did my ancestors ever get to see a solar eclipse? Were they as thrilled as I was? I found a set of maps on the NASA website and looked across several decades from 1800 or so, just to see what I could find. I think a few of them might have been as lucky as Mark and I were to see this incredible display of nature’s wonder.
I’m not positive, but I think my great-great grandfather, Peter Bradley might have been living in Pennsylvania in time for the 26 April 1827 annular eclipse. I know his brother was there, attending seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the time. Nine years later, on 15 May 1836, an eclipse passed over Northern Ireland where my Graham ancestors lived. They might have been able to see the whole show, and I imagine my other ancestors elsewhere on the Emerald Isle could have seen something pretty close to totality. 1854 saw another one – John and Mary Devlin Fields were in Boston at the time and may have seen the show. My Fruhauf ancestors in Illinois might have been the luckiest of all – residents in their neighborhood saw eclipses in October 1865 and August 1869. Wow!
One passed over Northern California on New Year’s Day 1889 – my grandma who so enjoyed the comet was barely two months old at the time, but I imagine her parents might have seen it. As far as I know about where my ancestors were living, that 1889 was likely the last total solar eclipse any of my forebears might have seen. I guess I got pretty lucky to live in the right place and time to be able to check that experience off my bucket list.
How about your ancestors – have you mapped them on the eclipse paths? Check out the maps at https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/solar.html. Scroll down about 2/3s of the way to see the link to the maps. Let me know about your ancestors in the comments below.
I love FamilySearch. I love FamilySearch more every day. The records I have been able to find for my family just in the last week have included an 1854 church marriage record from County Durham in England, 1855 and 1857 baptismal records for that couple’s son and daughter, an 1885 Champaign County, Illinois marriage record, a 1931 Pierce County, Washington death certificate and more. I found all those images, for free, in just minutes, all from the comfort of my living room. Every day, FamilySearch adds more images to their vast collection of digitized records, which any researcher, anywhere in the world, can access to learn more about their family.
Many of these collections are not searchable by name on FamilySearch, but there are ways to browse the collections of images to find what you want. For example in addition to the volumes of death certificates for the City of Los Angeles, FamilySearch has also digitized the indexes to those volumes. Search for a name in the index volume to find the certificate number, and then look in the film of death certificates to find the actual certificate.
But I want to caution you a bit about the indexes. Sometimes FamilySearch puts the index books in the wrong place. What do I mean? Here’s an example.
FamilySearch has a wonderful collection, “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994.” (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2001287). If you look on the page, you will see search boxes, but when you read the description, you’ll see some limitations – “The name index for death records covers Stockton, Lodi and Manteca cities and San Benito and San Joaquin counties.” If you want records for other counties, scroll to the bottom of this page to where it says “Browse through 2,915,415 images.”
When you click on that link, you’ll see a list of counties and towns. Here’s a small portion of that list.
“Los Angeles, Long Beach,” “Los Angeles, Los Angeles,” and “Los Angeles, Pasadena” will link you to records for those three cities, while plain old “Los Angeles” will give you records for the County of Los Angeles.
On FamilySearch when you drill down and click on the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” link. Over 700 links will appear, starting with links to Birth Certificates, then Death Certificates, then finally, at the bottom of the list are the Death Indexes.
Since these records appear under the title “Los Angeles, Los Angeles, they should be just for the City of Los Angeles. Should be. But this is where the researcher needs to beware.
Here’s just one selection from the titles of the indexes:
Look carefully and you will see some overlap. “Death index 1928-1929 vol 14, A-L” and the same for “…M-Z.” But the item immediately below that is “Death index 1928 vol 22, A-Z” and then “Death index 1929 vol 23, A-Z.” Same years. Why are they repeated, and why do they have different volume numbers?
Here’s what I see when I click on the 1928-1929 volume 14 item:
Image 1 of 308 shows the cover of the book, perhaps the most important image in that set. Because, although FamilySearch has placed this digitized item in the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” section of records, it is NOT for the City of Los Angeles, it’s for LA County.
Here is image 5 of the “Death index 1928 vol 22, A-Z”:
You can see it says “Los Angeles City” on the spine of the book.
If you find a certificate number in Volume 14, the book for Los Angeles County, and then try to look for it in the City of Los Angeles death records for 1928, it won’t be there. You’ll find whosoever's LA city death certificate has that number.
Be sure to look at the image of the spine of the book of records you're to see what it covers before you go diving into the index!
And the second issue is that when you look at plain old Los Angeles County, you won’t see an index to the LA county death certificates… because FamilySearch has incorrectly placed the index for the county under the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” title.
I have alerted FamilySearch to this issue and hopefully they will correct it soon. This is just one instance of digital images being put in an incorrect location on FamilySearch. I know that there are probably a few more. If you don’t see what you expect to see, dig a little deeper, look at the images of the book covers, and see if you can figure out where the image you’re looking for might be. With all the great documents FamilySearch give me, this researcher is OK with having to beware and dig a little deeper once in a while.
Counties across the country use different methods to index their deeds, probates, naturalizations and other records. They are generally based on some alphabetical combination. It may be as simple as using separate sections of the index book for each surname that begins with a particular letter. All the grantors whose surnames begin with “A” are listed in order of when they recorded the deed. Or it might be a more complicated arrangement using two or three letters in the surname, perhaps combined with the first letter of the given name.
FamilySearch continues to digitize more records, making available record images that are not searchable by name and can only be browsed. But if you know how to use these county level indexes, you should have no trouble locating your ancestor in these valuable records.
I’ve written before about the Graves Tabular Initial Index and a West Virginia will index. I’ve been working on a presentation on the ins and outs of indexes for the Lewis County Genealogical Society next month, so I thought I’d write about using another indexing scheme.
Most counties I have run across have a set of Grantor indexes listing people who sold (or otherwise transferred) property, along with a similar set of Grantee indexes for people who purchased property. But Belmont County, Ohio combines the two into one set of books. How does that work?
To start with, you need to know the surname and first name of the party you are interested in. You can access the deed indexes for Belmont at https://familysearch.org/search/catalog/247145. Across the top of each page in the Deed Index for Belmont is a chart. The first letter of the surnames are listed across the page, and beneath each of these letters are the 26 letters corresponding to the first letter of the given name. Next to each of these letters is a page number where you will find that Last Name/Given Name combination listed.
Here’s the chart shown at the top of all the left-hand pages in the books:
I should find any transactions for Peter Cilles on page 72.
And when I go to page 72, here’s what I see for Peter:
You can see that there are 2 columns with names. The index only applies to the first column. Between the two “Name” columns is a narrow strip with either “to” or “F” (for “From”) recorded. In the first entry, Peter Chilles et al are transferring property TO Jno. M. Korcher. In the third entry, P. R. Cook et al are acquiring property FROM Mary Smith et al. Looking to the right we can see the volumes and pages where we can find the actual deeds (and get some idea who theses “et al” others actually are.) The index also gives a very brief description of the property, showing the number of acres, the Section, Township and Range where the property is located and what the transfer price was.
In this case Peter Cilles is my person of interest, and I now have all the information I need to find his deed. If Jno Korcher was my guy, the letter table above would point me to find the corresponding entry in the same book on page 225.
The transaction with Peter Cilles is the third one down, but you can see that John Korcher acquired a number of pieces of property in Section 25 around that same time.
This kind of index is an efficient way to search. You can find all the transactions for your ancestor for a given time span, both buying and selling, all in the same book. Happy hunting!
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.