Genealogy Research


When All You Have to Work With Are Initials

Categories // Genealogy Research

Why Did Some Census Takers Use Only Intials?

Find Mrs. J. R. Evans

Mary Ann (Smeck) Barlet and Tobias S. Barlet of Reading, Berks Co., Pennsylvania had three children; William Edward, Emma Rebecca, and Hannah Mary. The eldest son died young and Emma Rebecca (Barlet) Bradshaw died in Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1943, her obituary mentioned her sister, Mrs. J. R. Evans of Tampa, as a survivor. So how did the youngest child, Hannah Mary Barlet, known as Mame, end up in Florida as Mrs. J. R. Evans?

The Pennsylvania to Florida migration was not unusual, many hard working blue and white collar workers, especially railroad workers, explored traveling opportunities and discovered Florida's phenomenal winter weather advantages.


Philadelphia Church Records Filmed, Digitized and "Indexed"

Categories // Genealogy Research

Available From Ancestry

Philadelphia research isn't easy. Philadelphia was a comparatively large city from the beginning of colonization. Records might be in various sets of city, county, state governmental archives or private libraries, churches or historical collections. Pennsylvania didn't require marriage records until 1885 unlike later settled states like Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee which kept marriage records from statehood on. Church records are the best bet for early vital records, marriages, births (contained in baptisms and sometimes confirmations), and deaths (contained in funeral or burial records).

Hannah E. Rush and David Conn were married in 1876 in Philadelphia, specifically January 10th in the Summerfield Methodist Church. They are found in the 1880 Philadelphia federal census with a daughter Leola M., age 1/52 (a one week old baby). In the 1900 federal census for Pennsylvania, Hannah, Leola and Elsia aka Elsie Conn were enumerated together in Philadelphia.

Searching Ancestry's special data base of "Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, 1708 - 1985" does not reveal either Leola or Elsie Conn. However, searching this database for the surname Conn does give up some options including Elise Naomi Conn at St. John's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.


Use the Power of the Gathering of the Clan at Thanksgiving

Categories // Genealogy Research

Get a larger audience for your letters!

If you have been putting off writing a letter to an unknown fifth cousin, because you have to actually mail it and you aren't sure if she will respond and you have to find a stamp and you aren't sure what to write, etc. then, this is the time to do it.

It is likely that more people will be in the house for the Thanksgiving holiday dinner and one of those people might just be interested in genealogy. A letter mailed in July just may not have the audience. It will give the family a potentially non confrontation discussion point. Just do it.


Treasures Salvaged From the Flood

Categories // Genealogy Research

Weird Artifacts

Amongst some curious odd sports equipment, baseballs, softballs, squash balls, raquetballs, golfballs, gloves, etc. retrieved from the flood two months ago, I found an autographed baseball from David Dymecki, a boy couple years behind me at William Annin. I don't remember him on any of my dad's Little League teams, but I do remember he was a pitcher. He may have lived on Penwood, behind the VA that was across the street from Bonnie Brae Farm. I haven't been back to BR in 30 years so I have no idea what is still there and what is gone. When I looked on a map, Pleasant Valley Park is where I thought the VA was memory may be suspect. I know that area was not a park when we lived there.

Two men close to the same age with the same name; the one in the greater Denver area seems to be from Michigan, leaving the one in Boston perhaps from Basking Ridge. The one from the Boston area may have a son who is a pitcher, which may be the definitive clue. I'd like to return the baseball, I will see if he responds.

The same principles of research apply to differentiating these men as do to researching men named James Smeck in Reading and the greater Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Check ages, compare middle names, assess geography, and identify any redeeming characteristics. 



  • Why is it a catcher's mitt and an outfielder's glove?
  • Who ended up with our bats?
  • Where is my dad's first baseman's mitt?
  • What are the odds that 40% of his grandchildren are left handed?

Naming Patterns for Women

Categories // Genealogy Research

The Maternal Line or the Umbilical Line

Remember the Ladies!

Maternal naming patterns are much harder to spot since surnames change on each marriage and every generation. Sometimes a pattern may become apparent by looking at a straight maternal line.

Elizabeth (Diehl) Glatfelter Smyser had a daughter

Eva Christina Glatfelter Holland who had a daughter

Catherine Elizabeth or Elizabeth Catherine Holland Dixon who had a daughter

Helen Adelia Dixon Parker who had a daughter

Helen Elizabeth who had a daughter

Marilyn Elizabeth who had a daughter

Erin Elizabeth who might have a daughter

whose middle name just might be Elizabeth.

Looking backward, Erin was named after her grandmother Helen who was named after her grandmother Catherine who was named after her grandmother Elizabeth. Since this naming pattern is a bit harder to see because it is the middle name of Elizabeth that was handed down, every other generation, it might be missed. Also since the surnames are changed once or twice every generation, it may be possible to miss the entire pattern. In fact without knowledge of middle names this pattern would be invisible.

In another case:

Margaret Gerber Breitenstein had a daughter

Margaret Breitenstein Fischer who had a daughter

Margaret Caroline Fischer Richardson who had a daughter

Margaret Amanda Richardson Besson who had a daughter

Margaret L. etc. etc. With one break, this Margaret line goes on for seven or eight generations.

If and when I research the Evangelical records from the village of Rechtenbach, Bavaria, Germany, I will certainly be looking for a woman who married into the Gerber family whose first name just might be Margaret.


Side Note: I am a little excited to see if Erin Elizabeth's upcoming baby will be a girl and wondering how she will keep the Elizabeth going.


Marriage Information in Manuscript Files

Categories // Genealogy Research

A Huge Help with "Burned Counties"

Good news is meant to be shared.

Marriages are generally considered to be good news. Marriage records are a holy grail of genealogical research because they give up the maiden name (usually) of the bride, and possibly the parents on both sides. They open up lines, provide the links necessary to connect descent and add families that can be searched for clues. When a courthouse burns (or is flooded) and those records vanish, there is a void. Newspaper articles can shine a light in that void, listing the marriage applications on a daily or weekly basis, or printing a small article about the application, engagement or wedding. But those newspapers may not still exist or the marriage may have taken place prior to advent of a newspaper in that community.


Some People Pass Away

Categories // Genealogy Research

What's only a date for your files, is a sad life event for the family.

Genealogy is more than just dates and we sometimes forget that.

Last week a friend of a good friend of mine passed away. The week before the great baby granddaughter of a cousin passed away. The week before that the nephew of a friend commited suicide. The week before that the father-in-law of a friend passed away.The week before that a brother of a friend of a friend commited suicide. The month before that a friend's mom passed away. For me all of this was divided into before the flood and after the flood. I know I sent a sympathy note before the flood. The week of the flood and the six weeks after that have all been a blur, I don't think I sent cards much less notes. So much was going on, the days had no exact beginning or ending time, my empathy bucket may have just been empty, but it doesn't change the fact that I felt sad for each of them and wished that there wasn't so much pain in each of their lives. I doubt any of those people will remember or care, they were already in a world of hurt, but if they did, Marcia, Dianne, Laura, Charla and Jocelyn, I am sorry you have had such pain.

The death of a loved one causes some pretty fierce emotions. You hear about decade-long fights and disagreements that erupt at funerals or after the reading of a will because this is such a stressful time for those involved. People say and do thoughtless things under stress. Then while everyone is gathered together, they talk. Thus grudges are born, rehashed, sealed, forgiven or cemented.

When you are searching for genealogical information, you want dates for births, marriages, divorces and deaths. Two of those life events are life affirming and two are not. Be gentle and empathetic when you ask for divorce and death dates especially for those whose lives are in the same generation or one away. It may still be very painful to remember or discuss.

When you are searching for family history you may hear some pretty amazing stories, both positive and negative. Just as everything seems rosier through the lens of the birth of a new baby or a family wedding, everything can seem darker through the pain and loss of death or divorce. Check your premises; when did the story begin?


Common Surnames - Research Hints

Categories // Genealogy Research

Researching Browns

Sometimes it can't be helped, while researching you come across a Brown line, a Wilson line or worse a Smith, Jones, or Johnson line. There it sits, blocking your way to more easily researched lines and relations. A daughter marries into a perfectly distinguishable Germanic Braun line, which will be anglicized into Brown sometime, somewhere, in the future, making it like a hundred or thousand other Brown lines. You have several choices:

  • Skip It
  • Postpone It
  • Avoid It
  • Post It
  • Tackle It 

SKIP IT or do something else

Everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents, etc. Even if there is an illegitimate descent where one strand is unknown. Most people know four or five of the several lines. You don't have to stick researching the hardest, most common surnames unless the first four are Brown, Wilson, Johnson and Smith. Allocate your time and resources to the records with the highest potential rate of return. Research the easiest lines first. If the Brown line is in the first sixteen or thirty-two surnames, you may never get to it. Because of the amazing volume of genealogical and historical information from both paid and unpaid sites on the Internet, there is almost always another path if you find a hard spot or even just slow spot on the first line of inquiry. With so much available online, right away, no waiting required, you can keep many multiple lines going at once. Even slightly difficult lines are left by the wayside. Just move on doesn't sound a plan, but given the finite amount of minutes available, it can work.

POSTPONE IT or put it off.

Put if off, postpone it, research another line first. With so many digitized records available, move on to an easier option and leave the Brown line for later. After you have some genealogical chops, go back to it, when you have more knowledge, more experience, more money, or more time. When you come back to that line in a month or a year or a decade, scads of new information may be available and accessible. Some of it may be digitized original records and may just contain the clues you need. In addition, you will be that much more experienced in research and you will make better deductive choices if the information isn't as airtight or solid as you may have wished and hoped. You may have more disposable income to send away for more documents for various hypotheses. You may have had a chance to hire a researcher from the area, had a trip to the area for feet-on-the-ground, eyes-on-the-records research yourself or been able to go to Salt Lake City to the LDS library to research in that area's microfilmed records. Last but not least, serendipity may have struck, you may have come across just the clue, document or connection needed while researching something else.

AVOID IT or research a different branch or go another way.

Research a branch differentiated by surnames, given names, naming patterns, occupations and geography.

Check for a branch that married into the family with a less common surname. The Brown family I research from Reading, Pennsylvania has married into the Baum, Fegely, Fehl, Maicks, Rote, Rothenberger, Rowe, Simmat, Stoeckel, Wilson, Willson and Zeugner families. All of those families except the Wilson family would be easier and faster to research. Two web sites for a quick check of the relative scarcity of a surname are the social security death benefits index and the Find-A-Grave website.

Research a branch with given names of Conrad, Matthias and Jacob instead of John, James and William. A sibling or in-law with an unusual name may be easier to find, Harrison Carey or Gile Willson instead of John Rothenberger or Frank Wilson.

Research a branch with a discernable naming pattern. Every generation may have a Leander, Harvey, Valentine, Saraphina, Isabella or Mariamna mixed in with the other siblings, William, Thomas, Sarah and Mary. Perhaps the first son is named for the paternal grandfather so every other generation (excep the first son of the first son of the first son etc), comes William, Benjamin, William and Benjamin. This intergenerational pattern can be a big ancestral clue. A common sibling pattern of first son after the maternal grandfather, second son after the paternal grandfather, third son after the father (if that name hasn't already been used), first daughter after the paternal grandmother, second daughter after the maternal grandmother, with the third daughter after the mother (if that name hasn't already been used), leaves a pattern within the siblings names and some generational clues except when the first names overlap so middle names are honored. Another pattern revolves around the first son named for the first son of the first son, etc. which leaves suffixes like Jr. and Sr. or I, II, III, and IV after a variety of names. Another pattern includes the wife's maiden name as the middle name of all or some of the children.

There may have been a common migration destination every decade. In the 1830s, a large group of neighbors and cousins from the Holstein Valley in Tennessee moved to Coles Co., Illinois. In the 1840s from the same area, a large group moved to Dade Co., Missouri.

Ancestors vs. Descendants

Connect with a researcher going in the opposite direction. Go forward to go backward. Search descendants to find ancestors. Go backward to go forward. Search ancestors to find descendants.  If you are searching into the past, find someone who is bringing a line of descendants up to current day. If you are researching forward then find someone who is searching backwards to a specific ancestor.


Post a question on a message board, don't import someone else's problem. Write a query that is short, succinct and to the point. Be certain to include names, dates and places. Don't get into which great great grandmother you are researching. Don't offer probable or possible parents unless you are O.K. with someone else ascribing those parents and then linking them online using you as a source or worse not citing a source at all. It happens. Don't contribute.

Searching for the parents of Matilda Nunn born 1816 probably in southwestern Virginia, died 1887 Marion, Smythe Co., Virginia. She married William Henritze in 1846 and they had seven children.



If you have practiced all the avoidance options, played with various other surnames, posted some question and still not serendipitiously stumbled upon the family, start with the most appropriate census in the area, and diagram the families. Line out every local Brown family and reduce the pile down to the plausible families. Keep track, some will prove impossible to be related, some will be possible and others will be plausible. Narrow it down and then go after them one by one, hypothesis by hypothesis until you have proved or disproved each option. Search each of those until the link can be proven or disproven. Keep specific exact dated notes on each line, positive or negative. 

The ideal family to research is a large, middle class, literate, religious family with simple, uncomplicated physical and political geography, unusual given names, and an uncommon, yet easy to spell surname. Discernible naming patterns, solid, stable, long-lived family life with no divorces, large quantities of married and unmarried children and siblings, and very little migration, are also a big help. The holy grail of research - clues everywhere. It also helps to have Germanic ancestors or descendants with their attention to detail in church records.

Further strategies are available in Research Suggestions for Common Surnames.


Remarriage vs. Widowhood

Categories // Genealogy Research

Marriage Norms - Spinster, Wife, Widow

Which was most likely, widowhood or remarriage? It was partially an economic decision. If a widow had enough wherewithal to stay put in the house or on the home farm, she did, especially with younger children for whom she needed to provide a start in life. If she were left less advantageouly situated, economic reality dictated a spouse in order to provide for herself and her children. Economics aside, if she were lonely that might also be an impetus to remarry. It may have been the cultural norm, the climate may have been too rough, primitive or dangerous for a lone woman to hold together a farm or household in the face of natural disasters - floods, fires, snowstorms, tornadoes, or hurricanes, rapacious landlords, Indian raids, greedy bankers or unscrupulous neighbors.


Virginia Chancery Court Records

Categories // Genealogy Research

Mary Stella Henritze Ferguson

Library of Virginia

Virginia Memory: Chancery Court Records

I have been lacking a death date for Mary Stella (Henritze) Ferguson for several decades. Jewel Sykes suggested a Texas death with no date probably found in The Ferguson Connection by Chris and Conley Stallard. I haven't seen the book and do not know the source. Mary lived with her husband Charles William Ferguson in Lebanon, Russell Co., Virginia in 1900. Betty, their nine year old orphaned daughter lived with her paternal grandparents, John Thomas Ferguson and Martha Washington (Ferguson) Ferguson in Russell Co., Virginia in 1910, while her maternal grandparents, James J. Henritze and Betty S. (Gilmer) Henritze lived in San Jon, Quay Co., New Mexico. 


Second Cousins - Excellent Photograph Repositories

Categories // Genealogy Research

Siblings in Snapshots

Never seen photographs of your grandparents may be with second cousins.


  • Siblings share parents
  • First cousins share grandparents
  • Second cousins share great grandparents
  • Third cousins share great great grandparents
  • Fourth cousins share great great great grandparents

So what does that mean to you genealogically? 

When your great-grandparents had children they created a family. That family of children gave you the opportunity to have second cousins. One of that family of children became one of your grandparents, the rest of those children became your great-aunts and or great- uncles. If you lack photographs of one of your grandparents as a child, an excellent source of new pictures can be from your second cousins on that side. Your grandparent was either a great-aunt or a great-uncle to those second cousins of yours. Their childhood photographic momentos have been saved (if you are lucky) and inherited down family lines to cousins. You may have never seen those photos. You could be in for a pre facebook photo-sharing opportunity.


Newspaper Wedding Announcements Offer Lists of Out-of-Town Guests

Categories // Genealogy Research

Internet Searches in Elephind, GenealogyInTime and Mocavo

Periodically I check the surname Henritze in various web site and search engines. In addition to Ancestry, FamilySearch, Heritage Quest, Fold3, Google and Bing, three genealogically orientated sites I checked today are:


Top Hundred Surnames in the 1990 Federal Population Census

Categories // Genealogy Research

Genealogists, family historians and researchers need a surname to begin. Without that, you really are searching in the the dark for the proverbial needle in a haystack. When a surname is extremely common, it is almost as though there were no surname at all.

The 1790 census, the first federal census, reveals nine surnames, Smith, Brown, Davis, Jones, Johnson, Clark, Williams, Miller and Wilson, consituted 4 percent of the population

In 1990, the top nine surnames were Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown, Davis, Miller, Wilson and Moore.
In 2000 and 2010, the top nine surnames were Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller, Davis, Garcia, and Rodriguez.

For two hundred years not much changed as far as the most common surnames, howver in the last twenty years, two Hispanic surnames have entered the lists, Garcia and Rodriguez.

NameNumber Of Occurences
Smith 2,376,206
Johnson 1,857,160
Williams 1,534,042
Brown 1,380,145
Jones 1,362,755
Miller 1,127,803
Davis 1,072,335
Garcia 858,289
Rodriguez 804,240
Wilson 783,051

Surname Mistakes and Errors in Records Make Research Difficult

Categories // Genealogy Research

Mistakes, Changes and Evolvutions

Anyone who has reseached one particular surname for a while, has a list of mistakes, changes and evolutions of the surname. My list of options for the surname Henritze includes:

  • Heindrix
  • Heinritz
  • Heinritze
  • Henderson
  • Hendrickson
  • Hendrix
  • Heneritze
  • Heneritzy
  • Henitzy
  • Henneritzi
  • Henretzer
  • Henrici
  • Henrick
  • Henricy
  • Henrite
  • Henritsey
  • Henritz
  • Henritze
  • Henritzey
  • Henritzi
  • Henritzie
  • Henritzy
  • Henrizy
  • Henrtzy
  • Henryritze
  • Heredtze
  • Ritz
  • Ritze
  • Ritzy

Revolutionary War Pension Application Files, Memory and a 42 Year Old Photograph

Categories // Genealogy Research

Research Memories - Genealogical or Historical or Both

Reading a Revolutionary Pension Application File can be an exercise in futility or an exquisite treasure trove treat or both. The applicant can't remember exactly when he served or how long, but was pretty sure it was a 30 day enlistment probably in the fall, of eiither 1780 or 1781, or maybe the winter. Do the math and cut him some slack. If your ancestor was born around 1757, he was somewhere in the vicinity of 22 to 25 during 1780 or 1781. If he applied for a pension after the 7 June 1832 Pension Act, he was in his seventies remembering things that happened fifty years prior. If he applied after 1840 he was in his eighties remembering or trying to remember events sixth years prior. He may not have the month or year right, but the men and the battles will probably be spot on. Review every battle, march or skirmish mentioned and get outside corroboration for dates. List every man and unit he mentions in his application. He remembered a Lieutenant or a Captain (spelling of surnames is always suspect, think McNeil, MacNeal, M'Neill, etc.), and aggravatingly never mentions the first names of either man. This can also be checked. The men with whom he served closely may not still be alive or in the vicinity, so the men he mentions may not be those he knew well, just those who were available to corroborate his service. Those facts can be supplied by other sources, possibly pension applications of other men listed in the application or pension applications by others in the units mentioned in his application or applications of others in the vicinity.

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Ida Sherwood Bettis is my paternal grand mother. Aunt Clara is my great aunt. I can remember every nooks and crany of that house and yard...

Eric Bettis Eric Bettis 25. July, 2017 |

I would be happy to forward your name, connection, and email if you wish.

Barbara K. Henritze Barbara K. Henritze 06. November, 2016 |

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