Genealogy Research


Namesakes - Family, Friends, Military, Political, or Local Heros

Categories // Genealogy Research

True confessions - two and a half years ago on a weekend stay in Glenwood Springs, I saw an episode of NCIS entitled "Yankee White." It was the first episode I had ever seen of this amazingly long running series, inadvertently a rerun of the very first episode ever. It cracked me up. Since then I have probably watched a hundred episodes. The writing is good, the character interplay is good, and the music portends the scenes I don't want to watch. Last night there was a new episode which included an appearance by Ret. Admiral A. J. Chegwidden from the JAG series.This made me wonder, genealogically speaking, what the heck his full name was. I checked IMDb and his name is Albert Jethro Chegwidden. That does make me wonder, can Bellisario single handedly revive the social status of the given name Jethro?



You Found a Divorce Date Where?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Marriage Applications Can Be a Source for Divorce Dates

I was in the Denver Recorder's Office to pull some deeds when a guy and a girl came in to fill out their marriage applications. Some of the questions involve proving that you are capable of being married. Are you of age? Are you an imbecile? Have you been married before? Did the marriage end in death or divorce and when? Those kinds of questions were necessary for each party to the marriage. When I was walking by the counter to get to the computers, the man got out of line, pulled out his cell phone, called his ex-wife and asked when they were divorced. It was all I could do to keep a straight face as that took a certain amount of guts, brass, fortitude, whatever. I really wanted to laugh out loud. While generations of researchers will be glad he took the time to check the date for accuracy, I can't imagine his ex-wife was interested in paving the way for his next marriage and I was astounded she didn't hang up on him. 

Don't forget divorce information may be found on subsequent marriage applications.

In some states marriage applications are made at the Clerk of Courts, in some in the Recorder's Office, in some in the Register of Wills and Orphan's Court and in others at the Local Vital Records Office. Just as the place is different in various states so are the applications, the information required and the timing of that information. Some states' forms required parents' names ages ago, some required the ages of the participants in the 1800s while other states just required you to state/swear you were old enough to get married. Some states required a birth certificate or driver's license to prove your age, others took your word. The changes in the marriage application may be of as much importance as the date itself.


It's not all Cinderella and the Wicked Step-Sisters

Categories // Genealogy Research

Researching Step-Families and Blended Families

Blended families, those with one or two multiple marriages leave different subsets of children up to and including those in the movie "Yours, Mine and Ours." One of my favorite parts of the book, Who Gets the Drumstick, about the Beardsley family in California, was the litany of names listed for the mass adoption, starting with Colleen Marie North. Step-family stories are as old as Cinderella and Snow White with really evil stepmothers and then Henry the VIII who managed to take the whole marriage story to his own level, cause international rifts, create a new church and alienate his children by various marriages. Yikes.





Naming Patterns Amongst the Scotch Irish Presbyterians

Categories // Genealogy Research

Edward King and Elizabeth (Nichols) King of the Holston Valley

One commonly held belief is the first male child was named after the maternal grandfather, the second male child after the paternal grandfather, the third male child after the father, the first female child after the maternal grandmother, the second female child after the paternal grandmother and the third female child after the mother. While this may be true in some families with enough children to work it out, other patterns and anomalies exist. Sometimes what is left out is as important as what is included.

Edward King and Elizabeth Nichols King had ten children; William, Thomas, John Sr., Isaac Sr., James Sr., Samuel, Elizabeth Nichols (King) Dinsmore, David, Margaret and Sarah. Eight of these children married, had children and lived near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then the Holston Valley and some moved farther into Western Tennessee, Humphreys and Dickson Counties. Neither Margaret nor Sarah appear to have married nor even to have lived until adulthood. Edward and Elizabeth had sixty-six known grandchildren, five named Elizabeth, an Eliza and a Mary Elizabeth. There were six granddaughters named Sarah. Mary was found four times as was Lavinia/Lavina, twice as Lavinia, once as Lavina and once as Jane Lavinia. Julia was found twice as was Susan/Susannah. On the other hand, there was one grandson named Edward and one Adam Edward. John, one of the most common English names, was represented only three times as John, John Wesley and John Sharp and the same with James, James Harvey and James Preston. Samuel was found twice as were Jonathan, Isaac and Leander.




Do They Payout?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Two Different Reasons Life Insurance Companies Have Been Distrusted For More Than a Century

Life Insurance, worth it or a scam?

In the spring of 2012, MetLife, amongst other insurance companies, was accused of selectively using research in the social security death benefits index to stop paying annuities, while at the same time, not using the same index to pay off old life insurance policies. An article appeared 29 March 2012 in AnnuityNewsJournal detailing the charges. The description of the social security death benefits index in the article was not precise or entirely correct, but recognizable to any genealogist who has used it. Many states' attorney generals argued that if the life insurance companies used the social security death benefits index to stop paying annuities, they should also use the same index to start paying life insurance death benefits; kind of what's good for the goose is good for the gander.


Flitting Leaves Records

Categories // Genealogy Research

When is Moving Day Worthy of Note and Likely to Leave a Genealogical Trail?

Moving Day Records

Americans move, a lot, all over the country, every day. Utility bills, telegrams, school records, journals, cards, and letters can be sources of those moves. Those records are likely to be found in a family's ephemerel piles of paper. In addition, records of some moves may be found in small local newspapers. 

  • Land Ownership
  • Go West
  • Flitting
  • College
  • Military

Dirty or Broken Type and Typesetting Mistakes Can Make Newspaper OCR Difficult

Categories // Genealogy Research, Rants, Raves and Kudos

Newspaper Optical Character Recognition Research Issues

Digitized newspapers are a boon to genealogists, family historians and researchers, especially for the big three, births, marriages and deaths, folowed closely behind by divorces, separation, bed and board issues, court cases, flitting (the movement of renters on a yearly date), moving, accidents, confirmations, military news, etc.



Genealogical and Historical Research and Presentation Quilts

Categories // Genealogy Research

All Those Embroidered Names

Presentation quilts beg to be researched. All those names, inked or embroidered or both, mean a place of origin can be determined through census research. The why of the presentation may be harder to find. Family research and local lore may come through, but sometimes the owners did not pass along the explanations. Newspaper research can be a solution, but where to search and why.

The Reading Eagle had a blurb in an 1885 issue regarding a presentation quilt with a complete list of the names of the confirmands of Rev. Gernant in Allentown, Lehigh Co., Pennsylvania.

 Presentation Quilt Allentown

In 1890 Rev. Edwin A. Gernant, the pastor at Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania resigned and joined the Protestant Episcopal Church. This was reported in the Saturday, 24 May 1890 issue of the Peninsula Enterprise published in Accomac Court House, Virginia. Luckily, this newspaper is part of the Chronicling of America project by the Library of Congress, it has been filmed, digitized and is searchable by Google.


Neither of these two snippets came from an Allentown newspaper, the most logical locale for a newspaper to be expected to carry this news.

Along with his parents, Adam Hain Gernant and Emily S. Fox Gernant, three of his daughters and a brother, Rev. Gernant and his wife, Anna are buried in Leesport Cemetery, Leesport, Berks Co., Pennsylvania. Anna J. Unger Gernant died in 1908, while Rev. Edwin A. Gernant died in 1919. They had five children, Emily Louisa, Louisa Anna, Marie Helen, Anna Gertrude and Edwin Seabury. In 1920 after both parents died, the two surviving children, Anna Gertrude and Edwin Seabury, lived in Washington Twp., Lehigh Co. with their maternal aunt Mary Unger.

Edwin Seabury Gernant was born 16 June 1897 in Ridley Park, Delaware Co., Pennsylvania, entered the military 25 October 1918 in Mt. Vernon, New York and was discharged 15 Decmeber 1918 in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. He married Olive Jones and they had a son in 1927, Edwin S. Jr. In 1940, Gertrude, Edwin's older sister, lived with the family in Riverside, Burlington Co., New Jersey.

A grandson, Edwin Seabury Gernant Jr. died in 2009 in Lewisburg, Union Co., Pennsylvania. Perhaps the quilt was preserved, handed down so the wife (or children) of the grandson of Edwin A. Gernant still treasure it.



Local Stringers Extend the Circulation and Distribution Areas of Newspapers

Categories // Genealogy Research

Reading and Boyertown

Wouldn't you love to research Romanus Ortlip?

While looking for something else, I found the best name ever in the Reading Eagle. Reading, the county seat of Berks Co., Pennsylvania supported quite a few newspapers in their time. Because Reading was the county seat and the economic center of the area, the Reading Eagle had subscribers in many of the smaller outlying towns, villages and borroughs. This is great for genealogical and historical research as newspapers from larger town are more likely to have been preserved, microfilmed, and digitized.

In the 16 December 1885 issue, the Boyertown stringer submitted eight news items, sentences, snippets of news, twenty lines of type including:

  • an upcoming 101st birthday anniversary
  • two local bank elections
  • three illnesses
  • a church function
  • an out of town marriage of locals

Pesky Unknown Middle Names in Church Records

Categories // Genealogy Research

Catechumens from Trinity Reformed Church near Stouchsburg, Pennsylvania

A top source for middle names is the series of Draft Registration Cards held by NARA available from Ancestry and others, for men in 1917 and 1918 for World War I. Even so, it is not my favorite source, as there are no women in the series.

Church records on the other hand, yield records for men, women, boys and girls. Confirmation or catechumen records especially in churches with a German background, have wonderful lists of names and usually differentiate between children being confirmed and adults being confirmed or transferring membership. As a rule of thumb, children in the confirmation class are around 12 or 13 years old. More importantly, those middle names have a tremendous chance of being a surname of someone important, a mother, uncle, aunt, godparent and the given names may be family names or godparents' names. 

Reading Eagle 20 May 1885

Trinity Reformed Church Stouchsburg 1885 Confirmations 

The transcribed list of catechumens from the 1885 Reading Eagle article above:

  • Charles Henry Spangler
  • Thomas Francis Killmer
  • Henry Irwin Klopp
  • Harry Lowel Fisher
  • Thos. Aug. Shoemaker
  • Warren Daniel Peiffer
  • Tyrus Percival Killmer
  • Calvin Wilson Seibert
  • Alpheaus Snyder Killmer
  • Henry Milton Smaltz
  • Morris Henry Leiter
  • Franklin Calvin Bucks
  • Charles Groh Klopp
  • Charles Abraham Ritter
  • George Jonathan Klopp
  • Wm. Franklin Steiner
  • Franklin Harnish
  • William Henry Sherman
  • Charles Monroe Fink
  • William A. Rauch
  • Calvin Samuel Leitner
  • Nathan Henry Kelchner
  • John Jacob Shiffler
  • Franklin Forry
  • Robert Joseph Snyder
  • William Garloff
  • David Noll
  • Maria Harnish
  • Lizzie Seibert Shaak
  • Mary Ellen Bleichert
  • Kate Rebecca Spangler
  • Mary Isabella Wagner
  • Emma Susan Peiffer
  • Annie Mary Bleichert
  • Lucy A. Loos

Five catechumens do not have middle names or initials. While not proof positive, it is a good indicator those children were not given middle names or they are the adult members of the class. The name Calvin appears disproportionately as does Franklin. Franklin is not inexplicable, Berks County is near Philadelphia and Benjamin Franklin had many namesakes in the area. It would be interesting to see which adults in the congregation were named Calvin.


Anniversary of Civil War Deployment of the Ringgold Light Artillery

Categories // Genealogy Research

Newspaper Article 24 Years After the Fact

In response to President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers, the Ringgold Light Artillery left Reading on April 16th 1861, the first troops to reach Harrisburg. The First Defenders association held a reunion April 16th 1885 in Reading, Pennsylvania celebrating the 24th anniversary of their departure for the state capital prior to joining other troops and leaving for Washington, D.C. at the outbreak of the Civil War. Troops from Reading, Pottsville, Allentown and Lewstown, five Pennsylvania companies in all, reached Washington on the 18th of April, the first companies to arrive, thus the nickname the First Defenders. The Massachusetts troops, which caused the rioting, arrived in Washington the next day.


Ancestors Who Fought in the American Revolution May Be Found in Newspapers of a Later Date

Categories // Genealogy Research

Newspaper Research Just Keeps on Giving

Don't despair if your ancestor is not listed in the DAR annals or the Pension files at NARA. Those are the easy paths. Most of those men were either lucky enough to have descendants who stayed in one place long enough to establsih roots and daughters or granddaughters who wanted to be in the Daughters of the American Revolution - DAR. The men who had pensions were not lucky enough to be self-supporting as they aged, so they needed the money. Either way they left records. Revolutionary War ancestors may be hard to find especially if you haven't found one yet. If you had ancestors the right age in the colonies during the war, it's likely some of them fought, some didn't and some were Tories. If you find one who fought, chances are there are more, as families with similar political ideas in any given area, may have known each other. Some men fought for just one session or when the fighting came close to their homefront.

An article in an 1870 issue of the Reading Eagle describes:

"Pay Roll of a Detachment of the 6th Battalion of Berks County Militia guarding the Convention  --  of War at Reading in the year 1781."

Gen. John M. Bickel of Philadelphia had the original parchment in his possession in 1870, it came to him from his Berks County grandfather, the Lieutenant, Philip Miller of the Detachment. He showed it to the editor of the Reading Eagle and he transcribed it right there and then for his newspaper. What follows is my transcription of his transcription of the 37 men in the detachment.


Moved to Colorado, Greeley's Union Colony No. 1

Categories // Genealogy Research

Two Brothers and Two Sisters go West

Newspapers are contemporaneous sources for court cases, property sales, fires, legal proceedings, deaths, marriages, births, robberies, injuries, nightly lockups, and even unclaimed letters.

The Official List of Letters remaining in the Reading Post Office for the week ending 3 June 1870 included Missouria Anderson, Susan Coleman, Annie E. Harner, Ellie Hennershotz, Emma E. Kutz, Ellen Kensoy, Lizzie Krippner, Bertha Romig, Maggie Rollman, Sallie Ray, Amelia Wagner, G. W. Atkinson, Henry Becker, Henry W. Burkey, Jacob Beidler, John R. Borkey, Wm. R. Bree, Emanual Ehrgood, Lewis Eickenberry, H. Folk, Jacob Fichthorn, Levi Herman, Jacob Garer, A. H. Kellog, Daniel Kauffman, Henry H. Lightcap, Henry Lotz, James B. McGee, Aaron M. Miller, Augustus Swartz, Abel Stevens, G. W. Smith, Aaron Shock, J. J. Shauks, William Siegwert, Walter Vane, Charles Wheeler and W. F. Washington. 

                 image.Reading Eagle Unclaimed Letters 3 June 1870

A list of unclaimed letters doesn't really tell a researcher much except someone didn't pick up his or her mail. The reasons behind that could be as simple as no one was home for delivery, there was postage due, she was working, she was on vacation, she was visiting, she was giving birth, she died, he was at the machine shop, he was in jail, he moved, he was ill or injured and so on and so forth. It does indicate that someone knowingly mailed a letter to someone at a Reading address, it could indicate potential literacy (or not).

A migration story could be a nice genealogical treat about Peter Shearer, Jonathan Shearer, his family of wife and two children, his wife's sister, and Samuel Zacharias joining the Union Colony No. 1 in Colorado. Did they get there, stop on the way or return home?          

                 image.Left for_Colorado_Zacharias_Samuel_6_May_1870_p._1

Jonathan Shearer's wife and her sister, neither of their names mentioned, first, middle or last, left Berks Co. for Greeley in the spring of 1870. That clue could spell the difference between finding the parents or not finding the parents.

A completely unrelated story with no genealogical value whatsoever is the fishing story.

                image.Reading Eagle Phillippi, Peter 3 June 1870

Other than placing a specific person in a specific locale at a specific time, this story doesn't do much genealogically except give a newspaper's rendition of the spelling of the family surname (which could be wrong). The surname Phillippi in this article, while it was frequently spelled with one L or a single P or the letter Y ending it or some of the above or all of the above, gave me a starting point.

All three of these snippets came from the 3 June 1870 edition of the Reading Eagle, published in Berks Co. Pennsylvania. The real treat is to read the whole newspaper to find out what was happening in town at the time. Without local flavor, it's hard to put a specific ancestor in context.


Genealogical Value of Legal Notices in the Newspaper

Categories // Genealogy Research

Administrator's Notice

Legal Notices or Advertisements were placed in the local newspaper according to the laws and customs in each state. The Administrator's Notice was to the local townspeople, asking those indebted to the estate to pay up and those to whom the estate owed money to submit their bills.

Daniel Weiser of Maxataway Township, Berks Co., Pennsylvania died intestate, without a will, prior to 15 March 1870 when an advertisement describing him as deceased appeared in the Reading Eagle. Israel C. Becker was appointed the Administrator of his estate and subsequently placed an Administrator's Notice in the Reading Eagle.

                       Administrator's Notice - Daniel Weiser 15 March 1870

In addition to Israel Becker's address 510 Court St., Reading and a call to those indebted to the estate and persons having claims against the estate, there is a line at the end of the advertisement for the typesetter which reads:

mar 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 apr6d

This paid ad was to be inserted in six different editions of the Reading Eagle and that list of dates was included in the typesetting. Genealogically what that means is Daniel Weiser died before 2 March 1870 when this ad appears to have been first inserted. Since this was a daily afternoon newspaper and Israel C. Becker was the Administrator not the Executor, a good hypothesis is Daniel Weiser died in mid to late February of 1870. While this does not give an exact death date, it does narrow down the field considerably and in the absence of a continual run of newspaper issues available, it is a good estimate.


Double Barreled Surnames, Compound Words and the Hyphenates

Categories // Genealogy Research

Posh or Equality or Custom

In England double barreled surnames are perceived as posh while in America the trend from marriages in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, was for socially aware, independent, liberal thinkers to combine their surnames in a meaningful way to connect their newly created family, parents and offspring. In addition, some unmarried parents use hyphenated surnames to create a family or tradition. Some women with children by multiple spouses use hyphens to connect those spouses' names in a way that give the mother part of the names of each of her children. Other families with common surnames, like Miller, Smith, Jones, or Brown might hyphenate with a less common surname to differeniate between Millers. Now according to MailOnline there is a newer trend in Britain, meshing, combining parts of each surname to create another freestanding surname for every one in the family. Either way, that's a lot of baggage to hang on a surname. Then the inevitable question comes up, what to do when two hyphenates marry, create a four barreled name? Leaving aside the social questions, how does this compound surname type affect research?

For Google searches, punctuation is superfluous, Smith-Jones or Smith Jones are searched the same, as are O'Reilly and O. Reilly. Using those same four surnames in an indexing situation, there will be four different initial letters.

In the United States, Native Americans have some wonderfully expressive compound surnames, some of which use hyphens. Double surnames with a Spanish origin use hyphens once in a while, however the greatest majority of hyphenated surnames in the United States appear to come from children born since the 1960s from families trying to preserve both parents' surnames.

Compound surnames have a propensity to be longer than database field entry requirements allow. There are single word surnames too long also. When I searched for Blankenbeckler in the social security death benefits index in the mid 1980s, I found none. Until I came upon the exact place where the computer field data entry length cut off the surname, I found no hits. Using Blankenbec revealed all. Some programs allow wild cards and some don't. You must guess at the length allowed by the program and search, with a space, without a space and with a hyphen, even if the name was always spelled without a space. Be inventive, creative and relentless in searching.

Hyphens keep surnames connected and in order. Some families of hispanic origin add hyphens to their compound surnames to keep the order straight, paternal line and then maternal line, Garcia-Lopez. Other families rely on user knowledge which works great in some areas and in other areas, the compound surname is broken by ignorance and those individuals may be filed under the last part of the surname, the maternal line Lopez instead of the first part of the surname, the patenral line, Garcia. Many families in the United States use maternal surnames as middle names, so not only does the person have the surname broken, the assumption may be that the first part of the surname is a middle name.

Native Americans have some of the same issues except the first part of a compound surname is sometimes mistaken for a first name. Sitting Bull is a compound surname not a person with the surname Bull and a first name Sitting.

In old style manual book indexes in recorder's offices, clerks offices and other filing systems, it may lead to several different letters in the alphabet being the possible first letter in a surname. In newer computer based systems, it may be in how you use quotation marks " " to hold the names in order, ie "Garcia Lopez" vs. Lopez, Garcia, "Sitting Bull" vs Bull, Sitting. In a Google search commas and hyphens are invisible, while the quotes are paramount in keeping a string of characters together. 

More detail is available in the article on compound word surnames. It is important the researcher understand what the name is and what the name isn't, but it is more important the researcher imagine how the surname might be or have been perceived, indexed, filed and retrieved by others.

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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.

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