Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Advice to the Ancestry-Lorn" Thoughts After the "Stump the Chumps" Meeting

We had our Chula Vista Genealogical Society genealogy panel meeting today - described in CVGS Program on Wednesday, 28 May: Genealogy Research Panel.  

This was sort of our version of a Genealogy Roadshow program - eight to ten minutes to describe the research performed in response to a member's research problem or question.  

The nine "elusive ancestor" problems reviewed by four experienced researchers (Shirley, John, Diane and Randy) were:

*  Who were the parents of Margaret (Armstrong) Tompkins (ca 1765-ca 1815) of Ontario and Westchester County, New York, wife of Nehemiah Tompkins (married 1787)?  

*  Birth place/occupation of Zacarias Guerra (ca 1817 to ????) of El Paso, Texas, married 1852 to Tomasa Bermudes, and where were his parents from?

*  Who were the parents of David Dickinson (1806-1879), born in Green County, Kentucky, husband of Mary Louise McKibben?

*  Find out more about Gaetano (or Thomas?) Del Vecchio (1839-????), married to Columba Buccini (1839-????), and his ancestors. They immigrated in 1899 to New York and resided in Troy, New York.

*  What is birth date, name of wife, marriage date and children of John Bellwood, Jr. (ca 1797 in Ohio -????), father of James Bellwood?  

*  Confirm parents of John Wesley Akers (1839 Kentucky - 1888 California), who married 1866 Sarah Ellen Hughes.

*  Was Margaret (Fleming?) Wilson (1803 S.C. - after 1880 Mississippi), wife of Francis Wilson, a Native-American?

*  Who were parents and siblings of William Francis Greene (ca 1835 N.Y. - 1897 Nebraska), married 1873 to Mary Jane Pollard?

*  Was Eliza (Gailor) Ward (ca 1847 N.Y. - 1876 N.Y.), married 1867 to David Ward, the daughter of Samuel and Almina (--?--) Gailor?

The members/researchers who posed these "elusive ancestor" problems range in experience from beginner to very experienced, and all were stuck - they wanted confirmation of what they knew and suggestions for further research.  None of the researchers are professional genealogists, and I don't think any of them pursue research more than 10 to 20 hours a week, if that.  All had  done extensive online searching, and most had done some research in repositories or visited the localities in question.  However, none of the researchers had really tried to find probate or land records to help solve their research question.

The four members of the research panel divided up the problems, did some online research and thinking about research opportunities, and presented their findings to the members at the meeting.  I spent six to eight hours on each of my problems to try to answer the research question at hand.

Each panel member prepared a short (6 to 10 slides) presentation to summarize what they found in 10 minutes, with text, record images, and maps, plus conclusions relative to the question at hand, and suggestions for further research.  In every case, there were no firm answers to the "elusive ancestor" questions.

One example:  the Margaret (Fleming?) Wilson case. While there were three available census records for her, only the 1880 census indicated a race, and it said White (the 1850 and 1860 census records left the Race column blank).  One of my recommendations was an autosomal DNA test, and the submitter indicated she had a 5% Native-American ancestry (more than expected for one 3rd great-grandparent).  Another recommendation was to find her parents, and her husband's parents, using probate and land records in South Carolina, and see if they, their siblings, or their descendants were identified in other records as Native-American.

Another example:  Eliza Gailor's parents were probably Samuel and Almina (--?--) Gailor of Schodack, Rensselaer County, New York, they were found in the 1850 U.S. Census with Eliza (age 3) and Austin (age 6).  In the 1960 U.S. Census, Eliza Gayler (age 13) resided in Hillsdale, Columbia County, New York with another family, her brother John (age 9) was enumerated on the same census page with another family, and her brother Austin (age 16) was with another family in Rensselaer County.  That indicated to me that they were probably orphaned between 1850 and 1860.  My recommendation was to search church and cemetery records in those places for death or burial dates, and to search probate records in those counties for Gailor entries (the parents, grandparents or other relatives) to see if the children of Samuel and Almina were mentioned.

In summary, it seemed to me that the researchers with the problems had done a pretty good job of getting to the present state.  However, they were stuck, at a "brick wall" point, and needed suggestions to help them further their research.

My "Advice to the Ancestry-lorn" (so to speak) is to:

*  If you haven't found an answer to your problem, and no other researcher has found an answer to your problem, then it is either not solvable, or you haven't looked in all of the right places (i.e., haven't done a Reasonably Exhaustive Search). Your task is to expand the search to look for more records that might solve the problem.

*  There is more to researching your genealogy successfully than online family trees and census records. Use the records that you do find as finding aids to identify family, associates and neighbors (the FAN club), in the localities that had records, and research those family, associates and neighbors also.

*  Step away from the computer – go, on a regular basis, to the FamilySearch Center, library, or archives, or historical/genealogical society, or church, or cemetery, or courthouse, or other repositories where records may be kept.  Use the Family History Library Catalog to find resources on microfilm and microfiche, and the FamilySearch "digital microfilm" when it is available online.   

*  Enlist the help of other researchers with knowledge about records in specific localities, or about specific record types or collections, for advice on where else to search.

*  It can be difficult to look through handwritten and newspaper records without an index, but that is how many of these problems are solved.  Probate, land, tax, church, town and newspaper records are the records most likely to solve these thorny research problems.  

Hopefully, the researchers and the rest of the audience of 40 left the meeting realizing that everyone has thorny research problems, that not every answer can be found in online records or family trees, and that the search is never over - and success usually begets several more thorny research problems.

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver

UPDATED;  28 May, 10 p.m. - added more explanatory text, corrected one typing error.

1 comment:

bgwiehle said...

One more item can be added to your advice list - patience. Take time to let the problem percolate, which may result in insights or thoughts for additional approaches. Take time to read up on resources and how to use them. Go on to other research and when you come back, there may be new records available that will lead to a break-through.