Brick Walls From A-Z Courtesy of Micheal John Neill

Michael John Neill is a well-known genealogist who gives away information and advice on Genealogy. He also sells information (reasonably priced, I might add) and advice about genealogy. It’s likely he gives it away as a marketing strategy to get our attention to his services (or, no doubt, as many do, to give some of his expertise away as a public service in response to others who have done the same before him). I like his approaches to genealogical research, and I am a consumer of both his free and  paid content. He has a regular weblog which has a variety of tips and his own family research from which we can take ideas to apply to our own at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/. It would be worth your time to go there and take a look.

One of his free offerings is some of his previous materials which were carried in the Ancestry Daily news. I enjoy these lists such as this because they make me think about things I might have missed in my own research.

Read these below, and, perhaps, you will find some new strategies to advance your own family tree. dh

From the Ancestry Daily News 
Michael John Neill — 1/11/2006


Brick Walls from A to Z

This week we discuss the alphabet looking for clues to ancestral brick walls. The list is meant to get you thinking about your own genealogy problems.

A is for Alphabetize 
Have you created an alphabetical list of all the names in your database and all the locations your families lived? Typographical errors and spelling variants can easily be seen using this approach. Sometimes lists that are alphabetical (such as the occasional tax or census) can hide significant clues.

B is for Biography
Creating an ancestor’s biography might help you determine where there are gaps in your research. Determining possible motivations for his actions (based upon reasonable expectations) may provide you with new areas to research.

C is for Chronology
Putting in chronological order all the events in your ancestor’s life and all the documents on which his name appears is an excellent way to organize the information you have. This is a favorite analytical tool of several Ancestry Daily News columnists.

D is for Deeds
A land transaction will not provide extended generations of your ancestry, but it could help you connect a person to a location or show that two people with the same last name engaged in a transaction.

E is for Extended Family
If you are only researching your direct line there is a good chance you are overlooking records and information. Siblings, cousins, and in-laws of your ancestor may give enough clues to extend your direct family line into earlier generations.

F is for Finances
Did your ancestor’s financial situation impact the records he left behind? Typically the less money your ancestor had the fewer records he created. Or did a financial crisis cause him to move quickly and leave little evidence of where he settled?

G is for Guardianships 
A guardianship record might have been created whenever a minor owned property, usually through an inheritance. Even with a living parent, a guardian could be appointed, particularly if the surviving parent was a female during that time when women’s legal rights were extremely limited (read nonexistent).

H is for Hearing
Think of how your ancestor heard the questions he was being asked by the records clerk. Think of how the census taker heard what your ancestor said. How we hear affects how we answer or how we record an answer.

I is for Incorrect
Is it possible that an “official” record contains incorrect information? While most records are reasonably correct, there is always the chance that a name, place, or date listed on a record is not quite exact. Ask yourself how it would change your research if one “fact” suddenly was not true?

J is for Job
What was your ancestor’s likely occupation? Is there evidence of that occupation in census or probate records? Would that occupation have made it relatively easy for your ancestor to move from one place to another? Or did technology make your ancestor’s job obsolete before he was ready for retirement?

K is for Kook
Was your ancestor just a little bit different from his neighbors? Did he live life outside cultural norms for his area. If he did, interpreting and understanding the records of his actions may be difficult. Not all of our ancestors were straight-laced and like their neighbors. That is what makes them interesting (and difficult to trace).

L is for Lines
Do you know where all the lines are on the map of your ancestor’s neighborhood? Property lines, county lines, state lines, they all play a role in your family history research. These lines change over time as new territories are created, county lines are debated and finalized, and as your ancestor buys and sells property. Getting your ancestor’s maps all “lined” up may help solve your problem.

M is for Money
Have you followed the money in an estate settlement to see how it is disbursed? Clues as to relationships may abound. These records of the accountings of how a deceased person’s property is allocated to their heirs may help you to pinpoint the exact relationships involved.

N is for Neighbors
Have you looked at your ancestor’s neighbors? Were they acquaintances from an earlier area of residence? Were they neighbors? Were they both? Which neighbors appeared on documents with your ancestor?

O is for Outhouse
Most of us don’t use them any more, but outhouses are mentioned to remind us of how much life has changed in the past one hundred years. Are you making an assumption about your ancestor’s behavior based upon life in the twenty-first century? If so, that may be your brick wall right there.

P is for Patience
Many genealogical problems cannot be solved instantly, even with access to every database known to man. Some families are difficult to research and require exhaustive searches of all available records and a detailed analysis of those materials. That takes time. Some of us have been working on the same problem for years. It can be frustrating but fulfilling when the answer finally arrives.

Q is for Questions
Post queries on message boards and mailing lists. Ask questions of other genealogists at monthly meetings, seminars, conferences and workshops. The answer to your question might not contain the name of that elusive ancestor, but unasked questions can leave us floundering for a very long time.

R is for Read 
Read about research methods and sources in your problem area. Learning about what materials are available and how other solved similar problems may help you get over your own hump.

S is for Sneaky
Was your ancestor sneaking away to avoid the law, a wife, or an extremely mad neighbor? If so, he may have intentionally left behind little tracks. There were times when our ancestor did not want to be found and consequently may have left behind few clues as to his origins.

T is for Think
Think about your conclusions. Do they make sense? Think about that document you located? What caused it to be created? Think about where your ancestor lived? Why was he there? Think outside the box; most of our brick wall ancestors thought outside the box. That’s what makes them brick walls in the first place.

U is for Unimportant
That detail you think is unimportant could be crucial. That word whose legal meaning you are not quite certain of could be the key to understanding the entire document. Make certain that what you have assumed is trivial is actually trivial.

V is for Verification
Have you verified all those assumptions you hold? Have you verified what the typed transcription of a record actually says? Verifying by viewing the original may reveal errors in the transcription or additional information.

W is for Watch
Keep on the watch for new databases and finding aids as they are being developed. Perhaps the solution to your brick wall just has not been created yet.

X is for X-Amine
With the letter “x” we pay homage to all those clerks and census takers who made the occasional spelling error (it should be “examine” instead of “x-amine.”) and also make an important genealogical point. Examine closely all the material you have already located. Is there an unrecognized clue lurking in your files?

Y is for Yawning
Are you getting tired of one specific family or ancestor? Perhaps it is time to take a break and work on another family. Too much focus on one problem can cause you to lose your perspective. The other tired is when you are researching at four in the morning with little sleep. You are not at your most productive then either and likely are going in circles or making careless mistakes.

Z is for Zipping
Are you zipping through your research, trying to complete it as quickly as possible as if it were a timed test in school? Slow down, take your time and make certain you aren’t being too hasty in your research and in your conclusions.

The “tricks” to breaking brick walls could go on and on. In general though, the family historian is well served if he or she “reads and thinks in an honest attempt to learn.” That attitude will solve many problems, not all of them family history related.


Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of CarlSandburgCollege in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine andGenealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at mjnrootdig@myfamily.com or visit his website, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2006, MyFamily.com.

The following article is from the Ancestry Daily News and is (c) MyFamily.Com.  It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the Ancestry Daily News is available at http://www.ancestry.com.

What Do You Think About a Family History Fair?

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From the series "Ask a Family History Question to the Wood County, TX. Genealogical Society":

"What do you think about a family history fair for members to show their research. This could also be opened to the public. Maybe some day we could award prizes for best of show, etc." – Deason Hunt

What do you think?
You can vote on this submission and suggest your own at http://goo.gl/mod/02Yj

Query Hopkins, Higginbotham

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From the series "Ask a Family History Question to the Wood County, TX. Genealogical Society":

"I’ve been researching the Hopkins and Higginbotham families from Wood County for years, but still have things to learn. Would love to correspond with anyone else working on these families. K. Hunter" – 1845TX

What do you think?
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Query: Hammond in Wood County

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From the series "Ask a Family History Question to the Wood County, TX. Genealogical Society":

"Searching Hammond in Wood Co. (with Webb,Bradshaw, Gresham, White, Duncan, Turner, Pilkington). Grndparents Joseph Norfleet Hammond and Martha Jane (Mattie) Pilkington.Lived in the Pine Mills area. email oconee_hammond Mitzi Hammond Perkins" – Oconee

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Query: NE Texas Metal Workers

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From the series “Ask a Family History Question to the Wood County, TX. Genealogical Society”:

“I am researching metalworkers in NE Tx. I would like to correspond with individuals who had a metalworker in the family. Contact me via email (samantharwinn) or phone at (903)565-5748. Thank you for your help!” – Samantha Winn

What do you think?
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1919 Cyclone — Worst Tragedy to Hit Wood County

By Lou Mallory, Chairperson of the Wood County Historical Commission

When residents of Wood County, after a hard day’s work, retired to their beds on the night of Tuesday, April 8, 1919, little did they know that by early Wednesday morning April 9, 1919 many lives would be lost or changed forever.

The cyclone on that morning took the lives of many of them and many others were injured. It should be noted that many of the farmers and others had white and black tenants who lived in small “shotgun” houses and were not built to withstand high wind or a storm as deadly as this one.

This cyclone (tornado) was the greatest catastrophe to ever hit Wood County. In a small rural county whose population was slightly less then 2,300 in the 1920 census the loss of life and injuries plus the destruction of many houses, schoolhouses and outbuildings this storm” had a profound effect. The damages and loss was estimated at nearly a half million dollars but worst yet was the 23 county residents whose lives were lost, and the 56 others who were injured. The damages covered the 71 homes completely wrecked and the 55 others damaged along with two schoolhouses.

The lives lost in this catastrophe were more than the county lost in the First World War just ended.

As bad as the storm and the deaths, injuries and property damages that occurred If not for the residents who heard the wind and rain and went to their storm cellars from the reports gathered about 50 residents had escaped physical harm while their dwelling places were completely destroyed.

The storm entered Wood County about a mile and a half southeast of Mineola and was said to have cut a path a mile wide through the entire county.

Some of the areas documented to have sustained heavy damage were Mineola, the Lake Fork area, and the communities of Oak Grove, Stout, Vernon, Westbrook, Musgrove and Spring Hill. After the devastation caused in these small communities, they began to decline and are today gone and virtually forgotten.

Based on both oral and written reports, the storm is believed to have first hit Canton this morning and that is documented by a Dallas Morning News article dated April 10, 1919. Other Dallas Morning News reports of April 10 described the damage done in the Winnsboro area, and another tells of the storm that hit Bonham the same morning.

The storm in the Bonham area causes extensive damages, and it was reported that the storm first struck near Trenton and extended in spots to the Red River.

The citizens of Wood County weathered this catastrophe and through the years have worked hard to bring back the beauty and splendor or this beautiful area of East Texas.

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