Lydia thinks her great-grandfather was murdered–perhaps even by her grandfather! Here’s some advice for her and everyone researching “cold cases” for criminal ancestors on your family tree.
I heard recently from Lydia with these intriguing questions:
My great great grandpa William John Gabriel Nelson disappeared one day, never coming home from work. It was family lore that he had been “shanghai’d.” But even as a child the story didn’t add up. [Through a] few other mentions of the account throughout the years, and recently reconnecting with cousins through Ancestry.com/DNA and your advice to just email DNA matches, I have a growing reason to believe my great-grandfather was murdered. An even bigger fear is that my grandfather may have been the one to do it.
All parties involved with this are now dead, so follow-up is impossible with them. But I’m wondering about contacting the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the library to determine if indeed there was a cold case, missing persons report or John Doe. Since this happened in the mid 1940’s, would I contact the LAPD or is this now a job for a historian?
As a citizen, Lydia can certainly contact the LAPD here. It might take a bit of persistence to get to the right person or resource. I would start by asking for how you can find out the status of a cold case from the year in question.
Here are 4 ways to follow up on your own criminal ancestors’ cold cases:
1. Look for cold case files online.
As I often say, all good searches start online because they will help you prepare to go offline. In other words, not everything is online, but searching online first will give you a lay of the land, revealing what is available, who to contact, and where to go in person. Start with a Google search such as LAPD cold cases. The search results include several good leads:
With a case like Lydia’s that is over 70 years old, I wouldn’t expect to pull it up in an online database (though you never know!) But I do see several sites here that provide phone numbers to gain access to those who can lead you in the right direction.
2. Search Google for clues.
Use Google’s powerful search technology to look for online mentions of the names, places, and dates of your particular case.
In Lydia’s case, she might begin with keywords relating to her great-grandfather’s disappearance, with his name, year, and the place he was last seen. Including descriptive keywords such as disappear, mystery, vanished or murder might also yield helpful results.
Newspapers in your ancestor’s hometown (or further afield) may have mentioned the incident. With a common name like William (or Bill) Nelson, you may need to weed out the overabundance of unwanted results you get. Let me show you how I did this in GenealogyBank, a popular genealogical newspaper website:
The initial results of searching GenealogyBank (above) for the terms William Nelson and Los Angeles brought up over 1,000 search results! (The red arrow points to the tally.) Since I don’t like wasting valuable research time on irrelevant results (who’s with me?!), I refined the search. I specified Nelson as a last name, William as a first name, Los Angeles as a keyword, and I added a date range: the decade during which he disappeared. Next, I limited my search to Los Angeles-area newspapers, shown below:
This search narrows results down to under 200: a robust number, but at least manageable to look through for relevant material.
I want to be able to use these same search parameters in the future, so I click Save My Search. The search now appears in My Folder for future reference.
4. Look for criminal records.
If you knew (or suspected) that a relative was prosecuted for a crime, it’s time to start looking for records relating to the criminal case. There may be several kinds:
In cases of suspicious death (where there was a body, unlike Lydia’s case), look for any surviving coroner’s records.
If a trial may have occurred, research the jurisdiction to find out what court would have handled it, and then look for files relating to the case.
If an ancestor may have served time, look for prison records. Genealogy GemsPremium podcast episode 29 is devoted to the topic of prison records.
Read this article about a woman who was researching not one but two mysterious deaths on her family tree.
Want to help investigators lay to rest their own cold cases?
Click here to read about the Unclaimed Persons Project and how you can help.
Here are the step-by-step instructions you need to know to effectively navigate the Dawes Applications for Native American research. Many American families have a tradition of Native American ancestry. Now through Nov. 15, 2016 Fold3 has made access to their Native American records collections free. Read on to gain a thorough knowledge of how to properly use these records and achieve research success! And sign up for our free Genealogy Gems newsletter for our upcoming posts on this important subject.
Dawes Applications for Native American Research
In 1893, an act of Congress approved the establishment of a commission to negotiate agreements with the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee Indian tribes. The commission became known as the Dawes commission. The commission was to divide tribal land into plots, which were then divided among the members of the tribe. The Commission either accepted or rejected applicants for tribal membership based on whether the tribal government had previously recognized the applicant as a member of the tribe. Applicants were categorized as Citizens by Blood, Citizens by Marriage, Minor Citizens by Blood, New Born Citizens by Blood, Freedmen (African Americans formerly enslaved by tribal members,) New Born Freedmen, and Minor Freedman.
Researching the Dawes Packets is tricky. One problem arises when researchers find their family members in an index and assume that means their family was a legitimate member of a tribe. That is not the case. You will find doubtful or even rejectedapplications as well.
The good news is that in applying, our ancestors provided lots of genealogically valuable details of their birth, residences, and family ties.
Let’s see how to use this special collection.
Dawes Packets are Listed By Application Number
It would take forever to go through the applications one by one to find your ancestor. You really need to check an index first, but Fold3 doesn’t have the index for the Dawes Packets collection available…at least as far as I have found.
Now, search for your targeted ancestor by name. In my example, I am going to search for David O. Scott.
The results indicate that David O. Scott appears in two entries. One entry gives the number of #9446 and the other is #616. I can view each of these records directly from Ancestry. The first image you see is a jacket cover, so just click the right arrow key to scroll through the digital pages contained in David’s file.
Remember, if you don’t have access to Ancestry.com, many local libraries and family history centers have free access for patrons. But, we are talking about using Fold3, so let’s pop back over there.
Go back to Fold3.com to access their Native American records. You will do this by clicking on Browse at the top of the Fold3 homepage. Next, scroll through the options and choose Non-Military Records. A new list of options will appear and you will click on Native American Collections, then Dawes Packets. The Dawes Packets that appear here on Fold3.com are first broke down into tribe, then by number.
David O. Scott’s search on Ancestry listed him as Cherokee, so I want to choose that tribe. One of his numbers was #616.
Did you notice the numbers have a “D” in front of them? These are the applications deemed “doubtful.” If you scroll down, the letter changes to “R.” These applications were rejected. We don’t know if David’s number 616 is in the doubtful category or the rejected category, so we will check both.
David’s #616 matches the D616 and now I know that his application was marked doubtful. David’s pages of information were packed with genealogical detail like family names, dates, and residences.
The 1896 Applications
Here’s another tip: Your ancestor may have applied in the first wave of applications submitted in 1896. Those applications were later deemed invalid and thrown out, but wow…you don’t want to overlook them! Whether your ancestor applied again in 1898 and you already found their Dawes Packet on Fold3, try looking at this collection as well.
The research center at the Oklahoma Historical Society webpage allows you to search the 1896 overturned applications index for free. I typed in the name of my third great-grandfather, Jacob Cole.
You can also search by tribe, however, I suggest you do not do that. Sometimes, individuals actually applied to more than one tribe because they were not sure which tribe they might belong to. By adding that criteria, you may miss your ancestor’s application all together.
Only one result appeared for Jacob Cole. On this result, you notice the tribe affiliation as Cherokee and the case/application number of 639. I will need that tribe and number to find the application at Fold3. [Note: As I mentioned earlier, this index does not tell me if Jacob’s application was accepted or rejected, but it really doesn’t matter because these applications were deemed invalid anyway.]
You won’t find Jacob’s overturned application of 1896 on Fold3 at this time, but it is available at Ancestry.
Where Can I find Overturned Applications for 1896?
Overturned applications from 1896 are still very valuable records. They can be found at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C., or at Ancestry.com.
Let’s look at Ancestry. Once at the homepage, click Search at the top, then choose Card Catalog from the pull-down options.
This next step is a bit tricky. You will be directed to a page that allows you to seemingly search for your targeted ancestor’s application. But, the search only searches an index for the applications. To find the entire application packet, you need to browse the microfilm by hand.
To do that, look over to the far right where it says Browse this collection. Choose from the drop-down menu which tribe your ancestor applied to…so, I will choose Cherokee Applications. Then, choose the roll number based on the application number of the packet. I can determine the correct roll number because Jacob’s application number was 639 and Roll 25 includes all applications between the numbers of 486 and 681.
Click ALL and a digital image of the microfilm pops up. You will need to browse image-by-image until you find your ancestor’s application number. Be patient. With more than 1800 images, it will take some time.
[Special Note: On the very last roll of microfilm, Roll 54, there are some miscellaneous files and applications that were received past the application deadline. These records were not included in the Master Index. If you did not find your targeted ancestor in the Master Index, check these miscellaneous records.]
I found Jacob’s application on digital image number 1405. His application packet was nine pages long. I learned the ages and names of his current wife and children, how he believes he is Cherokee through the blood of his grandfather, Hawk Bowman, and I read two witness statements about Jacob and his family.
In particular, because this record was made in the 1890s, I was able to learn of two daughters that I had never known about. Martha had been born after the 1880 census and married before 1900, never having appeared with her father in a census. The second daughter, Mary J., had been born in 1895 and died before 1900, also never appearing with her family in a census record.
More on Native American Research
We will be creating further blog posts regarding each of the Native American collection sets at Fold3.com. We want you to be able to take advantage of this awesome opportunity to view the records for free for this limited time. In the meantime, be sure to read this how-to post on using Eastern Cherokee Applications: Eastern Cherokee Applications for Native American Research
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Obituaries are a staple of genealogical research. Here’s the latest from the folks at Ancestry:
“Ancestry® updated its collection of US obituaries by combing through millions of digital obituaries to key names, relationships and other facts so members can now easily search these records with just one click.
This initiative first announced at RootsTech uses new sophisticated artificial intelligence technology.
The new Newspapers.com Obituary Collection and the upgraded Ancestry U.S. Obituary Collection will expand Ancestry’s unparalleled historical record collections that enable people around the world to uncover their family history, spark their own journey of discovery and inspire meaningful conversations.
Obituary collections include over 262 million worldwide obituaries and death announcements with almost 1 billionsearchable family members
US Obituary Collection, 1930-Current search is the world’s largest, searchabledigital archive, now includes 4x more searchable family members
Newspapers.com Obituary Index includes facts from nearly 200 millionNewspapers.com obituaries
Newspapers.comis the largest online newspaper archive, with over 525+ million pages of historical newspapers, including obituaries, from thousands of printed newspapers across the United States and beyond.
Members with an Ancestry All Access or Newspapers.com Basic subscription have a 1-click option to view the full obituary on Newspapers.com. Some images may require a Publisher Extra subscription as certain newspapers require additional licenses to view their content.”
From the State Archives of North Carolina blog comes a very interesting addition ton an existing Civil War digital collection:
A selection of 12 volumes from the Soldiers’ Home Association have been added to the Civil War digital collection. These volumes document the history of medical care for veterans and the elderly around the turn of the 19th century.”
“These volumes provide recorded information on veterans’ military service, illnesses or injuries that might not have been recorded elsewhere. Some volumes include patients’ requests for their burial and funeral wishes. The volumes included are listed below:
Discover your Scouse ancestor’s address, occupation and who they were living with in 1801. Findmypast now offers over 13,000 new and exclusive early census records. Don’t miss the images because they provide additional information about your ancestor’s abode.
The 1801 census was the first official census to be carried out in Britain. It estimated the population of England and Wales to be 8.9 million, and that of Scotland to be 1.6 million.
The 1801 census comprised two parts:
the first was related to the number of people, their occupations, and numbers of families and houses.
The second was a collection of the numbers of baptisms, marriages and burials, thus providing an indication of the rate at which the population was increasing or decreasing.
Over 75,000 new records covering 52 parishes across the Cornish peninsula are now available to search at Findmypast.
These transcripts reveal 5 key pieces of information:
when your ancestor was buried
where your ancestor was buried
their age at death,
and relatives’ names.
Click here to search the Cornwall Burials collection.
And finally, Findmypast has added 12,000 new records to their collection last week. The majority of these new additions cover Swanscombe municipal cemetery and will reveal where and when your ancestor was buried as well as the names of their spouse and father. Click here to search the Kent Burial records.
New Records Coming Soon
Recently announced on the University of Georgia website:
“Through a new partnership with Google, about 120,000 of the Libraries’ 4.5 million volumes will be digitized, allowing further access to literary, historic, scientific and reference books and journals through UGA’s library catalog as well as one of the largest digital book collections in the world.”
“In addition to more modern materials that will be available for preview online, other examples of volumes available in full text include shipping registers from as far back as 1764 and Atlanta city directories dating back to 1870.
The project also advances a longstanding effort to provide digital access to state and federal government publications, and free digital access will be available to works by Balzac, Sir Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and other historically significant authors, thanks to UGA Libraries.”
Did one of these new and updated digital genealogy collections deliver what you’ve been waiting for? Please share your discovering in the Comments below. And click here to subscribe to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive all the latest in new and updated genealogy records for your family history.
You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the Elevenses with Lisa show notes page here.
Google Books is a free online catalog of over 25 million books, 10 million of which are digitized and searchable. While you would expect to find books at Google Books, you may be surprised to discover there it also includes many other types of published materials. In this episode I’ll explain how to find 10 of my favorite surprising items at Google Books.
Click below to listen:
Learn More About Google Books for Genealogy
My book includes everything you need to know about improving your Google searches in Google Books: