Federal court records are wonderful because they are so packed with genealogical information. But knowing which records are available and where to find them can sound daunting, and that stops many genealogists from ever tapping into them. In this episode our aim is to fix all that. Professional forensic genealogist Michael Strauss is here to pull back the curtain and introduce you to these valuable records.
You know Michael from our Military Minutes segments here on Genealogy Gems. He also recently introduced us to descendancy research on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcastepisode 174. The response to that episode was terrific. Many of you wrote in to say that it opened up a new avenue of research for you. This episode promises to do the same.
The Federal Court System of the United States was established under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 76) on September 24, 1789. Click here to read more about the role and structure of the federal courts at the United States Courts website.
Trial Courts of the United States. Their jurisdiction include:
These courts began at different times dependent on the geographic area and when the states were created.
Originally established in 1789 as three courts and later expanded to nine courts by 1866. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all matters (especially criminal) covered by Federal Law. Abolished in 1911 and taken over by District Courts.
Circuit Courts of Appeals:
Established under the Federal Court System by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 826), by acquiring the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Circuit Courts and later the U.S. District Courts. They have different geographic jurisdictions than the regular federal courts.
It is recognized as the highest court in the United States operating as an appeals court. Although a criminal case may have first been heard at the local level, it may have escalated to a federal court. Therefore, there could be federal records on that case.
Application for the Genealogist:
Michael has found that some of the richest records in the federal court system have come from the criminal court records. Our ancestors did get into trouble upon occasion. Michael’s grandfather was arrested in the 1940s and he was able to obtain those records.
Searching for Federal Records
Is it worthwhile to head to the National Archives and generally search to see if an ancestor has records? Or is it best to identify a case first, perhaps through a newspaper article, and then go to the National Archives location that would have the records for those identified cases?
No one is wasting their time going and searching the records. It’s a great way to get familiar with them. However, identifying a case through other records first can lead you quickly to the federal records. (Michael first found his grandfather’s case in a newspaper article.)
Types of Federal Court Records:
Dockets: Lists of cases heard by the court. Sometime referred to as court calendars.
Brief daily accounts of all actions taken by the court.
The specific judgments or orders of the court. An example would be an order granting citizenship.
Legal document arguing why one Party should prevail on a case.
When a Defendant obligates themselves to engage in activities in exchange for suspension of sentence. Frequently seen in Criminal Court.
All the loose documents relating to the case bundled together.
How to Find Records at the Archives:
Review the finding aid
Request the Index and find the name and corresponding file information
Request the record
An appointment is not required. They will pull the records as you request them. Record groups are pulled at different times. For the most part you will have the opportunity to view the original documents.
The National Archives is set up by record groups, such as:
Records of the U.S. Court of Claims – RG 123 (Claims against the US. Individual citizens could actually file claims against the US)
Request the individual record groups separately.
Bankruptcy Acts were passed by Congress usually after business disturbances or financial recessions.
Bankruptcy Act of 1800
This act followed the business disturbances of 1797.
The first national bankruptcy act was approved on April 4, 1800 (2 Stat, 19.) It provided for an effective period beginning June 2, 1800 and continuing for 5 years.
It applied only to merchants or other related parties. The act provided for compulsory or involuntary bankruptcy, but not for voluntary bankruptcy. Because of its limited applicability the act was repealed on December 19, 1803, just months before its expiration date.
Bankruptcy Act of 1841
This act followed the business panic of 1837.
The second national bankruptcy act was passed on August 19, 1841 and was to take effect on February 1, 1842.
The law allowed voluntary bankruptcy to all debtors, but limited involuntary bankruptcy to merchants, bankers, factors (an agent or commissioned merchant), brokers, and traders.
It eliminated the requirement of the consent of the creditor for a discharge. The bankrupt filer, however, could obtain his discharge through a jury trial if the jury found that he had surrendered all his property and had fully complied with the orders of the court.
Bankruptcy Act of 1867
This act followed the post-Civil War recession of 1866-1867.
On March 2, 1867, Congress approved the Nation’s third bankruptcy act to assist the judges in the administration of the law, the act provided for the appointment by the court of registers in bankruptcy.
The registers were authorized to make adjudications of bankruptcy, to hold and preside at meetings of creditors, to take proofs of debts, to make computations of dividends, and otherwise to dispatch the administrative business of the court in bankruptcy matters when there was no opposing interest.
In cases where opposition to an adjudication or a discharge arose, the controversy was to be submitted to the court.
Bankruptcy Act of 1898
This act followed the business panic of 1893 and the depression that followed. We are currently under the umbrella of this fourth act.
In 1889 The National Convention of Representatives of Commercial Bodies was formed to lobby for bankruptcy legislation. The president of the Convention, Jay L. Torrey, drafted a new Bankruptcy Bill otherwise known as the “Torrey Bill.”
In 1898 Congress passed a bankruptcy bill based on the previous Torrey bill. This Act also called the “Nelson Act” was passed July 1, 1898, (Ch. 541, 30 Stat. 544.) It was the first United States Act of Congress involving Bankruptcy that gave companies an option of being protected from creditors. Previous attempts at bankruptcy law had lasted at most a few years. Its popular name is a homage to the role of Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota.
Bankruptcy files are in the custody of the National Archives and now stored offsite at the National Archives branch in Kansas City, MO. Researchers should contact the Archives directly to conduct searches. Some indexes are still maintained at the regional archives.
Bankruptcy Records Examples
1) Two pages from the Bankruptcy File of Percival L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks Co. PA. 1 Page is the petition and the second page is a page from “Schedule A” which lists the debt owed by the bankrupt.
Petition by Debtor: Percival L. Strauss
Schedule A – No. 3: Creditors Whose Claims are Unsecured (Percival L. Strauss)
2) Tintype of Percival L. Strauss-circa 1872 within a few years of filing Bankruptcy.
Percival L. Strauss. (Courtesy of Michael’s cousin Harry B. Strauss of Myerstown, PA)
Percival Long Strauss (Son of Benjamin Strauss & Rebecca Long)
Born: December 16, 1830-Upper Bern Township, Berks Co. PA
Died: Mohnton, Berks Co. PA
Married: April 9, 1855-Bethel Township, Berks Co. PA to Malinda Smith (12 Children)
May 18, 1867 (Page 3, Column 6), in the Berks & Schuylkill Journal newspaper the entry reads: “P.L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks County, PA Class #13 License paid $10.00 to conduct store (merchant).”
This is the business he had at the time of his bankruptcy filing on May 27, 1867 in Philadelphia, PA in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Types of Information Found in Bankruptcy Records:
Lists of creditors (name, address)
Amount of money owed (the debt)
Specific information about the items for which the debt was incurred
Total dollar amounts
Follow the Federal Record Trail:
Information found could lead you to additional records. For example, if your ancestor filed for bankruptcy due to debts associated with his business, you could go back to the local level to look for records such as a business license, newspaper articles, etc.
Lisa suggests searching Google Books for digitized items such as county histories, almanacs, catalogs, merchant association books, etc. Here’s an example of a bankruptcy notice found in Google Books (which is free) for Michael’s ancestor Percival L. Strauss
Searching for Percival L. Strauss bankruptcy notice in Google Books
Bankruptcy notice (Oct. 9, 1868) found in Google Books
Bankruptcy Act of 1841 – Edgar Allen Poe filed bankruptcy in 1841.
Bankruptcy Act of 1898 Act – Dean Martin in New York
Amendments to the most recent bankruptcy act include:
1933: The “1898 Bankruptcy Act”
Amended to include railroad reorganization, corporate reorganization, and individual debtor arrangements.
1938: The “Chandler Act”
Amended the earlier 1898 Bankruptcy Act, creating a menu of options for both business and non-business debtors. Named for Walter Chandler.
1978: The 1898 Bankruptcy Act
Replaced by The Bankruptcy Reform Act. This Act is still used today.
Writs of Habeas Corpus:
Habeas corpus is a court order from a judge instructing a person who is detaining another to bring the detainee before the court for a specific purpose.
It was often used during the Civil War for soldiers under the age of 18 years and in reference to runaway slaves.
Writs can be found in most case files. They usually involves a petition, transcript, order, and the writ when ordered by the Judge. Contact the National Archives regarding RG19 for records pertaining to this set of documents and indexes.
Fugitive Slave Act:
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. It was one of the controversial acts passed down by law. Runaway slaves could be returned with the help of the Federal Government.
Records can include:
Documentation of ownership
Records are typically found in the court of original petition and the court with jurisdiction over the area where the slave escaped. Search under the slave holder’s name.
The Confiscation Act of 1862:
Passed by an act of Congress on July 17, 1862, the full title is “An Act to Suppress Insurrection, to Punish Treason and Rebellion, to Seize and Confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for Other Purposes.”
This Act gave the power to take the land and businesses of persons who served the Confederacy. Records include case files include; petitions, orders of the court, proofs of public notice, and notices of seizure
Example: General Robert E. Lee. The act covered land under Union Control. Lee lived in Northern Virginia, and his home was confiscated. The file has a complete inventory of his house. The location is now the Arlington National Cemetery.
Federal Criminal Records
Criminal records could include cases covering:
Assault and Battery on the high seas
Conspiracy to over through our government
Carrying on a business without a license
Not paying taxes
Records were created:
at the federal level
at the local level – local court at the county level
1790: The first national act created a two-step process:
Declare your intention to become a citizen
File your petition for citizenship
Your ancestors may not have finished the process, and they may have filed both at local and federal levels.
Petition for Naturaliztion
Resource: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
Episodes focusing on the Naturalization process include:
This episode begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.
Thank you to Michael Strauss for contributing to these notes and sharing his expertise!
This free podcast is sponsored by:
MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Visit www.MyHeritage.com
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. Visit www.RootsMagic.com
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You’ve heard of “burned counties,” a phrase used to describe places where courthouse fires or other disasters have destroyed key genealogy records? In this episode, a listener presents the problem of her burned city?Chicago.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares some of the latest buzz about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history?and some opinions about them
News from the Genealogy Gems Book Club
Get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury
The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shines the spotlight on archival collections that haven’t even been processed yet (and suggestions for getting to them)
Five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on researching your family in the 1940s and preparing for its release
Great news! Your genealogy society or group may reprint articles from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems blog! Click hereto learn more.
MAILBOX: GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Shannonby Frank Delaney and Irelandby Frank Delaney
(Thank you for supporting the free podcast by using our links to get your copies of these books.)
Book Club Guru Sunny Morton recommends the novels of Frank Delaney, beginning with Shannon (and now she’s reading Ireland). Frank is a master storyteller, and family history themes wind throughout his stories. Tip: he narrates his audiobooks himself. They are well worth listening to! But they’re so beautifully written Sunny is buying them in print, too.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
ARCHIVE LADY: UNPROCESSED RECORDS
As an archivist, working in an archive every day, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the genealogical and historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Archives receive donations of documents, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts almost on a daily basis.
Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.
Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.
Many times record collections haven’t even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn’t allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help you decide if a particular collection will be of help to you and your genealogy research.
The answer to your genealogical question could be sitting in a box of unprocessed records. I like to always encourage genealogists to put “unprocessed records” on their to-do list. As genealogists, we should leave no stone or box of records, unturned.
DNA WITH DIAHAN: MORE DNA HEALTH REPORTS
Recently, Family Tree DNAoffered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.
How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder testwith Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”
At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard:
There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:
Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports: Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”
Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”
Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”
And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”
This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these. Click here to read about their health reports, and click hereand hereto read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)
Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.
Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.
When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.
Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report?based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report?that includes some nutritional factors. (I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports.Click here to read it!) Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.
GEM: COUNTDOWN TO THE 1950 CENSUS: 5 TIPS
Get a copy of a census record for yourself or a relative (1950-2010). This costs $65 per person, per census year. In addition to genealogy uses, census records are legally-recognized documents to prove your identity, citizenship or age if you’re applying for a passport and you’ve lost your birth certificate or other situations like that. Order it through the “Age Search Service” offered through the US Census Bureau.
Post-WWII draft registrations: Click hereto order copies of draft registration records for men born 1897-1957. Requires full name of applicant, address at time of registration (tip: get it from a city directory).
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke (there’s an entire chapter on YouTube) Available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
Follow-up your discoveries with Google and YouTube search questions. Example: You find your grandmother working as a telephone operator in the 1940s in a city directory. What would her job have been like? Search YouTube:
Nearly 2.5 million French genealogy records are among the free collections now available online at FamilySearch.org. Also: German church records, Dutch civil registrations and 3 free digital archives for researching U.S. ancestors in CT, GA and NJ. Free French...
Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.
Port Aransas, Texas
My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.
As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.
Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:
“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.
Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”
CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.”
Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.
Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.
Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”
Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”
The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers
As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.
After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time
If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):
I love her compassionate advice:
“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections
Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.
Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!
If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!
As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:
Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.
For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.
I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).
Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:
Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!
(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)
My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast features genealogy news, interviews, stories and how-to instruction. It can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content.
Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery.
The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises.
Our second story is a mystery full of twists, turns and murder that will ultimately resurrect your faith that what you think is lost, may still be found.
Frank recently wrote in saying that he listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 227 and my conversation with Ran Snir, MyHeritage DNA Product Manager about their genetic genealogy tools The Theory of Family Relativity™ and AutoClusters. This got him thinking about his own test results and a frustration he has had trying to find matches and records in pursuit of this Galician roots.
“Ancestry’s records are almost non-existent, except for some parish records, but this is the region from which Cuba and Argentina were populated, and the ultimate ancestry of Cubans in the US. I have done the AncestryDNA test but my matches are few and far between.
On the other hand, I have worked with a Spanish genealogist and have some records that go back to the 17th century. Is there any program like Ancestry, 23andme, or My Heritage, that can do Galician (Spanish) genealogy well.”
Regarding DNA matches and testing pools:
DNA companies test all types of people and because testers can download their results and upload them to other companies, their pools of people are becoming more similar. Generally, they don’t focus on particular groups. They just report the results based on the pool they currently have.
Conduct a Google Search: Galician (Spanish) genealogy “Galicia”. Click here to see the Google search results.
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Third Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke available in the Genealogy Gems Store.
Available in the Genealogy Gems Store.
Lisa’s video classes and handouts on Google search are included in Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. Learn more here.
Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.
“I am a regular listener to your podcasts. And I am the family historian. I recently received a trove of documents from my Uncle who had been working to chart the family for 25 years. He passed away last year. His most recent quest was to find as many old family pictures as possible and I have continued to reach out to distant relatives. I enjoyed the recent podcast about the New York photographer website and hope it will help me identify people in some of these very old pictures.
(Episode 236 – Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.)
My question: a friend of mine has inherited all of her family’s old family pictures. The pictures are from the late 1800’s. She doesn’t know who most of the people are. She is not interested in learning and apparently there aren’t any members of the family who have taken the role of family historian. Is there anything to do with these pictures other than to dispose of them? It makes me sad to know that no one is interested. When I learned a branch of my family tree had tossed all of their old family pictures, I felt awful and it has taken me some time to accept that I might not ever find replacements for this branch.”
There are ways to make real progress identifying photos. I’m going to be covering more of this on upcoming episodes. I would start by asking your friend to write down states / counties / towns where she thinks her family lived, as well as her direct ancestors as far as she knows (even if it’s just grandparents or great grandparents.) With some basic genealogical info on the most recent members of the family and some possible locations, you could then post at least some of the photos on Deadfred.com.
This is a site where people search on families and locations and other identifying information to find unidentified photos of their family members. Many, many photos have made their way to family historians through DeadFred.
If you don’t have time to post them on DeadFred, and you do know the county where some of the photos came from, you could offer to donate them to the local genealogical society. They might be willing to take them, and their volunteers might be willing to do it.
I agree with you, it would be such a shame to toss them because you can be sure there is someone out there who would treasure them and may even hold answers.
Kathleen Ackerman graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of General Studies: Family History degree in April 2012. She now has her own research company, Finding Ties that Bind. She is also working on a Master’s Degree in Genealogy, Paleography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
Kathleen is the director for the Cave Creek Arizona Family History Center. She loves to help others as they learn about their family history. For seven years, she served as the Treasurer and British Institute Director for the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History. Besides her volunteer and school work, she spends most of her free time either working on her husband’s English and Scottish lines or playing with her granddaughter.
“In 2010, my mother found three pages of a letter addressed to “Mamie” among my grandparent’s things. My grandmother has passed away and my grandfather did not remember who Mamie was or why they had the letter. My mom sent me the letter in hopes that I could figure it out.”
Miriam (Mamie) Smith Patelzick 1891-1911 (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
The last page which may have contained the writer’s signature was missing. This is where Kathleen’s search began.
The first three pages of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
Kathleen turned to census records from the time period, and Google Maps to verify where Medicine Lodge was in comparison to Small, Idaho, the place from which the letter was sent. No such town could be found.
She then turned to old maps to see if the town had once existed. She used maps on the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection website. She found a map of Idaho from 1909, that showed Small, Medicine Lodge river and Reno (all mentioned in letter). They were all in Fremont County, Idaho. Her confidence that she had the right person grew.
1909 Idaho map published by Geo. F. Cram, Chicago (DavidRumsey.com)
The search moved on into vital records. A marriage certificate for Mamie and William Patelzick in Dec 1910 was located.Perhaps they had eloped?
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t listened to the episode yet. The next image reveals the writer of the letter.
Later, Kathleen’s mother surprisingly found the final page of the letter:
Found! The last page of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
A surprise indeed, and a mystery solved!
Thank you to Kathleen Ackerman for sharing her story! You can visit her at her website, Finding Ties that Bind.
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