Tickling my brain…

Every once in awhile, I feel like there can’t possibly one more thing that I can research on my “brick wall” ancestor, John M. Smith. When that happens, and I have a significant chunk of time to surf the web (such as during a full day of football on tv!), I decide to pick a “FAN” (friend, acquaintance or neighbor) and see what I can find. I try to pick someone who has SOME connection to my research to see if I can find something unexpected. Today, I decided to see if I could find a connection to a surname that appears on a lot of court records along with my Smiths. The Cook family is quite often a witness or a surety for the son’s of John M. Smith.

I had found a short Wayne County history that listed the significance of the Cook family. Four sons of Edmund Cook were doctors and were known for traveling around the area on horseback to take care of their patients. Were these doctors the same men whose names I was seeing?

I started off with a general Google search of the family and noticed that in a specific family, there were 2 sons who had married Ellis girls. John M’s son, George A (my ancestor) had married Talitha Ellis, so I decided to see if there was a connection. I discovered that they were all sisters, so the Cook family members were in-laws to my ancestor. BINGO!

Off to Ancestry to start filling in the names. This is where it gets fun for me. When I know I have a new connection, it is very satisfying to find census records – which lead to names of children. Finding the census records for THESE children begins to yield additional records – Find-A-Grave, Civil War draft registrations, land grants, marriage records, death records, etc. And THEN, I begin to see additional surnames that I recognize.

So now, based on a Find-A-Grave record, I see a female with a maiden name of Garr. That’s a surname that I’m trying to use to connect with a Smith family in Mercer County, Kentucky. So now, my brain is seriously “tickled”…can I make a connection? I feel like I’m going to need a nice big sheet of paper to start sketching out some connections which may very well lead to a VERY late night…and I’m excited!

Learning from the Inventory

Yesterday, I decided to transcribe the inventory that was taken for John M Smith’s estate. Because the only census that I have for John was the 1830 census, there wasn’t much to know about John personally based on that. So what could I learn from the inventory? (I’m keeping the spellings used in the inventory.)

John and his family were believers. His inventory contained 2 Bibles, a Bible dictionary, Sunday books (I wish I knew what these were) and 2 volumes of “Josephess Works” who among other things, wrote about Jewish history and early Christianity.

John could read and was interested in history and politics. The inventory included “The History of the Late War” (Revolutionary War – written in 1832), “Kentucky Justice”, “The Constitution of the Cumberland” and “Robinsons History”. There were also “public documents” which I believe were the papers he received when he became a justice of the peace. Also listed were 4 books (no details), 3 grammar books and a medical book.

John and his family enjoyed music. The inventory included 5 music books, 3 hymn books and a dulcimer.

The furniture included 6 chairs, another set of 6 chairs, 1 armed chair and 4 common chairs, two square tables, a secretary (desk), a clock, a sugar desk, “cupboard furniture”, a cupboard, a folding table, a looking glass, a “bord and chamber pot”, a bedsted and furniture, and another listing for a bedsted and furniture. No sheets, blankets or pillows were listed like I see in some of the other inventories of the time period.

Items that I would consider kitchen items included several crocks, a churn, kettles, skillets, 2 pots, 2 ovens (like a dutch oven?), tea kettles, pails, buckets, wire sifter, meal tub, salt tub, grindstone, a gridiron and 2 pot racks. Two sets of silver spoons, but no knives or forks like I see in some of the other inventories of the time. He had a candle box, candles and tallow. I’d imagine they made their own candles. There was no type of lantern listed.

The inventory contained many items used for weaving. 4 pairs of weavers harness, many slays, 2 hackles, weavers spools, warping bars and a large spool rack. It lists 2 cotton wheels and I wonder if those are spinning wheels. There was a listing for “two flax and one real”. I’m not sure what that references, but I know it could be used for making fabric, so I’m placing it here. There was also some sheep shears, so the wool was probably spun into yarn.

I believe that John was a farmer. He had 5 plows, one shovel, a hoe, a flax break and barrel, several axes and hachets,  one rye stack, two oat stacks, 7 1/2 bushels of oats, 2 wheat stacks, 23 bushels of wheat, 2 fields of corn, a cabbage patch, a sweet potato patch and an Irish potato patch. He had several sythes and reap hooks.

There was also a listing that I can’t read completely. It looks like fax and hoggshead and rye. Because there’s a listing for a still, I think the hogshead is a barrel of about 60-70 gallons.

Basic carpentry knowledge was a must for this time period. John owned a hammer saw set, a hand axe and draw knife, a whip saw, several augers, a cross cut saw, a saw and sundry tools.

His livestock included 5 colts, 2 mares, 1 bull, 4 steer, 4 heifers, 46 hogs, 42 sheep, 15 turkeys and 8 bee stands. He had many wagon parts, and one ox cart. He had 1 saddle, bridle and blanket.

John also owned a boat – which makes sense since he lived along the Cumberland River and Beaver Creek.

I was surprised to see no notes or receipts of any kind included in the inventory. “Neither a borrower or a lender be”? Also surprising to me was that there was no estate sale after the inventory. Could it be that the children just divided the items among themselves? There were still 3 children living at home at the time of John’s death. A 22 year old daughter and two sons between the ages of 15 and 20. Perhaps they kept everything in order to continue with the household? The inventory had been taken on Oct 1, 1835. Would there be a sale after the daughter got married 3 years later? She was married on 8 November, 1838 – would that be why the inventory wasn’t recorded until November 1838?  I know that each of the boys lived with or next to siblings around this time and both of them passed away in the fall of 1840…I wish I understood the customs of the time better.

The administrator’s penal sum for John’s estate was $1000 and the total of the inventory was $989, so that makes sense to me. Five years later, the two youngest sons passed away. Solomon’s penal sum was $200, but Benjamin’s sum was $1100. Where is the inventory for Benjamin? In the 1840 tax list, Benjamin is listed directly Whatafter his brother, Elias. He owned no land or any taxable property. Why was his administrator asked to pay so much? I have not been able to find an inventory or sale for either of the two youngest brothers.

I have really enjoyed working on this project. I spent a lot of time researching the various items in the list and I added hyperlinks to the things I was finding in my document. That will help me remember what the items were.

Pleasant Surprise with Google Drive

I spent the weekend transferring re-discovered files from an external drive into my Google Drive and while doing so, I discovered a few discrepancies in the files names of some records.  Specifically, some file names used the abbreviation “Bk” while some spelled out the word “Book”. While I was updating those, I also added a new level of detail to the file names.

In my genealogy notes in Word, I’ve linked each document referenced to the digital file in Google Drive. My notes include a cropped image showing just the section that pertained to my ancestor, but if I want to examine the full document, I can click on the link to open the document in Google Drive. After modifying so many file names, I realized I would need to go back to re-link all of the documents.

But as I went through my note file, I tested each link and they all worked! Chalk up one more advantage to storing on Google Drive – the link is not related to the file name itself, just it’s location in my Drive.


Planner Pickle

I have an 8 x 5½ genealogy planner.  I spent a lot of time selecting a planner cover that looked professional so that I could take it with me anywhere and not have to worry about looking childish (as I am very often drawn to bright colors!). I ordered pages in a design that I find beautiful and that bring me a feeling of nostalgia. All of this to “draw” me to the planner. I love to hold it and to flip through the pages. Because I am so drawn to it, it motivates me to keep it organized.

I have a very specific format for my pages and I’ve created many templates specifically to fit in my binder. In short, it contains all of the information that I have on a family without actually having copies of each document. I love my planner.

I take the planner with me to the library and on any trip that doesn’t allow me to bring my full sized binders or when I might be without internet – such as in the car or at my mother’s house. Whenever I have free time – even if it’s sitting in the car waiting for a family member to finish an appointment or sports practice or just relaxing at the park on a pretty day – I can flip through my planner and try to read things with a fresh eye and make a list of questions or research plans. I have research logs, group sheets, chronological notes, lists of resources, research questions, a page for each resource researched, etc.

I’ve been working on updating all of my files. Making sure every file has been removed from flash drives and download folders and placed into my Google Drive. The files have been renamed according to my naming convention as they have been transferred to this “final destination”. Today, I’m trying to update a “to do” list based on notes that I’ve written to myself in the planner.

I’m trying to consolidate all of the notes I’ve written and lists that I’ve made to put them onto the forms that I’ve created so that I can get them into the planner with the organization method I’ve come up with. But what I find is that my notes are confusing to me. And I always feel like I’ve been soooo thorough while I’m writing them! Ha!! Lots of lists! Lists with check marks, lists with things crossed out, lists with stars and circles – but very few indications of what the lists ARE. I can tell if they are lists of pages from an index to look at in a book or if they are scans that I wanted or that I’ve scanned, but how about an occasional TITLE? What book did the index pages go to? What what I looking for? What could I NOT find? What film did I scan? Did I move those scans to the Google Drive?

So I’ve decided that I need a specific format. Often, I email myself from the library giving a short description of what I was researching and what I found or didn’t find. So if I were to always include the date on my notes/lists, I could look for the email from that date and that would help me to know what questions I was specifically trying to find. If I include the title of whatever I was looking at (this seems like quite a DUH!) then I would probably save myself from a lot of reworking. And if I would take a few seconds to just indicate on my note where the files or photocopies were placed, that would save me from looking for digital files that “I know” I’ve scanned, but can’t find.

So I’m going to put a reminder in the front cover of my planner.  Date – Resource (film number or call number) – Location saved. Surely, that wouldn’t be so hard! And it would save me some frustration when I’m trying to consolidate things.

No great genealogy revelation here. Just a motivation to myself to do it.

Sentence Strip Timelines

Once again, I find myself with some unexpected time to work on some genealogy and I decided that I would work on creating something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while.

Last year, I retired from teaching and I brought home a lot of teaching materials that I thought might be helpful in presenting or organizing my genealogy work. One of those things was a big stack of sentence strips. Elementary teachers use the 3” x 24” sentence strips to make games and flash cards and to help students practice handwriting, sentence structure and such.  I used mine to make labels around my classroom because they are very colorful. You can get these strips in packages of 75-100 for $5 – $10 depending on if you buy them online or at a teacher supply store. Even stores like Walmart carry them. (In fact, as I look at the website now, I see they have wipe-off strips. Hmmm…..)

Front and Back

I’ve looked at these strips for a long time and thought that they would be perfect for making timelines. The strips are different on the front and back and my vision was that the timeline would be on the multi-lined side and the side with 1 line only could be used for notes. So I played around with them last night and I like where this is going so far.


I decided to make the timelines in 10 year chunks – to go along with census records. I decided that the focus of my timelines would be locations. Could I discover an un-researched area that I should be spending more time looking at based on basic census information? Especially after comparing locations for various people at a certain time? Could I determine a migration pattern for various lines in my research?

5 familiesI made marks 2 ½ inches apart and left a little extra room at one end to write the name of the person I was tracking. After writing some examples on some scrap pieces, I decided that the strip would be oriented vertically.  I have a column for the year, location, type of record and short notes. If I want to include a longer note, for example – more details on a land grant location, then I write a small arrow to show that there is more information on the back.

I like the idea that I can line up these strips to look for patterns and information that I might not have noticed otherwise.  I don’t think this will be the first time that I’ve mentioned that I’m a very visual learner, so this helps me a lot. IMG_2737


When I am not using the strips, I can clip them together with a binder clip and hang them on the bulletin board near my desk.


Father and SonOne simple example I can show is how I can determine the potential birth location for a person. When I place the strip for one of John M. Smith’s son-in-laws (Thomas Simpson) next to HIS father’s strip, I can see that it is likely that Thomas was born in Wayne County, Kentucky. Because I don’t have proof of that yet, I put the location in parenthesis. I certainly could have figured this out without the strips, but it is an easy example to show.

I decided that my goal for today’s project would be to try to determine the most likely location that John M. Smith was living for the 1820 census since I believe there is literally a John Smith in EVERY 1820 census.

John M Smith


First, I made my strip for John. I have a lot of information for John, but it only spans a 9 year time frame. Because I have found John listed near 2 future in-law families in the 1826 and 1827 tax records, I decided to make strips for 3 generations for each of those families plus the other 2 sets of future in-laws who I haven’t done as much research on. I kept the color for each family the same. Luckily, the package of strips contains 5 different colors, so I can have John plus the 4 in-law families.



1820When I line up the strips for the key people in the 5 families, I can overlap them so that I am only seeing the year and the location. I find it quite interesting that all 4 of the in-law families were living in Wayne County in 1820. Would it be out of the question to think that perhaps John M. lived in Wayne County at that time as well?

I believe there are 4 different John Smiths in Wayne County around this time. I’ve collected deeds and tax records for every John Smith in Wayne County between 1815 and 1825 (when a portion of Wayne County became the area of Russell County that John lived in) but I have not had the time to transcribe and really analyze them. Before this, I didn’t know if I wanted to put that much time into a wild guess, but it seems like more of an educated guess now and I’m anxious to see what kind of information might be hiding in the records that I scanned, but haven’t read. I think I’ll also go back and collect deeds for each of the “in-law families”.

My next goal will be to see if I can match land records to tax records to see if I can rule out any of the John Smiths in the area because based on tax records, my John did not own any land at this time. I can see that for that task, it will soon be time to fire up the Excel program!!

Wish me luck!

Now where was I…

It’s been months since I’ve been able to look at my genealogy, but I have a couple of days now with some free time and I’m looking forward to digging back into my research! But when I pulled out my binder of research, I find that I’m at a loss as to where to begin.

While I will push through this time to figure out what I was working on last (and waste a lot of time going over things that I’ve already tried to figure out), I’m thinking that it would be helpful to have a “hint” as to what I was thinking the last time I did research. If I had a short form to fill out at the end of a research session, I could write to my future self provide that “hint”. But I know that if it is too complicated, I won’t take the time to do it. So what would I like to know right now before I start re-reading through my binder?

  • What theory am I currently trying to prove/disprove?
  • What piece of information am I trying to find?
  • What was the last resource I looked at?
  • If I had more time, what resource would I look at next?
  • If I only have a small chunk of time, it would be helpful to… (find the address for _____, organize the list of _____, look at the library web site and make a list of books about ______, etc.)

I have an electronic research log that I use for each person, so maybe these 5 questions could be added near the top of the log or as a cover sheet for the log.

For most researchers, I’m sure this is a “duh!” idea, but I tend to go over the top trying to make everything PERFECT, so this time, I need to focus on quick and efficient!

Genealogy Do-Over week 2 update

It looks like I’m going to have a fairly rare week-end free from appointments and long “to do” lists, so I hereby declare this a Genealogy Week-End! (Except for some football – GO COLTS!)

I was able to begin this afternoon and here is what I have accomplished:

  • I have set up a new folder in Dropbox for all “Do-Over” documents.
  • I have decided on the naming convention for all of my documents.
  • I have set up file folders within Dropbox. Here, I must confess that I had to go ahead and name the folders with all of the male names that I have in my current tree.  I had to do this because of the way my documents will be filed. As a document is scanned, it is placed into a folder and then when the document is entered into my Evidentia software, I can link to the file in that software. I can change the names of the folders later if I find that I have an incorrect set of parents, but I decided I’d better set them up now to keep everything consistent.
  • I have updated my blank group sheet file to include “Genealogy Do-Over” in the footer so that I don’t get confused with former group sheets.
  • I created a group sheet for myself and my husband. (Funny, I never took the time to do that before!)
  • I scanned birth certificates for myself, my husband and each of our children. All of these files have been saved in Dropbox.
  • I am in the process of entering those documents into Evidentia (and using them to learn how the program works!) I am transcribing each document as I go.
  • As the information is entered into Evidentia, a citation is created (which I’m not certain is completely correct at this point) and a link to the digital Dropbox file is added so that the document can be found easily.
  • Using the citation created, I am adding endnotes to each fact that I have in my group sheet.
  • I am in the process of creating a short biography, but I need to find the list of places that we have lived that my mother gave me several years ago. I believe it also contains a list of all the jobs that my father has had, so I think that will help me with my biography because my memory is soooooooooooooooo bad!

This week-end, I plan to begin a brand new tree in Ancestry and expand my group sheet collection and document scanning back 1 generation to my parents and my in-laws. I have decided that I will not upload digital documents to Ancestry for any living family members as I’m just not willing to take a chance with those. I will start my Research Log for each family and use it to begin researching.

Week 3 is supposed to be a research week, so I’m hoping to get a good jump on that this week-end just with my immediate family. The goals are to find/use a research log that you are committed to and then to begin researching to prove the “facts” that you have for your family so far.

I’m happy that I don’t feel totally overwhelmed at this point and that I was able to get caught up! This may be the only time I can say that, so I just wanted to get it out there for the world to see!


Genealogy Do-Over…Musings

Several days ago, I decided to begin a “Genealogy Do-Over” and as part of that, I joined the group on Facebook started by Thomas MacEntee. Part of week one’s assignment was to “set previous research aside”. In order to really have a “Do-Over”, I intend to start from scratch – completely from scratch. But it seems to me that as I read the messages from the Facebook group, there are far more messages about re-naming files and organizing files than there are about starting from scratch.

This totally surprises me! I certainly understand the desire to be organized – especially as we begin a new year. We all have that desire to organize everything in our lives at the beginning of a year! But I see far more reward, and far less “overwhelmingness” (if there is such a word) in really going through with setting my previous research behind!

So my plan is this: I will continue to gather all of my digital records into cloud storage folders. At this point, it will just be a “dump it all in there” and since I will being trying to follow Thomas MacEntee’s advice to “resist the tempatation to automatically consult these items, I’m not going to bother with re-naming them at this time.

I will begin a new tree on Ancestry – which is honestly the only genealogy “software” I’ve used in years. I don’t do anything with reports and I can always download a GEDCOM from Ancestry if I decide that I want to use some software to create a report. Instead, I will attach all of my files to my tee on Ancestry and I will use Evidentia to create the citations, which I will copy into the notes section for each file on Ancestry as well as putting them into the footnotes of the notes I write for each ancestor. After that, I will put digital documents into folders on my laptop using a consistent naming pattern. These files will be backed up in the cloud storage files I have created and duplicate files (“previous research”) will be deleted.

For the “Prepare to Research” step and the “Establish Base Practices and Guidelines” step, I’ve started a checklist of things to do with each file that I collect. I will try to stay very diligent about completing each step of my checklist before collecting additional files.

Week 2 will officially be complete this Friday and I believe I have a couple of days yet this week with a lighter work-load so I’m going to try to complete those tasks by the end of the week-end.  The first task is to conduct a self-interview. For this, I will add myself to my “Do-Over Tree” on Ancestry and I will scan and add my own birth and marriage documents and I will attempt to begin a mini-biography.

The 2nd task is to conduct family interviews. I am going to concentrate on information and files for my parents for now. All of my grandparents have passed away and my aunts and uncles have never been interested in sharing family stories, so for this, I will have to rely on stories I have already collected. My parents’ information will also be added to my “Do-Over” tree.

The final task is to set research goals based on the information collected from these “interviews”. I will be using my Excel Research Logs for this step. I will create Family Group Sheets for myself, my parents and my grandparents and I will begin to create a list of questions to research based on those.

I don’t believe I’ll be able to keep up this pace after this week, so I’m going to try to take advantage of my time now. It is a good feeling to have specific steps that I’m trying to accomplish rather than just saying “I’m going to do some genealogy” with a vague idea of an ancestor I’d like to find!

My Genealogy “Do-Over”


Thomas MacEntee issued a challenge a few weeks ago to work through the steps of a “Genealogy Do-Over” with him. This is a 13 week (or 13 milestones) project in which he is going to begin his family tree research totally from scratch in order to create a tree without the mistakes that we all make as beginning genealogists.  I’m a week behind in beginning this challenge and I’m quite certain that with my work load, I won’t be able to complete a challenge each week, so I’m going to consider this a 13 milestones project.  He has blogged about the challenge http://www.geneabloggers.com/tag/genealogy-do-over/ and formed a Facebook group which I have joined. There have already been lots of ideas and forms posted that group members have uploaded to Facebook in order to help everyone with the journey.

I love the idea of beginning totally from scratch, but I’ve never had the guts to do it. This may be the kick in the pants that I need!

So the assignments for Milestone 1 are:

  • Setting Previous Research Aside. The idea for this step is to be willing to “put it all away” and not to refer to it as you begin to research. He says that the only exception would be documents that took significant time or money to collect. Those items are only to be considered as absolutely necessary, but when you DO look at those records, you are only to look at the data itself – no post-it notes or handwritten notes in the margins. All digital files are to be moved to 1 central location which he is calling a HOLD area – just get them all into 1 location.  That is what I have been working on for quite some time now and will be my focus for this goal.
  • Preparing to Research. Thomas is using this step as an opportunity to think about how he has done research in the past including late nights or short spurts which means he isn’t thinking as clearly or isn’t completing a thorough job on a research topic. He is encouraging us to think through how we have researched in the past and what we might change. We might think of some “warm up” exercises that we might use in the future or making a list of items that we want to have on hand each time we do research.
  • Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines. In this step, we are to make a list of self-imposed procedures that we will commit to following as the research portion of the challenge begins. For me, this will mean coming up with the best way for me to keep track of my research (I’ve GOT to use the log I’ve created!) and citing my sources. One of my Christmas gifts from my son was a copy of the Evidentia software. I will be watching the videos to learn more about how to use it and I will use that to help me create my sources. I also plan to learn more about using Evernote to keep track of things I find online.

So that’s my plan for this week. I’ll try to post my updates as I complete each goal! I would love to have a genealogy buddy who would be willing to work as a team to keep each other accountable and to bounce ideas off of every once in awhile. Anybody interested?

Quite an Incentive to Research!

A few weeks ago, my husband mentioned an interest in researching his family. We’ve gone to the library together once to do some research together, but we’ve done the majority of our research online. His family immigrated from Germany in the late 1800’s, so it didn’t take too long to find that we’ve got to do some research in a foreign language – a daunting task.

In the meantime, we are trying to understand WHY his family would decide to come to America and so that has been the focus of our research. His family came from Northern Schleswig. We’ve always thought of them as German, but that’s not really accurate. After putting together a boundaries history with as many maps as I could, we found that for all but the last 4 years of their history there, they were considered to be a part of Denmark.

Now for me, doing research has always been all about filling in the blanks and finding every document possible for a family. But for HIM, it seems to be more about experiencing the history as much as possible for himself – which I LOVE! So when he started talking about taking a trip next summer or fall to the area that his ancestors are from – well, that puts a whole new spark in the research!

While doing the research, I finally took a break from simply collecting information and took time to try to understand what I have…what did the place names mean? A “state”, a “county”, or a city? It’s easy to set information aside to figure out later because it doesn’t make sense at the moment, but after studying for a bit, I discovered that I had more specific information than I thought. I do have specific cities for 3 generations of his direct line so I used Google Earth to see the towns where ancestors were born, married or died. All of them are within a 20 mile circle.

Sounds like a nice potential vacation spot to me! And quite an incentive to keep on researching!


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