Thursday, November 30, 2017

Researching Institutionalized Ancestor Records

Boston Almshouse
 Asylums and Almshouse Records
Family researchers will inevitably uncover an institutionalized ancestor battling insanity, feeble-mindedness, mentally disabled children, or other mental illnesses.. Although there were twenty United States mental asylums in existence in 1850,[1]  it was most common for almshouses to care for those with mental and physical disabilities as well as for the aging.  Almshouses, often referenced as “poor houses,” notably boarded old, distressed, ill, and insane citizens prior to 1880. By 1890 there were 162 mental hospitals.

Accessing Institutionalized Records
Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, NY
built betw. 1834-1839
Every state has statues specifying the distribution, and release of records of the institutionalized and mentally ill.  Prior to State Statutes, some state hospitals like Osawatomie, Kansas discarded the patients’ original files leaving perhaps just an index to past patients. The Kansas Statute 65-5603, specifies the information that can be released for family history research. "Examples include: dates of birth and death, dates of stay, names and addresses of family members. Medical information, including the DIAGNOSIS, is not open." 
Restricted State Records
When hospital records are not available, recreating an ancestors’ medical history is still possible. Gathering genealogical data using death certificates, military pension records, available probate records, or medical records submitted and filed with court cases, cemetery records, and local newspapers often yields sufficient data to understanding your ancestor’s medical history.[2]

Open State Records
Contrary to restricted states’ statues, many open-state records are accessible using digitized databases. For example the New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses from 1830-1920 may be retrieved from

10 Resources to Begin Your Search
Doctors notes from Osawatomie Kansas State Hospital
Filed in Civil War Military Pension Records
  1. wiki hosts a listing of historical asylums, almshouses, state hospitals, reform schools, private institutions and sanatoriums across America, “and around the world.”
  2. Census Records: In 1850, the Seventh Census of the United States enumerated insane persons, deaf and blind, and idiotic persons to include the Slave Schedules. “Deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, a pauper or convict patients were also noted on the 1860 and 1870 Federal Censuses. The 1880 census included “maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”
  3. Crime, Pauperism and Benevolence report created in 1890 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified the mental hospitals that housed part of the 91,997 USA insane population.[3]
  4. Database Catalog search using keywords “lunatic” “insane”, “blind” etc. on will also provide research resources for institutionalized patients.
  5. State Archives and Historical Society Records. Practically each state has collections or information on area asylums and almshouses.
  6. Court Records.  Divorce records, guardian records, and agreements for care by a state or facility may be located in these records.
  7. Will and Probate Records. Often names a guardian or person to care for the mentally (and physically) disabled.
  8. Military Pension Records. Often hold medical records for mental health patients.
  9. Cemetery Records Across the nation, patients were buried on the property of asylums, or at neighboring cemeteries.
  10. Death Certificates. Although lunacy was rarely noted, cemeteries, institutions and almshouses were named as resident or death place. 
Unearthing African American medical history records may be more challenging. Admitting ‘free coloreds’ to state poorhouses and insane asylums prior to the Civil War was not widespread but these records may be uncovered. Slave names were rarely provided, but ailing slaves (deaf, idiotic, etc) were identified by age, gender, and color. For more information, visit the Museum of disAbility History website.

Women’s Mental Health
Women were disproportionately committed to the State Hospital by disgruntled husbands. Insanity was often the argument used to dissolve a marriage. Researchers will discover cases of women being committed to asylums for alcoholism, dementia, “moral insanity” such as infidelity, contradicting a spouse or being too opinionated.

For more information, reference the following:

[1] Pg. 207,

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Living is Knowing - Secrets of DNA

As you know I'm hosting a new genealogy TV pilot about late discovery adoptees and reunions and the a3Genealogy DNA and a3Gen Private Investigative (PI) teams work tirelessly on adoption cases. Using DNA as a tool is so healing for so many!

I will be talking about, familytreedna, 23andme and MyHeritageDNA and others at the Topeka Kansas What's In Your DNA? workshop Nov 17-18. Here's the workshop schedule. Be sure to join me there. Take a look at this ABC Good Morning America video of a reunion. Can you image the conflicts, the questions, etc.?

This is a revised version of what posted to family and friends today:  
Holidays are coming and I want you to get gifts for a lifetime. Like a DNA kit. They are on sale now everywhere. Please test the oldest persons in your family on both father and mother side (that old uncle who talks with a mouth full of spit can spittle it right into the DNA kit tube). Test both parents if possible. If you want more suggestions on who to test and specific recommendations for your genealogy needs just drop me a note.
 Why? Because now you are busy working and coping with life. But one day you will stand up and ask yourself "Who in the world am I?"
 So, I’m saying the same to all of you: “Get a Thoughtful Gift!”

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chancery Court Record Research

Sally Grimes, daughter of Gabriel Winston
Another Brickwall 
Another brickwall was solved using chancery reports.  This was a case of which Johnson? Well it was Silas! We were able to prove kinship of the Johnson family in Howard County, Missouri to Virginia. All the children were named in grandpa's record since dad had died.  JOHNSON's.  The one family line we were not looking forward to tackling! This deserves the reprint.

Kinships Named: Parents and Maiden Names
As family researchers and genealogists, one of our common brick-walls is a result of the lack of resources to confirm kinships. Familiar relationships, parents’ names,  maiden names are all needed to complete family units, but what happens when we’ve exhausted all the normal resources - census, wills/probates, deeds, vital records, church records…etc.? Well, hopefully the researcher has not overlooked Chancery Records when they are available.

What are Chancery Court Records?
Chancery Court records hold a wealth of genealogical information. Although not necessarily a part of every states’ historical legal system, when available it will behoove the researcher to take more than a cursory glance at these genealogical-rich documents. Researchers will find personal testimonies that include family relationships. In some states (i.e. Virginia, Tennessee, etc) chancery court records are available from the early 18th century through early 1900’s. In Virginia alone there are over 233,000 multi-paged cases. More on Virginia Chancery Courts can be found at this informative piece on 

What is "Next Friend?"
Of course the key to understanding any court record relies on period vocabulary. In the Chancery Court record of Sally Grimes of Hanover County, VA vs. Joseph Grimes, Sally’s father Gabriel Winston is identified as both “father” and “next friend.”

A "next friend" can be considered the person who represents and speaks on behalf of the plaintiff. The next friend may be a parent, a guardian, an older sibling , etc.  By no means should the researcher assume it is a parent or even a relationship. We have uncovered many next friends proven not to be of blood relation.  In many cases the next friend is identified, removing the tempting guessing game and solidly identifying kinships. This is most useful, when also looking for a maiden name.  

Unlike many states, Delaware's "Court of Chancery" has survived since 1792.  Of course its roles, jurisdictions and litigation realms have been consistently updated to meet the needs of the court to include corporate litigation. Visit Delaware Courts for a quick history of the English Origins of the "Court of Chancery." 

As the times have changed, so has the role of the Chancery Court. In current day Mississippi Chancery Courts are the repository for land records.  Researchers will also find divorces, guardianships and wills in the Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Other states like Missouri, may boast of early records of the Chancery Court.  For St. Louis MO. Chancery Court Records may be found as early as 1811 to about the Civil War.  These records can be found at the Missouri State Archives. Like other states, Missouri researchers may find other counties with salvaged Chancery Court Records.  

Be sure to check FamilySearch Wiki for your state / county. 
(Updated from Chancery Court Records for Genealogy Brickwalls posted 3 May 2016).

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Indiana Genealogy & Local History Fair 2017

Thanks for attending.  
The presentations below were based on the Lecture Notes. I have included links to other writings and publications, but be sure to follow this blog (see rightside of page) to receive additional posts.  Also in the upper left you can search topics to see if there's an article that interest you in researching your veteran ancestor or other topics.

Finding Your Revolutionary War Soldier
Lecture Notes: Finding Your Revolutionary War Soldier
Visit here for HANDOUTS.

Additional Reading
1-2-3 Researching Revolutionary War Kentucky/Virginia
Analyze Lands of Virginia and Kentucky
Indentifying Revolutionary War Era Parents

Finding the Elusive Civil War Ancestor
Lecture Notes: Researching Your Civil War Ancestry (published by AARP)
Visit here for HANDOUTS:

Additional Reading
Provost Marshal Records
Confederate Tombstones
Illinois POW Camp Research (Part 1-4)
Where are Veteran Pension Files?
Another Confederate Resource

Here is the article referenced on researching mental health / insane asylum institutions.  There are hints applicable to all states: Researching Institutionalized Ancestors.

If you have questions email me at  Blog posts are based on your submitted questions (another reason to follow this a3Genealogy blog and my facebook page.

So follow me on Facebook. You will get additional posts and genealogy updates on your favorite topics.

Kathleen Brandt

Be sure to follow the a3Genealogy blog page to receive posts by email and follow the facebook page.  
Happy genealogy researching. 

Will see you soon! For more information:
Indiana State Library Genealogy & Local History Fair, 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Resources for Pennsylvania Research

Carnegie-Mellon University Campus
 Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
The a3Genealogy researchers have been laboring of late in Pennsylvania research.  First there was the migratory paths project from PA to the Missouri Rhineland research, and then a large Quaker Study media project. Right when I thought we were done with PA for just a short while, I labored over a resourceful article on researching almshouses and institutionalized hospitals, that is chocked full of tips to uncover your institutionalized ancestors in a “closed state.”  This article will be published in the upcoming Pennsylvania Legacies, Historical Society of PA and it also shares light on other states.  This has been our summer. 

Brickwall Horror Show

Then, to top it off we have two rather pesty brickwalls that demanded a visit to PA. They represent the horror shows of genealogy: name changes, early deaths, PA to MO migration in 1840’s, widows remarry, repeat family names, no marriages records (or wills, or deeds or court records) to identify parentage or dates. Yep, long on family folklore, short on proof.  But, we did add to our possible hint list as we visited some fun repositories. 

Our favorite in Philadelphia was the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Well that was just fun. Just scouring the card catalog opened our eyes to surnames and spelling options.  Ask yourself, how many ways can you really spell Barnds.  Oh, oh, I know.  There’s Barndz, Bards, Barnitz, Barns, Bard, and of course Barnes.  And yes, we found our subject using all those surname spellings.  There were Bible Records in books - great way to find a marriage.  Thank you Charles!  And, county books, that placed the family first in Lycoming and Clinton County vs Washington County PA.  It was here that we learned that Dunstable township changed counties and the family was very active in the United Methodist Church, not just the Lutheran / Episcopalian church of latter years.. That was just from the old fashion card catalog. But we still didn’t have answers to our critical objectives so off to Pittsburgh.

Church Reviews
Understanding PA German church structure/evolution is essential.  You will need to study this on your own before an undertaking like this but here’s a basic summary. 

Unscrambling Misconceptions
Dutch PA Church = German Reform church not Netherlands
Anabaptists = Amish, and Mennonites.  Think religious freedom but often poor records, with the occasional family bible.

Then you have the following:
Lutheran --àEvangelical Lutheran Church
Reformed --à United Church of Christ
Moravians --à Unitas Fratrum, “Unity of the Brethren”
Roman Catholics

More complicated than it needs to be, but your understanding of the church names and its evolution will solve half your battles and allow you to focus your research.  And, quite frankly from this you will know what to expect.  Whereas the top ones on the list have good records, I cannot say the same for early United Methodist Church records.  For success, you may need to snuff out the pastors in hopes of getting detailed pastoral records that may assist with your family’s migration within the state, and across the nation. 


If time is limited, as it was for me, you will want to surely visit the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society library located at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, next to Carnegie Mellon University.  (See comment below- corrected 2 Dec 2017). Here there were some great finds. 

It was here that I found more information on the Western PA Conference United Methodist Church (WPAUMC) and a few helpful resources like the Pastoral Records extracts.  This led me to the original church records needed also. 

The most delightful reference books however were the compilations of Deaths 1834-1855 and Marriages 1834-1855 and Marriages of 1856-1865 “gleaned from” The Pittsburgh Christian Advocate.

Other Resources
This research requires the genealogists to be heavily armed. 

  •         One of our favorite tools is the Methodism in Western PA 1784-1968 by Wallace Guy Smeltzer, D. D. Editor.  You may not only uncover your ancestor mentioned in the Ministerial Records, but also in various Appointments.
  •         Also,  the Western Pennsylvania conference United Methodist Church 1784-1986, provides Pastoral Appointments to Churches. 
All of our objectives have not yet been met, and we are still ferreting out hints to verify and confirm kinships, but answers are slowly trickling in. And where there was a solid brickwall, we are seeing rays of sunlight peeking through. 

Of course we had to add one more spelling of the name: Barndtz!

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Florida Territory Research

Florida Territory vs. Louisiana Purchase
Recently I showed the above map marked Florida Territory to show the complexity of where to go to unearth our Missouri  ancestors' documents.  A question from the floor was a common one, “Why does that map say Florida Territory?”  I didn’t quite grasp the meaning of the question and time was limited, but I explained that this was just a historical map to outline the complexity of Missouri when doing early genealogical research.  Later it was brought to my attention that most have forgotten the Florida territory and inadvertently lump it in with the Louisiana Purchase. Ah…this can be confusing and can inhibit the researcher from locating early ancestral documents.

From the Beginning
Missouri was the 24th state:10 Aug 1821.  Florida was the 27th state:3 Mar 1845. The Louisiana Purchase was in 1803, forty-two years before Florida became a state.  So Florida was NOT part of the Louisiana purchase. The Florida territory was ceded to the USA in 1819 by the Spanish even though colonization began in 1565 on the Florida peninsula – St Augustine.  Five million dollars of claims against Spain were assumed by the U. S. thanks to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and the Florida Purchase Treaty.  U. S. occupation began in 1821 and Florida became a U. S. territory in 1822.  Boundary disputes were relentless, but in 1845, Florida was admitted in the Union as a slave state.

Perhaps the confusion is that the Missouri Territory was known as the Louisiana Territory until 1812. The U.S. surrendered a great portion of the Missouri Territory to Spain in exchange for Spanish Florida. Or perhaps the confusion is due to the fact that The Floridas included West Florida and extended to the Mississippi and included New Orleans. The Louisiana Territory was to the west. Both were owned by Spain. Yes, it is all confusing.

Louisiana Purchase
From the Louisiana Purchase fifteen states were created: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

Where are the Records?
To research the Florida Territory, turn to Spanish Land Grants. Spanish Land Grants can be located on the State Library and Archives of Florida, the Florida Memory webpage and at the Library of Congress, World Digital Library. These grants were “land claims filed by Florida settlers from the 1821 transfer of the Florida territory to the U.S.  These grants cover 1783 to 1845, from the “Second” Spanish Period to the Territorial Period. Here, the researchers can find deeds, wills, correspondence, and more. 

1-2-3 What to Expect?
  1. Genealogical Information 
    Family names and ages, place of residents and more can be found in the Spanish Land Claims

  2. Land PlatThese documents help us unscramble family units and follow deeds and probates to connect family kinship.
  3. Land Claims - Some of these land claims are already translated.  Be sure to check the World Digital Library at the Library of Congress.  The claims read like a book.  They provide history of not only the land, but the families, migration information, and often provide place of origin. 
    Land Claim Gaudry
Other Resources
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) houses the following resources that may not yet be digitized:
·       Territorial Papers of the United States Senate, 1789–1873: Florida, 1806–1845
·       State Department Territorial Papers, Florida, 1777–1824: (RG59)
·       Territorial Papers (TP) of the United States: The Territory of Florida, 1821–1845.
·       Textural Records, RG233, House of Representatives Territorial Papers Collection: Colorado, Dakota, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa 1810-1872.  For Florida Territory, NARA Box 84-85 TP Box 278.

Researchers will also find eleven rolls of microfilm (M-116) that cover the State Department (RG59) Territorial Papers, Florida, 1777-1824 held at the National Archives, Atlanta.

So when researching early ancestors of this region, be sure to review the easily accessible Florida Territorial papers.  And know that you may wish to extend your research to the Louisiana Purchase and the Missouri Territory records. 

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

Monday, June 26, 2017

Creating a Tour to Walk Ancestral Lands

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Stepping on ancestral land
Wiley J. Morris Descendants Following Footsteps
For a3Genealogy clients we often are requested to plan Ancestral Land Tours after completing a thorough family genealogy and DNA tests results.  Sometimes these trip connect new cousins, sometimes, it's just 1) walking the grounds, 2) seeing the terrain, 3) collecting history from a local historian 4) visiting the old homeplace.  But, rarely is it all four.

3 Keys to Successful Tour
The family research should be thoroughly documented and supported before planning a trip.  The DNA should confirm the papertrail.  But the key to the 24 Jun family Rutherfordton, NC, tour of the Wiley J. Morris family was the local historian, Robin Lattimore. His connections to the local plantations, Historical Society, and involvement in historical building preservation opened doors to this tour group that would not have been available otherwise.

1) Importance of Local Historian
Image result
Book by Robin Spencer Lattimore
I met Robin years ago.  He had written books on the local plantations, and was helpful in uncovering the Morris free-coloreds siblings born between 1838 - 1850 through his court record index collection. Louisa Griffin who married Wiley J. Morris was a free-colored since the Revolutionary War.  Her five children fathered by then slave Wiley J. Morris were all born-free and originally used the Griffin surname.  But in 1855 Wiley J. Morris, a slave (and blood descendant from his slave master James Morris) was emancipated. Wiley J. Morris, a blacksmith and furrier, and wife Louisa and their 5 children were living free as a family unit by 1860. All were using the surname Morris in the 1860 census and thereafter.  Four of these 5 free born children however married slave descendants. So the descendants of Wiley J. Morris and Louisa include the Carson, Cox(e), Mills, and Millers, Bird, Gudger, Gross early Rutherfordton surnames and more. Read more at Wiley J. Morris Family, 1807.
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Luncheon at Green River Plantation B&B
As mentioned Robin Lattimore, the tour guide, was able to open otherwise closed doors for this ancestral tour.  After a luncheon at the fabulous B&B Green River Plantation (originally built by Joseph McDowell Carson), we were able to take a 42 room tour of the plantations. Some of these rooms would have been closed off, but Lattimore was a part of the restoration of this 1807 plantation so he could explain the artifacts, wall photos, family photos and original structure and function of the 13,000 square foot plantation house, and he had close ties to the Cantrell family. We were able to visit with Amanda Cantrell one of the current owners of the plantations. Her parents purchased the plantations in the 1980's.  And lunch was delish! If you are wanting a tour of Green River Plantation be sure to book Robin Lattimore.

2) Be Flexible for Secret Opportunities
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Morris Descendants and Family
Our tour was for 25 Morris descendants, small enough group to be flexible, and WERE THEY FLEXIBLE!. So much more could have been seen from the bus, but the itinerary was thrown out the window on our next scheduled stop.  Robin had gained permission for the tour bus to go on the private lands of the original Morris Fox Haven plantation as a short stop.  We were given permission to walk around - what a beautiful view-  and even walk up the porch.  We thought that was generous from a person who owned private lands and was not a Morris.

We knew Wiley J. Morris, born 1807, was a slave and was skilled as a blacksmith on this plantation. We know his three sons were born free, but worked as blacksmiths on this and neighboring plantations.  We know they lived on the original lands as free-coloreds on this plantation. And thanks to DNA, we know they were blood-kin to the white Morris slaveowners.  So to walk the grounds was a blessing.
Fox Haven Plantation
But, there's more!  Robin had made all arrangements with the private owner of the plantation, who unexpectedly opened the door to the Morris Fox Haven plantation and welcomed us in to a full tour of the plantation home ( again, given by Robin). No rooms were closed off.  The plantation house was smaller but still great! We were able to visit with the current owner (name purposefully withheld here). This was the Broad River land that named the "mulatto" Morris family on the 1860 census. Robin pointed out where the slaves were buried (now located on other private lands.) We doubled our scheduled time here at Fox Haven, because this was a once in a life time opportunity.

3) Supporting Local Historical Societies
Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature    
Our last stop was to be a shopping stop on Main St. of Rutherfordton.  But that was scrapped. Again, Lattimore made quick plans. He wanted us to visit the 1848 St. John Church, the oldest church structure in Rutherford County that the Carson, Morris, Coxe slaves and free-coloreds built. The slaves and blacks of the community traditionally worshiped here on Saturdays even though nowadays, it's closed on Saturdays. But we are grateful to Lesley Bush of the Rutherford County Historical Society for opening the doors for us with historical and plantation books, DVDs, and Christmas ornaments available to purchase after our historical review of the structure.  No one missed the rather quiet Main St shopping stop, and appreciated getting books signed by Robin Lattimore the author of about a dozen Fox Haven and Green River books that covered the plantations of Rutherford County as well as the PBS documentary that he did on the Bechtler Mines. His books covered all the lands that the ancestors worked on or were enslaved until their departure from Rutherford County in 1869.

This is What Family Is About
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Isaiah and Sisters
One young man on the trip from Kentucky had never met his half sisters. They only knew each other through Skype (face-time). But when the sisters who lived in NC and SC learned their little brother was coming within driving distance, they surprised him by joining this family reunion. Oh, we all witnessed the best instant family bonding that one has seen. Isaiah was overjoyed, and his sisters were the best. My last pic of them was him sleeping on the way home with his head on one of their shoulders.  Too personal to post here, but I'm sure readers can feel the sentiment and love!

Other Notes on the Trip
1) the tour bus air-conditioner went out about 30 minutes shy of the first plantation. The tour bus driver from Charlotte to Rutherfordton was able to meet the owner of Silver Fox Limousines and there was a bus exchange midway while we were eating lunch.  The bus driver returned and still had time to eat lunch and wait for us to finish up our tour.  Thank you Randy! By the time we got to Fox Haven, Randy joined us on the tour. He too was intrigued.
2) upon returning to Embassy Suites in Charlotte exhausted and exhilarated  from our all day tour (pick up at 10; return at 6) the group did a spontaneous dinner at Queen City Barbeque in Charlotte to rewind.  All 25 members, ages 11 to 89 were present (without reservations). This restaurant quickly opened up their private party room for us.  Food was good and service superb. Thanks to our servers!

Happy Ancestral Footsteps!
Kathleen Brandt

Thanks to all of the family pics - Dwight Brown, Cathy Crumbley and John B.