Monday, February 22, 2021

Genealogy - Abstinence & Temperance Society Records

Abstinence & Temperance Society &Genealogy?
In researching in the small town of Washington, Clinton County, Iowa, I stumbled upon the St. Patrick’s Total Abstinence Society information which held records that I was unsuccessful in locating elsewhere. The St. Patrick's Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society, founded in Montreal, 23 Feb 1840, was reportedly the first Roman Catholic temperance society in North America, but it soon found its way across America. 

Membership, membership withdrawal, transfer records from one society chapter to another should not be overlooked. In 1836 alone, the American Temperance Society had over 170 thousand members. Presumably over a million members were recorded in less than two years. The St. Patrick’s Total Abstinence Society, with overwhelming Catholic members is just one type of an abstinence society or union that researchers may find between 1866 - 1884. The Clinton County St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society located in Center Grove, IA came about in 1875. 

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (or PTAA) is said to be an Irish organization for Roman Catholic teetotallers. This present day organization as founded in 1898.  (Genealogical note: the term Pioneer was often used synonymously as teetotallism among Irish Catholic in the 20th century).  

From Ireland to USA - Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not

From The Glasgow Story Website

The goal was to practice total abstinence from alcohol and  spoke against imbibing and highlighted the medical issues. According to the History of the Total Abstinence Union of America, published by Penn Penn Printing 1907, pg. 11, the US temperance movement began as early as 1676 in Virginia when the first prohibitory act was passed.  This Irish Temperance movement was initiated in Cork, Ireland, April 1838, by the "Apostle of Temperance" the Franciscan priest Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856).  Yet, the first temperance society was found in the USA, 1780, Litchfield, CT. As mentioned, active societies were filled with our ancestors not only in rural Iowa and small communities; but it spread across America, Ireland, Scotland, England, etc. 

American Memory Collection, An American Time Capsule, Library of Congress

The Catholic Temperance had a national scope. In 1865 there were twenty two temperance organizations, mostly concentrated in New England. Some suggest this a drop of membership due to the Civil War (one may have needed a drink?) It is found that the popularity of these societies was not consistent. In 1872 Massachusetts had "twenty-two societies devoted to temperance, and New York twenty four that year. Read more: The Organization of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, 1866 -1884, James Green.

Not Just Irish Catholic
Unassociated but also targeting the same membership, mostly Irish Catholics, were the Shamrock Society, The United Sons of Erin Benevolent Society and the Fenian Brotherhood. 

The Temperance Meeting did not stay confined in the Irish communities. Groups and societies served all people. For example, there was the Rochester Colored Total Abstinence Association, 1841 and many others, especially in the New England states.  

There was also the Protestant Episcopal Church Temperance Society established in the U.S. A. in 1881. 

5 Starters to Finding Records
Researchers must keep a keen eye for ancestors in church records, state and county archives, and local genealogical and historical societies to unearth ancestors in this collection. Members of the Temperance Societies took an oath. In addition to membership, members also withdrew membership leaving a record trail. Although these records are not centralized researchers will want to scour state and county repositories. 

  1. State Historical Societies. The following Wisconsin's Sons of Temperance member, Frederick Beermein, was issued his 1857 stating he had asked to be withdrawn.

  2. Obituaries. These obituaries not only provide ancestral information but it may also define community. 
    In memory of George Farrell It is with feelings  of the most profound and  sincere regret that we pen the following tribute in memory of our departed friend, George Farrell, who died on Friday morning, March  24th, age fifty-two years,  after a long and painful illness from which  he suffered much, but  bore it with christian fortitude and resignation,  declaring himself resigned  to the will  of the Most High. George was dearly beloved by all who knew him.  Previous to his death  he was attended  by the Rev. Father Garland,  and received the last rites of the church, of which he was a devoted member  during life.  He was a  member of St.  Patrick's  Catholic Total Abstinence Society, of  Center Grove,  which  turned  out  in  full regalia  to  attend the funeral  on Sunday.  
    (History of Clinton County, IA, 1879 Chicago: Western Historical Company, pg815, Washington Township). 
  3. Newspapers. Local newspapers often provided names of officers and members. The 27 May 1875 Intelligencer newspaper of Anderson South Carolina posted the following:

    Anderson, SC,

  4. Church Records. Some parishes still hold society membership books.

    Hastings Museum, NE

  5. State and County Archives and Museums. Be sure to search regionally.  Your ancestor may have had a transfer from one "chapter" to another. 

Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt
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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Researching Railroad Ancestors

Locations of Railroad Genealogical Materials, James Sponholz

Finding Railroad Genealogical Records
Our railroad ancestors crossed America for their work and can often be difficult to trace.  This blog is twofold.  1) provide tips and hints to records that may assist with tracing these transient ancestors 2) encourage DNA testing.  A DNA surprise was the impetus for this blog.

 The a3Genealogy Research Team discovered through DNA exactly where a client’s grandfather disappeared to because he was the “head of househould” for two additional households along the railroad track line. He appeared under slightly different spellings of his names, but DNA proved him to be the same man. Two of the wives divorced him for abandonment; but upon his death the third wife was subjugated to a Poor Farm. Court records suggested he was presumed dead. Of course once the bloodline was proven, these three groups of descendants connected.  Know that this story is repeated in American history, as DNA has identified many second families that resulted from the moveability of the railroad workers.

Where to Start
To begin this research the timeframe and place of employment is important.  If your ancestor worked for a pensioned railroad, you are probably in luck.

Railroad Pension Records.  

The U. S. Railroad Retirement Board Resources held at the National Archives (NARA) - Atlanta can be access by the public if they do not violate the restrictions (see link above.). The Midwest Genealogy Center, Mo, as well as and other accessible databases host an index of the inactive pension claims from the U. S. Railroad Retirement Board (1936 -2010).  This only holds persons whose employers were covered under the Railroad Retirement Act.

Pullman Employee and Retirement Records. The Pullman Porters, all called “George” were ex-slaves who worked on the George Pullman luxury railcars. Pullman also hired maids and other people for attendant jobs. To learn more about Pullman Porters read this article from

The Newberry of Chicago holds the large collection of Pullman Employee Records. This record collection includes operating company workers: porters, maids, commissary attendants, conductors, shop workers, yard force workers, clerks, and manager. Of course, the registration with the Railroad Retirement (1937 - 1960’s) may also be located within The Newberry collection. 

Be sure to also peruse Jim Sponholz’ overview of other Pullman Company resources. 

The Chinese and the Iron Road book will give Asian American researchers a great foundation for the cultural and social complications that have resulted in missing records and undocumented workers. 

But, it is possible to reconstruct your ancestor’s travails and accomplishments. Our researchers usually start with scouring the NARA branches, especially NARA - San Bruno if your ancestor worked the railroads out west. also offers articles, videos and a listing of its Chinese Railroad Workers’ collections. 

National Archives at Atlanta holds the original Railroad Retirement Board collection of To 1.5 million worker claims’ files. Researchers can access this records directly from the Archives.  Email as much of the following information about the claimant or pensioner as possible”:

  • First Name, Middle Name/Initial, Last Name
  • Railroad Retirement Board Claim Number
  • Social Security Number
  • Year of Birth
  • Year of Death 
However, the family researchers may be looking for exactly this information (date of birth, social security number to obtain an SS5, etc).  Or, the researcher may be looking for documents to unscramble commonly named family units, i.e. William Smith. Often, the death date, or additional information like the wife’s first name, children’s names are known. But, additional information may be obtained from these retirement claims. 

We all love it when one collection uncovers siblings, a wife’s maiden names, parents' names, or our ancestor's movements from one state to another, etc. This may be possible in the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB records), but several steps may be needed to pinpoint YOUR ancestor's claims.

Midwest Genealogy Center (MGC) Quick Look
Here researchers will find a 1936 - 2010 index of the Railroad Retirement Board claims.  When ready to submit a request, it can be done with a touch of a button. But, we suggest you use first, if applicable. The index, presently covers 1934-1984, but, more information is abstracted for the researcher. With only the name, and date of death, determining which “H Brandt,” was the correct one was pinpointed using both and requesting via MGC Quick Look. and MGC Quick Look Index side by side

By going through Railroad Pension Index,  the correct “H Brandt,” was located because the ancestor was known as Henry Albert Brandt (early census record). By returning to the Midwest Genealogy Quick Look, a request for record was submitted using the ancestry 1972 death date. This process avoided copying costs of the incorrect “H Brandt,” from the archives’ collection. Copy charges are incurred from the archives not Midwest Genealogy Center. As you can see, Henry Brandt, born Jul 1878 in Iowa, died in CA in 1972.

What Will Railroad Retirement Claims Tell Us?

Vital Records: In addition to a birth or death date, pension files provide other family information.  Oh and for proof of eligibility, death certificates in the ancestor's RRB claim can also be had. 

Marriage(s): Researchers may discover why that the marriage record was never located.  In this case, Edward had a “common law” marriage, but also affidavits from family and neighbors as to the date and location of the union.

Family: Like most pension claims, family names or at least beneficiaries can be validated along with other proofs of kinship - parents, spouse, maiden names, siblings and children. Addresses or location of each person can also be uncovered. 

Other Resources

US Migration Railroads

Researching Old Railroads and Railway Records,

The Directory of North American railroads, associations, societies, archives, libraries, museums and their collections

Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc

National Railway Historical Society

US Occupations finding Railroad Records

United States Occupations Finding Railroad Records (National Institute)

Research Come Up Empty?
We know your ancestor my have worked for the early railroads across America or they may have not been enrolled (or eligible for) the Railroad Retirement plan.  This compilation by Jim Sponholz offers historical and genealogical resources by location and railway to fill in those holes. Although not complete, Sponholz has uncovered a wealth of resources. Be sure to look for your ancestor in the scanned books for your area. Visit Locations of Railroad Genealogical Materials, January 28, 2021 Jim Sponholz. 

Many of our blog posts are pre-scheduled. In spite of the NARA branches being locked down, our thoughts are hopeful. Researchers can began to plan and are able to begin gathering information on our railroad ancestor data. Come "late spring (yes I'm hopeful), we will have our Research Plans ready to go.  Join me in wishing the repositories to all open safely in a few months. 

Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt
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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Researching Disappeared Cemeteries?


Lebanon, PA, Aug 1992

9 Hints & Tips to Unearthing the Interred
Although the following hints and tips below are relevant for the general reader, know that in honoring Black History Month, this post emphasizes African American examples.  The hints and tips, research collections and repositories, are used for our Irish, German, Swedish, etc. as well as African American ancestors.  Each community and era had its own set of circumstances and influences that shaped disappearing burials. 

Was your Ancestor Buried on Church Grounds
Below I have put an examples of an early lost Freedmen Cemetery in New Orleans, and an example of an unknown Swedish Cemetery in Hickory County, MO. 

As mentioned, the repository search strategies are similar. For example, the location of both churches are unknown. The sacrament’s record books, to include deaths & burials, may have been held in the home of the ministers or held in the home of heirs. The obituary and death records name the  “Sweed [Swede] Cemetery.” Yet, the cemetery no longer exists.  It appeared to be incorporated in the Fairfield Cemetery. The location is sketchy.

May 1868, New Orleans

This is the same scenario is often found when research a Slave Cemetery, African Cemetery, Freedmen Cemetery, Colored Cemetery, Black Cemetery or Negro Cemetery. Same cemetery but naming depends on the era. Was the cemetery grown over or was it cemented over in place of the new interstate or a shiny building? What was the norm? Were the burials removed and / or reinterred? This is not to say an occasional cemetery from any group could have been co-oped into the city limits but the recovery of the burials, as a norm, may have differed.

From Slavery to about WWII
Like many towns in America, cemeteries should be assumed to have been segregated across America until the late 1960’s. Often researchers will find a “black interment section” in the local cemetery - dedicated for the black locals. 

Prior to the Civil War, deceased slaves and free coloreds were often buried on the land of a slaveholder.  Free coloreds may have been buried with the slaves of an employer or a white benefactor, if not in a plot of a local cemetery or a church plot dedicated for freed black citizens. 

Researchers may cross a Freedmen Cemetery in the books, newspapers, old court documents, etc.  However, in spite of pinpointing the noted plat usually through deed tracing, the cemetery no longer stands in its purported location. Many times there is no proof that a cemetery ever existed.  The Freedmen’s Cemetery of old may have been paved over for an interstate, the expansion of the city roads, or a building, etc. 

One notion that must be considered in research is that a cemetery may appear too small for the number of burials.  Know that often coffins were stacked underground.  The north and south engaged in this practice. There was a horrifying story about a 4 layer cemetery, often with no coffins in Pennsylvania. Other cemeteries were just upended for modernization; and the bodies were not removed or reinterred. 

Colonial People of Color – the North

The Ancient Burying Ground Association of Connecticut uncovered stories of interred people of color: both African Americans and Native Americans. The Ancient Burying Ground Association proved  many of these early colonists also served in the Continental Navy for their freedom and the freedom of this nation. 

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Weston, MO

We are seeing similar efforts across America. Recently Weston Missouri identified and memorialized 400 ex-slaves buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Fort Scott, Kansas has recently launched similar efforts for the “colored” Mayhew Cemetery.  

How to Research the Disappeared Burials?
Where and how to locate missing cemeteries can be challenging when the graves no longer exists, the cemeteries were removed, and records were never maintained. Here are a few tips to reconstruct your ancestor’s final resting place:

Mayhew Cemetery, Ft. Scott, KS

  1. Wilkes-Barre, PA May 1933
    Death Certificates and Obituaries
  2. Newspaper Search: be sure to check the black newspapers of the closest cities. Hutchinson, Kansas black residents, often posted in The Call paper, Kansas City, or the black Topeka, KS paper, and even the Tulsa or Oklahoma City black papers.  Whereas only a death notice was posted in the local Hutchinson, KS paper the idea was to reach relatives who lived and worked in the larger cities.
  3. Church Records, if applicable
  4. Land Deeds: tracing the land deeds may give the researcher the inheritance of the church land which may lead to hints of who may have church records, or any court records associated with constructing on top of the cemetery burials. This was the case with a small black cemetery in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  5. Archives and Historical Societies: be sure to check State and County repositories
  6. Funeral and Coroner Records: newer funeral homes may still house a previous owner’s records. Coroner records may still be held at the local courthouse.
  7. Sexton Records
    The Sexton and Gravedigger in Anthony Kansas opened a book and flipped to the early burials  of the black citizens. Matter of fact, he was the only one who knew the location of every unmarked plot.
  8. Estate Records (of slaveholders or heirs). They may not tell where your ancestor is buried, but it will help narrow when the died. This is seen when a minor was to inherit a slave, but by they time the heir became of age the slave died. The family noted this tragedy (the heir not getting a slave) and managed to come up with an acceptable solution.
  9. Military Records and Pension Files may include where a soldier was interred
Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt
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Monday, February 1, 2021

Why Would White Ancestors Identify as Black?

1909 Virginia

Racial Confusion in Ancestors?
We have all heard of black people passing for white. This more-frequent-than-thought practice was usually to take advantage of otherwise closed doors. That closed door may have been a a railcar door, a front door, a job door, the door to the nearby loo…you get the picture. In passing as white a person who chose to do so often lost as much as they gained. They no longer could associate with the family they left behind. Their new family, presumably white, would never know about their childhood, their life experiences were not shared, and they lived with a secret that would eventually become generational. Of course, DNA is revealing some of those generational secrets.

But, why would a white person identify as black? Through the years, this discussion has risen. Most curious is when the someone "white" is enumerated on early census records as "white" but on a later military record as “black.” Through genealogy, the newly “black” person can be proven as the white son or brother of a white family from a different parish or a different state. The practice of reclassifying one's race in America can be seen as early as the 1740's.

One Drop Rule

One of the more common reasons of racial identity change was due to the one drop rule. Due to the one drop rule ancestors who were once white were newly classified by a codified state law as black. Yes, this was one of the many new laws imposed during the Jim Crow Era: 1910 in Tennessee, and Virginia before spreading to other states. But as we know, this was not new. Laws that forbade sex across color line laws existed in 1662 (Virginia). And, 12 of the 13 colonies forbade racial intermarriage by 1776.

So regardless of appearance, one drop of black blood, inherited from a faraway ancestor, would result in "Black"(Negro) classification. Read Who is Black? One Nation’s Definition by F. James Davis, PBS.

This leaves us today with  cases of descendants who appear to belong to the “white” race; yet, identify as black. And, their self-identification, despite their several generations of white ancestors, have maintained and asserted their identity as “black.”

The story of Clarice Shreck, one of Thomas Byrd’s ancestors, reveals Thomas was “the last known full blooded black person in her family.” Her parents, like themselves, identified her as “Negro” on the birth certificate.” Byrd’s descendants, like any other identity-fluid family, are divided into fractions;  one first cousin identifies as Native American, the other as Black. The eight children of one descendant do not agree on their racial identity: only three identify as Black. Four identify as Catawba Indian, and one as White. Read about this East Jackson, OH family and residents in the Guardian: They look white but say they’re black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race.

Plaçage and miscegenation

1911 Miscegenation
Another reason a white ancestor may have begun identifying as black was due to outlawing the practice of Plaçage. Plaçage was tolerated in colonial America where European men, especially the French and Spanish, freely joined in civil unions with people of color. But later this practice became frowned upon. Researchers will very often see these civil unions in the Louisiana Territory and Missouri Territory; but also noted in  Illinois Country.  Although this practice was once tolerated, new state laws against miscegenation may have forced otherwise white Americans to identify as black. Identifying as black would allow one to stay with their mixed-race family in the community where miscegenation was illegal.  In addition to white men in civil unions with women of color, Paul Heinegg’s study identifies court documents where mixed-race children were born to free colored men and a white women. These early practices can be seen from the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, to Delaware. Again, researchers may find proof of these unions in colonial and territorial records to include the Territory of Missouri.   

If you have traced creole families in Louisiana using parish records, or analyzing Father Hebert's Acadian - Cajun church records, researchers will identify racial generational changes supported by court records and legal document research. Outlawing interracial unions and cohabitation were mandated by state laws resulting in severe penalties if violated. It is presumably due to this law and its associated penalties that an otherwise white ancestor would identify as black. Later mixed-race children from these unions left children not only light enough to pass for white; but tanned enough to marry black. This may again resulted in some of the children identifying as black as siblings identified as white. 

Census Record Issues

And remember, if a white man was cohabitating with a woman of color (legally or not) genealogical researchers may find the entire family remarked as “black/Negro/colored” in the census. Consider a teenage child or wife of color who answered the census taker's knock. The question of "
is the whole family colored?" was not asked. Census takers were instructed to note color. In most cases it was assumed to be a "one race family." 

Where to Research to Solve Race Confusion?
If a conflict of family racial origin arises, be sure to become familiar with 1) the law 2) the community racial tolerance 3) the various repositories in your state of interest. Researchers may begin with the State Historical Society and the County Courthouse.

  1. Court Records will reveal community complaints, county court cases, legal bonds, and penalties.
  2. Census Analysis. Most of our ancestors made mistakes along the way. A census record may denote one race, whereas a military record may state another. 
  3. DNA.  Family secrets may be revealed by tying DNA with good genealogical research
  4. Church records.  Especially in early territory and colonial records, racial answers can be uncovered. 
  5. Bastardy Bonds. These can be revealing.  Of course, if there is an associated court record, not just the warrant, be sure to pull the originals. (Will blog about these later.)
    1802 Plaçage: County Court Records: Will - Esther with Jacques Clamorgan for abt. 14 years; 
    Bequeathed money and land to mixed-race son "blue eyed" Tom with "strait white hair "
    Siblings chose black or white

  6. Wills.  Amazing how many openly bequeath land, property and assets to their mixed race children.  But the key is to trace backward.  Was this land passed down by a white family to a child who years later identified as black? Read the Clamorgan story.
  7. Land deeds. Tracing property and land deeds may prove racial changes if supported by other documents and research (i.e. family correspondence, city directories, sale of land, etc). 
Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt

Thursday, January 28, 2021

DNA vs mRNA for Genealogists

DNA is still at the forefront of family historians. The use of DNA for investigative and family lineage, and medical / genetic genealogy is a daily tool to identify and advance our family lineage. We already know the language (CGAT, CGAT. CGAT, etc); we know how to use tools to discern answers, when possible, we already have our favorite database tools. We love it.  

And then the world falls in love with little brother mRNA. Yes, we knew messenger mRNA existed; but only in the shadows of our mind. Remember that one course? It appears mRNA has become the Covid19 Hero.  For genealogists that's like saying Robin's importance surpassed that of Batman.  

So to give mRNA respect, the a3Genealogy team thought we'd post the above video. As you review the video we also have provided a few key tips that will accelerate your mRNA street cred: 
DNA vs RNA - Similarities and Differences
  1. DNA is the acronym for Deoxyribonucleic Acid; mRNA is messenger Ribonucleic Acid. Both are nucleic acids; but yet, not the same. I suggest looking up the difference of deoxyribose vs. ribose. My rudimentary understanding is for the purpose of genealogy and interest in medical science. I would have to talk about tRNA, rRNA, and miRNA / siRNA, etc. which is out of the scope for this blog.

  2. DNA as we are accustomed of seeing is a double-stranded DNA; RNA is a single stranded module

  3. DNA transcription, ais through the nucleotide bases CGAT; RNA translation CGAU.  So this is the explanation we like: "DNA encodes your genes, RNA job is to instruct how those genes get expressed. RNA reads DNA. And so it is!

  4. When talking about the Covid-19 vaccines a subtype of RNA - mRNA or messenger RNA - is what carries the DNA information to create proteins. The proteins (instruction to cell) is what makes changes in the body via (in our pandemic case) vaccines. Yes, that is simplified, but I'm not attempting a dissertation or medical paper.  

Covid-19 mRNA Vaccine
Bless their hearts.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a whole gob of information on the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine.  But, they failed to put in pictures.  We need pictures (with bright colors, I might add). So let me summarize: 

The Conversation

mRNA vaccines provide instruction to our cells for making a protein.  This protein triggers an immune response that promotes the development of antibodies. So now with the instruction already in our bodies, the antibodies protects us from getting infected should "the real virus enter our bodies" (CDC). 

MIH Director's Blog

Since it's only the instruction, this is harmless to our DNA. Actually mRNA can't even combine with our DNA to change the genetic code. Plus, it's short lived. It's a "messenger," that hangs around for about 72 hours before being degraded. (Article)

Quick Vaccine?
By the way, the reason the mRNA vaccines were quicker to develop and test is because scientists already knew how to manipulate the instructions. The flow from DNA transcription to manipulating mRNA to form the protein needed for a vaccine had already been explored. This process and the development of mRNA vaccines had already been studied for cancer, rabies, and ways to trigger the immune system. what was needed for the Covid - 19 was to target the vaccine instructional detail for this pandemic virus.  

Rudimentary, yes. But this is DNA - mRNA for Genealogists! Follow us also at the DNA for Genealogists Flipboard page.  
(Please advise if there are any errors).  

Be Historically Correct  

Kathleen Brandt 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Poor, Insane, & Abandoned (PIA)


Fulton, MO Insane Asylum
White Inmates (1863); Colored Inmates (1865)

Researching Poor Farms, Home for the Friendless, and Asylums
They came to America and they were poor.  Or, she was divorced, deserted, and penniless. What about the children? A client mentioned today “I know they had almshouses, poor houses, and insane asylums in New York and in the eastern states. She continued, “I’ve heard about them in the south too like in South Carolina and even in Virginia.”But,” she said, “they didn’t exist in the Midwest. We took care of our own.”

Double Take…WHAAT!?!!? What history is that? Although true, NY was stuffed full of benevolent societies, poor farms, the Home for the Friendless, asylums and almshouses, but these havens for the paupers and homeless cross America from NY to Oregon. The Midwest too had them to house and hopefully protect, feed and care for our ancestors. Many of the buildings still stand. Have you checked the history of that old jailhouse or workhouse in your ancestor's county? Let’s explore how to find your PIA ancestral records.  Yes, PIA is coined by a3Genealogy - Poor, Insane, and Abandoned.

Where Did They Go and Who Supported Them?
For today we are only going to tackle Asylums, Poor Farms and Home for the Friendless. For additional information you may wish to review Orphanages, Almshouses and Researching Institutionalized Ancestor Records

State Asylums for the Insane

Most asylums were state run, but others, like today, were ran by religious groups or private benevolent groups. Asylums weren't just for adults. Many took in children. In Chicago, Illinois there was a Catholic Orphan Asylum as early as 1849, and a Jewish Orphan Society in the 1890’s. Other groups also took in children. 

Many county almshouses across America had a “colored” ward.  Most often this ward was in the same building, but housing and care was segregated. 

In Missouri the Fulton Insane Asylum, (one of four), began caring for colored inmates as early as 1865, within a few years after its opening. These Asylum records are still held at the facility.

Knowing how to obtain the records can be tricky. In Missouri, ancestral patient records may require a written request through the court. Like Missouri, the need to conduct family history research and genealogy is most often accepted as a reason to obtain ancestral patient records. I've also had great luck in other states like Pennsylvania. An alternative is to review the County Court Minutes, County Clerk Records, or those of the County Registrar. 

Poor Farm
A poor farm may be known by many words: poorhouse, poor asylum, county farm, county infirmary, or the county home. Indiana, Switzerland County had a Poorhouse in 1832. Benton County Arkansas had one of the early state poorhouses, 1858. The idea was to make every county responsible for their own paupers and “misfits.” 

Be sure to check online databases and resources. The Multnomah Oregon County Farm records can be found digitized on Other’s may be held within State Archives or within the former facility.

Home for the Friendless 
The oldest Home for the Friendless in the USA known to the a3Genealogy crew is New York’s 1847. This Home for the Friendless was constructed by the American Female Guardian Society. 

In St. Louis Missouri Charlotte Charless established a Home of the Friendless in 1853. This Home offered relief for elderly women, widows, and destitute women.

Remember, there were also Home for the Friendless who took in children in the 19th century.St. Paul, MN had a Home for the friendless that sheltered women and children as early as 1867.

14 Sources to Ancestral PIA Documents
Again, we don’t want the researcher to forget the women. So here’s a hint. Your female ancestor may be found under convent care. The a3Genealogy team recently found a Swedish ancestor ensconced in an Illinois Catholic convent. She was determined insane by the court.

Remember your research must cover both county and state repositories and records to uncover these ancestors. It's not an easy search, but it can be quite rewarding. 

1. County Court Minutes

8. Guardian Records

2. State Archives

9. State Historical Societies

3. Deed Books

10. Church Records

4. Death Certificates

11. Benevolent Society Records

5. Warrants

12. Hospital Records

6. Divorce Records

13. Wills

7. Newspapers

14. Convent Records

Be Historically Correct  

Kathleen Brandt