Friday, August 26, 2011

Gold Rush by Sea - Researching Your Ancestor

Routes East to California
From East Coast to California  by Sea
We are all familiar with wagon trains - the overland trips of trials and tales of our ancestors. But not all of our ancestors traveled by wagon trains to California.  Many traveled by ship; over 15,000 people in 1879.[1]  Perhaps one of your ancestors took this route to the west coast. Like researching Wagon Trains 1840-1860 our westward bound ancestors who traveled by sea, diligently wrote diaries and letters.  Panama and west coast newspapers reported arrivals of passengers and hotel visitors. There are many other avenues to tracing the steps of your ancestor.

Sea vs. Land
The Panama Canal did not accommodate ocean vessels until 14 Aug 1914.  Before the canal gold-seekers and travelers from the east coast had 3 routes to get to California from New York: 1) a trip from 70 days to 5 months around Cape Horn  2) to Panama and crossing the isthmus by land 3) overland.

The voyage by sea was not necessarily easier than overland, but a preferred option between 1848- 1873 for those who traveled light. It was also favored since a shorter voyage than rounding the Horn.

Many Ancestor's Crossed Isthmus by Sea
This route was not reserved for East-coast travelers. Many from the Midwest would take passage down the Missouri River to the Mississippi to New Orleans. From there they would catch a ship going to California.

Like the challenges of the wagon trains, the migration to California through Panama did not lack challenges of its own when crossing the Isthmus.  This was an expensive route and the passengers had to travel light, leaving their belongings behind. 

Passengers had to get off the steam boats at the mouth of the Chagres River, 75 miles away from the closest town, and pay passage to locals to be chartered in smaller canoes (cayucas or bungos) to the town of Chagres or Las Cruces.  From there, travelers hired mules or walked the 25 miles to to Panama City for a ship on the West coast of Panama heading north. By 1851 the Panama Railroad was used by the gold-seekers, shortening the crossing the Isthmus.

Ancestors on the Panama Route
From The California State Library
This route was not for those who wanted to carry many belongings. The transport from Panama to California may have required a stay in Panama for several weeks (or months).
Many of our ancestors succumbed to the cholera epidemic in Panama City, others were victims of yellow fever, malaria, or dysentery, while waiting.Travelers around the Horn also suffered from disease and epidemics. 

More Information: Ancestor's Crossing the Isthmus
California State Library: Section IV, Via the Isthmus

Louis J. Rasmussen's "San Francisco Passenger Lists," Vols. 1, 2, and 4, and "California Wagon Train Lists," Vol. 1.

Peter E. Carr's "San Francisco Passenger Departures," Volumes 3 and 4 from San Francisco to Central America, July 15, 1851, through June 16, 1852.

California State University Library, Stanislaus. The Diaries, Journals, Letters of Overland, Isthmus, Cape Horn and California.

[1] Sacramento Bee: Gold Rush The Journey by Sea, accessed 26 Aug. 2011

Kathleen Brandt

Monday, August 22, 2011

Using Birth Certificates for Research

Chlanua vs Chlarina - Could it be a typo?
Certified Birth Certificate for Genealogy?
As genealogists we use birth record/certificates to confirm parent's names and the maiden name of a mother. These certificates also confirm dates and counties that may give us a genealogical clue. But birth records are often protected by privacy restrictions. In a "closed states" they often hold a 75 year privacy restrictions, but may be longer in some states.
When the Certified Birth Certificate is Wrong
Based on the purpose of research, we may need a certified birth certificate. This is usually needed to prove generational kinship for applications, especially for government officials.  A good example is for Dual Citizenship. International governments usually need proof of kinship. An example is the requirement to trace an (i.e. Italian or Greek, etc.) immigrant ancestor.  The birth, death and marriage certificates must be accurate and all agree, especially in the spelling of names.  If your Great Grandmother, and Italian immigrant is Chlarina, it will not be accepted by the Italian Consulate if it appears on the any certificate as Chlanua.

Sure, one would think that a certified birth certificate is correct. But it involves a "human" transcribing and deciphering the original handwriting of a ledger. I have received certified birth certificates with date errors, and misspelled names.

(This is not to say that the original record was correct.  It may contain errors from the informer or the misspellings of the official who recorded the birth information.)

Proving the Correct Spelling
If  birth certificates, or other vital records are incorrect, each state (or county) have documented procedures to correct them.  With proof -  birth, marriage, divorce records - a notarized statement or affidavit may do the job to correct a birth certificate. But there are some states, that may require expensive court orders to make changes to vital records.  Pennsylvania is one of those states! You may not have a corrected birth certificate in Pennsylvania without a court order involving lawyers, court costs etc. 

But what if the error was from hard to read handwriting in the original ledger.  Don't accept the birth certificate without first rechecking the original ledger!  Recently, I had just this happen to a birth certificate.  The mother's name was totally incorrect. Chlanua? It should have read Chlarina, a good Italian name.

After requesting an official review, sending in a copy of a marriage, divorce, and death certificate all with the correct spelling of Chlarina, the Vital Records Correction team of this Pennsylvania county reviewed and determined that poor handwriting caused the confusion.  The certified birth certificate was reissued with the correct (and needed) spelling of the mother's name.  Saving the client hundreds of dollars.

Kathleen Brandt

Monday, August 15, 2011

Colonial Slave Records

From Africa to Kansas - By way of the Caribbean

In analyzing 1865 -1920 Kansas census of African born persons I was led to the collection of Slave Registers of Former British Colonial Dependencies.  The path from Kansas to the British colonies in the Caribbean was a long one, but I landed at the National Archives of UK researching An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, or the Slave Trade Act, 1807.  


British Colonial Slave Records Cover 1812 to 1834
Those researching African ancestors may find their ancestors named in the 2.7 million slaves and 280,000 slave owners in 17 former dependencies registers that uncover the Caribbean slave trade of Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Berbice/Guyana), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Dominica, Grenada, British Honduras (Belize), Jamaica, St. Christopher, Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Tobago, St. Vincent, etc.

The biggest genealogical treasure found in these records is the confirmation of a slave's nationality.  Another great find is a slave's baptismal information (if baptized), which gives both the slave name and the Christian name. 

Study the Triangle - Quick Primer
African slaves worked on sugar, tea and tobacco plantations in the British colonies.  Britain banned slave trading in 1807.  And to keep it controlled, and to prevent illegal trading, records of the slave owner's inventory registered “lawfully enslaved” slaves. Documenting the legal slaves, and updating the registers every 3 years included slave descriptions, birthplaces, and more. These registers were kept until Britain abolished slavery in 1834. But as you gather information, don't forget to research the plantations.  

It's Slave Research
Like all good slave research, the researcher should know the name of the slave owner, the owner's use for slaves, and preference of trading country. The residing parish as well as information on the slaves is also needed. 

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I used these documents to analyze ex-slaves living in Kansas.  Again, they came from Africa, by way of the Caribbean, to New York (and almost every other state of the northeast), then finally...voila...Kansas.

Where to Research has populated its database:  Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834.

The original registers are held at the British National Archives. In reviewing the slave trade and slavery records at the National Archives, the reader can research the following topics:
Kathleen Brandt

Friday, August 12, 2011

Are These 3 Photos of the Same Man?

Need Help with Identifying These Photos!
Polling the genealogy community.

We know they all have the name William Williams. But are they the same William Williams?
Photo #1

Photo #2

Photo #3

On 9 January 2010, I asked readers to identify man in photo #1. "Is this William Williams on your family tree?" I asked in the blog post The Man in the Photo.

But more information has come in, and we now have three photos to compare. We need the genealogy community to help us with this determination.   We are also wanting help with placing an age on the fellows! Please leave any comments.

Kathleen Brandt

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Civil War Burials

Died Once, Buried Three Times

Pvt. John J. Williams, Indiana
Exhuming Civil War veterans' bodies were common. Sometimes the military removed bodies. Sometimes families re-interred their fallen soldier. So where was the final resting place of your Civil War ancestor?

Pvt. John J. Williams
The last battle of the civil war, the Battle of Palmito Ranch (Texas) determined the fate of John J. Williams.  One hundred eighteen (1800) US soldiers fell in the Battle of Palmito Ranch. The last was Pvt. Williams. In the 22 June 1865 Jay Torch Light newspaper, it was reported that Sara Jane Williams had received a letter on the 21st of May confirming her husband's death.

Buried Once
The Jay Torch Light newspaper reprinted the letter Sara Jane Williams received on May 21. "The 'Rebal' ball struck him just right above the right eye killing him instantly." John [J.] Williams was originally buried at Ft. Brown Cemetery near the battle site.[1]

Buried Twice
After the establishment of the Alexandria National Cemetery in Louisiana, Williams' remains were exhumed and interred there. [2]  His simple headstone "797 J.J. Williams, IND" still stands, even though the Alexandria National Cemetery was not to be the final resting place of Pvt. Williams. 

Buried the Third Time
His family eventually chose to exhume his body once again and bury him in the family cemetery in Jay County, Indiana. The cemetery is now a National Historical Site.
The headstone gives a glimpse of John Jefferson Williams' Civil War service: "JOHN J. WILLIAMS, PVT CO B; 34 IND VOL INF; CIVIL WAR 1843 1865; KIA MAY 13 1865; PALMETTO RANCH TEXAS; LAST MAN TO DIE IN THE CIVIL WAR." [3]
Kathleen Brandt

[1] Letter to Sara Jane Williams in the Jay Torch Light Newspaper, 22, Jun 1865.  Also printed on his Jay County biography.
[2] Historical Information of Alexandria National Cemetery and the re-interred remains from Fort Brown Cemetery; Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Cemeteries - Alexandria National Cemetery, LA; online access,; 21 March2011
[3] 140th anniversary of Williams death, 14 May, Jay County Museum of the Soldier sponsored an anniversary ceremony.  The headstone was provided by the Veterans Administration. Photo of the headstone was provided by the Museum of the Soldier.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Company & Industry Magazines Highlight Ancestors

Human Interest Articles with Photos
Chaffee Historical Society, Chaffee, MO,
Note: many Frisco magazines are held at the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

By the 1920's America's companies embraced promoting employee relations and internal marketing advancements by publishing human interest stories in their company magazines.  These stories highlighted employee promotions, but also featured employee's hobbies, showcased children of employees, announced marriages and deaths, military service, and more. For genealogists it's good to know that not only top executives were highlighted. 

Looking for an ancestor's photo? Family researchers may not only find an article filled with genealogical information, we may even find a baby picture, marriage picture, or a photo of your ancestor in uniform. Obituaries of company employees were often much larger and more informative than those printed in the newspapers.

Where to Begin
Chaffee Historical Society
Chaffee, MO
An ancestor's occupation is noted on many documents: city directories, census records, naturalization records, etc. A few of these documents will actually list the company's name.  I often find company names on state death certificates or in obituaries.

Armed with this information, the researcher will want to identify any historic industry magazine or internal company publication. Corporate magazines became prevalent in the 1900s with a rise in popularity late 1920's.   

Where To Find Company Magazines?
WorldCat is a great place to start. A quick inquiry led me to libraries that held historical company magazines, but be sure to contact local libraries and museums. 

At the recent Missouri State Historical Association conference, Dennis Northcutt of the Missouri History Museum and Library shared examples from its genealogy collection of company magazines, some St. Louis company specifically, other nationwide companies highlighting personnel from across the nation. This collection is in the process of being indexed, some series already completed (Genealogy & Local History indexes).

Highlighted Magazines
Union Electric Magazine of the 1930s periodically ran  a Perfect Baby issue with baby pics of children of their employees. This magazine also ran human interest stories of weddings and photos. Currently 70,000 names from 70 years are being indexed at the Missouri History Museum and Library, St. Louis.

Voice of Emerson from the Emerson Electric company (not yet indexed. ) also highlights St. Louis area employees.

Not just companies, but historic neighborhoods also published newsletters, highlighting gossipy news, but announcing promotions, family births, deaths and marriages.  One plus, is these small newsletters also documented when neighbors moved and announced their new location.

Were African Americans Featured?
African American Pullman
African American employees were also highlighted.  Company employee's loyalty and longevity were announced as were favored employees. I located information on a client's Florida ancestor who was an elevator operator.  The obituary printed in the company magazine gave a short employment history and information on his WWI service history. 

The Transit News, a magazine of the St. Louis Public Service, featured Randle H. Ross in an article of "A Black with Track Department. Ross, a service man, had served in the Army. A photo accompanied this article. 

Labor Union and Industry Magazines
Labor unions and industry magazines highlighted employees and members and were forerunners of publishing human interest stories (as early as early 1900's).  Here are a few examples:
Police Journals                                                                           
Labor Unions
·        International Photo-Engravers' Union of North America (IPEU) - labor union formed in 1904 to represent halftone photoengravers in the printing industry
·        Printing Trades Magazine
Army and Navy Journal  - mostly showcased officers

For more information visit Genealogy Clues in Company's History.

Kathleen Brandt

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Missouri Genealogy Research in St. Louis

Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center
Missouri History Museum: St. Louis Area Civil War Digitization Project
Most researchers find a repository by accident.  Perhaps your goal was to exhaust every archive in a town while searching for an allusive ancestor's records. Or maybe through a Google search you landed on a site with your ancestor's name.  Following up, you call or write to the holding facility requesting as copy of the document.  But have you visited or studied the repository to learn what else is housed behind those walls? I have to admit, I never knew the extent of the holdings at the Missouri History Museum Library in St. Louis. 

At the 2011 Missouri State Genealogical Association, Dennis Northcott presented "Genealogy Treasure: The Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center, St Louis.  And a treasure is exactly what he revealed.

Looking for Missouri Documents
Western travel, steamboats, river transportation, Civil War records, necrology and school scrapbooks and information on organizations, and more are awaiting the researcher at the Missouri History Museum Library. 

Transportation Passenger Papers
Did your ancestor travel by steamboat? Try the 1000 or more papers lying in the Charles Parsons Transportation Passenger Papers - copies of passenger tickets.  

Mason Records
Recently I was asked if there were Mason Records, well the Missouri History Museum Library has a collection of local members, i.e. St. Louis Lodge Roster, 1860's.

Thomas Jefferson Papers
This repository has the 4th largest collection of Thomas Jefferson papers to include a copy of Jefferson's 1805 drivers license. 

St. Louis WWI Service Information
If your St. Louis WWI ancestor service files were destroyed in the National Archives fire perhaps the information was compiled in one of the ten thousand documents collected in the Biography and Service Record collection.  This collection held genealogical answers like who was the 1st American ancestor? Did your ancestor serve in previous wars?

Civil War Claims
Other military records holding genealogical data may be found in the Francis Minor -  Civil War Claims nine (9)  book volume collection. Even widows and ex-slaves submitted claims. 

Civil War Military Passes
Of course, Civil War records are a favorite amongst genealogists.  The Provost Marshal collection includes selected "military passes." Like a passport, the military pass allowed for travel, usually out of St. Louis.

Military Union Organizations
We often reference GAR records, and this repository has a healthy collection of GAR Post Records.  The Union officers may also be listed in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the US collection.  The Military Order papers may hold a military sketch and photo as a tribute to a deceased veteran. 

For more information visit the Missouri History Museum website and know that some of the information above has been indexed and/or digitized like St. Louis Area Civil War Records Digitization Project. 

Other St. Louis genealogy websites:

Supporting another Missouri genealogy repository!

Kathleen Brandt

Are Your Ancestors Guiding You?

Labryinth, Westport, Kansas City
There Are No Coincidences!
All genealogists have been overwhelmed at some time or the other by brick walls in research. Our underlying thought may be that "this ancestor does not want to be found." Perhaps they don't want their story to be told.  But really, do you believe they put up these roadblocks purposefully to prevent being uncovered?

Psychic Roots and Genealogy
Contrarily Hank Z. Jones published Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy, that was "dramatized" on NBC's Unsolved Mysteries. More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy is the sequel. The theme of both is that some, perhaps the lucky ones, are led to genealogical research by "intuitive nudges and serendipitous events." I don't deny the possibilities of this, but as a type A scientific type, I would theorize that good genealogy research leads you to the next possible step where of course you will sooner or later be surrounded by other's who have the same goal.  It's a small world after all!

Genealogy Labyrinths©
At the 2011 Missouri State Genealogical Association 30th Annual Conference banquet, Jones gives numerous of examples of genealogy researchers who were led by "coincidences" (my word not his). Metaphysically speaking, "there are no coincidences." For this reason, one must believe that some of the unsolved genealogy mysteries are also spurred by an external energy.  My question is why are the majority of my ancestor's obstinate? Instead of easily guiding me to the answers, they set up elaborate labyrinths. 

Either way, through Psychic Roots or Labyrinths, the traveled path to illuminating our ancestors would never be possible without the "I just happened to...." exclamation. 

Kathleen Brandt

Note:  Biography information on Hank Z. Jones, 2011 Missouri State Genealogical Association 30th Annual Conference syllabus

Friday, August 5, 2011

Records Contemporary to the Events

Conference Learning, MoSGA Part 1

The Missouri State Genealogical Association's 30th Annual Conference carried a strong theme: Remember that there's irreplaceable value in using resources that are contemporary to events. Or best said "try to reference the originals." Hank Z. Jones, FASG, Mary Celeste, MLIS, and Evie Bresette, CG, all carried this theme while sharing different expertise and examples.

Brother John
In "When the Sources Are Wrong!" Hank Z. Jones reminded us that with each version, edition, reprint or reorganizing of written materials, there's an aggregation of errors. Moral to the story, there's nothing better than the original source. 

Now that doesn't mean the original source is accurate.  We are all familiar with inaccurate information scribed on original death records in spite of being recorded at time of death, or errors on marriage applications, or misspelled names on census records. But, have you taken into consideration how many mistakes are added when these same documents are extracted, transcribed or indexed? Our ancestors sometimes purposefully gave erroneous information, but then there's the issue of misunderstanding cultural or religious references.  Was Brother John a friar, or blood brother?

Not Just Adobe Acrobat
Keeping the theme of using sources "contemporary to events," Evie Bresette, CG, shared one of my favorite genealogical tools: historic newspapers.  Although I consider myself an online newspaper guru, Evie's Researching Historic Newspapers: Free Online Databases gave a few new tips. My favorites were related to Foreign Newspapers like Xooxle Answers for Ireland and Wales Newspapers, but Evie also explained newspaper viewers, informing us that we are no longer limited to Adobe Acrobat.  Are you familiar with Olive Active Paper Archive or  DjVu (pronounce deja vu) Viewer Lizardtech?

Flat Stanley to Visit Genealogy
Mary Celeste, MLIS, liberally shared links that help genealogists on the topic of "Fleshing Out Your Civil War Ancestor: A Case Study to Guide You." Using a case study of an ancestor Mary shared topics and resource links of "Nicknames of our ancestors," and" Ethnic naming patterns." A review of historical medical terms reminded us not to apply 21st century meaning to 17 and 18 century terms.

A fun part of this presentation was the briefing of how to engage the young ones.  My favorite was her family's ancestral Flat Stanley that was designed based on historical physical descriptions and photos.

State Historical Society of Missouri
There were also two other speakers that I did have the opportunity to hear: Gary Kremer of the State Historical Society of Missouri: Vast Collections for Researchers, and Carole (Meltzer) Goggin - Making the Most of Your Cemetery Visit.  If you don't know of the Manuscript Collections and Newspapers of this State Historical Society, you may be missing your ancestor's Missouri activities. This is one of the first resources I turn to when working with Missouri families.

Dowsing Graves and Then What?
In reviewing the syllabus of Making the Most of Your Cemetery Visit, by Carole (Meltzer) Goggin, I can easily surmise that attending this presentation benefited the participants.  I particularly want to peruse the websites referencing "Icons and Symbolisms."  I think I'll leave the grave dowsing to others!
Reason to Attend Conferences
It's not fair for me to give the full workshops, but as I mentioned at the top of this post, documents contemporary to any event gives us a focused look at our ancestor. However, if you want more visit The Columbia Daily Tribune article Genealogy Expert Shares Trade Secrets by Janese Silvey.

Kathleen Brandt

Genealogy Clues in Company's History

Celebration for the Company Employees
A view of Napa Valley - Wine Country
As family historians we often find documents confirming our ancestor's workplace.  We note it, and continue.  But why not pause and learn a bit about the social history of our ancestors - including their workplace? Company histories not only inform us of dates, successes, and ownerships, they allow us to peek into the past - the past of our ancestors.

Baseballs, Balls and Helmets
Recently Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy penned a post linking the Draper and Maynard Sports Equipment company to her great-uncle Cupe Adams. She writes that Cupe was the treasurer of Draper and Maynard Company during the height of the depression. A family story filled with  baseball gloves, balls, helmets and other sports equipment ensued. A bit of history of the Draper and Maynard Company allowed her to fill in the details.  What a great use of a company's history! 

Researching Vitners of Napa
Even those who don't imbibe have most likely heard of Inglenook wines (formally Niebaum Winery but best known as Rubicon Estate) one of the Napa Valley's first established vineyards, 1879-1880. If not Inglenook, perhaps you've heard of Francis Coppola, the movie director.  Francis now owns the Inglenook winery and estate in Rutherford Napa CA.

While seeking for a particular winemaker between 1908-1920, I found my client's ancestor in the Inglenook's published history.  This historical account of Inglenook was rich with names and daily activities and  led me to its founder, the many transfers of ownership, and its winemakers of the past. A Sense of Place: an intimate portrait of the Niebaum-Coppola Winery and the Napa Valley by Steven Kolpan. My clients were thrilled to see their ancestor's tucked in the pages of the winery's history books as one of its celebrated employees of the past. 

Breathing Life 
The key is to use these historical resources to breathe life into your ancestor's as Heather did with Uncle Cube.

A toast to all the Researchers!

Kathleen Brandt
Professional Genealogist and Consultant

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Prison Records and Genealogy

San Benito County Jail and San Quentin State Prison

Prison records are a good find for genealogists. Have you searched for the county prison inmate books to find your allusive ancestor?  Have you scoured state prison records or have you dismissed the possibility that your ancestor was a common burglar, thief, or menace to society? Historical prison records are accessible to the public, as are criminal records. I recently discovered a series of California prison books ensconced in the San Benito County Historical Society collection. 

The Other Prisons
As researchers we often reference the Prison of War records, but the premise is that this imprisonment by the enemy was due to war conflict. Our ancestor wasn't a criminal after all!  Some researchers have found their ancestor's buried in the US Federal Penitentiary Inmate Case Files, but that often gives the family a conversation piece on their "infamous ancestor." But let's not forget the city, county, and state prison records.

San Benito County Historical Society (SBCHS)
Who knew such a treasure could be found in Hollister, California? This small repository is a gold-mine!  Partially hidden in a corner of the San Benito County Historical Society (SBCHS) was the "Description of Prisoners Confined in County Jail, San Benito County [series] Vol. 4, 1924." Yes, county, city and state prisons kept records of our (I mean your) ancestors. The best part of finding the convicted ancestor is the physical description, usually accompanied with the photo.  Full names, occupations, criminal charge and notes are handed to the family researcher. 

High in the stacks was an oversized-dusty San Quentin "Description of Prisoners" book just waiting to be opened.  Again it was the Description of Prisoners Received at the California State Prison of  San Quentin Feb 1915 ledger that provided a sketch of each person incarcerated.  What a great place to confirm your ancestor's "Nativity." The "Term of Years" may answer the question of "why Uncle John was not with the family that year?" And although not always easily decipherable, distinguishing descriptions were noted for each prisoner - "sm mole RT CHK"= small mole right cheek.

For Prison Research Links and Databases
USA links by states

Links to various categories like the Notorious Characters and Executions

Kathleen Brandt