Sunday, June 25, 2023

Elusive Ancestor Research Tips and Hints

Leave No Stone Unturned to Follow Your Ancestor
Recently I worked on a podcast episode of an ancestor with a common name who moved frequently. Boy, did it generate questions. We all have that ancestor with a common name leaving descendants to find clues before attaching them to our family tree. 

Richard Bush was the person in question. To top it off, the right Richard Bush loved midwestern states: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.  The posted podcast demonstrates a path to follow Richard Bush's trail of clues.

Where to Start: Unscramble the family 
Where did your family leave records for their timeline, in their general location? Sometimes it includes occupation, trading posts, local histories too. Actually the listing is endless, but I'm going to point out the top ten (10).

Missouri Marriage with Required Concent of Guardian, 1855

  1. Marriage Records. Based on your timeframe, state/county laws and practices, a marriage application or marriage record may name parents. Or parents may have supported the wedding through a bond, or  witness signature. 
  2. Analyzing Census Records by following children names, and ages and others living in the home. Note any unknown persons, and ages of everyone, birthdates of all. Was this a blended family? Are there age discrepancies that suggest a 2nd or 3rd marriage? Were the children born in different states. This was the case for the past two podcasts. Previously, the older children were born in Russia, the younger in NY.  For our Richard Bush episode, children were born in MO and IL, and we found the family last in AR.  But, this information gives us migratory paths or regions.
  3. County Court Records. When we are stuck, and have no clues left, we turn to court records. This is one of my favorites. I keep an eye out for institution commitments, poorhouse support, etc. Wills, probates and deeds must be reviewed. See below for more on Wills.

    Court Record index held at the Missouri State Archives

    Researchers will want to start with indices online or in hardcopy books. Take note of all who carry the surname.  Of course that is not helpful if we are working with surnames like Smith or Johnson, (you get the point). But if there is a workable number of surnames, it may be rewarding to at least do a cursory analysis. 
  4. Cemetery Records. Or death certificates if recorded by state for your timeframe. 
  5. DNA Analysis to connect to family, if applicable.  You may wish to use a professional.
  6. Newspapers often reviewed court docket information or land sales, disputes also.  They may mention a ward of court, poor house support, etc. This may require a local newspaper search. Not all are online.
  7. Church Records may provide the vital records you haven't located. Some church records will cluster new memberships by family. 

    Church Records, held at Richard Spencer Library, KU, Lawrence, KS

  8. Associations and Lineage Societies like the Masons, GAR or SAR/DAR records are often helpful
  9. Land Records may include inherited land, or land grants. Both provide clues, often shining a light on a previous place of origin.  
  10. Military Records and Pension files often hold family information. 
Our Favorites, Never to Be Missed if Applicable 
Remember we are starting at the last place we found this ancestor. Ten resources are great, but again narrow your search and widen it as applicable. The following though is where I like to turn to first. We all have our favorite record groups.

These early records may assist in clustering family units and connecting heirs. Wills often name family units (spouse, children, and sometimes siblings, parents, etc). These early records may assist in clustering family units and connecting heirs. Be sure to check with local genealogical societies. Many of these have records been digitized online (i.e. access via FHL catalog).

Land Records
Analyzing land records. Was land inherited? Who were neighbors? When did they acquire land and circumstances?

Bureau of Land Management (formerly the General Land Office-GLO) Archives 1 Reference Branch (RR1R) in Washington, DC, has custody of the records of the Bureau of Land Management (formerly GLO). You can order a reproduction of the land patent online by submitting NATF Form 84 via our website at We recommend that you place an online order rather than downloading and submitting the paper form (or take a vacation to DC). Be sure to ask for the land Application,. Land certificates are online for your perusal. The best part is that land, like guardian records, are most often maintained and searchable. Even if burned in fires, as was many MO records, land deeds were reclaimed by families after the war.

Military Records must not be overlooked. Coupled with military land grants military records may assist in tying families. Information on the following land warrant. Don't forget: In addition to the Civil War, there were the Indian Wars, Spanish American and Philippine War, and the Missouri Mormon War, etc.

The most telling documents in genealogy military records are the pension files. Ok... pension files are my favorites! State militia military records may be found at the State Archives.

Be sure to bookmark your one stop access to Kathleen Brandt.

 Kathleen Brandt
Be Historically Correct
Accurate Accessible Answers  

Saturday, June 17, 2023

African American Genealogy: Census Records to DNA Testing


Top 5 Myths

There are a lot of pouty faces when it comes to pre 1865-1867 enumeration records. But why?
Pre- 1870 is NOT a brickwall for African American genealogy research. It's even less than a stumbling block; it's merely a challenge. There are records of your African American ancestors.   

Let's take a look at the most common myths I hear:

1) But, they were enslaved and didn't have names on the census before 1870.  Well, actually even that is not true. The last thing neighbors wanted, was unaccounted free black persons. Your ancestors are listed in Agricultural Census, within freedmen record work contracts and in land contracts, both mortgaged and share cropper contracts.  Why rely on census records? Much of the information is not accurate anyway, and you have NO idea who proffered information to the census taker anyway. Check out this Hale County, Alabama Agriculture Census ("Colored")

Mortgaged land, Agriculture Census

2) But, enslaved people couldn't legally marriage. Actually many African Americans not only married as enslaved people (with permission), there were also "free coloreds" who legally married.

Co-habitation laws changed after 1865 that required recently freed persons to legally register marriages. As per the law, many of our ancestors recorded pre Civil War marriages between 1865-1870.  Marriages were also often validated in military records, government claims such as the Southern Claims after the war.  

3) Our ancestors had name changes, but usually took on the name of their ancestors. First, let's recognize, that many immigrants had name changes, translated names, adopted names, etc. Surname changes or different names between parents and siblings is not unique to African American genealogy. Of course, resolving surname inconsistencies is one more reason to take a DNA test.  
But, you will also have better luck in tracing your ancestor if you rid yourself of the myth that slaves often took the surname of a master. Actually, many did not. Changing first and last names after the Civil War was not uncommon. Matter fact, you may find your ancestor tried on a few names before settling on your now family surname.

Slave Compensation: enslaver John M. Duncan for previously enslaved  Forrest Maupin

I haven't even mentioned the enslavers' records. Oh...lest not forget, our ancestors were here with the colonists, in the early territories. There, researchers may find  marriages, as well as baptizing and naming babies. in the church books.

28 Jul 1810,  marriage of Francois, free colored

These records are available from the Florida Territory, Louisiana Territory, Missouri Territory, etc. Just follow the church records of the French and Spanish settlers in America. 

1830 Slave Baptism

4) But, our ancestors never reunited with their families. Really? In the first 6 months of 2023 I've united 9 enslaved families, using documents. Five of them had historical records that named their family that was sold down river or who had recently returned. 

Provost Marshal Records

But either way, we have no excuse for re-uniting family units. Many families were divided, and sold, and separated, but not necessarily far away. Many knew exactly on which plantation their family members were sent. Others, reunited after the war. Great records used to reunite family include military pension records, depositions, and Freedmen Records

Not What You Can't Get, But What You Can!


The biggest tool you have to reunite your family is DNA. Did you know African Americans have the lowest percentage of testing kit results. This DNA kits can costs $39: MyHeritageDNA; $59.00: ancestryDNA, and up.  If you are wanting to make the most for your purchase, buy MyHeritage or ancestryDNA . One kit can be purchased but you can get three sets of results for the price of one by uploading your DNA results to multiple sites.

5) WHATEVER you do, DON'T attach yourself to a particular country. Just like European DNA test results, the best that can be determined is a region, unless your family never left the "home country" and your family never mixed outside a tribe

Most African Americans have 4-10 regions in their DNA, to include European. Plus, our ancestors were not stationary pre-America, pre-slavery, pre-colonial. I  mean, in general, generations of our ancestors travelled. Often they travelled in clusters for safety, for work, for food. As more is learned about migratory paths, your ethnicity will, most likely shift, anyway. 

So, as I said, don't get attach when someone tells you have one country or two countries in your DNA. Ask them but what about my other 6 generations of ancestors? Where did THEY go?  I'm talking autosomal test that covers abt. 6 generations. Your DNA goes back further. Autosomal DNA tests, however, are limited. Surely, you don't think all of your ancestors were from Côte d'Ivoire once they landed in America? Most, not all, but most of our African American ancestors, were mixed on this continent. We are uniquely American. Just think about it. 

After going back 6 generations you have approximately 1.56% of DNA from 6 generations of your ancestors. I'll talk more about this 24 Jun at Midwest Genealogy Center free presentation. 

Want more. Join me on the Hittin' the Bricks with Kathleen  genealogy podcast. Real questions from you about your family genealogy, proven answers. (beginners to advance). All are welcomed.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Using Heraldry Research for Family Facts

Happy International Heraldry Day
If the coat of arms hanging prominently on your wall is authentic, it may offer some of the most interesting sleuthing opportunities of your family research. Of course, we are not referring to the local shopping center's "kiosk coat of arms" or "souvenirs" but an authentic, timely-registered coat of arms. 

Today the use of "coat of arms" and "crest" is interchangeable, but for the purpose of genealogy the family researcher must know the difference. Strictly speaking "family coat of arms" or "family crests" do not exist and contrary to mall kiosk rhetoric, the only way to adopt an existing coat of arms is to prove you are a direct descendant of a rightful bearer. So, before embracing that treasured coat of arms, you must do your homework and solidify your kinship with the armiger (arm bearer) through a fully documented pedigree.

Even President Thomas Jefferson questioned the validity of the coat of arms in his possession.

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States Banner Photo
The Arms of Thomas Jefferson Arms: Azure a fret and on a chief Gules three leopards' faces Argent.
Crest: A lion's head erased Or.
Motto: Ab eo libertas a quo spiritus (The one who gives life gives liberty) 

" I have what I have been told were the family arms, but on what authority I know not. It is possible there may be none. If so I would with your assistance become a purchaser, having Sterne's word for it that a coat of arms may be purchased as cheap as any other coat."- Th. Jefferson, 1771

Originally coats of arms were granted to knights, but as Jefferson would have learned, by 1750 the business of marketing and furnishing "family arms" flourished.

Genealogy embedded in the Coat of Arms?
Using heraldic standards, family historians are often able to confirm ethnic origin, class status, and ancestral kinships. It is possible that by "decoding" a heraldic design, you will be able to support your genealogy research and connect the heirloom to an 11th century European ancestor. Or, you may discover that an immigrant ancestor acquired and registered arms with a heraldic authority. 

Of course it is also possible that researching the origin of a coat of arms may have disappointing results. Since many of our ancestors were not entitled to arms, your research may reveal that you, indeed, possess a souvenir that yields no historical or genealogical data. Either way, heraldic records and repositories are valuable research resources especially for early colonial researchers. 

Legitimate coats of arms are inherently full of genealogical data. By decoding the coat of arms, genealogists versed in the history of the twelfth to seventeenth centuries, can determine ethnic origin, class status, and social history of an ancestor using heraldic records and repositories.  Most often at a3Genealogy we use heraldic records to distinguish families with common surnames, purge parasites from colonial genealogical trees, or to determine parentage, as well as home place and region.  

In Europe, paternal coat of arms were used for proper identification from 1250 and 1500.  But from 1500 - 1750, on both sides of the ocean, a coat of arms was used as a status symbol, designating rank, landownership, wealth or fame. So, a legitimate coat of arms may assist in connecting an immigrant ancestor to his European origin.   

Where to Begin
The Owen Sound Sun, 3 De 1976

Of course the family researcher will want to become familiar with heraldic terms, regulations, customs and designs. A great place to start...
England, Wales, and Northern Ireland: The College of Arms in London has gathered and preserved information on arm-bearers as early as 1483 from.
Scotland coat of arms were granted and matriculated by the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The Republic of Ireland granted and registered coat of arms. Its heraldic authority is The Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland.

Additional Information
Although there is a plethora of reference materials written on the relevance of coat of arms to your family research, following are websites of compiled listings:
Happy Heraldic Hunting

Kathleen Brandt