Newspapers are a genealogy goldmine. Birth, death and marriages announcements provide information on major family events. Graduation announcements list the names of students who graduated from the local schools. Advertisements provide information on businesses or other entrepreneurial activities. I found several advertisements for pool halls that were owned by my 2nd great grand uncle, Charles Cutch, in the 1890’s, as well as, an advertisement for a very interesting “bathing apparatus” he was selling in 1919.
Local news columns and editorials provide information on various activities where an ancestor lived. I found numerous news articles on my grandfather and his activities in various social and community organizations. There were also several poems he had written, as well as, a letter that he had written to the editor.
Sometimes a news article may be written about an ancestor. I learned that in 1894 my great-grandfather, Overton Woodfork, was stabbed and had his throat slashed by a drunken newspaper reporter who lived in the flats where Overton worked as an elevator operator. I also learned that in 1949, my 2nd great grand aunt, Ethel Cutch, was hit by a bus while she was crossing the street and died a few days later of her injuries.
I found several news articles about Charles Cutch that gave insight into his business activities and his run-ins with the law. In 1897, Charles owned a store at 5th and K Street Street NW in Washington, DC. The store was robbed one night when someone smashed the windows and stole some tobacco and four pounds of candy. Two teenagers were later found guilty of housebreaking by a jury in Criminal Court but got off with a stern warning from the judge and a suspended sentence after the jury recommended mercy because of their age.
By 1900 Charles and brother, Joseph, owned a pool hall on the 20th block of K street NW. The pool hall was the scene of several disturbances. One night in 1901 Charles was arrested for discharging his revolver during a disagreement with a patron over payment.
Charles and his brother also owned a pool hall at 11th and U street NW. The pool hall was located just outside a section of the city that was called Striver’s Row. The area was given the name because it was the home of many educated Negro professionals who lived in the city.
The residents soon became weary of the disturbances associated with the pool hall. In 1904, several residents appeared before the District Commissioner to protest the renewal of Charles’ license to operate the pool hall. The proceedings of these hearings are documented in several newspaper articles.
Charles appears in the news again in 1913 when he was arrested for shooting his revolver during a fight with another man. The Legal Record section of the newspaper provides a summary of the court action in the months that followed his arrest. Charles was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and he pleaded not guilty. He was found guilty, committed with a bail of $2000.and few days later a motion for a new trail was filed.
Thanks to these numerous news articles, I now have a better understanding of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived and worked.
There are several methods for accessing online newspaper databases. ProQuest provides online archives to numerous newspapers. These databases can be accessed from most public library websites. Check with your local library for more information. The Chronicling America website provides free access to historic U.S. newspapers from 1836-1922. This website is a great resource because it contains many newspapers that are no longer in print. An internet search for “historical newspapers online” will return many lists of historical newspapers by state.
I recently was the recipient of the 2013 Caroline Historical Society Award in recognition for my efforts to research, document, promote, and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia. This was one of several awards that I have received for my efforts to preserve local history. As I drove to Caroline County, Virginia to attend the meeting where I would be presented with the award I thought about the path that led me to become a local historian.
I have always been a bookroom who loved school, reading, writing and performing research. However, as a student, history was my least favorite subject. It was just an endless list of dates and events that had no significance to me. Despite my lack of interest in history, I did enjoy researching my family history.
I became interested in genealogy as a teenager after Alex Haley’s book and movie Roots became popular in the 1970’s. My research at that time mainly consisted of talking to a few relatives and reviewing census microfilm. As a young adult, college, career, marriage and motherhood caused me to put my research aside; however, every once in awhile I would do a little research.
In 2004, I began to devote more time to my research. Technology has changed greatly since I first started my research back in the 1970’s. The internet has provided me access to many resources and people that were previously unavailable. Additionally, the 1930 census was now available and this document provided the link that I needed to research my family all the way back to 1870 in Caroline County, Virginia. I was able to locate cousins who lived in Caroline County and began traveling to the county to perform research.
As I became more involved in my research I wanted to know more than names on a pedigree chart. I wanted to know about the everyday occurrences of my ancestors: Where did they live? Work? Go to School? What clubs and social organizations did they belong to? I became interested in the community where they lived, the impact they had on the community and the impact the community had on their lives. Understanding this information gives me a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors.
I began taking an active role in preserving the history of the communities in which my ancestors lived. I created my website (woodforkgenealogy.com) to share documents and other information that would help others with their research. I was one of several interviewers for the Fort AP Oral History Project. The final product of the project was a book titled Wealthy in Heart: Oral History of Life Before A.P. Hill.
As I traveled to various, archives, libraries and other repositories to perform research; I noticed a dearth of information about African Americans. However, as I talked to African Americans in the county, I would hear interesting stories of their lives growing up in Caroline County. As I listened to their stories, I would often think, “This is wonderful information. Someone should write it down and preserve it.” In 2009, I decided to become that someone. I initiated the Union High History Project to research, document and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia’s only high school for Negroes during the era of segregation. The end product of this project was a book titled, Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969. My experience with the Union High History Project inspired me to start speaking to genealogy groups on the importance of preserving local history.
I no longer see history as a list of insignificant dates and events. Instead history gives me a better appreciation for what I have today, inspires me to continue the legacy and make the future better for the next generation.
Land records are an excellent source of genealogy information. They can give clues to the surname of female ancestors who have married, as well as, the names of an ancestor’s parents, spouse and children. When used in combination with other resources, land records can be a great asset to your genealogy research.
Many states have an online database of land and property tax records. In some cases a user account must be created to access the information. The index can be viewed for free and document images can be viewed for a nominal fee. The index detail usually contains enough information for genealogy research; occasionally it may be necessary to purchase a document image to obtain more details.
There are several ways to search land records, but two search methods are best for genealogy research: Grantor/Grantee and Lot/Square. The Grantor/Grantee search can be used to locate property owned by an individual. The grantor is the old owner of the property (usually the seller) and the grantee is the new owner (usually the buyer). The Lot/Square search method can be used to locate all the owners for a property.
The Real Property Tax database can be used to locate the Lot/Square for an address. Most property tax databases only have information for property that is currently standing. Therefore, you may not be able to find information for property that has been demolished or the street name has changed.
The following example illustrates how I used land records along with other resources to make progress in solving one of my genealogy mysteries. Since many of individuals in the example are living or recently deceased, I have changed the names and other pertinent information to protect their privacy.
Family oral history states that the grandmother of Marissa Farr was the sister of my ancestor named Catherine Streeter. One of my research challenges was to identify the name of Marissa Farr’s grandmother and determine if there was a connection to my Streeter ancestors. I knew Marissa Farr lived in Washington, DC and the ancestor in question was born in Virginia, moved to Washington, DC where she lived until she died.
I started my research with a search for Marissa Farr in Ancestry.com which yielded a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record and a US Public Records Index. I used the date of death from the SSDI record to obtain Marissa’s obituary which provided the names of her children and a living sibling.
I then performed a Grantor/Grantee search for Marissa Farr in the Washington DC land records and retrieved several records. I sorted the list by Lot/Square and Filing Date in order to view the information for each Lot/Square in chronological order.
From this information I noted that Marissa was associated with three properties, which I will refer to a Property A, Property B and Property C. The next step was to perform a Lot/Square search in the land records for each property. One land record for Property A immediately caught my eye because it contained the name Marissa Riddle Farr. I assumed Riddle was Marissa’s maiden name so I started with that record. The record index detail showed:
|Farr, Marissa Riddle||Morris, Martha Riddle|
|Mercer, Dorothy Riddle|
|Morris, Martha Riddle|
From this information I surmised that Riddle was Marissa Farr’s maiden name and the other people listed were her siblings and/or parents.
I searched the census for Marissa Riddle in Washington, DC and located her in the 1920 Census in the household of Thomas Riddle. Martha, Dorothy and a younger Thomas along with several other children were also listed in the household. This information supported my theory that Riddle was Marissa’s maiden name and the individuals listed in the land record were her siblings. The census record also gave the names of Marissa’s parents (Thomas and Leslie Riddle).
I performed another search of the census for Thomas Riddle in Washington, DC and located records for the family in the 1910, 1930 and 1940 censuses. The 1940 census showed the family living at 123 Maple in Washington, DC. I searched the Real Property database for the address in order to obtain the lot/square. The lot/square for the address matched the lot/square for Property A.
I then searched the land records for the lot/square associated with Property A and sorted the results in ascending order by filing date. The online land records database only went back to the early 1920’s and the property appeared to have had been in the family before the 1920’s.
Reviewing the index details for the land records provided a wealth of information to develop more theories. I continued to search the census records, marriage records, birth records and obituaries to find information to support or refute my theories.
The index detail for another land record showed:
|Riddle, Leslie||Mercer, Clifton|
|Riddle, Thomas||Mercer, Dorothy|
Base on the research I had just completed, I knew that Leslie and Thomas were Marissa’s parents and Dorothy was Marissa’s sister. I surmised that Clifton was Dorothy’s husband. A search of the marriage index confirmed that Clifton was Dorothy’s husband and Dorothy’s maiden name was Riddle.
The index detail for a third land record for Property A showed:
|Morris, Martha Riddle||Morris, Martha Riddle|
From this information I surmised that Richard was Martha’s husband. A search of the marriage index showed her husband’s name was Charles not Richard. I located a SSDI record for Martha and used the date of death from the record to locate her obituary. From her obituary, I learned that Richard was her son and the names of her other children.
I continued the process with all of the land records for Property A and gathered more information about the Riddle family.
When I had completed my research with the land records for Property A, I focused my attention on the land records for Property B. The index detail for one record showed:
|Dawson, M||Farr, M|
Since the index detail did not provide much information, I purchased the document image to obtain additional insight. The document showed Marissa changing her name on the land record from “Marissa Dawson” to “Marissa Farr” after a divorce. From this information I surmised, Farr was Marissa surname after a second marriage and Dawson was her surname after her first marriage.
A second land record for Property B showed:
|XYZ Development Company||Dawson, George|
|Dawson, Marissa N|
From this document I surmised that George Dawson was Marissa’s first husband. I located George and Marissa Dawson in the 1940 Census. Also living in the household were several children and lodgers. The names of two of the children matched the children’s names in Marissa Farr’s obituary. Three lodgers were Clifton, Dorothy and Doris Mercer. Base on the information obtained for the Riddle family while researching the land records for Property A and the ages of the Mercers’, I knew Dorothy Mercer was Marissa’s sister and Clifton was Dorothy’s husband and surmised Doris was Clifton’s and Dorothy’s daughter. I searched the marriage index and found a record for George Dawson and Marissa Riddle . The marriage information confirmed that Marissa Riddle and Marissa Dawson were the same person and George Dawson was her husband.
The index detail for the third land record for Property B did not provide much information either, so I purchased that document image as well. The document was a Waiver and Quite Claim Deed which identified the name of Marissa’s second husband, William E. Farr. I searched the marriage index and found an entry for Marissa N Riddle and William Ellsworth Farr.
I also searched the Real Property Tax database for the address found in the US Public Records Index for Marissa Farr. The search results showed the lot/square matched the lot/square for Property B.
The land record for Property C showed the property was owned by William Farr’s parents and several of their children and their spouses. Since I was not interested in William Farr, I did not do further research.
In then focused my attention on finding the names of Marissa Farr’s grandparents (specifically her grandmothers) in order to make the connection between the grandmother and my ancestor. I knew my ancestor was born in Virginia; however, I had conflicting information on the exact location. Family oral history stated she was from Fluvanna Virginia, her death certificate indicates she was born in Blue Valley, Virginia and the birth certificate for one of her children indicates she was born in Almar, Virginia.
From the census records, I knew that Marissa’s father (Thomas Riddle) and both his parents were born in Virginia. I did a search for Thomas Riddle in Ancestry.com. The results showed more than one Thomas Riddle around his age who was born in Virginia.
I decided to focus my research on Marissa’s mother (Leslie Riddle). I used the birth date from Marissa’s Farr’s SSDI record to request a copy of Marissa’s birth certificate which indicated Leslie’s maiden name was Sumner.
I performed a search on Ancestry.com for Leslie Sumner and found her in the 1900 household of Micah Sumner along with his wife Isabel and their children. The family was also located in the 1880, and 1910 censuses. In the 1880 census, the household of Micah Sumner consisted of his wife, children, a cousin and two boarders named Catherine Streeter and Lee Streeter. In the 1910 census, the household of Micah Sumner consisted of his wife, children, a three other people. Two of the people are a husband and wife named Emma and Clifton Jenkins and a 83 year old widow named Sarah Streeter.
I searched for Micah Sumner in the marriage, birth and death index and retrieved a marriage record for Micah Sumner and Elizabeth Patton, ten birth records and a death record for Micah Sumner. I was somewhat disappointed that the marriage index record indicated Elizabeth’s maiden name was Patton. I was hoping her maiden name would be Streeter.
The first few birth index records showed the mother’s name as Elizabeth Patton. A few others showed the mother’s maiden name as “Elizabeth Streeter Patton”. All of the birth index records indicate Elizabeth was born in Virginia. Three of the records indicated Elizabeth was born in Albemarle, Virginia (The county was spelled slightly different on each record).
I still have more research to do, but my research using land records has provided the following clues that lead me to believe Elizabeth Patton may be related to Catherine Streeter:
- Catherine Streeter and Lee Streeter are boarders in the 1880 household of Micah Sumner. There is a nine year age difference between Elizabeth and Catherine (Elizabeth is older) and a one year age difference between Catherine and Lee. Catherine, Lee and Elizabeth may be siblings or Catherine may be Elizabeth’s sister and Lee may be Catherine’s husband.
- Sarah Streeter is a boarder in the 1910 household of Micah Sumner. Sarah may be Elizabeth’s mother.
- Elizabeth’s full maiden name is listed as Elizabeth Streeter Patton on several of her children’s birth records. Perhaps Elizabeth’s marriage to Micah Sumner was her second marriage and Patton is her surname from her first marriage.
- Catherine Streeter’s place of birth of one of her children’s birth certificates is Almar, Virginia. It is a stretch but Almar may be a misspelling of a mispronunciation of Albemarle.
This example was somewhat lengthy, but I hope you picked up a few tips on how to use land records along with other resources to research your family history. With the exception of Marissa Riddle’s birth certificate, I was able to perform all of the research online using the following resources:
- Ancestry.com to view census records, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), the US Public Records Index, as well as, city directories. I did not mention City Directories in my example, but I used them as well. I have found that many of the City Directories are not indexed or often contain transcription errors. Therefore, it is not a good idea to depend on the search feature to locate a name. Instead it is best to directly access the directory for the specific city and year; and browse through the pages to locate the individual.
- Familysearch.org to view the Marriage, Birth and Death record index, as well as, the actual marriage record. The website also has free access to census records and the Social Security Death Index.
- Legacy.com to obtain obituaries.
- Local newspaper obituary database
- State online Recorder of the Deeds database to access land records.
- State online Real Property Tax database to locate lot/square for property using an address.
I enjoy looking at old photographs. When looking through my grandfather’s photo album the other day, I noticed a lot of the pictures were not labeled and the photo album was starting to fall apart. That got me to thinking about ways to preserve the photographs. I decided to share tips for preserving photographs as well as a few pictures from my grandfather’s days as a student at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in the 1920’s. Click on the photograph to enlarge.
- Identify. Write lightly on the back of the picture with a soft-lead No.2 pencil. Identify the people (use real names, not titles or nicknames), date, occasion, location and other pertinent information. Do not write with an ink pen or felt-tip marker because the ink will bleed through the photo.
- Photo albums are a good way to organize your photographs. The album should contain acid free paper and contain PVC-free plastics such as, Polypropylene, Polyester, Polyethelyne, Tyvek and Mylar. Look for products labeled “archival” or “archival safe.”
- Do not use photo albums that feature plastic sheeting over gummed pages. The adhesives, papers and plastics will damage the photographs over time.
- It is best to use photo albums with sleeves to secure the photograph in the album. If you prefer to fasten the photograph to the page; archival mounting corners are good method for securing photographs
- Do not use regular glue or tape to hold photographs in albums. These items contain chemicals which will cause the photograph to deteriorate. Use special photo-safe glue and tape instead.
- Do not place metal fasteners (paper clips,staples, etc.) or rubber bands on photos. Fasteners will rust and tear or indent photographs. Rubber bands will melt and become stuck to the photograph.
- Store loose photographs in acid-free paper boxes with acid-free paper dividers.
- Store photographs and photo albums in a cool, dark, dry place with low humidity. Exposure to extreme conditions such as heat, cold, high humidity or direct sunlight cause photographs to deteriorate and/or grow mildew.
- If you have negatives, store the negatives in a separate location from the pictures
- Do not store photos in attics, garages and basements. These are rarely insulated and do not have controlled temperatures. Additionally those areas usually contain pest and rodents which like to eat paper.
- Keep photographs on a high shelf away from areas where they may come in contact with water or fire. Do not store photographs near fireplaces, heaters, dryers, water pipes or in areas prone to flooding.
- A torn photograph can be repaired by placing acid-free archival tape on the back. Do not put tape on the front of the photograph. Only use acid-free archival tape because the other types of tape will yellow over time and stain.
- A damaged photograph can be repaired by scanning it and using image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. In some cases you may need to enlist the services of a professional who specializes in photo restoration. I have used the services of Drew Klausner at pixlfixl to restore several photos and have been very pleased with the results.
- Display. Do not display original photographs (especially old ones). Exposure to light can damage the photograph and will cause it to deteriorate. It is best to frame a copy of a photograph instead of the original.
- Digitize. Scan photographs and store on a CD or flash drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a different location from the photographs.
- Copy. Make extra print copies of photographs. Be sure to print on top-quality acid-free, archival paper. Make a photocopy of any original writing on the photograph and keep it attached to the photograph copy. Keep the copies in a different location than the originals and share with family members.
I was recently contacted by a young lady who had read my Genealogy Tips in Memory of My Mother blog post. She had recognized her grandmother in a picture of the Howard University 1946 May Queen and Court. The lady wanted to know if I had any other Howard University memorabilia from that time period.
School records and memorabilia are a great resource for family history research. The young lady’s email caused me to think of several places she could look for information about her grandmother’s college days. Below is a list of resources and repositories for finding information about your ancestors during their school days:
- Family Papers. Ask other family members if they have any schools records or memorabilia. My mother preserved a lot of her school records and memorabilia. She had her report cards from elementary and high school, as well as her college transcript. She had college graduation programs not only from the year she graduated but several years before and after she graduated. She also had a photo album that contained many pictures of college buddies on campus.
- School Board. The school board is a good resource for information on your ancestors during there time in grade school through high school. School records such as enrollment forms, attendance rosters, grade reports, disciplinary actions are often part of the administrative files maintained by the school board. These records can provide insight into the name and addresses of parents or guardians, birth dates and even the name and location of previous schools attended. Notes written by the teacher in the attendance roster recording the reason for the student’s absence can provide information on a death or illness in the family or relocation to another area. School boards also maintain a collection of yearbooks which are also a great source of information.
- Local Newspaper. Local newspapers often print list of students who made the honor roll, participated in student conferences or recently graduated. They also write articles on student achievements such as winning an award at the local science fair or a sporting event.
- University Library. Most Universities keep a copy dissertations and theses written by students. If your ancestors received a Master’s or PhD, check the university library catalog to see if there is a copy of their dissertation or thesis. Depending on how long ago the document was written it may be located in off-site storage. However, if you submit a request the library will retrieve the document for you.
- University Archive. Many schools maintain files on all of their alumni. The files may provide insight into their activities while a student at the university and after they graduated.
- Alumni Relations Office. Most alumni relations offices publish magazines or newsletters that contain articles on the accomplishments or passing of alumni. Check with the alumni office of any schools where your ancestor attended to see if they maintain an archive of these publications
- Admissions Office. Even if the person never graduated from the school, the school may have information. One of my ancestors died before he completed college. I wrote to the school and received a wealth of information about him including his application, letters from students who knewn him and a letter his mother wrote to the school after his death.
- School Newspaper or Magazine. Your ancestor may have written an article for the paper or contributed in one way or another.
- Alumni Associations for Organization. If your ancestor participated in a sorority, fraternity or some other national organization, check with the alumni chapter in the area where they attended school as well as lived to see if the organization has any information on them.
- Local Library. Libraries often maintain an archive of memorabilia from schools in the community. Check with the local library in the communities where your ancestors attended school to see if they have copies of news articles, yearbooks and other memorabilia and ephemera for the school your ancestors attended.
I often joke that my ancestors must have been hiding when the census taker knocked on their door because some of them seem to disappear from one census to the next. Here are a few tips for locating your ancestors in the census when they seemed to have disappeared.
- Use Soundex Search. The spelling of a surname sometimes changes with the passage of time. Using a soundex search will help you locate names that sound alike but are spelled differently. Don’t only relay on the soundex search because some surnames that sound alike have different soundex codes and therefore, would not be picked up by a soundex search.
- Use Wildcard Search. A wild card search allows you to search for a name when you are not sure of the spelling by using use special symbols (called wildcards). The specific wildcard rules and symbols vary by census index; however most (including Ancestry.com) use asterisk (*) to represent multiple letters and the question mark (?) to represent one letter. One of the surnames I am researching is “Woodfork”. However, the spelling on the name varies greatly: “Woolfolk”, “Woodfolk”, “Woodford” etc. The common letters in all of these spellings are “woo” and “fo”; therefore, whenever I search for an ancestor with this surname I always search for “woo*fo*”.
- Search for nickname.People do not always appear in the census with their birth name. The marriage certificate for one of my Shakespeare ancestors shows the brides name as “Sarah A. Ferguson”. In most of the censuses she is listed as “Sarah”; however, she is listed in the 1920 census as “Sallie”. “Sallie” and “Sally” are common nicknames for Sarah. There are many websites that list common nicknames for popular first names.
- Search for Middles Names. Many people are known by their middle name, not their first name. Searching for my maternal ancestors was a major chore. My mother had done a good job of writing down the family history she remembered. I also had additional information that had been collected from some of my other elderly relatives. However, I was having a tough time reconciling the information I found in the census with the information that was provided by family members. For example, when I reviewed the information collected from my family there was a “Leander Herbert”, “Parren Hebert” and his son Henry. However, when I located my 2nd Great-Grandparents in the census they did not have any children with those names, but they did have a “John Herbert” and a “Thomas Herbert”. It took me awhile until I figured out that almost everyone in the family used their middle name. “Leander Herbert” was “John Leander Herbert”. “Parren Hebert” was “Thomas Parren Hebert” and his son Henry was “Thomas Henry Herbert”.
- Search for abbreviations. Sometimes names are abbreviated in the census. My 2nd great grandfather “William Woolfolk” is listed in the 1870 census as “Wm Woolfolk”. Other common abbreviations I have encountered in the census are Jno (John), Chas (Charles) and Jas (James). You can find website that contain lists of abbreviations for many common names
- Search for family members. Sometimes you may need to search for a spouse, sibling, or child to locate a family member. I could not find my 3rd great grandfather, “Sancho Shakespeare”, in the 1880 census, so I decided to search for his wife, “Lucinda Shakespeare” and was able to locate the family. “Sancho” had been written as “Sanker”
- Search for surname only. If the surname is not common you can search without a first name. There are not that many people with the “Shakespeare” surname in Caroline County, Virginia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In fact, there appears to be only one family in the census and they all are my ancestors. I could not find my 3rd great grandfather “Sancho Shakespeare” and his family in the 1870 census. I decided to search for the “Shakespeare” surname, without a first name. One of the names I located was “George Shakespeare”. Other members of the household were Sarah, Lucinda, John, Martha and Fannie. The surname for those family members was “Shakeleford”. This family was my ancestors. “Sarah Shakespeare” was really “Sancho Shakespeare” my 3rd great grandfather, Lucinda was his wife, John and Martha were their children and Fannie was their granddaughter. “George Shakespeare” was their grandson who I was not familiar with because I knew him as “George Rollins” and “George Lewis”.
- Search for first name. If a person has an uncommon first name it may be possible to locate him/her without searching for a surname and using other information instead. When helping a friend research her family history, I searched without luck for a female who lived in James River Buckingham, County Virginia with the name “Willie Lethea Morris”. I was able to locate her in the 1930 census using her married name but could not find her using her maiden name. Based on the information from the 1930 census, I estimated she was born circa 1890. I then did a search for the first name “Willie”, born “1890 +/- 5 years”, and living in James River, Buckingham, County, Virginia and located her in the 1900 census where she is listed as “Willie L Morrison” (“Morris” had been transcribed as “Morrison”), the 1910 census where she is listed as “Willie Arthur Morris” (“Arletha” had been incorrectly transcribed as “Arthur”). I was even able to locate her in the 1920 census where her married name was misspelled.
- Search for Initials. On several occasions I have encountered a page in the census where almost everyone’s name was written with the initials and the surname. When using the approach be sure to search for first name initial, middle name initial and surname, as well as, first name initial and surname.
- Search for neighbors. In the past people lived in the same location for many years, sometimes all their life. Searching for a neighbor is a good way to locate your ancestors. Once you find the neighbor check two pages before and two pages after the neighbor and look for your ancestor.
- Just Browse. Sometimes when all else fails it may be necessary to go to the enumeration district where the person last lived and browse the census page by page.
Ancestry.com provides users with the capability to submit corrections. I strongly encourage researchers to use this feature to submit corrections once you find an elusive ancestor. Your correction will be added to the indexes and other users will be ale to see your correction.
When researching your family history, it is a good idea to revisit resources and repositories that you have used in the past. New information may have been added since your last visit or you may have gained additional knowledge that will make you see the information in a new light. Such was the case with my paternal great grandfather, Overton Woodfork.
From my research, I knew that Overton’s parents were William and Louisa Woolfolk and his mother’s maiden name was Shakespeare. I also knew from my research with the census (via ancestry.com) and the DC City Directories (using microfilm and the actual directories) that Overton had lived in Caroline County, Virginia during the 1870’s and early 1880’s; Washington DC during the late 1890’s and the 1900’s; and returned to Caroline County, Virginia during the 1930’s where he died in 1933. There were time periods, where he seemed to disappear and I did not know where else to look for him since, to my knowledge, he had only lived in Caroline County, Virginia and Washington, DC.
I had recently learned that one of my Shakespeare ancestors, Martha Shakespeare Lewis, and her husband, Arthur, had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to the Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1890’s where they lived until she died in 1915 and he died in 1935. I also knew that some of my Shakespeare ancestors had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland.
Periodically, I search ancestry.com for my ancestors to see if I can locate any new information. A few months ago, I decided to search for my paternal great grandfather and was surprised to see the search results contained an ‘Overton Woodfork’ in several Cincinnati, Ohio City Directories. Since Overton Woodfork is not a common name, I had a suspicion that it might be my great grandfather. The 1886 entry in the Cincinnati City Directory really caught my eye because in the section for the address it said “bds Arthur Lewis’ Walnut Hills”. Another search result was for an entry in 1887 Cincinnati City Directory contained “rooms 20 Curtis Walnut Hills”. After checking my research notes form Martha Shakespeare Lewis, I confirmed that she and her husband also lived at this address. Therefore, I am almost certain that these entries for ‘Overton Woodfork’ are my great grandfather.
A little while later I searched for Overton Woodfork again on ancestry.com and this time the search results also contained entries from the Baltimore City directory. After making this discovery, I decided to browse each Cincinnati City Directory and Baltimore City Directory manually during the time periods that Overton did not live in Caroline County, Virginia or Washington, DC. I found Overton Woodfork in several of the directories that did not show up in the online search results either because his name had been transcribed incorrectly or some of the names on the page had not been indexed. I also visited the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland to search the microfilm for the Baltimore City directories that were not online.
After completing this research, I now have a more complete timeline for Overton Woodfork. There are still a few years where I don’t know where he was living, so I still have more research to do to fill in the blanks.
In addition to illustrating the importance of revisiting resources and repositories, this experience demonstrates the importance of not solely relying on online search engines to perform research. It is also necessary to browse through the original documents to search for information. You may discover new information that will help you fill in the blanks on your family tree.
The 1940 Census became available to the public the first week of April 2012. Originally the ability to search by name was not available because the census was not indexed.
Ancestry.com has been adding indexes by state on a regular basis. Currently 25 states and the District of Columbia are indexed. (*) indicates the index was just added:
- Alabama (AL) *
- Arizona (AZ) *
- California (CA) *
- Colorado (CO)
- Delaware (DE)
- District of Columbia (DC)
- Georgia (GA) *
- Hawaii (HI) *
- Indiana (IN) *
- Kansas (KS) *
- Kentucky (KY) *
- Maine (ME)
- Michigan (MI) *
- Montana (MT) *
- Nebraska (NE) *
- Nevada (NV)
- New Hampshire (NH) *
- New York (NY)
- Ohio (OH)
- Oregon (OR) *
- Pennsylvania (PA)
- Tennessee (TN)
- Vermont (VT)
- Virginia (VA)
- Washington (WA) *
- Wisconsin (WI) *
My mother piqued my interest in family history when I was child by sharing her photo albums, memorabilia and tidbits of information. I started researching my family history when I was in high school but did not get serious about my research until almost 30 years later. By that time, my mother had dementia and was not able to share in my research. No one else in my family shares my passion for genealogy so I usually don’t discuss my research with family.
Although my husband does not share my interest in genealogy he is very supportive of my interest. He does not complain when I ask him to make a detour when we are on vacation so I can visit a library or archive to do some research. He always obliges me when I ask him to proofread something I have written and does not mind that my research stuff take up 95% our home office space.
My husband is a great sport when it comes to my research. However, when I really need someone to talk to I call on one of my genealogy buddies. I rely on my genealogy buddies to share the joy of a new discovery, commiserate about the frustration of a brick wall and to keep me motivated.
One time I went into a panic when I thought I had lost a notebook containing all the research on my Shakespeare ancestors. Although I had backup copies of all the items in the notebook, the thought of losing my neatly organized binder nearly brought me to tears. “What are you looking for”, my husband asked when he saw me frantically searching in the office closet. “I can’t find my Shakespeare notebook”, I replied. “I am sure you will find it”, he calmly replied and went on his way. I needed to talk to someone who would truly understand what I was going through so I called my genealogy buddy, Robyn. “I can’t find my Shakespeare notebook”, I wailed when she answered the phone. “Oh girl, I know how you feel”, she replied and proceeded to tell me about the time she had misplaced some of her research. We talked for a while and I was much calmer after our conversation ended. I later resumed my search and found my notebook.
My genealogy buddies give me a push when I need it. When I had a very rough draft of my book on Union High School, I shared it with a graphic designer to get his input for a cover and the book layout. My heart sank as he flipped through my draft and made comments: He did not like my tentative title, he did not like my idea for the cover design, he did not like the pictures I had selected, and he did not like my concept for the book layout. In short, he did not like anything about the book. As I drove home after the meeting I became dejected and started to doubt my ability to complete the project. When I got home I put my rough draft away and moped around the house for awhile. Then I called my genealogy buddy, Vanessa, and told her about my experience.
She could hear the dejection in my voice and sought to reassure me. She pointed out that this was just one person’s opinion and that I should not let it deter me. She encouraged me to seek the advice of another graphic designer and others who had published local history books. After my conversation with Vanessa, my vision for the book became clearer and my motivation returned. I thought of a new title for the book and found a graphic designer and editor who helped turn my vision for Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969 into a reality. I have received many compliments on the book, congratulations from my congressional representative, recognition from the Caroline County Board of Supervisors and the book was a Finalist in the African American Non-fiction category for the 2012 National Indie Excellence Book Awards contest. None of this would have happened without Vanessa’s pep talk.
I am also inspired by many other genealogist and family historians: Alice Harris, President of the Central Maryland AAHGS chapter who always does such a great job planning so many informative events for the chapter, Thomas McEntee who shares a lot of useful information on his blog and has so many inspirational guests on his GeneaBloggers Blog Talk Radio show, Bernice Bennett who also has great guests on her Blog Talk Radio show, as well as, the many people I meet at genealogy conferences, forums and chat rooms.
Every family historian needs genealogy buddies to keep them going. I am so thankful for mine.
Performing genealogy and local history research gives me an appreciation for many of the opportunities I have today. For most adults, attending school as a child and learning to read and write are skills we take for granted. Such was not the case for many of our ancestors. For many, educational opportunities were few to non-existent. When educational opportunities did exist, many people could not take advantage of them because the daily tasks of providing food, shelter and clothing often took precedence over receiving an education.
A few years ago while visiting a cousin who agreed to share information on my Woolfolk ancestors; I had an experience that caused me to reflect upon my life. One of the items my cousin shared with me was a letter written in 1906 by Lucy Jane Woolfolk Ellis, the sister of my great grandfather, Overton Woolfolk. Lucy Jane was born in 1875, a little more than ten years after the end of slavery. According to the 1900 census, Lucy Jane could not read or write so the letter may have been written for her by someone else.
Lucy Jane Woolfolk Ellis Letter – 1906
Reading the letter was a stark reminder of the value of education. The letter did not contain any punctuation and was filled with so many grammatical and spelling errors that it was almost impossible to read. After almost an hour, I was able to decipher the letter and learned some valuable information about my Woolfolk ancestors.
Like many of my contemporaries, I never give a second thought to the fact that I can read and write. I am cognizant of the educational opportunities I have received and appreciate how those opportunities have greatly enhanced my life. However, I don’t think I am special. Lucy Jane’s letter made me pause and really appreciate all that I have and how far all of the Woolfolk descendants have come.
This experience illustrates the importance of family and community history. I believe people who understand the past have a better appreciation for what they have today and will feel a responsibility for continuing the legacy and making the future better for the next generation. As family and community historians we must continue to preserve the past and encourage the next generation to take advantage of all the opportunities afforded them.