I have written about my genealogy buddy, Robyn Smith and her exciting family research in several of my posts. Robyn is the author of the popular genealogy blog, Reclaiming Kin where she uses her research as a tool to show others how to research their family history.
Robyn is a great genealogy buddy because she takes her research seriously. She is a stickler for using the proper methodology and doing due diligence to research family history. Robyn is an inspiration to many in the genealogy community.
She recently published a book titled, The Best of Reclaiming Kin: Helpful Tips On Researching Your Roots, with some of her most informative blog post. Her book is a valuable addition to the personal library of anyone who is interested in researching their family history
I urge you to visit her blog and see for yourself. Your research will be greatly enhanced by the knowledge she shares.
For many years, I was reluctant to build a family tree online because I wanted to protect the privacy of family members and control access to information on my tree. When I learned that I could use privacy settings to control access to my tree, I decided to put my tree on Ancestry.com.
I only put deceased individuals on my tree and used the ‘Private’ privacy setting to prevent other subscribers from viewing information on my tree. However, basic information (name, birth year, and birthplace) about deceased individuals is displayed in search results. If a person wants to view my tree, they must contact me anonymously through the Ancestry.com messaging service. You can learn more about ancestry.com privacy setting and decide what is best for you.
An added benefit of putting my tree online was I was able to take advantage of ancestry.com hints. This feature uses information from your family tree to suggest possible matches between people on the tree and historical records and/or other family trees.
I recently solved a genealogy mystery thanks to a hint from Ancestry.com. I have traced my Shakespeare family back to the 1840’s where Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare and their children were enslaved by Elijah Wigglesworth in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Over the years I have made considerable progress on expanding my Shakespeare family tree but I had several people whose trail went cold.
Richard Shakespeare was one of those people. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1899 to Richard Shakespeare Sr and Molly/Mary Bailey. I believe his mother must have died when he was young because after 1900 he and his brother, James, lived in Caroline County, Virginia with their father’s brother, John Henry Shakespeare, and John’s wife, Sarah Ann (Sallie) Ferguson. Their father remained in Baltimore, MD where he died in 1927.
The latest information I had on Richard Shakespeare Jr. was from the 1920’s. He was listed in the 1920 Caroline County census with his aunt, uncle and brother. I could not locate any information on Richard after the 1920s.
Last month, I received an email from ancestry.com with a hint for my Shakespeare Family Tree. I clicked on the link which took me to Richard Shakespeare’s death certificate. From this document I learned that Richard lived in Beaver County, Pennsylvania and his wife’s name was Jannie.
Armed with this new information I began to search for Richard in Beaver County, Pennsylvania and located information on Richard, his wife and their children. Using other ancestry.com hints, I attempted to locate and contact some of Richard’s living descendants.
I used resources outside ancestry.com to obtain death notices for Richard, his wife and their children. I learned from their death notices they were members of Love-Hope Baptist Church and wrote to the church to see if they had any information on Richard Shakespeare and his family. The church was gracious enough to forward my letter to Richard Shakespeare’s great granddaughter who contacted me. We recently met and exchanged information. They shared this picture of Richard Shakespeare with me.
Thanks to a hint from Ancestry.com, I was able to solve the mystery of what happened to Richard Shakespeare, expand my Shakespeare Family Tree and meet some new cousins!!.
Descendants of Sancho and Lucinda Shakespeare
Richard was the grandson of Sancho and Lucinda’s son Beverly. In addition to Beverly, they had seven other children: Eliza, Richmond, Louisa, Nancy, Matilda, John, Martha. The family was separated in 1845 when their slaveowner, Elijah Wigglesworth, estate was settled and his property was distributed among his wife and children
I have not located any information on Eliza. I am not sure if she used the Shakespeare surname after slavery. She may have been taken to Tennessee when her slave owner, Andrew J. Wigelsworth, moved to the state.
Richmond and Nancy
Richmond, Nancy and Matilda were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira W. Wigelsworth married him. Nancy had a daughter named, Susan. The three of them escaped from Jefferson Flippo in 1862 but I have been unable to determine what happened to them. . I am not sure if they used the Shakespeare surname after slavery.
Matilda Shakespeare were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira W. Wigelsworth married him. She had several children during slavery. One of them was John Henry Lewis. . I met the wife of John Henry Lewis’s youngest son who shard this picture with me.
After slavery Matlida married Dingo Rollins and they had several children. Two of their children were Rachel and Marry Rollins. I met Mary’s granddaughter who share these pictures of Matilda’s daughters with me.
Louisa married William Woolfolk. They are my 2nd great grandparents. They had several children, Overton, my great grandfather, and Susan. I have not located a picture of Overton. I located Susan’s granddaughter who shared this picture with me.
Beverly Shakespeare had several wives and several children. John Herbert Shakespeare is also a descendant of Beverly.
John is listed in the 1870 census with his parents. I have not located any other information about him.
I wrote a blog post about Martha.
My grandfather, Sylvester Roy Woodfork Sr, was a World War I veteran. In my 2011 post titled The Importance of Performing Thorough Research I mentioned the discrepancy between the family oral history regarding his military service and the information contained on the military records I received from the National Archives. As I continued to locate more information on my grandfather’s military service I become more confused because the information on one set of documents was different from the information on another set of documents.
I sent a letter to the National Archives to see if they could help me understand why these documents had conflicting information. I recently received an explanation. This blog post demonstrates the importance of locating the original documents when performing research and explains why there may be a discrepancy in a person’s military records.
Below is a summary of the various documents with information on my grandfather’s military unit:
- The NA Form 13164 (which can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act) provided by the National Archives in St Louis indicates he served in 52nd Company 13th Battalion 153rd DB Camp Dix, NJ.
- A Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge dated December 11, 1958 indicates he served in Battery F, 351st Field Artillery.
- The original discharge papers that were issued on March 15, 1918 indicate he was a Private in 52nd Co 13th Bn 153rd DB Camp Dix, NJ.
- The Remarks section of the enlistment record that accompany the original discharge indicate Service 351st fa 1/13/18, 52nd Co, 12th Bn, 153rd DB 2/22/19
Below is the answer I received from the Archivist explaining why these document contained different information:
There are usually two units found on different military separation forms. When in the service a veteran would have served with one main unit for the majority of the war. In this case Mr. Woodfork spent the majority of his service with the 351st Field Artillery as of July 13, 1918.
Towards the end of the war, or when a veteran was to be discharged/separated from service, each veteran was sent to a certain unit or place (in this case Camp Dix) that was specifically utilized for discharge or out processing. In this case, on February 22, 1919 Mr. Woodfork was transferred to the 52nd Co for out processing to be discharged from the service. This notation is shown in the enlistment record notes in which you referred.
The difference in the documents issued later depends on who and what criteria was used. The certificate in lieu of discharge and transcript of military record was issued directly from the Army in 1958. The Army was putting the emphasis of his service on the unit it which he spent the most time and that was really the primary unit in which he served.
The Information Releasable Under the Freedom of Information Act was issued by the National Archives and Records Administration, National Personnel Records Center. They tend to list the final unit, the out processing unit, as the place and unit of separation.
If you have a question about research or records obtained from the National Archives, you can contact them by completing an Inquire Form on the National Archives website.
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.