Archive for the ‘Research Tips’ Category

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives – Part V

This is Part 5 of a 5 part series on using the collection at The Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives to perform genealogy research. This post discusses exhibits and portraits at the archives that can be beneficial to genealogy research. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.


Portraits and Exhibits in the Sumner Collection

 All of the items discussed so far can be viewed in the research room.  However, I encourage you not to limit your research to that one room. There are several floors in the museum that contain artifacts that may be helpful to your research.


As you walk through the museum you will notice portraits everywhere. There are portraits of individuals who were affiliated with the school system. Some of the portraits have tags that contain biographical information. Portraits can be found for:

  • Principals – Usually the portrait that hung in the school.
  • Teachers
  • School Board members
  • School Namesakes


MFF Swartzell Eastern Principal 1900-1906 - Copy

MFF Swartzell Eastern Principal 1900-1906


Many of the rooms contain exhibits for individuals who were affiliated with the school system. You may find an exhibit for one of your family members. Here are a few examples.

Alfred Sze was a student at Central High School.  He later became China’s ambassador to the United States.  His exhibit contains many artifacts from his time at Central High, as well as, before and after high school.

Antoinette J Lee wrote an article for the Washington History magazine titled Asian and Asian American Students in Washington, D.C. Public Schools during the Segregation Era.  Alfred Sze is mentioned in the article.  This article is very informative and is also a great example of the use of resources in the Sumner collection.

Alma Thomas was an artist and teacher at Shaw Junior High School. Her exhibit is filled with information and pictures about her, her parents, siblings and grandparents.

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Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post

Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
Part 2 of 5 – History of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives
Part 3 of 5 – Documents in the Sumner Collection
Part 4 of 5 – Vertical Files in the Sumner Collection
Part 5 of 5 – Portraits and Exhibits in the Sumner Collection

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives – Part IV

This is Part 4 of a 5 part series on using the collection at The Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives to perform genealogy research. This post discusses vertical files in the Sumner collection that can be beneficial to genealogy research. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

Vertical Files in the Sumner Collection

Vertical files contain a collection of papers, pamphlets, clippings, pictures or other materials on a specific subject. The Sumner collection has several types that are helpful to genealogy research:

  • School Files contain information related to a specific school
  • People Files contain information on an individual who was connected with the school system.
  • Alumni Files contain information on individuals who attended a school. These files only exist for high schools.
  • School Namesake Files contain information on person for whom a school was named
  • Special Collections are created for individuals who were connected with the school system. They contain artifacts related to their tenure in the school system.


School Files

School files generally contain:

  • Commencement Programs
  • School Newspapers
  • Class Pictures
  • Photographs
  • News articles about staff and pupils
  • Programs for school plays and events
  • Awards

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People/Alumni/School Namesake Files

People, Alumni and Namesake files generally contain the the following :

Obituary News clippings
Funeral Programs Photographs
Correspondence Speeches
Biography Oral History
Certificates Diplomas
Ephemera Publications

You can find some very interesting items in these files.  For example, one people file contained a script for a This is Your Life program that was part of an 85th birthday celebration.  This script contained a wealth of genealogy information about not only the person but his family members as well.


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Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post

Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
Part 2 of 5 – History of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives
Part 3 of 5 – Documents in the Sumner Collection
Part 4 of 5 – Vertical Files in the Sumner Collection
Part 5 of 5 – Portraits and Exhibits in the Sumner Collection

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives – Part III

This is Part 3 of a 5 part series on using the collection at The Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives to perform genealogy research. This post discusses documents in the Sumner collection that can be beneficial to genealogy research. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

Documents in the Sumner Collection

The Sumner Museum contains material related to the history of public education in Washington, DC from 1804 (when the public education system started) to the present.  It contains information of the school board, schools and teachers colleges.

It should be noted that the museum does not have every artifact for every school for every time period. It should also be noted that the museum does not have personnel records, students records or students transcripts.

Research Room

Research Room

The museum has maps for various time periods that show the schools associated with each community. If you do not know which school the person you are researching attended, the museum staff can use the maps to assist you in determining the school the person may have attended.

The following documents in the Sumner collection are beneficial to genealogy research:

  • School Board Records and Reports describe the activities of the school board, the schools and the people associated with them.
  • Student Registrations provide information on students who entered or left the school system.
  • Directory of Public Schools list all the schools in the school system and the employees.
  • Yearbooks provide insight into the events for a specific school year.
  • Scrapbooks –   Contain ephemera and memorabilia for a school
  •  Graduation Lists document the names of individuals who graduated from each high school. The lists are only available for the 1970s through the 1990s.

I will discuss a few of the documents in greater detail.

School Board Records and Reports

Annual Reports

From 1874 to 1967, the District of Columbia was governed by a three-member Board of Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States. Each year the Board issued an annual report to Congress. The report was a multi-volume document comprised of reports from various DC government offices and departments. The school board was one of the departments that submitted a report.

You may find  your family member mentioned in an annual report. Even if the person is not listed by name, you may find information such as the a job description or a description of the working conditions at a school that provide insight into their life.

School Board Minutes

School Board Minutes catalog actions of the school system and its employees. The minutes contain information on anyone who worked for the school system (not just teachers and principals).

The minutes also contain information on non-employees. For example, if a member of the community wrote a letter to the school board or gave a speech at a school board meeting, that person would be mentioned in the minutes.

School Board Minutes.JPG

School Board Minutes

The school board minutes are in bounded volumes. The artifacts that are mentioned in the minutes are on microfilm.  For example, if the minutes mention a letter was received,  the actual letter will be on microfilm.

Some of the information you may find in school board minutes that may be helpful to your research are:

  • Hire/Transfer
  • Promotion/Demotion
  • Leave of Absence
  • Termination/Retirement
  • Name Change
  • Illness
  • Death
  • Correspondence

The school board minute finding aids are index cards which are stored in a file cabinet in the research room.  There is a card for each individual, organization or school discussed during the school board meeting. Each index card has a dated line item for each topic. The date can be used to locate the volume containing the school board minutes where the name was mentioned.

In this example, a name change for Mrs. Vivian F Colter, a teacher at Miner Teachers College, was approved on March, 3, 1948.

Vivian Colter Finding Aid.jpg

Finding aid for Mrs Vivian F Colter

The minutes for this meeting can be found by locating the volume that contains the minutes for  March, 3, 1948.  The index for the volume indicates the page containing information for this event.

Vivian Colter Name Change Approval

From the school board minutes we now know Mrs. Vivian F Colter’s name was changed to Mrs. Vivian F McBrier.

Student Registrations

The Annual Register of Pupils contains information on students who enrolled in or left school . The documents are located on microfilm and are organized by school, grade and school year.

The register contains the following information:

  • Date of Admission
  • T (Transfer)
  • Name of Pupil
  • Name of Parent or Guardian
  • Residence
  • Occupation of Parent
  • Date of Leaving
  • Manner of leaving
  • Re-entry

The register has very detailed instructions on how the document should be completed. I recommend you carefully read the instructions because it will help interpret the information on the document. Notes entered by the teacher may provide valuable genealogy clues.

This is an example of a page from the register for Hayes School for the 1901 – 1902 school year.

Alsop Brothers - Copy

It may be hard to read, so I have listed the pertinent information:

  • Name and Age: Frank Alsop (age 8)
  • Name and Age:  Ernest Alsop (age 10)
  • Parent: Lawrence H. Alsop (Laborer)
  • Residence: 1143 5th Street SE

The names are organized in alphabetical order by surname. When looking down the list, it is helpful to look for students with the same surname.  In this example,  Frank Alsop (age 8) and Ernest Alsop (age 10) have a parent name or guardian with the same name, and live at the same address.   It is a good possibility that Frank and Ernest are siblings. Additional research will be needed to confirm this theory.

Directory of Public Schools

SDC15599 - CopySDC15600 - Copy

This directory lists the names and titles for all employees for each school. For the segregation time period, the book has separate sections for white schools and colored schools.  The section for white schools is in the front followed by the section for colored schools.  The schools are listed in alphabetical order within each section.


Yearbooks are a great source for pictures. They also contain information that gives us a better understanding of the students and the time period in which they lived. They provide insight into the student’s thoughts and aspirations;  the school environment and the school experience.

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Many schools sell advertisements to help defer the cost of publishing the Yearbook. Most advertisements are from businesses. A few are from friends and family members.

For example, an advertisement reads:

Congratulations to our daughter
Tiffany R Jackson
Class of 1981
Mr and Ms Leroy Jackson

Another advertisement in the same yearbook reads:

Congratulations to my  niece
Tiffany Renee Jackson
Class of 1981
Samantha Wilson

From this advertisement you now know:

  • Student’s full name
  • Appropriate age (based on graduating class)
  • Father’s name
  • Aunt’s name

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives

This is Part 1 of a 5 part series on using the collection at The Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives in Washington, DC to perform genealogy research.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are Courtesy Sumner Museum.

I recently spoke at the 44th Annual Conference on DC History. I was a member of a panel that discussed Hidden Histories of the District Government.  Kimberly Springle, the Executive Director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, was speaking at another conference and asked me to represent the Sumner Museum on the Hidden Histories panel.

Charles Sumner Museum Pic

The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives is the official museum and archives of the District of Columbia Public School System.  It is often referred to as the “Sumner Museum“ or the “Sumner Archives” . The purpose of my presentation was to demonstrate how to use the museum’s collection for genealogy research.

I decided to share the information from my presentation in a blog series.  If you have ancestors who lived in Washington DC there is a good chance they were affiliated with the DC public school system in some capacity. They may have been a student, an employee or a member of the community that had a connection to the school.

Some children who lived in the nearby suburbs also attended DC public schools.  I met a lady who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland as a child.  During that time period, the school system was segregated and there was no school for black students near her home.  Even though she lived in Maryland, she attended the Military Road School in Washington, DC.

Be sure to subscribe to my blog so that you will be notified of the next post in this series.   There is a good chance you may find some genealogy gems at The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives.

Genealogy Gems at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives – Related Post


Research Tips from My Genealogy Buddy Robyn Smith

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.

Reclaiming Kin

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.

Protecting and Expanding Your Family Tree on

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

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 messaging service.  You can learn more about 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 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  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 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.

Richard Shakespeare Death Certificate

Richard Shakespeare’s Death Certificate
The Key to Expanding my Shakespeare Tree


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 hints, I attempted to locate and contact some of Richard’s living descendants.

I used resources outside 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.


Richard Shakespeare Jr

Richard Shakespeare Jr


Thanks to a hint from, 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

Eliza Shakespeare

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.


John Henry Lewis (front row center)  and Family

John Henry Lewis (front row center) and Family


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.

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin's Daughter- Mary Rollins Jones

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin’s Daughter – Mary Rollins Jones

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin's Daughte -  Rachel Rollins Fergueson

Matilda Shakespeare and Dingo Rollin’s Daughte
Rachel Rollins Fergueson











Louisa Shakespeare

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.

Susan Woolfolk Waugh

Susan Woolfolk Waugh

Beverly Shakespeare

Beverly Shakespeare had several wives and several children.  John Herbert Shakespeare is also a descendant of Beverly.

John Herbert Shakespeare and his daughter Shirely Jean

John Herbert Shakespeare and
his daughter Shirely Jean


John Shakespeare

John is listed in the 1870 census with his parents.  I have not located any other information about him.

Martha Shakespeare

I wrote a blog post about Martha.

Conflicting Military Information – Mystery Solved

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.

Genealogy Gems in Historical Newspapers

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.


Source:  The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6.  Chronicling America. Web. 1May 2014.

Source: The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6. Chronicling America. Web. Date Month Year Accessed. May 2014


Source:  The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6.  Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Colored American February 20, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 6. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.


1919 07 04 - Bathing Apperatus Ad-short

Source: The Washington Post July 4, 1919 (Washington, DC) Page 10. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.

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.

Source: The Evening Star January 7, 1894 (Washington, DC) Page 8. Chronicling America. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Washington Post April 21, 1949 (Washington, DC) Page B1.ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


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.


Source:  The Evening Star November 29, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 12.  ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Evening Star November 29, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 12. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Evening Star December 6, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 5 ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.


Source: The Washington Post November 30, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 10. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

Source: The Washington Post November 30, 1904 (Washington, DC) Page 10. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

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.


Source: The Washington Post September 26, 1913 (Washington, DC) Page 3. ProQuest. Web. Accessed May 2014.

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.

Genealogy Gems in Land Records

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 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
Riddle, Thomas

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
Morris, Richard

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  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 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Tips for Preserving Photographs

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Organize.
    • 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.
  3. Store.
    • 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.
  4. Repair/Restore.  
    • 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Digitize.  Scan photographs and store on a CD or flash drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a different location from the photographs.
  7. 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.
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