Records in Shorthand?

Can you read shorthand? I certainly cannot.

Shorthand testimony was taken in regards to the naturalization of Jane Alice Donald in Adams County, Illinois, in 1921. The material appears with other loose naturalization-related documents from Adams County, Illinois.

It’s not often I discover this much shorthand in a record–let alone an entire record written in shorthand. It serves as a reminder that we can easily encounter handwriting we cannot read in virtually any record–even when most of other materials are written in a script with which we are familiar.

I’m not related to Jane. I merely stumbled across this item while searching for something else. It is located in “Naturalization related papers, cases 1-414, ca. 1830-1918” from Adams County, Illinois, as micofilmed by FamilySearch.

Information about this item:


Including Identification Details

I really like this picture of my great-grandparents and their two youngest children. Unlike many photographs I have, it doesn’t seem staged–the clothes are on the line, after all. And the daughter seems to be shooting her father a funny type of look.
But identifying the picture got me to thinking…
I’m still toying with ways to include “metadata” with pictures. I realize that when creating graphics files there are other ways to include details such as those I’ve written in black on this document without putting them on the actual image itself.  One concern I see is that not all users of graphic images readily access such metadata and some may inadvertently bypass it entirely.

Genealogists who are not necessarily adept with their computer skills may simply copy and paste the image into their own graphics program or genealogical software–thus bypassing any “metadata” that is not an “immediate” part of the image and unintentionally overlooking key information.

Who is in the picture is important, but I’m starting to become convinced that some of the “chain of provenance” and “how” we know who is in the picture or where it is taken is important too–just as important. There are many pictures on the internet that are identified, but if one simply “copied and pasted it,” how does one know if the identification was correct?

And if the image gets saved without any identifying information, then it’s just an old picture of some dead people.

One-Eighth Irish or What?

On paper, I’m 1/8th Irish. My great-grandfather, Charles Neill, was born in 1875 near West Point, Hancock County, Illinois, to parents who were natives of Ireland.

My DNA ethnic test results tell a different story.

We’ve mentioned before the difference between a paper pedigree and where your DNA says you originate. The DNA ethnicity goes back significantly further than the paper pedigree. My 1/8th Irish heritage stems from Samuel Neill and Annie Murphy, mid-19th century Irish immigrants to Canada and eventually the United States.

Samuel was an Irish Protestant from the north. His ancestral roots may very well rest in Scotland. Annie’s specific Irish origins are not known. She may very well have been an Irish Protestant herself–again with roots eventually going back to Scotland.

The ethnic results are based upon migration patterns over thousands of years. That’s a great deal more than the approximately 175 years I have my Irish heritage traced back.

AncestryDNA puts me at 4% in the “Ireland/Scotland/Wales” category. FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage put me at 0%. Keep in mind these percentages are approximations.

Personally I look at all of these as broad generalities. They all say my heritage is European. That’s consistent with what I know. The rest of the numbers are based upon a variety of assumptions–about migrations, about people’s backgrounds, etc.

I have no doubt I’m a descendant of Samuel and Annie. There are twelve of their descendants who all match each each other in  AncestryDNA results–including me. And…we descend from four different children of Samuel and Annie.

I’m not too worried about the “far back” ethnic results. For me…the results are entertainment more than anything else.

I’m more concerned about trying to find Annie’s parents. We’ll write about that in a future post. I have no Scandinavian ancestors in my paper tree, but the tests show me with significant Scandinavian ancestry. We’ve briefly discussed the valid reasons behind those results before but will revisit them in a future post.

But…I’ll focus more on my paper tree and using the DNA results to connect with people in the present–not on ancestral origins thousands of years in the past.

Accurately Searching for my Ordinary Ancestors

Genealogy is not a mad rush towards Charlemagne. It is a slow path, filled with frontier brush, Southern sweat, and New England winters. Instead of leading to castles and mansions, that path often leads to one-room cabins, coal miner’s shacks, and urban tenements. And it leads to the people who made the fabric of this nation, either by harvesting it in the fields, weaving it in the mills, selling it the general store, or saving to earn the money to purchase it.

And that’s just fine with me.

The obsession with celebrity leads some to ask “what famous person am I related to?” or “what celebrity is my umpteenth cousin?”

The obsession with research leads others to ask who were my great-grandparents? What impacted their lives? What historical events beyond their control shaped them in ways that I can’t really imagine? And what records did those people leave behind to give me some glimpse into their lives?

Ralph, Nellie, and Cecil Neill–about 1911–near Stillwell, St. Albans Township, Hancock County, Illinois–probably taken on whatever farm Charlie Neill (their father) was renting. The author’s grandfather is on the right.

Not in an Instant

The search for those records can take a lifetime, even in the era of the internet. It’s not just about the search for some obscure document that makes a connection or finding as much material as possible. Genealogy is not the accumulation of capital. It is about stitching documents together, fleshing out the unwritten clues in the records, and weaving the written and the unwritten together into a story that is based upon sound research, sound methodology and yet is engaging to the reader. The difficulty for those who strive to accurately document their heritage is that many of those who lived their lives outside the bright glow of fame do not always leave the amount of records that makes telling their story easy.

Accuracy Matters

Family history research is about being as accurate as possible–not so much because that’s the right way to do it (which it is), but because telling our ancestors’ stories accurately honors their lives. Sloppy and hasty research, thirty-second conclusions, and mere data collection with the intent of “getting as much as we can and as far back as we can” does a disservice to those who came before us, even the ancestors whose lives are ones we may choose not to emulate. Would we not want our own stories told as accurately as possible? Would you want someone in one hundred years confusing you with your deadbeat cousin of the same name whose never worked a day in his life, been arrested more times than he has fingers and has children with women in three different time zones?

Alvin, Leroy and John H. Ufkes–taken on Fred Ufkes farm east of Basco, Hancock County, Illinois, probably late 1930s The author’s grandfather is on the right.

Let’s Be Royal

Some researchers desire to make that royal connection and establish their family tree back to the ancient royal houses of Europer. That’s never been my interest. My interest is in making connections that are as accurate as possible. Does that mean I have a few relatives born in the 1840s that are my “brick walls” and for whom I may never find out much more? Yes.

Oh Darn. They Were All Farmers

I hear people lamenting their “farming” ancestors and how their ancestors are all boring, etc. To adequately research my farming ancestors, I have had to learn about state and federal laws, historical trends, migration patterns, women’s rights, agricultural practices, naming patterns, sociological trends, and historical details for more locations than I can count.  Sometimes I’m glad my ancestors are all somewhat homogeneous as it cuts the learning curve.

Family of George and Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter, taken around 1916. The author’s grandmother is on the far right.

Will your descendants think you, your occupation and your lifestyle are boring and not worthy of any study at all?

There are no boring ancestors–just researchers who’ve not yet gone beneath the surface.

Getting Negative About Evidence

The word “negative” can be confusing when applied to evidence. Negative evidence is “evidence” because it is something we expected to find and did not. The word “negative” is used in the sense of “not finding evidence” that we expect to find.

“Negative evidence” does not mean evidence that indicates something did not happen.

A statement in a court case that “Elizabeth Jones never lived in Missouri” is not considered “negative evidence.” A “negative” word in a statement (such as “never”) does not make that statement negative evidence. In fact, this statement would actually be considered direct evidencethat Elizabeth never lived in Missouri (“direct” because it explicitly states she never lived in Missouri).

 “Negative evidence” does not mean evidence of a “negative” event (eg. a record that indicates your ancestor was an axe-murderer).

The nature of the event or item has nothing to do with whether evidence is considered to be negative.

What Is Negative Evidence?

Negative evidence is not found. It is the fact that information is “unfound” that makes the evidence negative. A very simple example would be a person who appears regularly in  personal property tax lists for a county from 1828 until 1842. He also appears in the 1830 and 1840 federal census records for that county. Searches of personal property tax records after 1842 fail to locate him in the county and he is not enumerated in the 1850 census there either. There are no death records for the time period and an estate or probate file cannot be located.

His failure to appear in these records would be “negative evidence” indicating he was not living in that county after 1842.  The “negative” is not because he is “not” living…it’s negative because he’s not listed in records we would expect him to be listed in if he were living in the county, particularly when he was listed in those records before 1842.

His failure to be listed does not mean he’s dead. He could simply have moved. One needs to be careful when making statements based upon the fact that someone does not appear in a series of records.

Learn more about negative evidence in:

A Church in the Distance

originally published in August of 2013 on our old site

How closely do you look for clues in the backgrounds of pictures?

When the below was enlarged, there was a faint shadow as shown in the oval:

Had I not known where the photograph was taken, the church would have been a clue. It is the Immanuel Lutheran Church east of Basco in Hancock County, Illinois. The church is in close proximity to the farm on which Fred spent his entire life.

Are there clues lingering in the background of your pictures?

DNA Webinars Offered Again

Due to popular demand we are offering live sessions of these two presentations I gave earlier this year. (view our list of recorded presentations)

Sifting Through Your AncestryDNA Matches–Followup to “Working with AncestryDNA Matches”

This session assumes listeners/attendees have a basic understanding of what AncestryDNA offers, how to navigate their AncestryDNA matches, how to track working with their matches, what shared matches are and are not, and have already done some work with with their AncestryDNA matches–at least having worked through their first/second cousins matches at least once to determine connections where possible. If you have not yet played with your matches, this session is not for you. The basics of the system are not covered in this session. This is a session focused on research methodology and more advanced working through the matches.

In this session we will work through several extended examples based on Michael’s own research. This will include a relatively straightforward example,  families that have multiple relationships, and families from areas where “they’ve lived there for hundreds of years” and the shared relationships are distant and unknown. The importance of sifting out (where possible) and tracking will be emphasized. Our focus is on process and analysis–not in making you a geneticist. 

Can’t attend live? Purchase an immediate download of this presentation for $16.


Preparing for Your Autosomal DNA Results-Webinar

This hour-long presentation will present a brief overview of what autosomal DNA results are and are not. These are the tests that are done at AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe. Effective use of your results is easiest to do if pre-planning is done beforehand. This presentation will also help those who have not really delved into their results or feel they need to regroup their analytical process.  Discussion will include determining what problems your results can potentially answer, goal-setting, preparing for sifting through your results, generalized sifting strategies, locating as many ancestral descendants as possible, reasons why you have to work on the people who aren’t your problem people, and more as time allows.

Can’t attend live? Order now for immediate download.

FHL Cards: Here a Courthouse, There a Courthouse, Everywhere a Courthouse

Knowing what you are looking at is crucial to evaluating genealogical information.

Campbell County, Kentucky, has two courthouses. Many of the county’s records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available on microfilm at the Family History Library or online digitally. Some of the card catalog descriptions of microfilmed materials do not make it clear the courthouse where the originals were located.

But those title cards.

Those title cards do.

These marriage bonds (which actually aren’t all marriage bonds as mentioned in an earlier post) were microfilmed at Campbell County’s Alexandria, Kentucky, courthouse.

Now I know which courthouse.

And know you know why those title cards matter.


A Random Marriage

It took me forever to find it and it just about took me forever to cite it as well.

My citation format for this 1852 marriage record from Campbell County, Kentucky, is not in proper  Evidence Explained format. But the essentials are there:

  • the original creator of the record
  • the names of the principle individuals on the record
  • the date of the record (presumed to be the date of the marriage since no other date is given)
  • the type of the record (while this is not really a bond, it is filed with marriage-type records that are generically called “bonds”)
  • the format in which the record was obtained
  • the “publication” information for that format
  • the “title” of that publication
  • “page” information

There really is no page number.

These items were apparently organized by year and that organization did not go any further. The “title card” on the microfilm indicates that this is a “marriage bond” from 1852. It’s not a marriage bond. It is a certification that the marriage place. The titles used in my citation information were the titles used on the microfilm (actually digital images). That’s not something I correct as part of my citation’s goal is to know exactly where this image was obtained. I did make a comment about the organization of the record.

These items were apparently filed loosely in a file box of some sort. There are no page numbers. The items are not numbered as some marriage records are. There are no image numbers on the microfilm. There is an image number to separate one digital image from the next. Those numbers were used as a part of the citation. They will only apply to the digital images. Citing the Family History Library as the “publisher” serves to tell me that these were not accessed at the courthouse.

Now I need to make certain that this is the only record that was created by Kraft and Zenf getting married in Campbell County.

It certainly is not the license and it certainly is not the bond.

There may be more records.

But I don’t want my excitement in making a discovery or my desire to locate more information cause me to bypass citing what I’ve discovered.

Otherwise I have a random image from a marriage on my computer.