Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015 - Ways to Remember Our Veterans

Iwo Jima Momument, Marine Corps Base Quantico
personal photograph

On Veterans Day in the United States, there are numerous ways people choose to honor and remember the veterans who have served in the military of our country. Parades. Flag lined streets. School assembly programs. Special gestures extended to today's veterans.

Blogging also provides additional ways for many of us to remember and honor our military ancestors. During the past year, I had four such posts, each written for a different reason.

A recent visit to the Resaca Confederate Cemetery in Georgia reminded me of the sacrifices made by many unknown soldiers who fought of both sides during the Civil War. The story of how this cemetery came to be is also the story of how one person can make a difference in keeping individuals and events from fading from our memory.

It was exciting to look into the life of the young Revolutionary War spy, John Howard, while trying to verify a family story. Learning that a 15-year old was a real spy might just be the hook to grab the attention of some of the younger members of our family and help them see history through the life of a relative.

I still find myself thinking about the life of a Confederate soldier and relative, Samuel G Slade. Learning more about his military service, his injuries, and his later life was a reminder that there are too frequently personal battles fought long after the war is over. Today's headlines about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or long waits for veterans  to receive proper medical care were foreshadowed by what Samuel Slade and countless others went through in their day.

My fourth post concerned one of the Camp Family Letters housed in the Manuscript and Rare Book Library of Emory University near Atlanta, Georgia.  The letter of Thomas Camp to his wife is one more reminder that our veterans are also someone's spouse, parent,sibling, or child. Our veterans are not only soldiers, they may also be part of our family. They are our friends and our neighbors.

To all of veterans today, thank you for your service to our country. For our ancestors who served, we will remember your actions, your efforts, and your place in our country's history.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Samuel Howard, Could You Be Any More Specific?

Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons

It started as a simple project. Look for online will and probate records for each of my 4 GreatGrandfathers. First step was to make a 5 Generational chart of each of my four grandparents using one of the simple forms available through the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Step two was to search and browse through the will and probate records accessible through both and One 4GGrandfather had no will or probate information, one died intestate but there were a few probate records detailing what happened to his personal property.

Then I came to Samuel H Howard. My 4GGrandfather Howard died in 1853, leaving an extremely detailed will.(1)  Item two of his will was such an example. As found in so many wills of that time period, he left his house and household items to his wife Polly for her life or widowhood. Samuel apparently was not content with such a vague statement. Instead, he spelled out that Polly was specifically to receive

  • all the plantation utensils, farming tools, and blacksmithing tools,
  • all his household and kitchen furniture,
  • her choice of seven or eight head of cattle, 10 sheep, and as many of his hogs as she wished to keep,
  • specific slaves by name as well as the names of those who were to be kept together if Polly later decided to sell any of the slaves,
  • his road wagon and harness.

Next Samuel dealt with the distribution of his real estate upon the death of his wife Polly, detailing how it was to have its value assessed, by whom, and the amount of money to be given to son Abner who would not share in the inheritance of certain property.

Samuel Howard had a sister Avis living nearby who had inherited property from their father John Howard. The will described the location of the property by naming the property owners to the north, east, south, and west of it, and which of his sons would assist Avis as caretaker of the property. He did not even own this property but apparently wanted to be certain that his sister had someone to help her as presumably Samuel had done in the past.

He also named one son to receive his desk, bookcase, library, and the family Bible upon the death of his wife Polly. Two sons were named to look after his wife Polly and his sister Avis.

All of Samuel's specific directions came to a screeching halt, at least for me, when I read Item 10. "It is my absolute will and desire that my estate shall be divided into 11 equal parts ... The one eleventh part of my estate I set apart as an undivided part to be managed as I shall herein direct." OK so far.

So why eleven parts? Samuel Howard and his wife Polly had 12 children (Elizabeth, Thomas, John, Abner, P E Augustus, Moses, William, Amelia, Samuel, Harriet, Mary Ann "Polly", and Avis).  Son Thomas and daughter Harriet had both died before Samuel had written this will, so there were 10 living children when Samuel signed his will in 1852. The will stated that an eleventh share was to go to "the legal heirs of [the] body" of daughter Harriet. No mention, however, was made of any provision for the children of son Thomas. Ten surviving children plus a share to Harriet's children does equal eleven shares.

The surprise, for me, is that neither the ten surviving children nor Harriet's children are named specifically. You would expect a will to contain a list of named individuals whenever there is a division of property involved. After all of Samuel's specificity throughout his will, the absence of the names of those to receive a share seems almost out of character. Samuel did, however, state that the executors of his will were to manage the funds for Harriet's children until they came of age.

Samuel concluded his will with the forgiveness of $800 owed to him by his son Moses, forgiven, that is, by the share of the estate that Moses would receive.

Finally, in Item 13, returning to his detailed directives, Samuel had a plan as to how any dispute over property value or shares would be handled. Three respectable land holders (not the executors) would assess the value of the property then make their decision. Any one of the eleven shareholders who disagreed with this decision would simply forfeit his/her share of the property except for $5. There. Samuel had spoken!

Like that old quote, the devil was in the details. Because Samuel Howard was so specific in writing his will, I ended up gaining a much clearer picture of my 4GGrandfather, his life, and his family. And I had thought that reading wills and probate records would be boring!

(1) South Carolina, Wills and Probate, 1670-1980, "Greenville, Will Books, vol C-D, 1840-1867", p 468-472; accessed on

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday's Tips : Research Tote, Version 2.0

photo posted on "Writing a Dissertation Literature Review - Tips to Consider"
by Fidel Martin, photographer unknown

This summer Mocavo posted a great Genealogy Research Guide. It contained tips for planning a research trip as well as a helpful section on things to carry with you.

Reading that guide prompted me to consider the things I use on a research trip. One of my early posts mentioned things I had in the research tote I carried with me to libraries and other research centers. That was three years ago. Now it is time to take another look at what is in my tote today.

Sure, I still have my legal pad, pens and pencils, sticky notes, a bookmark, and blank note cards. Today's tote also has some additional items including:

  • a jump drive - I'm finding that more and more libraries are allowing users to download resources, offsetting the cost of maintaining public access copiers. Other research locations have allowed me to e-mail pages from online resources to my e-mail address for this same reason.
  • my smartphone - So it's not in my tote, just always with me, but it has become my primary camera for screen shots of pages. I try to make sure I capture the page number on a shot whenever possible, taking several shots of a page to get the page number when it is available. Once home, I can look at the pages, expanding each to make it readable, then delete or print as needed. My smartphone also allows me access to my Ancestry tree so I can quickly check on birth / death dates, names of spouses, and other specific information that I need in my research.
  • my Flip-Pal - Nothing can beat my Flip-Pal for taking pictures of large pictures, maps, or documents. The stitching feature of Flip-Pal's software enables me to end up with a great reproduction.

I've also added a few new techniques which I use along with my research tote. Among them are:

  • using Google Drive - My Research Log is on Google Drive so it is conveniently with me as long as I have internet access. Another Google Sheet is an ongoing list of newspaper articles I want to locate and read as well as a Sheet of books not available for interlibrary loan, only for on-site use. When I know I will not have internet access, I print out the necessary sheets to take with me in my tote.
  • documenting title page info - When I take pictures of a resource, the very first photo is always of the title page and then a shot of the library's info (library location, call number, etc.). This way I know that the next 27 pictures are all from this book and where to find it should I need to use it again. This also provides information for a source in my genealogy software as well as a listing in my Research Log.
  • better notetaking - Once I've taken the title page photo, I start taking brief notes. First I list the title, then start a list of the person, place, reason I take each successive shot. Just brief notes, p 37 - Landmark Baptist Church, p 412 - John Ragsdale's property, etc. This way if it is days (or weeks) later when I finally look back at those photos, I know why I took them in the first place and can more easily find the information they contain.

These are just a few changes I've made over the past three years. Who knows what new tools and techniques I will add to my research tote in the next three.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Now I'm Three!!!

photo by Debbie Chialtras,

Today is my blogiversary. Three years ago, I decided to start writing a genealogy blog, and I'm still at it, two hundred and fourteen posts late.

Looking back over the past year, I am glad that I took part in Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over, being part of Round One. Through participating, I found that I have developed some new habits that have led me to be more focused in my research. I am also glad I chose to focus the GD-O on researching my Norwegian ancestors. Otherwise there would probably still be many blank areas in that section of my family tree.

Another side benefit of the GD-O came through the numbers of you who read my weekly posts on aspects of the GD-O. In terms of readership, this year's Top Five Posts were:

  1. Nana, Why Do You Write Stories About Dead People? explaining genealogy to a grandchild
  2. No Need to Stop Fueling the Find participating in FamilySearch Indexing
  3. Getting Ready to Get Started GD-O
  4. Dealing With All Those Bookmarks GD-O
  5. Tracking My Research GD-O

This year I also found myself working on several series of posts. In addition to my posts related to the GD-O, I had another series of posts titled "Did You Hear the News?" This gave me a way to focus on how much information can be gathered by reading newspapers articles. Now, I'm constantly finding new treasures as I explore various wills and probate records which I am finding online. I'm all for trying to learn more about an ancestor's life, more than just the Birth/Marriage/Death records.

I truly appreciate all of you who follow me, who read my posts, and who comment on them. Thanks for being part of this with me. Now, I'm off to read another ancestor's will and plow through some probate documents ...