Friday, March 30, 2007

Illinois Online Databases

If you've been trying to search the online databases on the Illinois State Archives website over the last couple days, you've probably seen the dreaded HTTP 404 page: Web Page Cannot Be Found.

I called the Illinois State Archives this morning to see if anyone could tell me what was going on, and found out that they are in the process of changing servers, and have experienced problems making the switch. I was assured that they are actively working on it, and that the databases should be available as early as this afternoon....but if not, then for sure in the next day or so.

Illinois has some great information in their online databases. I use the marriage and death indexes the most, but they have a very comprehensive list of military databases as well. I have been so appreciative of them making this information so accessible that I'm more than willing to be patient while they solver their server problems.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Brickwall: Wilson

I was puttering around in my genealogy the other day, not sure which direction to go, when I received an e-mail from a "new" cousin. Bob had either seen my database online on Rootsweb or one of the several messages I have floating around the message boards...but either way, he contacted me suggesting that we were probably searching for the same people. It's always nice to have someone to research with, so I was glad to hear from him.

The couple that our mutual family line seems to stop with are Cornelius Wilson, born about 1823 in Kentucky and Jane Boyd, b. about 1822 in Ohio. They were married in 1841 in McLean County, Illinois, but lived in the county next door, Tazewell County.

We find the couple in Mackinaw, Tazewell County, Illinois in the 1850 census, with three children:

C. Wilson, 27, M, Farmer, KY
Jane Wilson, 26, F, OH
Mary E. Wilson, 5, F, IL
Alex'r C. Wilson, 2, M, IL
Jane Wilson, 2/12, F, IL

Six years later, Cornelius died, and is buried in Hardscrabble Cemetery, in Deer Creek Township, Tazewell County.

In the 1860 census, Jane appears, still in Mackinaw Township, Tazewell County, Illinois:

Jane Wilson, 34, F, $75-Personal Estate, OH
Mary Wilson, 15, F, IL
Alex. Wilson, 12, M, IL
Caroline Wilson, 9, F, IL
Wm. E. Wilson(twin), 7, M, IL
Emily Wilson(twin), 7, F, IL
Franklin Wilson, 6, M, IL

In 1862, Jane Boyd Wilson married Obediah Hall, in McLean County, Illinois. What become of Mr. Obediah Hall is currently still a mystery to me...however he does not appear on the next census (1870), although it appears that he and Jane did have a child together:

Hall, Jane, 45, F, W, Keeping House, $200-Real Estate, $100-Personal Estate, OH
----, William, 18, M, W, Farm Laborer, IL
----, Franklin, 16, M, W, Farm Laborer, IL
----, Grant, 5, M, W, IL
Sullivan, William, 2, M, W, IL

William and Franklin above are listed with the last name of "Hall", but their surname is actually they are children from Jane's first marriage to Cornelius Wilson. William Sullivan, age 2 listed in the 1870 census is the son of Jane's daughter Mary, who I believe married John Sullivan in Tazewell County in 1866. I have not located Mary or John in the 1870 census yet.

We know that daughter Emma (the twin) married Mark Asbury Short in 1867 in Tazewell County. My "new found" cousins that contacted me and got me working on this family again descend from Emma Wilson Short. We also know that Mary E. Wilson Sullivan eventually settled in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. She shows up in Normal, IL in the 1880 and 1900 censuses, and in Bloomington in the 1920 and 1930 censuses. Although the 1900 census claims that she has six living children, William is the only one that I can connect with her. There may well be other Sullivans out there that connect to this Wilson line, but I haven't located them yet!

Like all genealogical puzzles, every time you get an answer, you find at least two more questions! Here are mine:

1. Did Obediah die before 1870? If so, where is he buried?
2. When and where did Jane Boyd Wilson Hall die, and where is she buried?
3. What became of Mary E. Wilson Sullivan's husband John, and the rest
of her children?
4. Where in Kentucky was Cornelius Wilson born, and who was his family?
5. Where in Ohio was Jane Boyd born, and what about her family?

Obviously, there is much to be done here, and I love a good puzzle!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Images: The Iowa State Census announced last week that they have digitized and indexed all of the "readily available" Iowa State census records between 1836 and 1925. Living in "next-door-neighbor" state Missouri, I thought that was good news. I knew I was bound to have the occasion to use this resource at one time or another. That occasion just came sooner than I thought!

I was contacted a few days ago by a researcher from Iowa who was studying the surname KUNZE, which is one of the collateral lines in my HACKMANN research. Not having spent much time on the Kunze line, I took a couple of days to get "up to speed." In the process, I found that some of the Kunze's had moved from Warren County, Missouri to Cass County, Iowa. This gave me my first reason to check out the new digital census images on

What a pleasant surprise this was! The first year that I needed was 1915. Expecting to see a typical census page with entries for multiple people, it was surprised to find it in the form of census cards...apparently one for each person. It contains all the usual information that you'd expect to find on the census: name, sex, race, age, birthplace, marital status, occupation, etc. There were a few additional details that I didn't expect. It asked for the total earnings for 1914, and the extent of education, breaking it down between "Common", "Grammar", "High School" and "College." One last item that is helpful from a genealogical standpoint is the question about "Church Affiliation." The answer is typically a denomination, but especially of the person in question is living in a small town, that information gives us a great clue as to where to look for any church records that might be helpful. The only downside I saw to this system is that you have to wait for each person's individual card image to's not possible to look at a whole family at a glance like you can with the "ledger" style of census'. Still, it's a great resource to have.

Next I looked for this person in the 1925 census. What a goldmine! The depth of information provided on this census is unlike any other census I've ever seen. We're used to scrolling across one line on one page for information about one person. But on the 1925 Iowa state census, each person's line stretches across as many as three pages! In addition to the "usual" information collected on censuses you'll also find mother's maiden name and father's full name, their birthplaces and the year of their marriage. Although it's not unusual to find a question about military service, the 1925 census has columns for three wars: the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and the World War...and asks veterans not only which war they served in, but which branch of the service, and what state they enlisted or were drafted from. Great information!

I haven't had the time or the reason to check out the earlier Iowa state censuses yet....and although they aren't as complete as the 1915 ad 1925, it's great to have a resource to pinpoint your Iowans between the Federal censuses. If you have Iowa ancestors and access to, either at home or through your library, I urge you to investigate this. It may open some previously closed doors.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Surname Forum

This is either a good recommendation, or a shameless plug. You'll have to decide which one for yourself!

A few years ago I started a Yahoo! Group called Surname Forum. I was looking for a place that was surname focused, where you could touch base with other people who were researching the same surnames you were. Not finding such an spot, I set up a Yahoo group, and a Surname Database that everyone could access and add to.

It started off a little slow, but the group now has over 1200 members, and almost half that many surnames listed in the database. When a member adds a name to the database, they add
1) the name of the ancestor they are looking for,
2) any pertinent dates and locations
3) specific information that they are hoping to find
4) their contact information (usually an e-mail address)

The reason I chose the database format is because of how easy it is for new group members to see at a glance if any of "their" names have been listed on the site. Of course, people can (and do) post "who I'm looking for" messages frequently, and that's great too.

One of the nice surprises that has developed from this group is a wonderful sense of community. We have a number of people that voluntarily spend their time helping anyone who sends out an "S.O.S." It's refreshing and heartwarming to see. It just goes to show -- if you are a real "genealogy buff" it doesn't matter whose family tree you're working on. The enjoyment comes from putting the various pieces of the puzzle together....not from whose picture the completed puzzle shows!

If you are looking for a little help with *your* genealogical puzzle, would like to add your "brick walls" to our Surname Database, or if you just want another online genealogy hangout -- stop by Surname Forum. We'd be glad to have you!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fun Genealogical Fiction: Torie O'Shea Mysteries

There are lots of fun "genealogy" based works of fiction out there, but my favorite is Rett MacPherson's series of "Torie O'Shea Mysteries." Torie O'Shea is a genealogist in a small predominantly German town in Missouri. She works at the local Historical Museum, and her genealogical activities usually have her on the hunt to solve various mysteries that crop up.

I enjoy the mild humor and the down to earth characters. In each book we find Torie, her husband and children, her wheelchair bound mother and the local sheriff, who is married to Torie's mom. There is also a great "supporting cast" of local friends and neighbors that carry over from book to book. As a heroine, Torie is likable, plucky and irreverent.

The picture that MacPherson paints of a small Missouri town of German heritage is very familiar to me. Although "New Kassel" is fictional, it could easily be based any of the typical little German towns that line the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

The list of Torie O'Shea Mysteries is getting longer:

1997 Family Skeletons
1998 A Veiled Antiquity
1999 A Comedy of Heirs
2000 A Misty Mourning
2002 Killing Cousins
2003 Blood Relations
2004 In Sheep's Clothing
2005 Thicker Than Water
2006 Dead Man Running
2007 Died in the Wool

I started with Family Skeletons, and have worked my way down the list. I just checked out Dead Man Running from my local library, and am looking forward to starting it. They are definitely light reading -- but I enjoy the genealogical references, and watching Torie use her research skills and resources to solve each mystery.

If you have any favorite genealogy-related fiction books, please leave your recommendations in the "Comments" section below.

Enjoy the books!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

News from Northern Ireland

If you have ancestors from Northern Ireland, I just found a website that you might want to check out. It's called Eddies News Extracts.

Eddie Connolly started the website on the premise that some of his best genealogical information came from the interment notices that appeared in the local papers of the time. As a way of passing on his good fortune, and having web space available, he decided to transcribe and publish more of them. And, as these things are likely to do, it has grown from there. {smile}

Although there is (at present) a modest amount of information on this website, it's presented well, and is nicely indexed, making information on your surnames of choice easy to find. I've put a reminder on my genealogy program's "to-do" section, so that I won't forget to check back with Eddie's site to look for updated information.

Thanks, Eddie!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Keeping Track of My Genealogy Contacts

One of the best resources I've found in "Genealogy Land" is the Message Board. I have benefited greatly from the friendships and "acquaintanceships" (is that even a real word?) made from the various message boards that I frequent. People have helped me fill in gaps, and been generous enough to share e-mailed copies of photographs, marriage certificates, letters and even their own research.

Of course, as my list of contacts grows, so did my need of finding a way to keep track of these wonderful people! They started off just as additions in my e-mail address book, but that just didn't give me enough information for the long haul.

What I've done is create a spreadsheet that I call my "Genealogy E-Mail File" (catchy, isn't it?). It's very simple: just four columns: Name, E-Mail Address, Family Line, and Comments. If I were corresponding with these people via "snail mail," I'd probably add a mailing address column, too -- but in general, my contact with these researchers is strictly via e-mail.

The "Family Line" heading is the surname that we have in common. Under "Comments" I make any notes that will help me in the future. Most often that is the name of the ancestor that they descend from, but sometimes it's the fact that we haven't found a connection yet, but I've promised to contact them if I do find a common thread.

I'm sure that most genealogists have some type of similar system -- or possibly a much better one -- but this one has worked for me so far. The camaraderie within the genealogy circle is one of the best parts of this business. I'm so grateful for what these nice people have shared with me -- if/when I break through one of our common brick walls, I sure want to be able to find them to share the news!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Extra! Extra! Check out a Newspaper Library Near You

One of my favorite resources is my state's Newspaper Library. It's part of the State Historical Society of Missouri, located in Columbia, Missouri. They have over 41 million pages of Missouri newspapers on microfilm! These are available to be viewed at the library, or can be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan Service.

Nowadays we live in a very transient society -- but my husband's ancestors came to Boone County, Missouri anywhere from 100 to 185 years ago. So much of their history happened in one place. I can go to the Newspaper Library, and pick up any microfilm reel of the local Boone County newspaper, and probably find some mention of one of his ancestors in it. Sometimes it mentions the "big news," like births, deaths or marriages -- but often I'll find mentions of horses for sale, or out of town visitors, or local activities that they were involved in. If the vital statistics of our ancestors are the "bones" of our genealogy, then the information in these little day-to-day articles "put meat on the bones."

In doing a quick Google search on "Newspaper Library" or "Newspaper Collection" I found that many U.S. states have similar collections. There are also digital newspaper collections available online. Missouri has the Missouri Historical Newspaper Project that is free, but and both have subscription sites, with large digital collections available. With a little research, you may be able to find access to the newspapers your ancestors read. What a treat!

Happy Hunting!