Casefile Clues

21 December 2014

Plans for CSI-Genealogy 2015

Plans are well underway for CSI-Genealogy to be held in Galesburg, Illinois. I'm excited to be a part of this 4.5 day genealogical learning experience in the Midwest--28 May through 1 June 2015.

We've been busy and hope you'll be able to join us!

Recent updates:

There's general information on the blog at

Ordering Identifying People in the Past

Based on a mention on the Evidence Explained blog, I decided to purchase a copy of E. A. Wrigley's  Identifying People in the Past.

I'm hoping it's not too academic, but I'm also hoping that it at least gets me thinking about some of the issues that people face when researching historical figures (which our dead ancestors are, after all) and working to be as certain as we can be that two people we think are the same man or woman actually are.

Genealogy software programs may have an automatic merge, but researchers know that's it is never quite that simple.

I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of Identifying People in the Past. We'll be writing about it after the first of the year when it arrives.

Stay tuned.

20 December 2014

Why Could the Sheriff Not Find Great-Grandma Fannie Neill in 1908? Part 2

This sale referenced in this sale bill was the result of a 1908 Hancock County, Illinois, court case involving the widow of Riley Rampley and his children. Riley had died in 1893 leaving a farm, a widow, eleven children, and no wil. His estate was never brought to probate and in 1908, this partition suit was filed in the Hancock County court.

This is the court case to which Fannie Neill received a summons in February of 1908 when the sheriff returned a notice that she could not be found in the county and left a notice with her husband.

I'm not certain why Nancy  and her one son William (along with his wife Amanda who had a dower interest in the interest in the real estate her husband had inherited) were the plaintiffs in the suit. There were defendants in the case besides Riley's heirs. The Berrys and Alva Kelley were also defendants in the suit because they held mortgages to the farm that had been executed by several of Riley's heirs after his demise.

The tenants on the Rampley farm also had to be defendants--but they were also heirs.

And that may have been part of the problem---but just a part. Stay tuned.

Updated on FamilySearch: USA-WA and MI Probate Records

The following items are showing as new or updated on FamilySearch:

Washington, County Records, 1803-2010

Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973

19 December 2014

Why Could the Sheriff Not Find Great-Grandma Fannie Neill in 1908?

On 10 February 1908, Carl Bertschi, Hancock County Sheriff went to the farm of Charles and Fannie Neill in Walker Township.

The problem was that Fannie was no where to be found and the summons was left with her husband Charles.  The sheriff made no comment about Fannie's whereabouts, just that she could not be found in Hancock County.

Where was Fannie Neill in February of 1908? Was she missing? Why didn't she come to the door?

Do you always look at the summons that appear in the court records you utilize? Are there clues or stories hiding in those seemingly innocuous slips of paper?

Stay tuned. There's more to this story...I think.

18 December 2014

New or Updated on FamilySearch: USA-New Mexico

The following databases are showing as new or updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

New Mexico, County Marriages, 1885-1954

I Ain't Going to Carthage to Sign That Mortgage

It always pays to read the entire document and think about the entire document, not just select portions of it. Sound research methods require it, like those discussed in Evidence Explained  and the BCG Genealogy Standards Manual. 

The image shown in this post is a larger portion of the 1905 mortgage mentioned in a blog post yesterday.

I had wondered if the Neills had actually signed "ONeil" on the mortgage or if the clerk in the county recorder's office had simply miscopied their signature using what was written on the top of the mortgage document.

Then I offhandedly commented that maybe they signed it that way because that's the way it was written on the top part of the mortgage by someone at the bank holding the note. It was meant to be sarcasm.

And like many comments made in jest, it may be closer to the truth than I originally thought. It's the locations that matter--genealogy without geography is simply misplaced research.

The bank was located in Carthage, Illinois, the county seat.

The Neills and Rampley lived in the southern portion of Hancock County, in St. Albans and Walker Township. The property being mortgaged was located in Walker Township.

The Neills and Rampley signed the deed before a Justice of the Peace in West Point, Illinois. West Point was closer for the Neills and Rampley than going all the way into Carthage in the days of horses and buggies. There's no scale on the map, but each of the square townships shown is six miles on a side, providing a perspective.

It would have been a 4-5 mile buggy ride to go to West Point. It would have been a longer ride to get to Carthage. They could have taken the train to Carthage, but it's clear they didn't. After, the Justice of the Peace states that he was in West Point.

It seems possible that the bank wrote out the top portion of the mortgage and had the Neills sign it in front of a Justice of the Peace. There's some details about which I'll never be certain.

After all, we only have the document upon which to base our conclusions.

And you thought mortgages were boring.

Three Signatures on a Mortgage

This is the signature portion of a mortgage executed by three of my ancestors on 15 December 1905 in Hancock County, Illinois.

This image is not from the actual mortgage itself, but rather from the record copy of the mortgage recorded in the Hancock County Recorder's Office. The holders of the note (the bank from whom my ancestors borrowed the money) retained the actual original signed copy of the mortgage.

Speaking from personal experience, I know the last name of Neill gets spelled a variety of ways and I understand spelling variations and errors. In the initial portion of the mortgage, where the mortgagors are named, these three are styled as "Charles O'Neil, Fannie O'Neil, and Nancy J. Rampley." I can easily understand how the name may have gotten spelled "O'Neil" in that initial part of the mortgage.

But it's not the original part of the mortgage that I'm wondering about. It's the part of the mortgage shown here--the part with the names in front of the "Seals." That's the part of the mortgage that the Neills and Nancy Rampley actually signed. Of course their signatures aren't reproduced exactly in this record copy of the mortgage as they were on the original--the clerk used his own handwriting. After all, it was 1905 when this mortgage was recorded  and typed or handwritten copies were the norm.


I've seen numerous documents signed by Charles and Fannie Neill--never once did they sign their name "O'Neil." Not on their marriage record, not when Charles testified in a pension case, not when Fannie signed court documents in 1907, etc. They wouldn't have signed their name with an "O."

Unless maybe they were told to because that's the way it had originally been put in the initial portion of the document.

Just something to think about.

And that's what we are supposed to do when we analyze the records we find-think about them. It's what makes our research better, causes us to notice things that others overlook, and helps us migrate from merely collecting data to allowing the data and records we find to tell us as much of the story of our ancestors as possible.

All from three signatures on a mortgage.

Note: The Neills are my great-grandparents. Nancy Rampley is Fannie Neill's mother.

16 December 2014

Updated on FamilySearch: USA-OH, CA, DE, and MI Materials

The following databases are showing as "new" or "updated" on FamilySearch since our last update:

One Samuel Twice Not Two Samuels Once in 1820

The 1820 Census Index at indicates that there are two entries for a Samuel Jones in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania's Newport Township.

The household counts are the same and the

Those entries certainly looked the same. A viewing of the entire page indicated that they were both on census page 378.

So why were they coming up twice? Why were there two results and two images for Samuel Jones?

Viewing the "source" for the two Samuels started to get at the actual problem.

The image numbers were different--they differed by two.

When I went and manually viewed the census pages for Luzerne Township, I noted that said there were 7 images for that township. The image numbers and the corresponding census page numbers are shown below.

Newport Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania— census image number

Actual census page number—taken from census image
Image 1
p. 376 [upper left]
Image 2
p. 378 [upper left]
Image 3
p. 380 [upper left]
Image 4
p. 378 [upper left]
Image 6
p. 380 [upper left]
Image 7
p. 384 [upper left]

Pages 378 and 380 appear twice. This is probably because they were microfilmed twice and appear twice on the NARA microfilm which was used to make the US census images at

Looking again more closerly at the two images for Samuel Jones (which were copied directly from's image with no alteration) makes it clear that one is better than the other. What most likely happened is that the person who microfilmed the census realized that he had made a few "less than optimal" images and so he remicrofilmed those pages. 

There's only one Samuel in Newport Township.

It's not's fault. 

But it goes to show that as we research we need to think--even after we've seen the image of the record. 

15 December 2014

How Many Samuel Jones Are in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 1820?

Searching for common names is bad enough, but when there are two individuals of them in the same in the same rural township it can be confusing.

According to the search results on  when searching for Jones entries in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in the 1820 census, there are two Samuel Jones in Newport, Luzerne County.

It seemed a little strange to me that they both had the same number of individuals in their household (7), but maybe that was just because 7 was Samuel Jones' lucky number.

When I went to view the image of each Samuel Jones I was taken to the same page as shown in the illustration that accompanies this post.

The arrow was not on the census image.

Why were there two index entries for Samuel Jones when they linked to the same page?

It took a little doing to figure that out and we'll have an update as soon as I can get the post written.

It's always advised to consult the actual document or image that was used to create an index entry. It certainly was necessary in this case.

Apparently the Jones family is common in Luzerne County, but not quite as common as the index would have us to believe.

There's a reason why there's two index entries for Samuel. Stay tuned for an update--read it here.

Why I Like Evidence Explained

There aren't many genealogy reference books that I use on a regular basis. And the ones I have that are nearly falling apart from almost daily use are rarer still.

One of those books is  Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

The book is not cheap and it's not small--it's nearly 900 pages. Chapter 1 provides an overview of evidence analysis and chapter 2 provides an overview of citation theory. The chapter on evidence analysis is one that it sometimes doesn't hurt to read over more than once. The chapter 1 and chapter 2 of my book are littered with penciled in comments and notations.

I'll be honest. The world won't end if you use a comma instead of a semicolon in a citation. Seriously. It really won't. But the section on evidence analysis (chapter 1) gets at some ways to avoid mistakes in research--and that's something many of us could benefit from reading. Even if you take a "less formal" approach to your research, there are a lot of things to carefully consider in chapter 1.

And it all gets at trying to present an accurate a picture of our ancestor as possible. And that's always a good thing.

Remember that the majority of us who follow as best we can the tenets of  Evidence Explained are not members of the Genealogy Police

The rest of Evidence Explained has citation guides for a variety of records around the world. Even if you don't follow the citations to the letter, the discussion of the sources, while broad, can be very helpful for advanced beginning and intermediate researchers. The discussion of the citation sometimes gets at how the records are frequently organized--always a good thing to know.

The discussion of county-level records for the United States as a whole must be broad and general (that's a large territory with significant variation)--but there's still a great deal of learning that some researchers can do in those sections. The discussion of federal records is also strong and any US researcher would be well served by reading that section, even if they had no intention of following the citation guide down to the letter. I don't follow  Evidence Explained to the letter in Casefile Clues, either. I try to use it in spirit--not as dogma. Mills does suggest that her tome is a guide, not an edict.

The book is available in electronic format, but I'm such a Luddite that I have my print copy and have been known to put it in my carry-on luggage.

And my copy of  Evidence Explained is written in all over. It's one of those books that's a working copy, not an archival copy and as a result my print copy looks used.

You might even want to consider putting Evidence Explained on your holiday list.

14 December 2014

Our Freebies--And Making Certain You Get Them

This is a list of our genealogical "freebies:"

  • 2 free copies of Casefile Clues--simply enter in your email address and "submit" order. There is no credit card or other personal information required. Copy 1    Copy 2
  • My Brick Walls A to Z Webinar (and handout)--click here to process order. Coupon code is "brickwall" no credit card or personal information except email address is required. 
  • You can subscribe to Genealogy Tip of the Day (free) by entering in your email address in the box on the right hand side of the blog page at
  • You can subscribe to Genealogy Transcriber (free) and play along with others reading the handwriting at There is a subscription box on the right hand side of the page.
  • You can subscribe to Genealogy Search Tip (free) by entering in your email address in the box on the right hand side of the blog page at
Feel free to share with your friends, blog readers, etc. etc. 

You don't need any form of payment to get the downloads (the Casefile Clues and the "Brick Wall" webinar). Just follow the instructions on the illustration below--hit the "PayPal" button. No financial information will be required--just an email to have the download link sent to you as shown in the illustration. You don't have to give your real name either (grin!).


First, Second, and Third Cousins

Note: this post is an updated one from August of 2007.

One of my Grandpa Neill's few remaining cousins, Edna Dion, passed in August of 2007. What is interesting is how many great-great-grandparents he and this cousin shared: 14 out of 16.  Full siblings share 16 out of 16 great-great-grandparents.

"Normal" first cousins normally share 8 out of 16 great-great grandparents (because they have two grandparents or one-half of their ancestry in common). This cousin and my Grandpa were not just first cousins. They were also second cousins and they were also third cousins.

  • Grandpa Neill (Cecil Neill 1903-1968) was the son of Charles and Fannie (Rampley) Neill.
  • Edna Dion (1914-2007) was the daughter of James E. and Sarah (Neill) Rampley.

Charles Neill and Sarah (Neill) Rampley were brother and sister.

Fannie (Rampley) Neill and James E. Rampley were first cousins, children of brothers Riley and James Rampley.

But there is one more connection.

Brothers Riley and James Rampley both married Nancy Newman, just not the same one. Riley married Nancy J. Newman and James married Nancy E. Newman. Nancy J. was the daughter of William Newman. Nancy E. was the daughter of Edward Newman. These two Newman men were brothers. I can keep it straight, but explaining it sometimes is difficult.

When one looks at their great-great-grandparents on a five-generation chart, 14 out of the sixteen names are the same. Only one set of great-great-grandparents are different. Now that is related.

Note: I didn't mention that there's actually one more connection. Rebecca (Tinsley) Newman was the daughter of Enoch Tinsley--who was a first cousin of Melinda Sledd.

13 December 2014

My Uncle is my Brother-in-Law

Rolf Habben was an uncle of my great-great-grandfather Johann Ufkes.

Rolf Habben was also a brother-in-law of Johann Ufkes.

I was confused.

Rolf Habben was born in 1815 in Wiesens, Ostfriesland, Germany. He was married twice:

  • in 1840 to Hille Eilts Post (born 1807 in Wiesens-died in Wiesens in 1853).
  • in 1857 to Christena Hinrichs Janssen (Ufkes) (born 1835 Holtroperfeld--died in 1880 in Hancock County, Illinois) 
Hille Eilts Post was a sister to Trientje Eilts Post (born 1803 Wiesens--died in Holtroperfeld in 1878). Trientje Eilts Post married Hinrich Janssen (Ufkes). Trientje and Hinrich were the parents of Christena Hinrichs Janssen (Ufkes) and Johann Ufkes (my great-great-grandfather).
Johann Frederich Hinrich Ufkes

So Rolf Habben was the uncle of Johann Ufkes--because Rolf was married to Johann's aunt Hille. And he was also Johann's brother-in-law because he was later married to Johann's sister Christena. 

Even after Rolf married Christena Ufkes, Johann and his family continued to refer to Rolf as his Uncle. This is probably because Rolf was Johann's uncle from the time he was two years old and twenty-three years older than Johann. 

Sometimes there's more than one relationship between individuals. And sometimes what you think is incorrect may not be. Years ago I had a letter translated where Johann refers to Rolf as his uncle. I thought the translation was wrong. It wasn't-I wasn't aware of Rolf's first wife.

Note: All vital events in this post (except for Christina's date of death) are from: Kroon, Gerd. Die Familien Der Kirchengemeinde Wiesens: (1642-1908). Gro├čefehn, 2004. Print.

10 December 2014

Speaking at Colorado Palatines to America-October of 2015

I'll be the featured speaker at the 17 October 2015 Colorado Palatines to America seminar being held at the Denver Public Library.

Details are being set, but the date has been confirmed. More details will be published here and on the society's website when they've been finalized.

Getting What You Don't Need

Some people get frustrated when it is suggested that they obtain a record "that won't tell them anything they don't already know."

But sometimes that record they "don't need" contains a name that they never knew a person used, a "mistake" that actually is a clue, or an unexpected bit of information.

I'm not suggesting that a person spend an inordinate amount of money to obtain every piece of paper or document on every ancestor, but there are times when something "you don't need" ends up telling you something that helps you move forward.

Note: This post was short enough that it could have been a Tip of the Day, but it's one of those things that most of need to be reminded of every so often

Our Fresh-Content Pledge

All content on and my other blogs is self-written. It is not copied and pasted from the work of others and originates from my own keyboard. Like many writers, I do get writing ideas from other blogs and bloggers, but that's about as far as the "getting" content from others goes. I try very hard to respect the creative rights and copyright of other writers and bloggers. Copyright matters. Respecting the intellectual property of others matters.  It's not just a legal matter, it's an ethical matter.

That's our "fresh-content" pledge. 

And I'm still hoping to see others post similar statements on their blogs.

Top Five Genealogy Tips of the Day

Based upon web traffic, these are the five most popular tips of the day on my Genealogy Tip of the Day blog.

It doesn't mean that these are the "best" tips, but are the ones that come up most often on internet searches, got "shared" the most, and maybe had the best headlines. 

The concepts are probably familiar to most readers, but it never hurts to have an occasional reminder. 

Other than "Grantor versus Grantee," which I already know and "The 1950 Census and Beyond," the other three are ones that I sometimes have to remind myself of occasionally as they can be good ways to get beyond apparent brick walls. 

Here are the top five tips on the blog Genealogy Tip of the Day--based solely on traffic.  Popularity does not necessarily imply that they are better than any other tip.

Do you know the difference between these two terms?
Somewhere besides the local paper.
A lot more actually.
Where will your people be enumerated in 1950?
Don’t ignore those who left no descendants.

I've personally had good luck with "non-local and non-English" obituaries, federal records beyond the census, and making headway on direct line ancestors by documenting kinfolk who left no descendants of their own. 

Maybe one of our more popular tips can help you jumpstart your research.

09 December 2014

Getting Rootdig On Your Kindle is "kindle ready" for those who have a Kindle. Amazon does charge a small fee for this service. Orders may be processed on this page

FamilySearch Updates: US-Freedmen's Bureau Records for GA and KY

The following databases are showing as updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Georgia, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872

Kentucky, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872

Buried Across the Ocean Before He Died: An Leaf Plea's "hint" for my Conrad Haase who died in 1904 in Appanoose Township, Hancock County, Illinois, is a man who was buried in 1902 in Hannover.

Now that's a close match--buried across the Atlantic Ocean before he died.

In all honesty, I realize that returns this as a "hint" because I could have the date and place of death incorrect.

And people can be buried in a location other the one where they died.

But...still. Can't they set the burial date of the hit to be after the death date I have in my database? Or at least not two years before?

I know that doesn't listen to me, but here's another idea:

  • let users customize their hints.
I'd like to be able to set the parameters on my hints--choosing how close a date had to be to qualify as a "hint," choosing how close a location had to be to be a hint.

Would I miss the occasional "right" person? Sure. 

But now I only use the hints to see how far off they are and make blog posts about it.

Certainly if they can create all those apps and all that fancy-schmancy DNA stuff they can figure out a way to let users customize the parameters on the leaf hints? 

Getting A Birth Range From the Ages

Ages given in any document can easily be incorrect. That doesn't mean they should not be analyzed.

The Civil War pension for Riley Rampley provides six ages for him at different times. I was curious just how consistent these ages were.

The six ages provided in the pension application are shown on the chart. The dates on which the ages were given range from 1886 through 1893.

Those ages were used to create a range of birth dates for each age. Then to see how consistent the birth date ranges were a timeline was created. The ages were not entirely consistent, but they were relatively close. Given that ages can easily be off by a year or two in any given record, this is not a surprise.

All of the ages given are consistent with a date of birth between July and October of 1835. That's not a wide range of dates. Riley's "known" date of birth of 25 August 1835 falls within that range.

Ages given for individuals will not always be consistent, but if you've got a person with varying ages such an analysis may be helpful in reaching a conclusion about when they probably were born.

And it may also help you to determine if one age is so far off from the others that it might have been a clear error.

The assumptions I made in this analysis were that:

  • Riley knew his age
  • Riley provided his age for all the documents in this study
  • Riley was always able to remember his age
It's always a good idea to write down your assumptions when doing any analysis. You can't know which assumptions may not be valid later if you've not listed them.