Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taking Them from Names to People

Have you ever read the poem "The Dash" by Linda Ellis? If not, you should take a look at it before you continue reading this blog ( Just remember to come back here and read the blog afterward. For those of you who have read the poem, remember what it says as you read what I have written.

Many times when we start working on our genealogies we have only names and dates. We always want to know their birth date and death date, but there is much more to find. How many times have you seen people listed as follows: August Jacob Wise (1874-1946)? What does this tell us about this person?

Let’s look at his life a little more closely. Everything I have listed below came from records and documents I found on the internet. Records include 1880-1930 US Census, Ohio Death Certificate, Church Records, Newspaper Articles, Immigration Records, and other historical documents.

August Jacob Wise was born 19 June 1874 in Berlin, Shelby County, Ohio. He was baptized at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on 21 June 1874 with Jacob Gaier and Maria Pleimann as his sponsors. The priest at that time was Reverend Wilhelm P. Bigot. August was the son of an immigrant from Westphalia, Germany and local saw mill operator, August D. Wise and his wife Theresia. August D. Wise had immigrated in 1854 at the age of 19, on the ship William Tapscott from Liverpool, England with his parents Justus and Margaretha Wyse and three sisters. August Jacob Wise’s parents were fairly old at the time he was born. His father was around 37 and his mother was about 35. He was the first of two children. His sister Louisa was born two years later. In 1880 he was attending school and living with his parents, sister, grandfather Justus and two teamsters from the saw mill that his family operated.

In 1896 August Wise, along with several others including Frank Willman and Adolph Raterman, founded the St. Michael’s Commandary No. 300 of the Knights of St. John. He was a life long member of the post and was listed as an honored guest at the golden jubilee dinner that was held on 1 June 1946.

August had a close brush with death on 24 April 1897. He was in his horse drawn buggy about 1 mile north of Newport when it started to rain. He was making his way into a barn owned by the Barger family when a lightning bolt struck and killed his horse. He was not injured.

After his marriage in 1903, his family began to grow. They had a total of 7 children born between 1904 and 1919, 6 of which were girls. During his life he served four terms on the village board of education and was an active member of the community fire department. By 1900, the town had changed its name from Berlin to Ft. Loramie and August had become the head sawyer at the mill. His father, age 64 was still in charge of the company. August was now 26 years old, living at home and single. In 1903 he married Catherine Reiss. August and Catherine grew up together in this small town. Catherine’s father, Joseph Reiss, became a fireman and engineer at the Wise Sawmill in the 1860s after his service in the Civil War ended.

After the death of his father in 1902, August took over the operations of the Wise Sawmill and is listed as the proprietor of the mill in the 1910 US Census. By 1920, the Wise Sawmill is listed as one of the major manufacturers in the area. August managed the sawmill until 1942 when he retired at the age of 68.

On 24 April 1946 August suffered a paralytic stroke which rendered him bedfast. I think this is an interesting date since he survived the lightning strike on 24 April 1897. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on 13 August 1946 and died at 11:45 PM on 18 August 1946 after four months confined to his bed. He was 72 years 1 month and 22 days old. At the time of death he suffered from arterial sclerosis and obesity. He was buried in the new St. Michael’s Cemetery on 22 August 1946. His wife is buried by his side.

This is a tribute to my great grandfather August Jacob Wise (1874-1946).

At this time of Thanksgiving, let us remember our ancestors for the people they were, not for the dates they lived. Let us see them in a more complete light as people, not just names. We are what we are due to the decisions they made. For better or for worse, they are all part of us and we are part of them. Take the time to talk to your families and learn something more about each of them as you gather around the dinner table this holiday season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Native American Heritage Month

This month is Native American Heritage Month. Many of us have heard family stories about possibly having Native American blood in our lines. Several people I know claim their families connect to Pocahontas. But proving these lines can be difficult. We have a picture of a Native American in one of our family photo albums and have not been able to figure out who he is. It is a mystery to us.

In my regular life I work for the US Department of Interior. We have observances of all these cultural heritage months. As part of the month, we receive e-mails with trivia and questions to test our knowledge. Today I received the following in my e-mail:

Did you know…………………………….Many Native American names are created specifically for the bearer or to describe various stages of the bearer's life? For this reason, there are very few common Native American names. For example, names such as Woo-ka-nay (“arched nose”), which was the real name of the Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose, or Wa Tha Huck, the original name of legendary Indian athlete Jim Thorpe (which means “bright path”).

In some tribes, the use of names is highly restrictive. Certain names can only be used by specific families within the tribe, and can only be transferred by loan or gift. Using a name of this sort without first receiving permission could be considered an enormous faux pas or even theft. At a minimum, it's an affront to a specific culture and race.

For some Native American tribes, personal names are kept very private, sometimes even secret, and reserved for use only among other members of the same tribe. When members of one of these tribes are with people not of their own group, they'll often use “public” names instead of their true given names. Traditions vary widely among tribes. What may be an acceptable borrowing of a name to some tribes may be unthinkable to others.

If you are interested in how Native American Heritage Month was started and what it means, I suggest you visit Another interesting site is the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian which is found at

So, how do you go about researching Native American records? This can be a problem for some researchers. I will try to list a few websites that can help in this research. Some of these will be free while others have subscriptions.

Footnote is a subscription site but they offer many free records and are completely free if you visit your local Family History Center. This month they have over 1.5 million Native American records available for viewing. These records include Ratified Indian Treaties (1722-1869), Indian Census Rolls (1885-1940), Dawes Enrollment Cards (1898-1914), Eastern Cherokee Applications (1906-1909), Guion Miller Roll (1908-1910) and Cherokee Indian Agency (1801-1835). They also have several tribal histories documented on individual tribe pages. Civil War and WW II Indian Regiments are also highlighted along with their document. These are all great records to search as you look into your Native roots. To view the records go to this link:

Another useful site is Access Genealogy at This site has indexes of many Native American Rolls, such as the Armstrong, Baker, Cooper, Dawes, Guion, Reservation, Ute and Wallace Rolls. There are many helpful documents and a discussion of Indian DNA on the site. It also links to images of Indian Census Schedules from Ancestry.

A site that I use frequently in my research is Genealogy Branches. This site provides lists of sites by subject. Their Native American list is found at You will find links to Ancestry as well as state archives, GenNet, and other websites.

Cyndi’s List is well known for its expertise in bringing genealogical websites to a common list. The Native American links can be found at

And finally, I will discuss a new comer to the stage: FamilySearch Wiki. FamilySearch Wiki is a baby in the genealogy world; it was started recently and is still asking for contributors to provide information for their Wiki. There are several pages concerning Native Americans but they can always use your help to improve them. I suggest that you start at

I hope this article peaks your interest and sends you looking for more information on those links to Native Americans that you have been told about.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beginning Your Online Search for Ancestors for Free

I am in the third week of teaching my 8 week family history class. The lesson today is about online research opportunities. We started out with collecting family information from available resources, such as relatives and family records the first week. The second week was about entering your data into a program such as PAF. This week we discuss where to go to find records to develop the story of these individuals after you have begun to compile information for your family tree.

In the past, most researchers would travel to the regions where the family lived, search through libraries and courthouses and hike through local cemeteries. Today much of this information is available online. Online resources allow you to begin your research from the comfort of your own home. Many databases on the internet require subscriptions but if you are willing to spend the time searching them out, there are many sites that you can access for free that provide comparable information. The following sites are all free and include a wide variety of information that will allow you to fill in that dash between the birth and death of your ancestors.

FamilySearch Records Pilot – ( – This site is being developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It consists of records that have been indexed through their volunteer FamilySearch Indexing ( The site includes millions of indexed records from around the world with more records being added monthly. There are a variety of records such as death certificates, marriage licenses, birth certificates, US and state census records, land records and others available. This site will eventually include records come from most of the Church’s 36 million rolls of microfilm. I recommend that you come back to this site regularly to see if your records have been added.

Cemetery Records - Find-A-Grave ( is a volunteer site working to index cemeteries in the US and around the world. The volunteers take pictures or provide written indexes of graves within the cemeteries and post them on the website. I have found this site to be very useful in areas where volunteers are actively recording information. Try the site occasionally to see if new cemeteries have been indexed. Also consider volunteering for cemeteries in your local area by taking pictures and posting them to the site. Another potentially useful listing for cemeteries is Interment ( Many states also have similar records sites. For example, Ohio has a county by county collection of cemetery photos at the Ohio Gravestone Project (

US GenWeb – ( – US GenWeb is a site that includes state sites managed by volunteers. Each state site contains county sites which are also managed by volunteers. I recommend that you begin at the county sites, search their records and post queries concerning the research you are working on. Many of these sites have indexed census, cemetery, birth, marriage and death records as well as a variety of other helpful links.

Immigration Records – There are a couple websites that provide great immigration records. The first one that most people go to is the Ellis Island site ( Most people mistakenly think that this is where most of the immigrants came ashore. However, Ellis Island was not a major entry point until the 1890s. The website includes information on all the ships that came to New York from 1892-1924. Another useful site is Castle Garden ( This site offers information on 12 million immigrants who entered the US in Manhattan from 1820-1892. Another site that I have found to be useful is The Ships List ( There were many other ports of entry including Philadelphia, New Orleans as well as smaller ones between the US and Canada and Mexico. A full list of these ports of entry can be found at

Land Records – The Bureau of Land Management ( has an online database which includes the images of early land patents from across the US. These records allow you to see when lands were transferred from the federal government to private land owners. The records include boundaries, descriptions of the land and the acreage transferred. Some states have early land grants online also. For example, Florida includes the early Spanish Land Grants online at the Florida Memory Project website

Books – There are many books that have been digitized and posted online. A few of the major collections include Google Books ( and the BYU Digital Books Collection (, as well as some lesser known collections at Scribd ( and the Internet Archives (

Message Boards – There are a variety of message boards on the internet. Message boards allow you to post queries and discuss evidence with people researching the same names. One of the largest message boards is RootsWeb ( Other sites also have message boards. Be sure to post queries with detailed headers so people can find them easily.

Social Security Death Index – The SSDI provides the Social Security numbers, birth dates and death dates for people who have died since about the 1950’s onward. This database is updated weekly with new deaths. There are several sites that host these records. RootsWeb ( and FamilySearch ( both have these records online.

Civil War Records – The National Park Service hosts the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System, an online collection of Civil War indexes at These indexes include rolls and unit histories. It provides a good starting place to find out what unit your ancestor fought in, when they enrolled, what rank they achieved and a list of the battles that unit was part of. Once you have this basic information you can research the unit in more detail on a variety of websites. The state of Florida has their Civil War Pension Records online at the Florida Memory Project (

Court Records – Some states and counties have begun posting court records online. These records usually only include more recent records but in some cases there are older records for some areas. One example is the Jacksonville, Florida records at To see if your locality has their records online search Google for *** court records (replace the *** with your locality).

Death Indexes – Several sites have death indexes and records available. One site which provides links to a variety of such records is the Online Searchable Death Indexes Guide ( This site provides a list of sites by state. Another site which I have found to be useful is Tributes ( This site allows you to build a profile page of deceased individuals. Many pages have obituaries and stories about the person’s life. The pages generally start out with information from the Social Security Death Index and rely on contributions by individuals to fill out the rest of the information.