Sunday, August 28, 2016

The US Census - Beyond the Names - Mapping Your Ancestors

Welcome back and thanks for your continued support of my blog. I am back at it again and thankfully I have some time off work to get back to more blogging. My previous blog post was about using the US census to discover immigration records. This post will be about using the census to map your ancestors.

I have always found it interesting to see where my ancestors lived and I like to compare present day photographs with the historic photos to see how the areas have changed over time. A few years ago my family took a day trip and visited Fernandina Beach, Florida, the location where my wife's 3rd great grandparents settled when they immigrated from St. Heliers, Channel Islands. The town still has its historic town center with all the buildings turned into tourist shops and restaurants. But since we hadn't been there for a couple years we were amazed at how much things had changed in just that little time. How much must it have changed since the 1860s when they immigrated there?

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog titled Mapping Your Ancestors. That post talked about some of the tools that you can use to compare areas over time. But how do you use the census records to see how people migrated and how areas have changed?

Each census provides basic information that can help locate your ancestors' general locations. For example, my wife's 3rd great-grandfather Corydon Bloomfield Reeder moved frequently during his life. We first find him in the 1850 census. Based on that census, we know he was born in Ohio but was living in Monroe Township, Delaware County, Indiana. During the 1860 census he is listed as living in Umatilla Crossing, Lower Umatilla Precinct, Wasco County, Oregon. The 1870 census has him living in Cayuse, Umatilla County, Oregon. In 1880, he is living in Thomas Fork Valley, Uinta County, Wyoming.

Now I can map these points to see where he lived. This is a simple task that can be done with a spreadsheet and Google Maps. First, create a table with the dates and locations in your spreadsheet program. You can use MS Excel or try Google Sheets as a free replacement.


Example of location spreadsheet


I only included the locations from the census records in the example table above but you can add as many locations as you have. For example, you can add locations from tax records, children's birth records, marriage records, etc to complete your map.

Once you have the spreadsheet complete you should save it as a csv file which can be imported into your mapping program such as Google Maps or Google Earth.

Map for Corydon Reeder

For the map above I have added several more sets of data to the census data. This includes land grants and marriage records. In Google Maps each type of data can be colored a different color. When you click on the pin the data from your spreadsheet for that point is shown. This is a great method to show how people have migrated over time.

But what if your family didn't migrate and they stayed in the same place all their life? Well, there are tools for that also. One thing you can do if they were landowners is find plat maps for the region. One of my favorite sites for plat maps is Historic Map Works. They do charge for downloads and printed maps but you can search their map database for free and see the maps you need.

1860 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

1880 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

1898 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

The three plat maps above show the same parcel of land and its ownership. In 1860 this land was owned by G. H. Severin and consisted of 90 acres. Mr. Severin was actually George H. Severin. In 1880 you can see that the land was owned by the G. Severin Heirs and consisted of 110 acres. In 1898 the land is owned by Catherine Severin. Catherine was my great-great-grandmother. Her first husband was William Severin, the son of George H. Severin.  You can also see that sometime between 1860 and 1880 the Severin family acquired some land to their northwest corner from either J. Wente or H. Heitkamp. The changing land holdings can give us clues as to marriages, deaths, and other events. For example, we know that George Severin died between 1860 and 1880 since the land is owned by his heirs in 1880. Also knowing who the neighbors were can give us clues as to how well they knew each other and why certain families married.

The 1860 and 1870 census records for George Severin list his location as Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio. Additionally these censuses list his real estate values. In 1860 his real estate was valued at $2,800. In 1870 the census lists his real estate value as $3,000. So there was a $200 increase in his land value between these censuses. Was that when he acquired that additional acreage? We would have to look at land records to find that out.

The censuses during the 20th century provide additional detail on locations. I especially like the ones that have house addresses. You can use Streetview on Google Maps to see what the place looks like today and see if their home is still standing. But I especially like using real estate sites such as Trulia and Zillow. Why is it useful to use current real estate information in your research? Well, let's take a look at some examples.

In the 1920 census, my great-grandfather Ray Westerheide is listed as living at 317 Nassau Street, Dayton, Ohio. His occupation at this time was as an assembler at Delco Lights. From one of the real estate sites we get the following information:

Trulia.com results for 317 Nassau St., Dayton, Ohio

You can see the homes here are probably the original homes from when Ray lived there. They are typical shotgun style homes. The one on the right appears to have been updated with a second floor added. But it appears that his home is no longer there. We also get information on the current neighborhood and home values.

By the 1930 census, Ray had moved to 122 South Frankfort Street in Minster, Ohio. Ray was the manager of a Kroger grocery store at this time.

Trulia.com results for 122 S. Frankfort St, Minster, Ohio

From this information you can see that the house was built in 1924. So I might be able to assume that Ray and his family were the original owners of this home. His family consisted of Ray, his wife, and their 6 children so they probably needed the extra space provided by this home.

So, from the information I found in the censuses I was able to develop all of these maps to get a better idea of what the area was like when they lived.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The US Census - Beyond the Names - Immigration

I am taking a few days off of work to get things done around the house but there is only so much you can do outside when it is over 90 degrees and the humidity is so high that you start sweating as soon as you step out. So, after mowing part of the yard I needed to come inside where the air conditioning works. And while I am inside I figured I would put together another post to my blog.

I see many people using the census to discover family members but often they don't bother to look at the actual document. They focus on the indexed information and are just interested in the names. A few years ago I had a talk about mining the US censuses to write your family's story. In that presentation I focused on the additional items in the census. I spoke about family composition, land ownership, employment, economy, and immigration.

Immigration information is one of those things that many beginning researchers have problems finding. The censuses have a wealth of information about immigration if you know how to find it but we always need to be weary about the information and realize that it may not always be correct. Use it as a guide to discover more information that leads to a final conclusion.

Beginning in the 1850 census each person in the census has a birth place listed. Knowing the birth place for the individuals in a family can help you find an approximate date for their immigration. Below is the 1860 census for my 3rd great-grandparents Ferdinand and Appolonia Gayer.

1860 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

From this census I can see that Ferdinand was born in Baden, Germany. Below that there are several family members listed as "Do" which stands for ditto. The last person in this family born in Baden was Magdalena who was age 7, meaning she was likely born around 1852-1853. The next child, Catherine is listed as being born in Ohio. Catherine is 5 years old, so we can assume that she was born around 1854-1855. From this one record, which doesn't list immigration information directly, I was able to determine that the family probably immigrated between 1852 and 1855.

To find more information I then went to the 1870 census.

1870 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

The 1870 census lists Magdalena "Mag" as 18 years old and being born in Baden. Catherine is listed as 13 years old and born in Ohio. This gives me a range of 1851 to 1857 as the possible immigration date. Notice that neither daughter aged the expected 10 years during this census so my approximate immigration date has grown a bit.

The 1880 census isn't as much help because the children are getting older and many have moved out of the family home. But I can still get a little information from it.

1880 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

In the 1880 census only Ferdinand and his wife are listed as being born in Baden. All of the other people in the household were born in Ohio. But I do see Catherine, she is now listed as Catherine Carity, a widow, aged 24. Based on her age and the fact that she was born in Ohio, we know that the family had to immigrate before 1856.

So, what have I found out about the Gaier family and their immigration from these early censuses? First of all, I know that Ferdinand, Appalonia and several of their children were born in Baden, Germany. Secondly, I know that they most likely immigrated in the mid 1850s, probably around 1853 or 1854.

Next, I looked at the 1900 census. Between 1900 and 1930, the census should list the immigration year for each individual.

1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Ferdinand Gaier

In the 1900 census I found Ferdinand Gaier, age 90, born in Germany. He is living in the home of his daughter Magdalena who married Joseph Rice. Remember, Magdalena was the last child born in Germany before the family immigrated. The columns after the birth locations should have the immigration information. Just my luck, the enumerator failed to record the immigration information for this family. So, that means we need to check on the other children who were born in Germany to see if the census records their immigration year.

1900 US Census, Granville Township, Mercer, Ohio - Charles Gaier

The 1900 census for Charles Gaier lists his immigration year as 1850. That is a little bit off of what I had figured but still within the typical margin of error on a census.

What about her brother Valentine? I was able to find Valentine in the 1900 and 1910 censuses.

1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier

1910 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier

Val's 1900 census lists his immigration year as 1952 while the 1910 census lists it as 1953. Both of these dates seem to fit with what I know about the children in this family.

Now, knowing that the family probably immigrated in the range of 1852-1854 I can look to see which port of entry was most likely at that time. Many German immigrants arrived on the east coast in New York and traveled west to Ohio. Others came in through New Orleans and traveled north up the Mississippi River to Ohio. If they arrived in New York, they would most likely have come through Castle Garden.

Searching through the Castle Garden database I was able to find Ferdinand Geiger and family listed as arriving on 13 January 1854 aboard the ship Carolus Magnus from Le Havre, France.

Carolus Magnus Passenger List - 13 January 1854

Passenger List for Ferdinand Geiger and Family

So, starting with a few hints from the census records I was able to deduce the immigration dates for this family.

One last hint. Did you know that you can also discover citizenship information in the US censuses. Some of you probably already know that the 1900-1940 censuses list the person's naturalization status (AL=alien, PA=first papers, NA=naturalized) and the 1920 census lists the year of naturalization. But did you know there are some hints in the earlier censuses also? Even though the 1820 and 1830 censuses don't list all the individuals by name, they do list the number of individuals in the household who were of foreign birth and who were not naturalized citizens. Also, the 1870 census has a column for "Male Citizens of the US of 21 years of age and upwards." If a person was of foreign birth and this column is checked he would have been naturalized prior to 1870.

I hope these ideas help you find more information on your immigrant ancestors and as always, remember that census records provide clues to approximate dates, not the exact dates. However, knowing how to use those clues can lead to more discoveries in your families.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

WolframAlpha - A Computational Knowledge Engine

Hello all! Summer is coming to an end and all the kids are going back to school. That could be a good thing for us genealogists who want that extra free time to do research, or it could mean more time trying to remember how in the world to do fractions and binomials. Whichever it is for you, I have a suggestion for a site to try. It is WolframAlpha.

WolframAlpha is not your typical search engine, it is a computational knowledge engine. What does that mean? Well, it doesn't search the web for hits and provide you a list of websites to look at. WolframAlpha tries to give you answers to your questions. You can choose from a variety of topics including Places & Geography, People & History, Dates & Times, and many more. It even has a Genealogy section but that doesn't show up on the homepage list.

On typical search engines, like Google, we are trying to find information on specific relatives such as where they lived, is there an obituary, where are they buried, is there a ship's list, etc. You can't do that kind of search on WolframAlpha. But you can do some interesting things. Maybe you remember when I wrote about RelativeFinder I mentioned that my only famous relative was Paris Hilton. My great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin is Paris Hilton's great-great grandmother. Well, what does my relationship look like for this? I asked WolframAlpha to map out great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin great-great granddaughter.

WolframAlpha relational mapping. My relationship to Paris Hilton.
Isn't that cool? It can calculate the relationship, determine blood relation, number of generations removed, and at what generation you have common ancestors.

What about dates? I have an obituary where the weekly newspaper was written on Thursdays. The first Thursday in May 1912 was on May 2nd, but the obituary says the person died last Friday. What was the date that he died? I can never remember if a month had 30 or 31 days so I usually search for a clendar from 1912 to do my look-up. But WolframAlpha can do the calculation for you. Just type in Friday before 2 May 1912 and see what happens.

WolframAlpha date calculator.

The calendar results give you the date, Friday, 26 April 1912, but there is more. You can find date formats, how long ago that was from today (in this case the person died 104 years, 3 months and 25 days ago), what day of the year it was, nearby holidays, time of sunrise and sunset, phase of the moon, etc.

Have you ever gone to the cemetery and found a headstone with the date of death and the person's age? Let's pretend the headstone says the person died 5 April 1914 and he was 76 years, 6 months and 28 days old at the time of death. How would you calculate his birth date? In WolframAlpha you write it as a calculation 5 April 1914 - 76 years - 6 months - 28 days.

WolframAlpha computational calendar.
The result is that he was born on Thursday, 7 September 1837, and died on Sunday, 5 April 1914. Oh yeah, it even tells you the day when you provide it a date. It also provides the results in a variety of calendar formats including Jewish, Islamic, Chinese and Mayan and you find out he was a Virgo. Further down on the page it provides additional information like other historical events on that date.

What if I wanted to know the weather in a certain place on a given date? I decided to see about the weather in Dayton, Ohio on 4 July 1962. Was it a nice day for the celebrations? Did it rain? The results give min and max temperatures, conditions, wind speed, humidity, hourly results for temperature, cloud cover, humidity, pressure, wind, sunlight intensity, ranges of historical temperatures for that date, and much more.

WolframAlpha weather data.
One thing I like to do is see how much a dollar was worth compared to today. Several censuses provide the value of personal property such as their house, their annual income, or the rent they were paying. Let's suppose the value of their home in the 1940 census was $5,000. What is that worth today?

WolframAlpha value calculator
From this, we see that the $5,000 house in 1940 is equivalent to $87,810 today. We can also see the inflation factor and a graph showing how that value has changed over time.

Another fantastic thing you can do with WolframAlpha is find out a tricky word. What I mean by this is when you are reading the handwriting, or someone "accidentally" punched a hole in the document and you can only read a few letters of a word and you need to figure out what it said. You do this by typing in the letters you can read and putting an underline in for the missing letters. An example would be b__g__s. I just chose these letters at random to see what it would come up with.

WolframAlpha word suggestions
The list is fairly long. Now all you have to do is look through it to find something that fits. Would it be badgers, baggies, or bangles? Pretty cool, and it helps with your crossword puzzles when you are stuck.

Can WolframAlpha help me with finding out how common a surname is? Of course it can. However, some of the surnames in my family, such as Westerheide and Aufderhaar, don't come up in the search. So I tried a more common name, Meyer. You do the search by typing in the last name Meyer.

WolframAlpha name search
As you can see, Meyer is the 163rd most common name in the US with  a frequency of 1 in every 1,802 people. There are about 150,000 people with this last name and they are predominantly white. There is more information as you go further down the page, including famous people with that name.

There is much more that WolframAlpha can do to expand your genealogy research. Take a look at their examples page and try it out for yourself. They even have a mobile app available for Genealogy and History searches.

Have fun and continue learning about your ancestors.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Family History Research Today - it's not your Grandma's Research

Welcome back! I have had all sorts of ideas floating through my head on what to write about but just haven't had the time recently. Currently, I am working on setting up the first Indian River Genealogy Conference, scheduled for March 18, 2017, managing a Family History Center and preparing training opportunities for the family history consultants since I was just called as the Vero Beach Stake Family History Center Director, helping to organize a new virtual genealogy society on Second Life called the Second Life Virtual Genealogy Society (SLVGS), and just doing my usual things. Isn't it great to be ADHD? But with all that going on I decided to take off work today and do some things around the house, including adding a new blog post.

So, what have I been thinking about lately? As you can see, I was writing some posts about various online archives in Europe. Before that I was writing about some of the apps that have been developed for FamilySearch. But today I began to think about how genealogy research has changed over the 20 or so years that I have been working on it. I grew up in the computer era. My first computer was a RadioShack Tandy CoCo color computer. You used a TV screen as the monitor. The modem was a telephone you placed on a cradle, the hard drive was a cassette recorder, and I had a 9-pin dot matrix printer with spooled paper. Now we all walk around with cell phones, tablets, and touch screen computers. Our printers have built in scanners and we can make color copies of photographs, take pdf and jpg images of our documents, and a large portion of the records we need to start our research are online and available for us to research at the push of a button, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have been spoiled by all of this technology, but we do need to realize that only a small portion of all the records are available online. There are many other records out there that we are under utilizing because they are stored on shelves or boxes in a storage room in the basement of a courthouse or the attic of some long lost relative.

In the old days, some of you still remember, we had to take road trips or fly to our homelands to find records. We would search through page after page of records looking for that elusive name or date. Today, many of our records have been indexed by volunteers or contractors, and we have the capacity to use optical character recognition (OCR) so many typed records are now transcribed by computers. Just look at all of the newspaper archives that are opening up online (Fulton History, Chronicling America, Genealogy Bank, and so many more). One of my favorite places to search for newspapers is Wikipedia. Did you know that they have an ongoing project to list the available newspapers at their List of Online Newspapers page? If not, you may want to check it out.

Also, today family history is a collaborative project. Sites such as FamilySearch have one tree where researchers from all over the world can work together building a more detailed record of our families, contributing copies of the documents and photographs that they have in their possession. Social media sites have also been taken over by family history researchers. How many of you use Facebook as a research tool? The number of Facebook groups dedicated to genealogy research are growing exponentially. There is even a list of all the Facebook groups dedicated to genealogy posted on the web. Another rapidly growing genealogy resource is Pinterest. You can search projects, posts, photographs, and other items on Pinterest and you can store your photos there also. Have you thought about setting up interest areas on Pinterest that focus on your interests? A friend of mine, Becky Jamison, has been blogging about a site called Trello. Trello is a site that helps you organize your records in such a way as to tell a story. I suggest that you look at Becky's blog and search for Trello since she has several posts describing how she is using it for her research.

The internet is growing so rapidly that no one person can know where all the necessary records are located. Through collaborative research we will be able to have a more complete story of those who have come before us and really get to know who they were. I challenge each of you to find a seldom used site, get away from the big sites, take the plunge in social media, find new cousins, and build collaborations to increase your research capabilities.

I hope everyone has a great weekend and discovers some of those branches and new leaves that we all know are on our trees.