Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Getting Started: Probate

Another important research tool is the probate record. This includes a person's will, estate inventory, estate settlement and other records related to a person's passing. Unfortunately, many of our ancestors died intestate [without a will], so look for notification of that as well.

The will, dictated or written by the deceased, should include the following:
                        - date of the will and where written
                        - names of heirs [generally the kids are listed in birth order, but not necessarily] and
                          when they are entitled to their share
                        - frequently the testator will name "my eldest son," etc.
                        - unfortunately, the testator is just as likely to name the eldest son and lump the rest of
                           the offspring as "my other sons" or "my daughters"
                        - bequests to the heirs [wife, children, other relatives] and the division of the property
                        - wife [hopefully her name] and her share of the estate
                        - executor or executrix
                        - codicil [changes made to the will]
The will should have the names of witnesses and the recorder [with date recorded]
The inventory should include all property [real estate & personal estate] with name of people bequeathed or claiming certain property
The estate settlement should include final distribution of the estate [who got what], any documents contesting the will or otherwise related to the settlement

The probate file should help you narrow down the death date of the testator, give you the 1st name of the spouse, names of the children, if any of the kids are minors [upon reaching his/her 18th year, etc.], other family members, ages of kids, if kids are married [daughters' husbands], and numerous other details on the family.

Wills may turn up in unusual places. Benjamin Prall's will was never recorded. It was left with an innkeeper when Benjamin fell ill on a business trip. The innkeeper submitted the will after reading of Benjamin's death. The will and the innkeeper's affidavit were on file at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Getting Started: Public Land Survey System

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the 13 original colonies used a system of metes and bounds [landmarks] to map out property. States that were carved from the original 13 used the same system. [CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME, DE, MD, NY, NJ, PA, GA, VA, WV, TN, KY, NC, SC]

The following states use the PLSS plus a combination of metes and bounds, land grants or other formats: CA, HI, LA, NM, TX,WI, MI, WA, OR, ID, WY & Ohio [Virginia Military District & Connecticut Western Reserve.]

The rest use the PLSS. In this system townships of 36 square miles set up by baselines [E-W] & principal meridians [N-S]. Each township is divided into 36 sections of 1 square mile each. The township is bordered by range [N-S] & township [E-W] lines. Each section is divided into quarter-sections [NE, NW, SE, SW] of 160 acres each. The sections could also be quartered. [see the Wikipedia article or other pages explaining the PLSS for diagrams on how the townships and sections were divided.]

If a settler purchased a tract of land within the PLSS states, the land patent would read as follows:
W1/2NE of Section 20, township 21N, range 15E, 2nd Prime Meridian, State & County where purchased.

The Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office website offers a searchable database for land patents under the PLSS.

Arphax Publishing offers "Family Maps," a series of spiral bound books containing land survey [plat] maps for various counties in 24 states. These maps show the original patentee with the date of purchase. The books are a fantastic resource for locating ancestral property. You can locate the land and visit the site when in the area. Modern-day maps are also included in the book to help you locate crossroads and landmarks. []

Monday, November 28, 2016

Getting Started: Deeds

Sorry readers, I missed a day over the holiday.

Land records are an important source in genealogical research. Deeds will give you a description of the land. The 13 colonies used metes and bounds [beginning at an oak tree 20 yards north of the property line of...] which can be tough to follow, but can give you the names of your ancestor's neighbors. Most of the remaining states used a township grid map. Township, range, section and quarter were the keys here. [An explanation of the grip later this week.] So you may find the following: the NE 1/4 of section 20, township 21N, range 15E of county X, state A. Much easier to locate on the map!

Check both the grantor [seller] and grantee [buyer] indexes for the name of your ancestor, or the family surname.

Record all names from the deed and try to find out how the people are related. Frequently relationships are given [son, in-law, brother, etc.]

In some cases, deeds may be key to probate questions. My ancestor, Cornelius Prall was not named as an heir in his mother's will. A Hunterdon Co., NJ deed resolved the issue. Cornelius' father had arranged for eldest son James to deed Cornelius his share of the family estate prior to his death.

Watch out for Junior, Senior, I, II, III and so on. The eldest John in the family will be Sr. or I until his death. Then the next eldest John becomes Sr. or I. Don't assume that all of the deeds referencing John Sr. refer to the same man, especially if the deeds span 40 or more years. [Unless the grantee is mentioned as a minor, assume he/she is of legal age, generally 18 or 21.

Deeds were not recorded until the land was disposed of by the owner. If your ancestor died in, say 1785 and you find his name under deed indexes 15-20 years later, check them out. The person who bought your family's land in 1770 may not have sold it until 1804 - when it was recorded.

Read the notes in the margins. Paper was at a premium in colonial times and even later. A paper-poor clerk might have recorded a birth or marriage that happened near the date of the deed. That birth or marriage might not be recorded anywhere else! 


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Getting Started: More on Pension Files

A little more on pension files:

Soldier's pension: The vet has survived [1832 for Rev War] long enough to qualify for a pension. His service record will be included along with testimony from others who knew of his service. You may, or may not, find additional genealogical info. The veteran's date and place of birth should be included and his date and place of death [terminating the pension]. You may find marriages, spouses, and children mentioned, but don't count on it.

Invalid pension: Soldier was injured, wounded or sick and received a pension. His medical files and service record should be included. Documents filed by fellow soldiers, physicians, family members testifying as to his infirmity. Identify all of those people as to relationship to the vet!

Widow's pension: The surviving spouse of the veteran qualified for a pension. She had to provide proof of marriage, so look for marriage license or some similar document. Also, names of children, with birth info should be included. Documentation about the soldier [service record, affidavits, death record, etc.] should be included as well.

In any pension file, write down the name of every person mentioned in the documentation and find out how that person was related to the soldier or soldier's widow. Wes he/she a sibling, child, parent, cousin, step-relative, fellow soldier, family physician, spouse, in-law? You might be able to track down your person in the records of one of those folks!  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Getting Started: Military records and pension files

There are a plethora of military records available from the Revolutionary War on to our most recent conflicts. Check leading websites [,, and others] to see what military records are available. is dedicated to military records and is an excellent starting point. The site has a seven day free trial to help your preliminary search.

Rev War: Service records for Continental Line [regular army] soldiers. Pension files [soldiers, invalid, widows] for Line service. Bounty Land Warrants [land offered to veterans in lieu of pay, generally in Ohio for this war.] Your soldier may have done most of his service with a local militia unit, which did not qualify him for a pension. However, if his militia company was temporarily assigned to a Continental Line Regiment, then he qualified for a pension. Consult State Archives for lists of servicemen. Some of these are online. Maryland has a superb online website for its Revolutionary War records. Check local histories for names of soldiers. has information on those soldiers who were at the Valley Forge encampment. Rev War pension files are available on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake and on Fold3. The Daughters of the American Revolution has a patriot search for veterans that have qualified their female ancestors for membership. Military service and civilian service qualified for the DAR. If an ancestor supplied food or clothing to the Army, served in Congress [US or Provincial] or otherwise leant aid and comfort to the Patriot cause, they qualified for the DAR. You can also search for you patriot on the Sons of the American Revolution site.

Civil War: Service records, enlistments, pension files are available. Some records are available online. Fold3 has pension cards that will give you the file number needed to order the files. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is an excellent site for locating your CW veterans. The Grand Army of the Republic and Sons of Veterans of the Civil War organizations may also offer some help. State Archives offer information on soldiers. The Roll of Honor of the Army of the Republic [book series] is worth a look. For Confederate records consult Fold3 and other sites. Check with the Archives of those states that made up the CSA.

War of 1812: Pension files at FHL and Fold3. Check state resources for soldiers' records.

Pre-20th century military records are available at the National Archives in Washington DC. Post-20th century military records are stored in  the NARA branch in St. Louis. Some records were destroyed by fire. and other sites have draft and enlistment records.

If you need a Civil War service or pension file or file from other military service after 1783, I would recommend that you contact a professional genealogist in the DC or St. Louis area. NARA copy fees have sky-rocketed in recent years. If you have the file number and soldier's name [or widow's] a researcher can go to the repository and copy the file for you. Travel, copy fees, hourly rate and postage will still be cheaper than ordering from the NARA. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Getting Started: Gathering Evidence from Local Histories & Biographies

Local histories and biographies  can be a big asset to your research. The "mug book" is one type of local history. Many of these were celebrating the centennial anniversary of a county. Often prominent families paid to have articles included on their ancestors. Some good info can come out of these books. The better option is a general history of a county or town published by a local historian. These histories can include some choice tidbits on a family such as when they arrived in the area, where they lived, occupation, offices held and many others. If the book is indexed, your search will be easier. Most have been indexed, either by the author or the local genealogical/historical society. In some cases you may find a separate index to several local histories.

Frequently, the local histories are accompanied by a biographical section. The biographies are generally of people of some note in politics, local business, early settlement, military service and so forth.

You may find one of your direct line in the bio of a collateral ancestor [sibling, in-law, cousin, etc.] There might be a brief mention of your individual or you could hit the jackpot with a 3-4 generation look at the family.

As with all sources, double-check the facts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Getting Started: Gathering Evidence III

Today's topic is using family histories and genealogies. These can be great tools, but can also be a royal pain!

1] Look at the publishing date. The earlier the book was published the more likely that you will find errors. The author[s] were at the mercy of the technology of the time. Writing letters was the method of communication early on and travel to the sources of the material was not convenient for the researcher. Family lore was often given as fact. Family members were overlooked. Sources were limited.

2] Some genealogies were a disaster! Fraudulent genealogies were a problem from about 1880 to 1920 or so. Two of the primary culprits were Gustav Anjou and Horatio Gates Somersby. If you wanted to be related to a famous person with your surname or have connections to European nobility, it could be done with a few creative pieces of "evidence." There are a few webpages dedicated to listing fraudulent genealogies, check them out.

Other family histories were well-meaning, but poorly researched. In the early Lockwood Geneaolgy, nearly all Lockwood descendants were assigned to Robert Lockwood. His brother, Edmund, was all but ignored. Donald Lines Jacobus, an early noted genealogist, debunked the Lockwood work. As it turned out Edmund was the progenitor of the vast majority of the American Lockwoods. Harriet Woodbury Hodge's Some Descendants of Edmund Lockwood corrected errors in the original genealogy.

It was, unfortunately, common for authors to omit children or assign them to the wrong parents.  The researchers were at the mercy of those people who supplied them with information. Wills, deeds, bounty land settlements and other documents that did not specify relationships led researchers to make incorrect assumptions as to how the people named in the documents were related.  Two generations of my Pralls were mixed up for years, until more extensive research uncovered the true relationships. The St. John Genealogy had Samuel St. John as the son of Mathias III. An examination of deeds has led to the belief that Samuel was the son of Mathias II. The origins of the St. Johns in Europe is a whole other issue!

3] More current genealogies should be more reliable and contain information unavailable in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. But, don't bet on it. Rehashing detail from a century old family history can be very common.


1] Check the sources cited in the genealogy and, if possible, consult those sources for accuracy and reliability.

2] Utilize documentation to form your own conclusions about questionable issues. [The St. John item from above, for example.] 

3] Confirm details from earlier genealogies by consulting more recent sources [census, death records, town records, court and probate records] made available since the genealogy was published.

4] If another genealogy is listed as a source, consult the other genealogy for reliability and sources used.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Getting Started: Gathering Evidence II

 A major resource for your research is census records. US Federal Census records are available for 1790 - 1880 & 1900 -1940. Censuses are available for some states [taken every 10 years on the 5 - 1885, 1925, etc.] Non-population schedules are available as well [agricultural, manufacturing, slave] for some years. British and Canadian census records are also available. [British 1841-1901; Canadian 1842, 1848, 1851-1911].

Focusing on the US Federal Census:

The 1790 - 1840 census has limited information: head of household, males and female by age groups and number of slaves. The enumerator listed the number of males or females in each age group as of the date of the census. If the census was to be taken in June and you were born in September, your age is based on your last birthday.

Some professional genealogists have developed a chart to track ages from 1790-1840. Locate one, or design your own. List the members of the household with their birthdates. Across the top, write the census years. Plug in the probable age at each census. Then see if the family fits.

You may find that a few children show up that you don't have, or some missing that you do have. A baby may have been born in 1798 and appears in 1800, but not 1810 - he/she probably died before the 1810 enumeration. A child may have been born in 1802 and died in 1806, thus a no show in the census.

The enumerator may have erred in recording the members of the family. A male who should be 5-10 in 1830, but the record shows a male 10-15 who doesn't belong. Probably a misplaced "tick mark."

You may have to get creative in using the census. If you know your family was in Virginia in 1790 and Illinois in 1840, but not sure about the years in between, look for logical immigration patterns between the two states. VA to KY to IN to IL would be a possibility, as would VA - OH - IL. Search for the name of your head of household in all places, just in case the movement wasn't logical!

1850-1870: Everyone living in the household is listed with age, occupation, place of birth and other information depending on the year. Relationships are not given, so be careful when making assumptions.

1880: Relationships and parents' birthplaces are given for the 1st time. Marital status [single, married, widowed, divorced] is given.

1890: Fire destroyed most of the 1890 enumerations. Check your state[s] to see what survived.

1900-1940: Information varies from year to year. 1900 given month and year of birth. Year of immigration is given in some censuses; number of children born and surviving; number of marriages, age at first marriage are given in various enumerations. 1940 brought several changes and less information.

Beware: Enumerators were at the mercy of the person giving the information, be it the head of household or a neighbor. Ages were fibbed about. [There's no guarantee that the 1900 month and year of birth is right either!] Birthplaces might vary. Nicknames were given for both males and females [William, Bill, Billy, Willie / Nancy, Ann, Anna, Annie, Nan] or middle and given names used interchangeably. [Sarah, Ann & Sally Hall all could have been Sarah Ann Hall.] Children might be working for a neighbor or living with a relative. Don't assume all of the kids belong to both parents. If it's a 2nd marriage for either spouse, the older children may belong the husband or wife and the younger to both. If Papa is 40, Mama is 30 and the oldest kid is 17, chances are Mama is not the birth mother! The enumerator may give the father's surname to all of the kids, even if those from Mama's 1st marriage use their birth father's name.

Worst case scenario - your family gets completely missed by the enumerator.

Check a few families or pages before and after your family to see if any other relatives are living close by. Study naming patterns  for clues.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice....SPELLING! Do not assume that the surname you are looking for is spelled the way you think it is supposed to be spelled. Think creatively. Try to come up with every possible spelling variation you can think of and allow for those you didn't think of.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Getting Started: Gathering Evidence

As you research your family, you will come across a wide variety of resources. These sources will have varying degrees of reliability.

1] Birth records: Birth certificates should be reliable. They are generated soon after the event. Typos or recording errors are possible. Transposed dates, [21 for 12 for example], misspellings [Pratt for Prall], and poor handwriting in earlier records are all possible. If the records are from a church register or town records, the handwriting issue especially applies. When the handwritten records were typed, errors may have occurred as well.

2] Marriage records: Again, these should be reliable. The same errors can apply here that apply to birth records. Marriage bonds, licenses, returns, applications and certificates are among the sources you'll want to look for.

3] Death records: The death certificate is your #1 hoped-for source, but many localities did not require them until the 1880s or later. The name of the deceased, the date and place of death are the three most reliable items here. Although all other information may be correct, it relies on the informant's knowledge of the deceased. The informant could be the spouse, child, sibling or other family member. He/she could also be a neighbor or attending physician.

4] Bible entries: Often the births, deaths and marriages of family members are entered into the family Bible. You may find three or four generations recorded there. Beware of the following:
(a) handwriting - if there are multiple styles of handwriting, then more than one person has made the entries. Dates need confirmation from other sources.
(b) publication date - check the year of publication of the Bible. If the Bible was printed in 1800 and the entries date back to 1720, then someone has copied the dates from another sources. There could be errors!
(c) baptism/christening date vs. birth date - make sure which date is entered. The family may have recorded the dates the children were baptized or christened rather than the date of birth. The former could be a day or two after the birth or a month after the fact. Some baptisms were held off until the parents could get the kids to the nearest church. I have one case where 4-5 of the kids were baptized on the same day. The ranged from about 10 to a few months. Hope that the family has recorded both!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Getting Started: Organizing your information

OK, you have collected an assortment of photos, pension files, birth, marriage and death records, profiles from various genealogies and local histories. What next? Organize!

Here's what I've done, for better or for worse:

1] Family photos [people, gravesites, homes, etc.] have been placed in photo albums [in acid free sleeves]. Some photos are on my computer.

2] Birth, marriage, and death certificates along with obituaries have been placed in a binder.

3] All other information goes into a family folder. I have used colored subject folders.
    (a) Each family gets a folder.
    (b) When the folder gets unmanageable, I assign a folder to each family member that has generated
          enough material to warrant his/her own folder.
    (c) I have also generated folders for material on unrelated family lines.

The main reason for this particular format is that I haven't set aside time to develop a better one! This is what I started with back when I was naïve enough to think I wouldn't find a great deal of info. LOL

Some folks put everything on the computer. Others use standard file folders for each person with even one item of documentation. Extra copies of documentation are made for each person that is mentioned [a marriage record would go into the folders for each spouse.]

If you are looking for organizational ideas, attend a program on the subject or look for a podcast or article online. Otherwise, create your own. Just be sure you are comfortable with whichever format you choose!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting Started: Interviews

This topic was not one that I had trouble with. My Mom and her brother were very willing to share stories and info. My Pop generally said that he didn't really know anything about the family, but every now and then I'd share a new find and he would reminisce with helpful details. My 1st cousins,  mostly 10-15 years older than me, were also willing to share stories.

Of course, some of the memories were a bit out of whack and needed to be verified, but overall fairly reliable.

Make a list of questions you want answered.
Have a photo or other document available to get things started with reluctant relatives.
Be polite and patient.
Take good notes!

Check online for suggestions on genealogy interviews.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Getting Started: Family Photos

Once you have your family photo collection in hand, here are some preservation instructions:

1] Identify each person in the photo & the approximate date of the photo. [Exact date is preferable.] You will probably need assistance from other family members.

2] Store the pictures in acid free photo sleeves. Place them in an album or file box by family, person, date, whatever works best.

3] You may also want to scan the photos into your computer or copy them to a disc.

Always be ready for surprises. About 10 years after I got started researching, one of my cousins sent a series of e-mails with family photos asking if I could identify when they were taken or who were some of the people photographed.

The only pics of my paternal grandmother that I had seen were after I was born, when she was in her late 60s & early 70s. As my grandfather died in 1939, I had never seen a picture of him. These pictures dated from about 1911 to the late 1930s. My grandparents' wedding picture, a photo of my grandparents and grandpa's sister & brother-in-law, my great-grandmother and a four generation photo were among the gems.

Using my Pop & family records as resources, I was able to ID & approximate the date on all of the photos. The only mystery remaining is whether the infant in the 4 generation pic is my father or aunt. [Generic wardrobe for infants back then!]

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Getting Started: Software Part II

When selecting the genealogy software you want to use, look at the features offered:

1] Ease of use. Entering data needs to be a smooth process. Select a program that is highly user friendly.

2] Printing options. Decide what types of charts and reports you would like to print out. Pedigree charts, family group sheets, narrative reports, publishing options. Some programs offer a variety of pedigree charts. Most programs offer 4-5 formats for printing reports. Book or website publishing options exist for many programs. Pick one that meets your needs.

3] Source input. Most programs offer simple "fill-in-the-blank" templates for a wide variety of sources. If needed, you can frequently create your own templates for sources not covered.

4] Publishing options. Some of the family tree programs go directly online through the publisher of the program. You will generally have an option to make your tree public or private. Private trees allow you to restrict access to family, friends, fellow researchers, etc. via permission or password. Programs that offer book publishing options may require a bit of creativity to get things set up the way you want. All of the basic pages are available: title page, table of contents, index, and so forth. You can design the chapters by individuals or families. Including charts, photos, documents and maps is also possible.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Getting Started: Genealogy Software

You will, of course, need a genealogy software program in which to enter all of your data. Several programs have been discontinued over the years [Ancestry Family Tree, for example.] Some programs offer a free download with basic input ability; the require you to purchase the full-access version. Others are totally free.

Here are a few programs for you to check out:

My Heritage: Family Tree Builder
Legacy Family Tree
Roots Magic [my personal choice]
Mac Family Tree [for Mac users]
Ancestral Quest
My Family Tree
Wikitree allows you to create a tree on the website. also allows you to create a tree onsite.

Check Cyndi's List or do a "genealogy software" search for reviews or additional info. Also visit each program's home page.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Getting Started: Charts

As you get started on your research, you will need a few basic charts to help you organize:

1) Pedigree chart: These charts come in landscape and portrait formats and 3, 4 or 5 generation formats. The chart has a line for yourself [#1], your parents [#2-3], grandparents [#4-5, 6-7]  & so on.
Lines are provided for the birth, marriage & death date & place for each individual.

2) Family Group Sheet/Record: This document allows you to record the family data for each person in a family. Space is provided for the birth, marriage & death of the parents and children, as well as the spouses of the kids.

3) Research Log: This document allows you to record each source you use and its value.

4) To Do List: Allows you to create a check list of what you've done & need to do.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Getting Started on Your Research I

I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for the novice researcher or old ones for the experienced researcher:

1st - the old standby - start with yourself and work backwards!

1. Check around the house [or your parents' house, etc.] to see what might be on hand. [a] family photos, [b] birth, marriage & death records, [c] newspaper clippings, [d] military discharge papers & similar documents, [e] diaries/journals, [f] letters, [g] hopefully, a relative's genealogy notes

2. Talk to family members about their reminiscences of their lives & the lives of deceased family members. [You may need to draw up a set of specific questions to ask. Be patient! Record or take notes.]

3. If an aunt, cousin, sibling or whoever has compiled a genealogy, contact them to see if they are willing to share the information.

4. Take clear, concise notes as you proceed.

5. Document every piece of information you find - including the "family lore." [Where you got it, date acquired, who gave it to you, & so on.

6. Decide on a system to help you keep the material organized.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Online Family Trees

Online family trees can be a tremendous source of information. They can also be a tremendous source of misinformation.

Unfortunately, far too many trees are totally undocumented or site other undocumented trees as sources.

Others are partially documented, but use the wrong source as documentation. For example, a marriage record may appear as a source for a marriage. That record may have the  correct name of, say, the bride, but a different date, location, and different husband.  Right name, wrong person.

Some trees may be partially and correctly documented, but lacking documentation for several events.

Then there's the golden tree - totally and correctly documented!

For the imperfect trees, utilize the information, but search for records that support the events. Then you can use the information in your own files. If the undocumented details fit your story, explain why you are including the information and why you are convinced it fits. Then keep looking for sources to support your theory.   

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Final Ancestors of Note: V & W

Jan Jansen van Haarlem [1570-75 - aft 1641]: Jan was a Dutch seaman who was captured by Moroccan pirates. He converted to Islam and eventually became Admiral of the Sultan's pirate fleet based at the port of Salee, Morocco. Jan became known as Murat Rais.

Anthony Jansen van Salee [1607-1676]: Son of Murat Reis and [probably] his Moorish wife.  Anthony served under his father as a Moroccan pirate. He and his brother, Abraham, were sent back to The Netherlands. Although Moroccan ships were built and outfitted by the Dutch, van Salee's Islamic faith was looked down upon. Deciding to try America, Anthony married enroute to New Amsterdam and settled there briefly as a farmer. His background led to his banishment. Van Salee then settled at Gravesend.

Rev. Roger Williams [1604-1683]: Williams founded Providence Plantation [Rhode Island]. The colony became a safe haven for people of all faiths. He started the First Baptist Church in America. Later, dissatisfied with the Church, Williams became a Seeker.*

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day and Family Research

Today is Veterans Day, originally designated to celebrate the "Armistice" and to honor those soldiers who served in "the Great War." The First World War ended on "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" in 1918.  A Congressional resolution called for Armistice Day to became an official US holiday IN 1926. An act of Congress made it official in 1938. In 1954 the holiday was changed to Veterans Day, honoring all veterans, not just WWI vets.

From 1971-1977, Veterans Day was moved to  the 4th Monday in October, but returned to Nov. 11 in 1978.

Personally, I have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, the War in the Philippines, WWII and during peacetime.

If you are interested in researching your military ancestors, there are several websites that can be of help. is dedicated to military research and is an excellent place to begin., and all have military records available. Check local archives for state military databases. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is an excellent site for finding information on Union and Confederate veterans. The National Archives [] also has military records.

One very important source to consult is the pension file. There is potentially a ton of information to be gleaned from the veterans' and widows' pensions.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

...And Now for the Rest of the Story... [Update on an Alamo Defender]

I learned a few years back that one of my Jennison family fought for Texas Independence. Robert W. Cunningham, son of David Cunningham and Anna Jennison was born in New York, but settled with his family in southern Indiana. Robert's mother was a sister of my Dolly Jennison Simmons.

Robert worked on flatboats carrying goods to New Orleans. He settled there, but decided to move to  Austin's Colony in Texas. Cunningham served with Parrot's Artillery during the Siege of Bexar in December 1835 and then volunteered to serve with Carey's Artillery after the Mexican troops under General Cos left Texas. He was among the 180 to 225 volunteers to die at the Alamo on 6 March 1836.

Based on information gathered to date, Robert was a single man who left behind family in Indiana.

Within the last few days that story has changed drastically! On 23 February 1833, Robert Cunningham married Louisa C. Hunt in Austin [probably San Felipe de Austin], Coahuila y Texas.
Robert and Louisa became parents of a daughter on 13 July 1834. She appeared as Emily and Mary Ellen in various records. When Cunningham joined the other defenders at the Alamo, he left behind a wife and daughter.

Robert's third wedding anniversary [23 February 1836] was marked with the arrival of unwelcome guests - Santa Anna's advanced guard.

Leaving behind a wife and daughter changes the perspective of Robert's decision to join Travis' command at the Alamo. Now he was fighting for the future of his daughter and spouse. His thoughts on the night of March 5th would have been of the 19 month-old child who would grow up without him. He would not be there to see her married or to see his grandchildren. Would Louisa and the baby be safe from the Mexican army after the fall of the Alamo. The defenders knew that the last reinforcements had arrived. The odds of seeing their loved ones again were non-existent.

By dawn of March 6th, Louisa Cunningham was a widow and Mary Ellen would never see her father again. Louisa remarried in 1838 to Basil Gaither Ijams. Mary Ellen would have four step-siblings. In 1851, 17 year-old Mary Ellen married Eli Clapp in Colorado Co., Texas. Eli, 20 years her senior, was a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto. She had married one of the men who had avenged the death of the father who gave his life for her, her mother, her children and Texas Independence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ancestors of Note: N, R, S

Francis & Rebecca [Towne] Nurse [1618-1695/1621-1692]: The Nurses were residents of Salem Village. Shortly after the Nurses and other families expressed dissatisfaction with Rev. Samuel Parris, teenaged daughters of families supporting Parris suddenly became bewitched. The majority of the citizens that were accused of witchcraft by the girls in 1691-92 were opposed to Parris. Among those accused of witchcraft were Rebecca and her sisters Mary [Esty] and Sarah [Cloyce]. Rebecca and Mary were found guilty and hanged.*

Wilhelm Rittenhouse [1644-1708]: Wilhelm was a German-born papermaker who founded the first paper mill in the colonies on Wissahickon Creek near Germantown, PA.*

David Rittenhouse [1732-1796]: Wilhelm's grandson. He was an astronomer, inventor, clockmaker, surveyor, mathematician and Treasurer of Pennsylvania during the American Revolution.

John Simmons Sr. [1730-1795]: Owner of the Simmons Tavern at Wall and Nassau Streets in New York City before and after the Revolution. The 1st mayor of NY City was sworn in at the tavern. His brother-in-law, Gifford Dally was the House Doorkeeper for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd US Congresses. His sister-in-law, Elizabeth Dally was the wife of Samuel Fraunces, who owned Fraunces Tavern, where Gen. Washington gave his farewell address. Fraunces cared for wounded soldiers during the war, spied for Washington and later served as steward for the President's family.*

William Simmons: John's son. William served with the Commander-in-chief's Guard during the Rev War. In 1795, he was appointed a clerk at the US Treasury. He later served in the War Dept. under Adams and Madison. A dispute with the Secretary of War got him fired in 1814. Upon leaving D.C., William scouted the area near Bladensburg and was able to warn off Pres. Madison before he could be captured by the British. He briefly acted as a forward artillery observer before returning to the Capital. Simmons warned of the approaching enemy and convinced an artillery guard to evacuate a cannon to avoid its capture.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ancestors of Note: Founders

This post covers a handful of colonial founders:

Richard Olmstead [1608-1686]: One of the founder of both Hartford and Norwalk, CT.*

Samuel Wakeman [1603-1641]: One of the founders of Hartford, CT.*

Matthias St.John/Sention Sr. [1601-1669]: One of the founders of Dorchester, MA, Windsor, Wethersfied and Norwalk, CT.*

Matthias St. John/Sention Jr.[1628-1728]: One of the founders of Norwalk, CT.*

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ancestors of Note: M

Samuel Augustus Maverick [1803-1870]: He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and gave birth to two meanings of "maverick." [1] independent minded; [2] unbranded cattle (Maverick refused to brand his cattle.)

Charles J. McHugh [1887-1954]: Kids during the late teenS and beyond played with the "putt-putt boat," a steam-propelled toy boat. Grandpa McHugh patented the boat in 1916 and 1924.*

Cornelius McHugh [1872-1944]: Mayor of Cedar Falls, IA from 1935-1944.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ancestors of Note: H, J, L

Thomas Harding [1635-1708]: Quaker, one of the founders of Burlington Co., NJ.*

Henry R. & William L. Jarrell [1845-1868; 1847-1884]: Two brothers who chose different paths during the post Civil War era. Henry Jarrell joined the Reno Gang. The Renos, based in southern Indiana, gained fame as the first train robbers in the US. Henry and two cohorts fled to Illinois, but he wrote of his whereabouts to his girlfriend in Louisville, KY. The girl, being illiterate, had the letter read to her by a friend - within earshot of a Pinkerton agent. Henry and members of the gang were arrested and later taken from the posse by Jackson Co., IN vigilantes, who lynched them. William Jerrell left Indiana for New Mexico Territory, where he married, started a family and went into business. After a local mercantile was held up, Jarrell was appointed a deputy sheriff and sent to apprehend the thief. While in pursuit, he helped foil a stage hold-up and was fatally wounded. He died in San Angelo, Texas.

Frances Latham [1608/9-1677]: Frances was married three times and came to America with her 2nd husband. She was the ancestor of 13 governors and deputy or lieutenant governors and related to six others by marriage. This earned her the nickname "Mother of Governors."*

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ancestors of Note: D & G

Louis DuBois [1626-1693]: DuBois joined other Walloons in settling the Dutch colony near Esopus and Wildwyck  about 1660. He was one of the founders of Nieu Dorp [Hurley] in 1662 and New Paltz in 1677. The DuBois Fort [fortified house] is one of the centerpieces of Huguenot Street in New Paltz, NY. His sister, Francoise Billiou, settled at Staten Island. Louis gave his consent for his niece, Marie Billiou, to marry Arent Jansen Prall at Kingston in 1670.

Dr. John Greene: Greene was closely associated with Roger Williams at Providence [Rhode Is.], where he became the colony's first physician. He latter settled at Warwick [RI] and was instrumental in getting the village out from under the control of Massachusetts.*

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene [1742-1786]: A Quaker, Nathanael Greene chose patriotism over faith and joined the Rhode Island militia at the outbreak of the Revolution. He soon found himself in the Continental Army, rising through the ranks. Washington appointed him Quartermaster General. Greene became one of Washington's most trusted generals. The Commander-in-chief wanted Greene appointed to the command of the Southern Department in 1780, but Congress selected their favorite, Horatio Gates. After Gates' disastrous defeat at Camden, SC, Washington's choice was put in command. Greene wore down Cornwallis. Although technically defeated at Guilford Court House, NC, Greene's forces took a heavy toll on the British. After the war, Greene was given a plantation in Georgia, where he died from heatstroke in 1786.

Samuel Gorton [1592/3-1677]: Gorton was a religious dissenter who found refuge in Rhode Island. He believed in a sort of Christian Transcendentalism that garnered quite a following. His followers became known as Gortonists.* 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ancestors of Note: C

Captain John Cain [1804-1867]: A Virginia native who settled in Indianapolis in 1826. Cain opened the first bookbindery in the city, published the first book in 1832 and opened the first bookstore. He was appointed postmaster by Andrew Jackson and held the position through the Van Buren administration. John spent a few years farming in Kentucky, before returning to Indy. Cain was appointed Indian Agent for the Nez Perce in Washington Territory in 1853. He served in that position until 1858, when replaced by son Andrew. Cain returned to Indianapolis.

Robert W. Cunningham [1804-1836]: Born in NY, Robert settled with his family in southern Indiana. He took to freighting goods on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. After settling briefly in New Orleans. Cunningham then relocated to Texas, taking part in the battle for Bexar [San Antonio] in December 1835. He died on 6 March 1836 along with William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, David Crockett and the other defenders of the Alamo.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ancestors of Note II

Sir Richard Barnard of Lincolnshire, England [1568-1641]: Barnard was a clergyman. He attended Cambridge and served as vicar at Worksop and Batombe. Sir Richard published several books on theology. Early on he was a Separatist, but broke with the movement and became a staunch opponent of John Robinson and company. His daughter, Mary, married Roger Williams.*

Pierre Billiou [1622-1701]: Billiou was a Walloon [French Protestant]. He sailed for New Netherland in 1661 and became one of the proprietors of Staten Island. His home, built shortly after his arrival, still stands in the Dongan Hills section along Richmond Road. Pierre's wife, Francoise, was the sister of Louis DuBois, who became a prominent settler in Ulster Co., NY*

William Brewster [1565-1644]: Brewster was a leader in the Separatist movement. The Separatists [Pilgrims] left England to settle in Leiden in The Netherlands. In 1620, Brewster and others opted to sail to America. The Mayflower arrived in what was christened the Plymouth Colony. Elder Brewster remained a leader of the Separatist church in Plymouth.*

* direct-line ancestor

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ancestors of Note: Collateral and Direct

The next few posts will deal with ancestors who achieved some notoriety. A few were worthy of mention in history books. Others are a bit on the infamous side. Most achieved local or regional acclaim of some marginal note.

Chronological order would be the best presentation, but alphabetical is sufficient. So sit back and read about these folks! Enjoy! [hopefully]

William Arnold [1587-1675]: Arnold arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. He became one of the proprietors of Providence Plantation in 1638 and signed the colony's constitution in 1640.*

Benedict Arnold [1615-1678]: Son of William. Followed Roger Williams as president of Providence in 1657. He was appointed governor in 1663 and served in that capacity until his death in 1678, except for six years.

Major General Benedict Arnold [1740/1-1801]: Great-great-grandson of Gov. Arnold. He served with distinction as an officer in the Continental Army at Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, the failed invasion of Canada and Saratoga. At Saratoga, Arnold disobeyed orders of Gen. Horatio Gates and rallied Continental troops to defeated Burgoyne's British forces. Arnold was seriously wounded in that action. Gates received the credit for the victory. Arnold was made military governor of Philadelphia. He fell into disfavor with prominent Pennsylvanians and married the daughter of a Tory. Gen. Arnold was court martialed and received a reprimand from Gen. Washington. Although offered a field command under Washington, Arnold requested command of West Point. He met with British Major John Andre to turn the important military base over to the enemy. The plan was discovered and Arnold fled to the Brits. Benedict Arnold went from being one of Washington's favorite and most heroic generals to America's most well-known traitor. He served out the war as a British officer and died in London.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Post Halloween Observation on Political Correctness

It's my understanding that we are not supposed to demean ethnic groups by dressing up in ethnic costumes on Halloween. Those of us who are aware of our ethnic heritage could take issue with that concept.

I can claim Dutch, Irish, German, English, Scottish, Welsh, Swiss, Swedish, Scots-Irish, Huguenot, Flemish and a sprinkling of a couple of other ethnicities. Does that mean that if I don lederhosen, wooden shoes or a kilt, I am insulting my ancestors? If I choose to dress as a Quaker am I casting aspersions on my Society of Friends ancestors? If I want to dress as a Leprechaun to honor my McHugh, O'Neil and other Irish families, am I a bad person?

I have never been big on political correctness, so if you have Japanese ancestry and want to wear a kimono on Halloween, that's okay with me. Same goes with being a Viking if you have Nordic roots or putting on buckskins and a feathered head-dress if you have Plains Indian heritage.

If you are of German ancestry and want to dress as a Nazi officer, that's pushing the envelope a bit. Likewise, honoring your Italian ancestors dressed as a gangster is bordering on bad taste.

I guess it's all a matter of using common sense in judging how you dress up and in allowing others to choose how they dress up.

[note on the Hempstead Diary: The Turner connection led to the Mayflower connection.]