Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New documents

I cleaned out my mother's desk this weekend, taking another half box of genealogy notes and old letters. Included were my grandfather's discharge papers from the Army in WW II and a copy of my 2x great grandfather's will.

Now I just have to get another four-drawer file cabinet, so I can sort all the papers into folders by family. Freecycle here I come.

Also, a few weeks ago, I received the photocopies of the transcripts of my 3x great grandmother's diaries that she kept for 33 years while pioneering in Ohio and Iowa that I mentioned last month. These diaries have been used by historians to get a look into the lives of pioneer women. I can't wait to start reading them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Value of Cemeteries

To the genealogist, cemeteries provide several pieces of information. First of all, headstones give you at least the death date and often the birth date of the individual. During certain eras, especially the mid-19th century, only the death date and the age of the deceased were given on the stone. The problem with this accounting is that it is very prone to error. The headstone of one of my ancestors reads, "died Oct. 13, 1862 aged 60 Ys, 9 Mo, 13 Ds." By my reckoning, this puts her birth date as Dec 31, 1801. But the family record book, written by the woman's step-mother, who kept meticulous records, says she was born on Jan. 1, 1802. So, beware of this and get independent confirmation from other sources.

The genealogist can also glean family groups from cemeteries. Many times several relatives of a family are buried close to one another, especially spouses and children. The marker sometimes says who the parents or spouse was. If you can access the cemetery records, you can find who bought the plots. You can also find people buried without headstones in the cemetery's accountings. Military headstones give the rank and unit of the person along with which conflict they fought in, and many gravestones in regular cemeteries have the military plaque added, often to the back, so check both sides of the stone, when taking pictures.

Headstone showing marriage date and icons for the Freemasons and Eastern Star.
In general, more elaborate gravestones have more data. Some have marriage dates, maiden names, or children's names. Also, membership in groups, like the Freemasons or Eastern Star, are often shown using icons or badges.

Growing up, my family often went to family reunions. Part of the ritual was that Saturday afternoon always included a tour of the local graveyards. As a kid I didn't really understand it from a genealogical standpoint. I just enjoyed running around the mowed lawns and headstones. As I got older, I started listening to the stories about the people under the sod. About the same time I started enjoying my mother's family tree research. The branching charts puts some order on all these stories and people.

It is a major effort to tour the country, visiting cemeteries of past relatives. My relatives are scattered across the country, from Maine to California, from Alaska to Florida. In their travels, my parents stopped whenever they were near one of the ancestral burial grounds.

Fast forward about 30 years. Not long after I took over my mother's research because of her Alzheimer's, my friend, Bill, took me on a short road trip. We drove out to a cemetery and he took some photos of headstones. Then we hit two more cemeteries. He told me about a website he had found that was a cemetery database. He signed up to take pictures when people requested it. It was Find A Grave. All the years of family reunions, plus a couple of trips to England walking through churchyards, came together with a very nifty web app. I fell in love.

Find a Grave is a cemetery search engine. It contains data about the cemetery as well as those buried there. You can search for a name in a particular cemetery or in the entire database. You can put birth and death years along with country, state, and county into the search criteria. You can create new memorials for people if you know where they are buried. All from your own home. You can even ask volunteers to take photos of the headstones, as Bill did. I have built a huge network of the relatives I can find on the website, and, most importantly, see the data on the headstone. No longer do you need to travel across the country to check headstones. The Internet will do it for you.

I just found the Find a Grave Android app. Unfortunately, it needs a lot of work. Many of the functions available at the website are not built into the app, such as virtual cemeteries. I'm sure these will appear later, but right now, except for creating memorials in the cemetery and checking memorials away from home, the app is not ready for prime time.

Other cemetery databases to check out are Interment.net, the Nationwide Gravesite Locator of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Graves Database, the JewishGen Worldwide Burial Registry, and the RootsWeb Cemetery Database. Also, many states and counties, as well as historical and genealogical societies, have put their records online. Individual cemeteries may also have search functions on their websites.

Even with the latest in technical solutions, I still want to walk a cemetery every now and then. Maybe I should become a photo volunteer for Find a Grave.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New sources!

Because of this blog, I've been contacted by a woman who is descended from Benjamin Adamson's second wife, Sarah Browne Adamson, but through her first husband, John Higgins Armstrong. So, something like fourth half-cousins. She told me that Sarah Adamson wrote a diary for 33 years, giving a day-to-day account of pioneer life in early Ohio and Iowa. The original diaries are in Ohio and Iowa historical societies. I want to get copies of these diaries for the Adamson book project, so I'm going to contact the museums to see if they have electronic copies.

She also had handwritten pages from an Adamson/Armstrong record book, which she thinks was originally started by Sarah, based on the handwriting. This record contains data on Benjamin's first set of children with Susannah Pool. It also contains children and dates that I've never seen, such as the two Susannah Adamson's, one who was born in 1806 and died in 1808, and one who was born in 1809, married Charles A. Moore, and died in 1872. This record has filed in a lot of gaps in my notes. Thank you, J.

So the research for the book proceeds. I'd really like to get more information on the children of Benjamin and his first wife. These have been the big gap from previous Adamson books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Long-term Book Project

One of the families I'm researching has a published genealogy book, Benjamin Adamson, From England to America by Elza Hayden Adamson. This was written in 1940, then updated in 1953 by some cousins, and again updated in 1982 by my mother's cousin, Hazel Adamson Brannian.

I just found my mother's copy of the 1953 version. It is a set of mimeographed sheets, three-hole punched and put in a binder. Except for about three pages, it consists of a long list of people with birth and death dates and places, marriages, and children, plus a family page for each person or couple, giving parents, spouses and children. I was sorely disappointed.

I haven't seen the original 1940 version yet. I'm hoping my mother had a copy and that it's still in my dad's house. I also hope to find Hazel's update as well. I can at least get a copy of that from my cousins. But my expectations for what I will find are vastly diminished.

With all the research I've done, including at least two entire lines that have never been documented from the Adamson side, I was planning on writing the next update to this book. But if the original and the 1982 update are anything like the 1953 update, it needs a totally new approach. With modern options, such as desktop publishing, eBooks, and print-on-demand, this book should have stories about the various families, photos, grave sites, and more. I'm going to start over from scratch.

So the question is, do I call this Benjamin Adamson, From England to America, Fourth Edition even if the only common content will be the genealogical data, or do I simply publish a completely new book with a new title?

If anyone has any input to this question, please leave a comment.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Mystery Solved

Sometimes while researching your family tree, you have almost no data about a person. Often,  the maiden names of wives get lost to time.Sometimes all you have is a last name. The trick is to find other places to get that data. Here is a genealogy adventure to find a person with little data.

I've been researching my mother's line. My 3x great grandfather, Benjamin Adamson, came from England in 1801. Of his eleven children, for two of them I only had a name and a very approximate birth year (one was 'about 1801' and the other was 'between 1806 and 1810'. I also had the last names of their husbands, but nothing else.

While researching their sister, I found a set of marriage records from the county next door that contained all three sisters, their husband's full names, and the dates of their marriages. That was all I had for a long time.

Armed with a full name, I searched for the husband of the older sister, Hannah Adamson. Oftentimes, you can find the wife by following the husband. There was a man from the same area with the same name who was a U.S. congressman, Jonathan D. Morris. He has a two sentence bio in Wikipedia and in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress. But his last name was fairly common, and I could find no mention of a wife. It did indicate where he was buried, which was the same county as the marriage records. So, I felt this was a solid lead in solving the mystery.

I searched Find a Grave, and found a page for him. But nowhere, except in Find a Grave, could I find that cemetery. I suspected, as often happens, the cemetery changed names or was merged into another cemetery. I finally started searching the county historical and genealogical society's forums to find out more about it. A few weeks ago, I found a person who posted an excerpt from the brochure for another cemetery in the town. The excerpt was the history of the cemetery, and it mentioned that land next to the first cemetery I was looking for was purchased to start the new cemetery. So, the newer cemetery absorbed the original.

Once I had this info, I found the genealogical society's website showing all the graves from this cemetery. I found a grave and stone with the same death date as the congressman, as well as the same birth month and day, but a different year. This happens in historical research, where the dates are off a little. In this case, five years. With a match on the death date and 2/3 of the birthdate, I felt confident I had the right man. And lo and behold, his wife was buried right next to him, with the inscription "Wife of ...". So I had proof-positive that connected my relative to the minor celebrity of the 1840s. I had her death date and age and her burial site, along with that of her husband.

I was giddy all day and told everyone about it, even people with no interest in genealogy or cemeteries.

Resources used:
Benjamin Adamson, From England to America by Elza Hayden Adamson, updated by Hazel Adamson Brannian
AdamsonAncestry.com and Jerry Adamson
Marriage records of Clermont County, Ohio
OHCLERMO mailing list
Clermont County Cemetery Photo Project, Clermont County Genealogical Society

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Progress Report

So I've completed the initial part of my task, coordinating my records for Elmer Adamson's descendants between Ancestry and Find a Grave. Out of 36 descendants and their spouses, I can't find seven graves. That's pretty good to my mind.

Now I'm moving up two generations, and doing the same thing for Benjamin Adamson, the Englishman who came to America in 1800. This will take a lot longer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Latest Project

I'm in the middle of a big project, getting my records coordinated between Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com. I'm trying to get complete records for all the descendants of my maternal great grandfather, Elmer Adamson. I have nearly all the graves found for this group of people . This is the group that has a family reunion every 2 years in Centerville, Iowa.