Genealogy Research


What's in a Name?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Unusual Given Names and Surnames are Fun and Informative

A friend told me her grandfather's grandfather's name was Rensselaer. I wanted to know more, how nice to research Rensselaer instead of George, William, John or Thomas. It brought up immediate connections with the Hudson River Valley, early Dutch settlers, the university Of course Rensselaer can be misspelled in so many ways. Her grandfather was from Nebraska, so I started pushing back East in my mind to upstate New York.

Another friend recently told me her grandmother's maiden name was Enyedi from the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Yes they spoke German as did some of my ancestors, but mine were from Bavaria, the Palatinate and or some of the minor city states. Again this name, this surname may have been tortured with multiple spellings. The family spelling may have been very stable, but imagining other people's interpretations of that spelling, may be never ending.

If you are lucky enough to have some level of unique in the names you search, embrace it.


Semantics - Are You From Here?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Where are you from? Where were you born? Not the Same Question!

Native, Born, Bred, Reared, Raised, or Just From Somewhere

Recently, Reinette Jones, a staff librarian at University of Kentucky Libraries, asked a provocative question, if I was from Kentucky. Technically I am, I lived there about fifty years ago. Emotionally, I am, my parents were from Kentucky, my grandparents were from Kentucky. Intellectually, I am, I have been polishing the soon to-be-published, History and Descendants of Jacob and Margaret (Gerber) Breintenstein of Louisville. That's not what she meant. She was asking if I was a native, and I am not. I was not born in Kentucky, though tons of relatives and ancestors were born in Kentucky. Like my mother, my father was raised in Kentucky. He lived in Kentucky for most of the first twenty some years of his life. He was born in Tennessee, bred in Kentucky, raised there, graduated from U. K., served in the Army, worked out west for a bit and even returned to U.K. for his Master's Degree. My sister on the other hand is a Kentucky native, left, returned, left again, lived there for a total of not quite two years. My father's book Assessment of Virginia Coalfield Region Capability to Support an Electric Power Generation Industry, the University of Kentucky Libraries might not feel it necessary to include him as a Kentuckian in their collection policies. If my sister publishes a book, she would qualify.


Who is the Little Girl in the Front Row?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Breitenstein - Hughes Wedding Photographs

My second cousin, Mara, has been sending me various Breitenstein family photographs she unearths them. I love this, pieces of my history I haven't seen before falling into my lap, unbidden. The last bunch included one with my mom, her mom, and Mara herself who resembles her first cousin once removed, my mom, amazingly.

Carol Breitenstein and Coleman Hughess wedding.jpg


Eight of the Nine Breitenstein Brothers

Categories // Genealogy Research

Michael Henry Breitenstein and Elizabeth Ann Steinmetz Breitenstein had nine sons between 1888 and 1908. In 1955 eight of the nine brothers had a family reunion at the farm in Okolona, Jefferson Co., Kentucky. In order from left to right and by descending by age are: Edward Lawrence Breitenstein, Michael Henry Breitenstein Jr., Theodore Peter Breitenstein, John Louis Breitenstein, Herman Joseph Breitenstein Sr., Carl Ernst Breitenstein Sr., Emil Raymond Breitenstein Sr. and Julius Clarence Breitenstein. Lawerence Jacob Breitenstein, the fifth brother who would have been in the exact middle, the only one I never met, passed away in 1952.

image.EdMikeTheoJohnHermCarlEmilJule Breitenstein 1955



Dating Reunion Photographs

Categories // Genealogy Research

Who is Missing from This Breitenstein Reunion?

Locate the family groups, identify the babies, check for death dates of grandparents, get a fashion time estimate and reunion photographs will be a cinch to date.

Break it down, who is missing from the photograph. Who ought to be there and isn't because he died and who would have been there, but wasn't born yet.

My cousin Mara sent me a photograph of a Breitenstein Reunion in Okolona, Jefferson Co., Kentucky with an estimated date ca. 1958. My guess is either after Easter 1955 or May 1955 from the children involved, marriages which had taken place, and some second guessing with Carl, a cousin who is in the photograph. Easter was April 10th in 1955, if it had been taken on Easter Sunday, the dress code would have been even fancier and there would have been corsages, at least for my grandmother and mother.

1955 Breitenstein Reunion Okolona


Pacifists or Conscientious Objectors

Categories // Genealogy Research

Military Service and the Flip Side

All the while searching for and in military records, remember some men did not serve, did not want to serve, and in fact because of very strong religious scruples many Mennonite, Quaker and Amish family members could not serve. If they registered it was under protest, if they were enrolled, it was under protest and if they served it was under protest with the threat of Leavenworth hanging over them at all times. Check the blog entry Research the Source for several examples of registering under protest.

The Swarthmore Peace Collection website has a nice general discussion. Chris. H. Zoss born 17 August 1895 is a specific example. The website database was begun in 2002 and last updated in 2013.

The National Archives  has the records of the Judge Advocate General for the Army including court martials, see microfilm files M592, M1002, M1105, T1027 and T1103. Some of these have been digitized and are available online through fold3 or in the regional national archives and presidential libraries.


Plat Maps - Land Ownership Maps

Categories // Genealogy Research

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Land Ownership Maps are like photographs, a snapshot of a specific time and place. Sometimes land ownership maps can solve genealogical questions and others times they pose the questions themselves. The county courthouse should have the most up-to-date maps available anywhere. They need to for tax reasons. Historical maps were printed from the courthouse maps or from title company maps and have specific years attached to their printings.


Research the Source

Categories // Genealogy Research

Researching in the Source is Good, So is Researching the Source

Do not stop at the index, go to the source. Research in the source, read it page by page.  See how the book, journal, card file, however it was kept, and then, read about the source, why was this record created, why was it kept, who needed it, who used it, where was it kept, when was it created and how was it used? Examine the handwriting to get used to it and increase legibility, check the organization to see who should be included or excluded from any subset of the data. Use the who, what, where, when, why and how questions to understand the "life and times of the source." Knowing that certain census books were copied in triplicate helps understand how and why the ditto marks are off.

I listened to my grandpa tell stories about his childhood and his brothers all the time, but never heard any military stories. He was twelve in 1917 and thirty-six in 1941 with a wife, family and farm, he was just not in the age group. Before publishing the story of the Breitensteins in Louisville, I searched for my great-uncles in the World War I Draft Registration cards. My grandfather and his eight brothers were born between 1888 and 1908. I can not imagine my great-grandmother Elizabeth Ann (Steinmetz) Breitenstein, mother of nine boys, sending her six eldest sons off to war much less to register. Technically she might have only sent off four, as Ed and Mike were married with homes, wives and children of their own at the time. Could all the parades and patriotic songs in the world cover that angst?


Would Little Orphan Annie's Records Be Saved?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Cincinnati House of Refuge Register

University of Cincinnati Libraries Digitized Historical Records

Thank goodness some orphanage and orphan asylum records have been saved and preserved and thank the University of Cincinnati for the accessiblity of those from the Cincinnati House of Refuge. The Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist stories strike cold in the heart of researchers, the dreaded deadend.

The Cincinnati House of Refuge Registers have been digitized by the University of Cincinnati Libraries in the Digital Resource Commons and are available for reading in the Historical Records section along with the Cincinnati Births and Deaths 1865-1911 and the Civil War Exemptions for Hamilton Co., Ohio. Like all pre-state collected birth records, these can be invaluable, but like all digitized records, you need to dig a little deeper, past the indexing, to get those most out of the records. Many cities as large as Cincinnati kept records before the state mandated county-wide collections, so there are Cincinnati records before the state required those records be kept in Hamilton Co.


Research or Retrieve

Categories // Genealogy Research

Heritage Quest,, and various newspaper websites have made family history research rewarding so instantaneously, it has devolved into genealogical retrieval instead of research. The Soothsayer in Julius Caeser said "Beware the Ides of March." For genealogists, it is "Beware the perils of retrieval and reliance on indexing instead of researching." It is too easy to think you are finished, when in fact you have just begun, just barely scratched the surface of available sources. 


The Cool Table at Lunch

Categories // Genealogy Research

Births, Marriages and Deaths are the Dates We all Want

This week my niece and nephew-in-law joined the best club of all. They became parents. They can now sit at the cool table in the middle school lunch room, forever. Wow, the first great grandchild on this side of the family.

My best advice, watch everyone around you parenting and copy what works, avoid what doesn't work, even if it's inadvertant. For example, growing up we did not have a ton of extra disposible income, so we did not have soda in the house. It was a waste of money. As a bunch my siblings and I all have pretty good teeth. I copied that. Parenting is all about adjusting.

Genealogists deal with events all the time, births, marriages and deaths are the top three. Sometimes we forget each of those events is also a life changing event for someone. This week, I am remembering, relishing and celebrating that. Welcome to the world, my great-nephew, James!


Two Different Wedding Dates

Categories // Genealogy Research

Two Records or Two Weddings


A common conflicting date issue is when the wedding date found differs from another researcher's date by a day or two. Upon investigation the two dates are for different events surrounding and including the wedding, the application date, bond date, parental or guardian permission date, date of the banns, date of a newspaper article about the wedding, recorded date, or license return date, in addition to the actual date of the ceremony. Generally it is "operator" or "researcher" error, the marriage application date was recorded instead of the date of the ceremony. In cases where the license was not returned to the courthouse signed by the minister, the application date may be all that is available. It needs to be written as "were married on or after"or circa instead of "on" if the marriage indeed took place. It may have been the officiant's error of not returning the license. The courthouse clerk may have not recorded the return. A marriage can be inferred from the application and said to be "ca. 4 December 1814" or "on or after 4 December 1814" if the couple lived together as married for many years. Check the laws of the state at that time to see if there was a waiting period. Anticipate those date conflicts and watch for them.


Genealogical Date Issues

Categories // Genealogy Research

Errors and Omissions or When is the Date Not the Date?

Mistakes, Errors and Doubles Exist - Conflicts Abound



Genealogically, the most common conflicting date issue is transcribing March 4th to March 4, 1814 to 3/4/14 back to March 4th, 1814, then 4 March 1814, then 4/3/14 and back and forth again until someone switches the whole date around and it becomes mistakenly 3 April 1814. All the while thinking:

  • That date style day/month/year (dd/mm/yy) looks pretentious.
  • That date style day/month/year is only for serious or professional genealogists.
  • That date style implies publication later and I am just doing this for my family.
  • That date style looks European style, I'm American.

I thought all those things and kept using mm/dd/yy i.e. month/day/year right up to and including the day someone sent me a corrupted file with the dates backwards. Frustratingly some were early days in early months and I couldn't tell which date they should have been. Anybody can tell the 12th day of the 17th month isn't real and should be 17 December not the other way around. Now I use day -  month - year all the time. As the Y2K computer issue evolved, I added the year as a four digit number yyyy. My dates are either written out 4 March 1814 or 4 March 1914 or 4 March 2014 but very seldom as 3/4/14. It is a habit thirty years in the breaking. Who says people can't change! 


Two Men, Same Name, Same Age, Same Place, What Are the Odds?

Categories // Genealogy Research

Rodgers Lindsey or Roger B. Lindsay

Curiously, the odds are pretty good that there will be people of the same name in the same place at the same time. Think of all the little girls named Ashley, Brittany or Jessica born in the 1980s. Names go in and out of style and certain given names are popular in specific geographic regions and uncommon in others. For example, Benjamin Franklin was big in Pennsylvania and up and down the East Coast in colonial times while Jefferson Davis was a much bigger hit in the South in the 1860s. Some given names like Elizabeth, Mary, William and John are so common, there will always be duplicates. In addition to the scenario that could leave three related males with the same name in forty years, (Sr., Jr., III,) some names run in families, with every cousin clump including a Lavinia, Amanda, Daniel, or Thomas. What feels like an unusual name combination in a specific era and place may turn out to be two different men with roughly the same name.

In 1910 Rodgie Lindsey lived with his parents Charles and Annie Lindsey in Caroline Co., Virginia. He has not been easy to find, for instance, I have yet to identify him in the 1900 census. There were two contemporaneous black men born in Virginia ca. 1897 who lived in different parts of New Jersey when each of them registered for the draft.

The first card for Roger (Roga) Lindsey, 881 Chelton Ave., Camden N.J. born 29 May 1896 in King George Co., Virginia seems plausible as an older brother John Lindsey lived in Camden Co., New Jersey in 1930 and 1940.

World War I Draft Registration Roger Lindsey Camden NJ

The second card for Rogers Lindsey, 193 Clay St., Hackensack, Bergen Co., New Jersey born 8 April 1897 in Bowling Green, Caroline Co., Virginia has better matching birth information, but the name of the nearest relative, Maria Lindsey, gives pause, plus no one yet in the family was known to be in Hackensack.

World War I Draft Registration Rogers Lindsey Bergen NJ


Research the Neighbors

Categories // Genealogy Research

William Henry and Lazereth Crouch of Greene Co., Tennessee

Use the Neighbors to Find a Missing Family in the Census.

If you are going to search a census year for a specific place and time, what matters is the readability of the images, the handwriting is the same across all venues but the lighting and focus of the images change between Ancestry, Familysearch and Heritage Quest. If you rely on only one of the venues for indexing, then the differences become even more important. The odds that all three skipped the same family or person are pretty slim.

In Ancestry's index, William Henry shows up in Dist. 23 of Greene Co., Tennessee in the agriculture census schedule for 1860, but not in the index for the population schedule. Lazereth Crouch is listed next to him in 1860.

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