Uncle Sam: a genealogists best friend

Uncle SamAll family historians benefit from the all the nosy questions Uncle Sam’s Census Bureau asked every ten years, but we aren’t always aware of all the other genealogical goodies he’s giving away.

For instance, did you know the National Park Service is the best place to find the service record of Blue OR Gray Civil War Soldiers and Sailors? 

Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Land Patent Records Site provides live database and image access to more than two million federal land title records for the Eastern Public Land States, dating back to 1820. Search Federal Land Patents databases, print out copies, and request certified Land Patents.

CastleGarden.org offers free access to an extraordinary database of information on 10 million immigrants from 1830 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened. Over 73 million Americans can trace their ancestors to this early immigration period.

Geographic Names Information Server — Search the USGS Geographic Names Database. You can limit your search to a specific county in a specific state and search for any geographic feature including: populated place, cemetery, stream, bridge, hospital, church, and more than 50 others.

American Memory Project from the Library of Congress offers more than seven million digital items from more than 100 historical collections.


U is for Uncle – coming near the end of the A-Z April Blogging Challenge.


Gone to Texas

Texas MigrationGTT. The initials GTT (“Gone to Texas”) came into use in the first half of the nineteenth century, when Texas had the reputation for producing and harboring outlaws. The letters were often chalked on the doors of houses in the Southern states to tell where the occupants had gone. Eventually “gone to Texas” came to be a synonym for “at outs with the law.”  Frederick Law Olmsted, in his Journey Through Texas (1857), says that residents of other states appended the initials to the name of every rascal who skipped out, and that in Texas many newcomers were suspected of having left home for some “discreditable reason.”

If you have an ancestor who suddenly disappears from all records, you may want to consider checking to see if he has Gone to Texas.


Online Texas genealogical records




Mom and her sister, Emma

Mom and her sister, Emma

For me it’s all about the stories. Family stories and stories I make up in my head.  Sometimes, for my fiction, I blend the two, part family story, part imagination. That’s my favorite kind of writing.

My Mom told me most of my family stories when I was little and following her around while she did her work, ironing, or hoeing weeds in the garden, or kneading the bread. Probably her intent was to keep me quiet and out of trouble, but those stories are my foundation. Not just for writing, but for my whole life.

Family stories are called “Oral History” now. You can take college courses to learn all about them. Is that neat, or what?

Oral History Association

What is Oral History?

International Oral History Association


S is for Stories – April A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Revolutionary War Records

Flag and eagleThe Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System (GRS) is a free resource to aid general genealogical research and to assist with the DAR membership process. The GRS is a collection of databases that provide access to the many materials amassed by the DAR since its founding in 1890.

Ancestor Database Search

Descendant Database Search

The DAR’s Genealogical Records Committee Reports began in 1913 and continue to arrive every year. The information in these 20,000 typescript volumes is predominately Bible record and cemetery record transcriptions along with many other types of transcribed or abstracted genealogical sources. The Genealogical Records Committee has sponsored a project since the late 1990s to index all names in every one of the GRC Reports in the DAR Library.

Genealogical Records Search


R is for Revolutionary - April Blogging from A-Z

Were your ancestors Quakers?

William Penn

William Penn

QUAKER – a member of the Society of Friends, formed in England in 1648. Early restrictions brought them to New Jersey in 1675 and some 230 English Quakers founded Burlington, NJ in 1678.

William Penn was granted the territory of Pennsylvania in 1681 and within two years there were about 3000 Quakers living there. If your ancestor lived in Pennslyvania, he may have been a Quaker.

According to some experts, the Quakers kept the most detailed records of any church, save the Church of England. Of particular interest are the records of the monthly meetings, which include notes on births, deaths and marriages, as well as notes about attendance and certificates of removal. Because Quakers were required to marry other Quakers, once you find one Quaker ancestor, you’ll probably find many others.

There are several sources for Quaker records. The best-known source is probably William Wade Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. This six-volume work, available on CD-ROM from Genealogical Publishing Co., contains the most complete genealogical data on the Friends. You can also search Hinshaw’s work through the fee-based website Ancestry.com. Meeting records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch, as well.

In addition, there are several free online sources for researching your Quaker ancestry. The most comprehensive is The Quaker Corner. Prepare to spend hours exploring this site, which includes links to articles about Quaker history, lookups and archives.


Q is for Quaker. Having fun on the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

The Promise of Probate: an Olive Branch

Branch Family HistoryProbate records are full of family stories. While most census and other records give us hints, probate can deliver the whole enchilada and take our research back several generations at once.

I found the probate record of my dreams several years ago when I was researching my husband’s Branch family. Four generations back I ran into a brick wall. I knew Washington Branch, born about 1778 in Virginia, was his great-great grandfather, but I couldn’t figure out who Washington’s parents were.   There seemed to be hundreds of Branch men in Virginia at the right time. As I browsed through the names, I didn’t know where to start.

Then a name caught my eye: Olive Branch. Yes, that was a man’s name. (What was his mother thinking?) His will had been recorded in 1782. That meant he was might be too old to be Washington’s father, but I read it anyway, hoping for a clue. I was disappointed to find he mentioned only one child in the will: all his property, including a 1500 acre plantation, went to a son named James Branch. Another dead end, I thought, but I kept digging and found a probate file for James.

James Branch had no children and did not write a will. The Court divided his estate equally between his siblings and the children of his siblings.  The probate records listed each name and relationship and helped me fill out dozens of family group sheets.

This sentence in file pulled it all together for me.

In Chancery, Washington Branch, administrator of James Branch deceased (the said Washington being one of the children and heirs at law of the aforesaid Daniel Branch deceased, who was a brother of the above mentioned James Branch deceased).

That probate file was the breakthrough that ultimately took my Branch research back to John Branch, of Abingdon, England, who was born about 1440, and led to my book Branch Family History: England, Virginia, Missouri

Family Search has an excellent guide to probate records. Scroll down the page for a list of clickable links to records in each state.

P is for Probate – following along on the A-Z Blogging Challenge.



Old Bailey of London, 1674 – 1913

old baileyEvery family historian loves finding the black sheep of the family, as long as he lived far enough back, that is!  If any of your ancestors came from England, The Proceedings of the Old Bailey is a great place to research and find the shadier branches on your family tree. This FREE online site is the fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.

The first published collection of trials at the Old Bailey dates from 1674, and from 1678 accounts of the trials at each session was regularly published. Inexpensive, and targeted initially at a popular audience, the Proceedings were produced shortly after the conclusion of each session and were a commercial success.  You might say the Proceedings were the People Magazine of their time. 

Since these articles were written for the common people, rather than lawyers, they are easy and fun to browse.  Even if all your ancestors were pure as the driven snow, and would NEVER be on trial, you may still find them here as a witness, or even as a victim.

Would you be pleased to find a black sheep in your family history?

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is hard to categorize. Not exactly SciFi, regardless of the title and the basic premise. The author proposes that there are many people, throughout the world, who live their lives over and over. These extraordinary people belong to a “Cronus Club”, members seek each other out, provide houses of sanctuary, and help five-year-old’s get away from their parents, so that the 700 year old inside the child’s body doesn’t have to repeat the boredom and tedium of elementary school.

Harry August is always born early in the 20th Century, growing up in time to be the right age to fight in World War II. Harry, and others like him, are careful not to make any big changes in the world around them, but he is free to change his personal life each time. Fight in the war, or not? Marry or stay single. Marry this one or that one? Become a lawyer, doctor, teacher, spy. . .whatever he wants to do, knowing he can have the other choice in his next life, or the life after that.

In Harry’s eleventh life he becomes aware that someone in the Cronus Club is deliberately trying to influence the flow of world events and as a result, the world may end for everyone. He sets out to find this person and stop the dangerous meddling.

So is it a mystery? A literary novel? Or excellent Science Fiction? Whatever, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a Good Read and rates a big 5 Stars from me.

View all my reviews


police-news_2068686bDon’t you love to read old newspapers? I do! Those who know me well might say I’ve made a career out of old newspapers. My book, Fulton, Missouri 1820-1920 is filled with transcribed newspaper articles illustrated by photographs from the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society collection. I spent many hours reading microfilm while writing that book, that’s why I’m excited about all the historical newspapers we can now find online.

There are literally thousands of pages of free online newspapers from all over the world, including every state in the United States, if you know where to look. Best of all, many of these are searchable!

One of the best lists I’ve found is the Wikipedia List of online newspaper archives. Here you will find online newspaper archives listed alphabetically from Algiers to Venezuela.  A few of the European newspapers date back to the 1700′s. Here in the United States you will find many from the mid to late 1800′s.

A private research group, Xooxle Answers, has compiled a list of excellent free historical resources for vintage newspaper articles in the United States. They cover a broad swath of U.S. history — from the 18th to the 21st century –and cover state, city, town, county, and regional newspapers. Headlines, articles, photos, display ads, classifieds…they’re all there for the taking.


N is for Newspapers. We are halfway through the April A-Z Blogging Challenge. 




Missouri State Genealogical Association

MoSGA Web Site

MoSGA Web Site

M is for MoSGA, the Missouri State Genealogical Association, an organization dedicated to enhancing the knowledge of its members and the public in the study of family history, genealogical records and the principles of sound genealogical research.

MoSGA publishes The Journal,  a quarterly publication featuring transcriptions of Missouri records including county, church, Bible, and cemetery records to name a few. It also features historical and educational articles contributed by experts in the field. The Journal is online and can be searched by surname or topic.

The MoSGA Messenger, edited by Tom Pearson, is the Official Weblog of the Missouri State Genealogical Association. The Messenger is rich with links and news about changes in archives and online sources.

National speakers are on hand every year in August at the MoSGA Annual Conference.

I’m proud to say I’ve served on the MoSGA board, as webmaster, conference registration chair, and public relations director at various times.

You don’t have to live in Missouri to find useful information on the MoSGA web site.  We are in the center.

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