By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
Originally posted November 20, 2015
Did you know that Williamson County Public Library patrons can access Ancestry.com for free while in the library? Neither did I – and I am guessing that many other people in Williamson County don’t know either. Like many people in the United States, I have a multicultural background, but have never been absolutely certain what my ethnicity truly is. I have long been interested in tracing my roots and wondered when my ancestors first arrived on this continent, but without access to the proper resources, I never really looked into it. My surname suggests that I am Scottish and I have always celebrated that part of my lineage without really knowing the percentage or who first emigrated from the land of bagpipes and single malt whisky. Also, I have been told that my maternal side is of German or Austrian descent, but no one is really sure.
Census Records, Birth and Death Certificates and Marriage Records
When I first started searching Ancestry.com for information on my grandparents, the most readily available data that I found was census records. The search tab at the top left side of the home page provides users with a number of search options, but the easiest way to get started is to simply click the green “Begin Searching” button in the middle of the page. Though I was too young to remember meeting him, I know my paternal great grandfather’s full name and where he lived. By searching his name and town of residence, I was able to locate his father’s name via a combination of census, birth and death records. I repeated this process several times, and through the historical mist, I was able to find that my fifth great grandfather was born in Scotland in 1681 and arrived in what would become the United States in 1766. My family name has apparently been in this country for a very long time and the reveal of this information somewhat diminished my feelings of a connection with the Scottish homeland. I am not going to stop enjoying single malt Scotch whisky or listening to the pipes, but maybe I shouldn’t have gotten married in a kilt…either way, I had another side of my family to research.
The maternal side of my lineage has always been somewhat of a mystery. No one in the family seems to know where the names come from. The names of my maternal grandparents both suggest German, Austrian, Slovak or Hungarian lineage. I searched my grandfather’s name and with very little effort, found out that his father was Hungarian. The 1920 U.S. Census records show that he was born in Hungary and his native tongue was Slavish. While his mother was born in Pennsylvania, her parents were born in Hungary as well, with the same linguistic details. I am 3rd generation Hungarian and never knew it! Maybe that’s why I like stuffed cabbage and lekvar pierogis so much? I don’t know. Regardless, I was excited to know that I had found a relatively recent connection to my European past. And because in many cases, Ancestry.com provides users with an actual scanned copy of the documents, I was able to see that this area in Pennsylvania was a true ethnic community. The birthplaces of the majority of the people (or the birthplaces of their parents) listed on the census record were Eastern European; Austria, Hungary, and Russia. How could my mother and her siblings have grown up not knowing that their grandparents were from Hungary? The reason is probably because so many European migrants of that time wished to disassociate themselves from their past and start a new life in America. They were struggling to make a new start while making a living in a brand new country, most often doing very difficult factory work. Maintaining and passing on a cultural identity was probably not on their list of important things to do.
When I was younger, I remember being told to be careful what you look for, you might find something you didn’t want to know. I grew up knowing most of my great aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family. There was only one uncle that I never met, who was killed in WW II…or so I thought he was the only one. Upon examining some census data that listed the household members at my great grandparents’ residence, I read a name listed that I had never heard before. A female child that was unknown to me. This mystery aunt was 2 years older than my oldest great aunt, of whom I grew up visiting on a regular basis. Who was this person? Was she the black sheep of the family that was shunned and disowned? Was she a convicted criminal that the family was keeping hidden? Maybe she was busted for making bathtub gin during Prohibition. I hoped so. That would be so cool. I was both eager and afraid to find out. I had to know who this person was and I could only hope that there was some guarded, veiled story to go along with this ghost on the census form. With anxious trepidation, I called my aunt and asked if she knew the identity of this missing relative. Without hesitation, she said, “That was grandma’s sister who died.” Mystery solved, though, too abruptly for my apprehensive curiosity. But what happened to her and why was she never mentioned? I was told that she died from a common complication after childbirth simply because she didn’t have access to the necessary medication and treatment. Wow. It had happened so long ago that she was never mentioned in my time. No romantic tales of rebellion, crime or calamity, but a somber reminder of harder times, to say the least.
Phone and Street Directories
My searches also produced a large number of scanned city phone directories dating back to the 1920s. When searching for a name on Ancestry.com, users are given categories on the left of the page. One of those choices is “Schools, Directories and Church Histories.” Though it was never mentioned in any family stories, I now know that the likely reason my maternal grandparents met is because their families lived on the same street. These old phone directories most often show not only telephone numbers and addresses, but also the name of individuals who were living at that address, i.e. another relative or a boarder. This is a great tool in locating exactly where a relative may have lived. And if nothing else, it is intriguing to see telephone numbers such as “WAlbridge 1154 and BLackstone 2311.”
My paternal grandfather and many of my maternal great uncles were in World War Two. I was able to locate the muster rolls that listed my grandfather’s name and the ship he was on. (Yeah, I never heard the term “muster roll” either. It is the register of the officers and men in a military unit or on a ship. Thanks, Wikipedia.) I also found out that my maternal great uncle was killed at Pearl Harbor and I located a detailed photograph of the monument that lists his name. Additionally in the military records, I was able to find the scanned copies of WW I and WWII draft registration cards for both of my great grandfathers. The documents are hand written and include the signatures of the men. To locate documents such as these, simply type in the name of the person that you are searching and after clicking “Search”, you will see all of the results for that name. To the left of the page, there is a listing of categories, such as “Census and Voter Lists” and “Birth, Marriage and Death.” The third category is “Military.” This option will produce information on draft registration, enlistment, casualties, and gravesites, just to name a few. There is also a great deal of information on Civil War soldiers and the American Revolution.
This is just a sample of the information available at Ancestry.com and a bit of my personal experience in looking for my roots. It was great fun for me searching through my relative’s collective pasts and getting just a glimpse of their lives well before I was a twinkle in someone’s eye. Whenever you are ready to do your own searching, come to the second floor of the Williamson County Public Library and log on to a computer or visit one of the staff in the Special Collections department and they will help you with your queries. Access to Ancestry.com is only available to patrons while they are physically in the library. On the library’s website, move the mouse over Special Collections on the left of the page and click on Digital Genealogy. From there, click on Access Ancestry Library while visiting the library. The Williamson County Public Library also offers free classes on Introduction to Ancestry.com once a month.
But be advised, you may find something you didn’t expect…
By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian
I’ve discussed some of the various kinds of DNA tests available before. Recently I was discussing with family my experience with the Ancestry.com DNA test compared with the National Genographic test -both of which I’ve taken- and thought I’d share my experience. Of course, ultimately which test you find most useful or interesting will depend on what you, personally, are hoping to get out of the test.
For myself, I find Y-DNA/ Mt-DNA tests to be far more interesting than Autosomal tests. I found the autosomal tests (like the one Ancestry offers) kind of vague. Basically, it will show you matches between your DNA and other Ancestry users with a % confidence rate (90% likelihood this is a 3rd cousin, for example). You could then go to that person’s family tree (if it’s not private) and figure out how you match up. That’s assuming of course that their family tree has correct information, which unless you’ve verified their research is a big assumption. It’s kind of neat, but I’ve yet to see it lead to a breakthrough in anyone’s “brick wall” ancestor.
The other thing the autosomal DNA tests offer is an “ethnicity estimate”. That takes your DNA and compares it to samples from all around the world, and tells you what population you most closely match. So for example, it might say “Your DNA looks like your 54% British Isles, 20% German, 10% Native American…” and so on. But remember, the autosomal tests are only good for up to 6 generations, so it doesn’t really tell you anything about the ancient origins or ancestral “homeland” of your direct paternal or maternal lines. For that, you’d want a Y-DNA and/or Mt-DNA test.
I myself was most interested in the ancient DNA information. Especially because on both my father’s and mother’s side, I haven’t been able to trace the families “across the pond” for the direct maternal line or direct paternal line. The Y-DNA and Mt-DNA helped shed some light on this. So, even though these tests didn’t connect me with any specific people, I learned that on Dad’s side, we have a DNA marker that is found in Northwestern Irish families traditionally connected with the Ui Neal dynasty of Irish kings – and on Mom’s side, my haplogroup is a quite rare one that is a remnant from the first humans to venture into Europe as hunters/ gatherers– long before the invention of agriculture and prior even to the last ice age! Cool stuff, huh?
So for me, my money is on the National Genographic test. It gives you Y-DNA and Mt-DNA, as well as autosomal, and you can transfer your results to FamilyTree DNA for free!
By Dorris Douglass, Special Collections Librarian
Yes, I know – most of our ancestors were farmers – but certainly not all. Genealogical sources are filled with references to many that were not farmers. Up until about 1800 legal document usually, though not always, included a man’s occupation following his name. The same custom of including one’s occupation is also found in early wills. Some good examples of occupations in legal documents are found in Baltimore County, Maryland Deed Records Volume One 1657-1737, transcribed by John Davis: (in Special Collections)
- 15 Nov. 1725 Melchizedeck Murray, planter (farmer) to Thomas Hughs, innholder;
- 4, Jan. 1726, Robert Cruickshank , merchant , of London, England, power of attorney to George Walker, merchant, of Maryland;
- 7 Feb. 1726 John Stokes to Stephen Wilkenson, minister, of St. George’s Parish, Baltimore Co.;
- 2 June 1726 John Powell, taylor (tailor) to Peter Whitaker, planter;
- 3 Aug. 1726 George Buchanan , chyrugeon (surgeon = doctor) to Benjamin Jones;
- 8 June 1727, James Maxwell to James Preston, barber .(5)
- 22 June, 1727, Thomas Stone, shipwright, to Richard Gist.
Another source of our ancestors’ occupation is military records. In some cases our ancestors actually followed certain occupation while serving in the army. In the book Tennesseans in the War of 1812 (in Special Collections) a list of abbreviations used include:
- Artif= Artificer (craftsman),
- Drm maj= Drum Major,
- Fgmstr=Foragemaster ,
- Mus =Musician,
- Tptr= Trumpeter ,
- Wgnr, Wagoner,
- Wgnmstr =Wagonmaster.
More occupations were added were added in the Civil War, such as sappers & miners (engineers), carpenters for building winter quarters, and especially shoemakers. A good example is the Confederate service record of Nicholas P. Holt of Williamson County, accessed on “Fold Three” through the Library. Nicholas Holt enlisted on May 18, 1861. He served with the 17th Tennessee Infantry up until Aug.12, 1863 when he was ordered detached from his regiment as a shoe maker and sent to Loundon County, Virginia, As of December 10 he returned to his regiment in the field but continued as a shoe maker and also a bridle maker for General Bushrod R. Johnson’s brigade. This brigade consisted of the 17th, 23rd, 25th and 44th Tennessee Infantry Regiments.
The final primary source for occupations is of course the census records. The 1840 census has columns to check for number of people in a family employed in: mining, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and trade, navigation of the ocean, navigation of the canals, lakes, and rivers, and learned professions (teachers, lawyers. doctors) and engineers. In the census that followed there are spaces to write in one’s occupation. Coming closer the present these include such work as hod carriers in mason work and elevator operators in a department stores which I recently saw on the 1930 census.
Come join us in Special Collections to see how your ancestor made his living.
Did your immigrant ancestor arrive in the United States after March of 1790? If so, and if he wanted to become a citizen in this promising land with the right to vote, then he had to be “naturalized.” This was the legal procedure of granting him the same rights and privileges of a citizen born in this country. The first federal naturalization law was passed on March 26, 1790 and required the applicant to have lived in the United States for two years and at least one year in the state where he resided. Congress soon decided that the applicants needed to have to have lived in the United States longer. On January 29, 1795 an Act was passed whereby the applicant was required to have been living in the United States for at least five years. Furthermore, he was to file a declaration of intent to become a citizen, three years before his naturalization was to be granted. Other requirements were that he was to have lived for at least one year in the state where he was naturalized; he was to be of good moral character; he was to renounce any title of nobility; he was to renounce his loyalty to the sovereign of his former country, and to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Minor children of the applicants have automatically become citizens with their parent since 1790 to the present, and the wives of applicants automatically became citizen with their husbands from 1790 to 1922, without separate papers being filed.
To find naturalization records on Ancestry.com go to “Search,” then “Immigration & Travel,” then “Narrow by Category,” then “Citizenship & Naturalization Records.” Some of Williamson County’s naturalizations records are found in Louise Lynch’s series of Williamson County, Tennessee Miscellaneous Records. Of special interest is that for Albert Lotz, who on May 24, 1855 renounced his loyalty to the King of Saxony. Albert Lotz’s former residence now houses the Lotz House Civil War Museum. The Special Collections Department of the Williamson County Public Library also has a book Davidson County, Tennessee Naturalization Records 1803-1906.
By Dorris Douglass, Special Collections Librarian
Yes the Special Collections Department does actually have some “locked doors,” but we the staff bring out the material for you, our patrons, to look at “ to your heart’s content.” One set of locked doors are the glass front cabinets in the Williamson Room where we have our Civil War collection of pre-1900 books about the Civil War and by the participants themselves.
Another locked door is our Manuscript Room where we house the Whitley Collection and other collections. Edythe Rucker Whitley (1900-1989) was a professional genealogist in Nashville from 1919 to the early 1970’s. She kept personal carbon copies of the research she did for various clients over a period of more than five decades. She also kept contemporary newspaper clippings of obituaries and articles on World War II soldiers. Helen Sawyer Potts later purchased this vast collection and donated it to the Williamson County Public Library in 1983. The collection consist of 538 acid free boxes containing three note books each .
To find out if your last name is mentioned in the Whitley Collection go to the Library Web page and type your name into the catalog search box in the upper right hand corner of the web page. The Whitley Collection is usually the last entry to come up, if the name is there.
For example, if you type in Mangrum (a good old Williamson County name) entry number 5 will say “Edythe Rucker Whitley Collection: Box 227.” Try typing in your last name, or as we genealogist call it “surname,” and come to Special Collections. And if you are under 50 years old, you will also learn what a carbon copy was before the days of Xrox and photo copiers.