By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
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
I will be retiring Oct. 31st and it has been a wonderful 16 & 3/4 years. Upon my announcement of my retirement, the blog master asked if I would be willing to share some of my most rewarding experiences here at the library.
The first was in 2002. I had a family call me on a Saturday morning. They had an uncle who had died in California and could be buried for free in the Military Cemetery at Pegram, Tennessee, if it could be proven he was born in Tennessee. But he had no birth certificate, though he was born in 1929. My immediate reply was “Oh you need this in a hurry!” I took their phone number and said I would do my best. The 1930 census had just come out and the library had had the microfilm about two weeks. This was before any census records were on the Internet, or indexed. Before closing time, I did find him on the census which showed he was a year old and “born in Tennessee.” I printed it off, stamped it with the Williamson County Public Library hand stamp to make it look very official, signed my name and dated it. They came and picked it up and got their uncle buried back home in Tennessee.
My second most rewarding experience was via a phone call from Indiana. This was before the day of constant e-mail. A young man wanted to find for his uncle, the uncle’s sister whom the family had lost contact with fifty years ago. The woman had divorced and remarried but they did not know her married name. All they could give me was the name of her first husband. The last information they had was that she was then living in Franklin, Tennessee. I found a fairly recent obituary for her first husband, and whoever compiled the obituary was very thorough, not only giving the name of the former wife of fifty years ago, but the first name of her second husband. I picked up the phone book and there he was. I called the young man and said “Here is her phone.” They later called me and told me about the big family reunion they were having.
The next two experiences were not near so dramatic but rewarding just the same. Some library patron found a glossy black and white photograph of a young girl dated 1950, stuck in a library book that had not been checked out in 6 years. There was a name on the back of the picture but that was all. I found where the girl had married in Marshal County, Tennessee in 1954. Now knowing her married name, I checked our library card holders and sure enough she had a Williamson County Library card. We were able to get the picture back to where it belonged.
My last rewarding experience was just a couple of weeks ago. We had a patron come in with one question and leave with the answer to another that she had not dreamed was even possible of knowing. She was a big talker and happened to mention she wanted to get her father’s World War II medals. She had been to Veterans Affairs in Nashville and they had told her they could do nothing without his social security number, as his name was W.C. Brown and there would be a million veterans by that name. When she said that, I said “Oh I can get his social security number.” She had no idea the retired Social Security numbers are on Ancestry.com. As she knew his birth date and that he died in Franklin, (that is the last benefit was sent to Franklin) we could pick out which W. C. Brown was his social security number. And she left thrilled that she could go get her father’s World War II medals.
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
Use of Ancestry.com is free In the Special Collections Department, open Tuesday-Saturday 9-5:30, and to help you use it, here are some very important tips to remember.
- Pay absolutely no attention to spelling! Census takers couldn’t spell. This researcher has seen the name Jacob spelled “Jacup” on the census.
- Pay close attention to extra people with a different last name in a household. Frequently those listed as “boarder” were aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and especially mothers-in-law.
- Pay close attention to who is living next door. The guys either married the gal next door or their first cousin. This researcher looked for an ancestor for 10 years only to find him living next door to a grandson by a different last name.
- Be aware that ages recorded in the census can be 2 to 3 years off. However, usually the younger the closer to the truth. By the time one got to their 80’s either he or his family members had forgotten how old he really was.
- Know the abbreviations for Men’s first names: Alexr= Alexander, Benj = Benjamin, Geo =George, Hy=Henry, Jas = James, Jno =John ( Why I have no idea), Patk=Patrick, Robt= Robert Thos=Thomas, Wm=William. The last letter of the longer abbreviation are usually written as a superscripts, so that you might see only the Tho for Thomas unless you look carefully for the little tiny s. Periods were usually omitted after the abbreviation.
- Know common nicknames and know that nicknames often rhyme. Some are very tricky.
- Belle=Isabel, Mable, Sybil;
- Beth, Betty, Betsy, Bessie =Elizabeth;
- Biddy, Bridey= Bridget;
- Bill = William, rhymes with Will;
- Cal=Caleb, Calvin;
- Cate (old spelling) =Catherine;
- Carrie= Carololine;
- Carey= Charles (modern nickname Chuck);
- Daisey = Margaret ( for a Queen Margaret whose favorite flower was a daisy);
- Dick = Richard, rhymes with Rick;
- Dollie, Dolly, Doll = Dorothy;
- Ed, Ned, Ted =Edward, Edmond;
- Elsie= Elizabeth:
- Ella, Ellie, Nelly = Elle , but also Helen;
- Etta, Nettie = Henrietta;
- Fee = Felix;
- Hi = Hiram,
- Jack = John;
- Kit = Christopher,
- Lois= Louise,
- Lottie = Charlotte;
- Ky = Hezekiah;
- Mae, May, Molly, Polly =Mary;
- Mag, Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy = Margaret;
- Mattie, Patty, Patsy = Martha;
- Maud =Magdalene,
- Maude (male) = Mordichi;
- Neil, Connie,=Cornelius;
- Sallie, Sally = Sarah,
- Stella = Estel, Esther;
- Sukey ,Susan, = Susannah (Suckey, African American 1870/ 80 = a former slave midwife who took care of the sucklings);
- Ted = Theodore (but can be = Edward).
Come join us to hunt for your ancestors!