By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian
Originally published September 12, 2014
You’ve started your family genealogy, and zipped right through the first few generations using census records on Ancestry.com. Great! Then the inevitable happens – you hit a brick wall. Great-great-Grandma or Grandpa seems to simply disappear off the face of the Earth! Now what? It’s time to take a closer look at the census records you’ve already used, and look at those nosy neighbors.
It’s always worth bearing in mind that census records were compiled by a (sometimes very) fallible human being walking door to door, knocking, and asking “who lives here?”. If you stay aware of this fact, you won’t make the mistake of assuming that because a name is spelled a particular way, in must not be Grandpa Stephen, because he spelled his name with a “v”. If the census taker heard “Gavin”, he might have written “Gavin” on the census. If, on the other hand, he heard “Caffin”, that’s what he’ll write (I’ve seen it happen!). And if the name was even slightly exotic, be it French, German, Italian, Swedish, etc. – forget about it! I am often tempted to believe that to be hired as a Federal census taker prior to 1900, applicants had to pass a grueling exam, where only the most hard-of-hearing, sloppiest penmanship, and poorest spellers passed. I can’t prove this, but I have my suspicions.
The other reason it’s worth remembering this door-to-door-knocking fact, is that it means all of the families listed above and below the family you’re researching were next door neighbors. This can be tremendously helpful! For one reason, youthful betrothed tended to marry the guy or girl next door, or a couple of houses down, or the next street over. If you can find great grandpa while he was single in the census records, you can very often find great grandma’s family on the next page or sometimes even living next door.
Another reason this is useful is because families during certain periods tended to move in groups. The Johnsons moved from North Carolina to Kentucky to Tennessee with the Smith family, for example. And along the way, sons might marry daughters. You never know how little clues like this might help you break through your brick wall. As an example, I found a house full of my ancestors in the 1880 census, along with a very elderly lady by a different last name of Hollingsworth. Continuing my line yielded a few more results, but I eventually hit the familiar brick wall. This was solved eventually not by researching my family name, but by tracing the Hollingsworths, and looking at their neighbors. And sure enough, I found a family of Hollingsworths living next door to some Gavins in 1850, which filled in the gap I was looking for and allowed me to plow headlong into the next brick wall on the Gavin line.
Paying attention to occupations and nationalities of neighbors can also lend some context to the history and kind of location your ancestors were in as well. Was everybody a farmer? This might indicate a poor rural location. Is there evidence for industry? Do you see blacksmiths or railroad workers clustered in the neighborhood? Were the majority of the neighbors German or Irish, or did they speak languages other than English? This might give a clue as to your ancestor’s nationality. What was the average age of people in the community? An extreme lack of elderly individuals might indicate the area was fairly newly established, whereas a uniform lack of young men of certain age might indicate heavy recruitment for a war.
Like so much in genealogy, the smallest, most overlooked clues can lead to big breakthroughs with a little patience and diligence.
By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department
Last Month, we had an interactive display upstairs. Patrons could add their ancestry to a world map and see where some of their neighbors came from as well. Some had many ancestries, and some only had one, but it was interesting to see how diverse our patrons were.
And those who didn’t know their background, we pointed them to the Special Collections department, where patrons can get some help doing genealogical research with databases such as Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest. If you want to know more about where your family comes from, ask one of our wonderful Special Collections Librarians for help.
But for now, take a look at all the responses that were left at the display.
- English, Welsh, Polish, German, French, Scandinavian, Scottish
- Greek, English
- Snowbeast (AKA Canadian)
- Tamil, Hindi
- Prussia, Austria, Germany
- Italy, Germany
- Norwegian, German
- African American, German
- German, Prussian, Polish
- English, Welsh, Italian
- Tamil, Hindi
- English, Scottish, Norman French
- French, Great Britain
- Mexican, Spanish
- French, Mexican
- Italy, Germany, Europe
- English, Irish
- German, French, Irish
- Scottish, English, French
- Swedish, German
- Swiss-German, English
- French, Irish
- Polish, English, Irish
- Chinese, Hunan
- Thai, Chinese
- German, Swiss
- Pennsylvania Dutch
- Ireland, Germany
- At this library we found out the Hill family from Texas is the Hill family from ESSEX U.K.!
- Irish, Italian
- Norwegian, Icelandic
- Czech, Dutch, German, English
- Norwegian, French, Polish
- Brazilian, Italian, Irish, English
- Irish, German
- Tartar Kazakhstan
- Swedish, English, Scottish, Irish
- Scottish, Scandinavian, Polynesian, German
- Mexicana Latin of African and Spanish ancestry
- Venezuela, Peru
- Black, Irish, Blackfoot
- Cherokee, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Swiss, Nordic
- Spanish, Mexican
- Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian
- Indian, German, Dutch, English
- Anglo-Irish, German-Polish
- Scottish, Welsh, English
- Spanish, Scottish, French, Polish, Welsh, Irish
- Irish, Cherokee
- Spanish, Italian, Greek, English, Scottish, Irish, Moroccan
- Indian, Irish, German, English
- German, English, Irish, Dutch
- Spanish, Scottish, Irish, English, Danish, German, French, Ecuadorian, Incan
- Ghanaian, Haitian
- German, Irish, Scottish
- English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Swiss German, Cherokee
- Celts, France, Ireland, England/Wales
- French, Scottish, Cherokee
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
The Special Collections Department has a new swanky database format with a wealth of genealogy and Williamson County historical information, available here. Below are some highlights of what you can find:
- Local History News Database: Contains a selection of over 7,000 local news stories, and growing.
- Obituaries: Contains over 50,000 Williamson County Obituaries and growing.
- Index to the Edith Whitley Collection: Whitley was a professional genealogist who compiled a wealth of unique family research material in her 50 plus year career in Nashville. This material has not yet been digitized or microfilmed, and is thus unique to the Special Collections department.
- Databases on Williamson County Births, Cookbooks, Families, Magazines, Maps, Marriages, and Veterans
We are especially strong in local African American history and Genealogy thanks to two outstanding collections; the Thelma Battle Collection and the Richard C. Fulcher Collection. In the Thelma Battle collection, there is a wealth of information on bank records, bills of sale, cemetery records, census records, churches, local community history, craftsmen, deaths, deeds, funeral program index, labor contracts, marriages, politicians, social organizations, slave genealogies, schools, and more – including an index to some of the popular exhibits of her large collection of local African American related photographs. The Richard Fulcher database contains a partial index of that collection, covering County records and court excerpts related to Williamson County African American Families.
Each one of these collections is individually searchable, or you can browse, by clicking on the Collection Links page. What makes this new format really exciting however, are some of the new features available through the Search tab. Using the KEYWORD search tab, we now have the ability to search multiple databases simultaneously. In the dropdown menu, simply hold the “Ctrl” key and click all of the databases you are interested in searching. In addition, the FIELD search tab allows you to be far more specific in searching individual databases than was previously possible.
As always, the Special Collections staff is available to answer any questions you might have in navigating the new format or giving you more information about the specific collections. Reach us at 615-595-1246 or email SPCOLL@williamson-tn.org.
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.
by Dorris Douglass, Special Collections Librarian
When the Genealogy Department (Now Special Collections and Local History) was established at the Williamson County Library in 1993, the head of the department envisioned among its holdings a cookbook collection that would preserve women’s names for posterity, which are so hard for genealogy seekers to find in the old records. Ahead of her time, genealogy and local history librarians over the country are now promoting cookbook collections on their web sites, not just for containing women’s names but for representing the heritage of communities, ethnic groups, and individual families. For example, the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul Minnesota has an excellent web page identifying cookbooks by the type of organizations publishing them. The categories given are Business, Church, Community, Ethnic, Family, and Fundraising/Charitable. The Genealogical and Local History Library of the Hayner Public Library District, Alton, Illinois has a year long display of some of their cookbooks (April 2014-April 2015) pictured and discussed on the web. The latest craze posted on various genealogy web sites is “How To” create family a cookbook, seeking recipes and family stories from older members of one’s family (http://genealogy.about.com; www.genealogyspot.com; www.familytreemagazine.com (Family Tree Magazine Oct 27, 2011). And our Special Collections Departments has many cookbooks falling into the different categories representing the social history of Williamson County and Tennessee.
- (1) Business:
- We’re Cooking, the City of Franklin Employees’ Cookbook, 1998 (including men)
- The Art of Cooking in Franklin by Franklin Business & Professional Women’s Club 1971.
- (2) Church:
- Several 1970’-1990’s, representing Brentwood, Grassland, Triune, Peytonsville, Franklin
- (3) Community:
- Stick a Fork In It by Leipers Fork, 2010;
- South Harpeth Cookbook, no date.
- (4) Ethnic:
- The Heart of the Taste (African American) 2004
- (5) Family;
- Henrietta Bates Family and Friends Cookbook 2007;
- Cucina Mia Present/ Mahowdoya?, 2000,recipies of the DiVito family of Franklin (Italian) ;
- Reid Family Recipes, Allsboro, Alabama, 2009, but with Franklin ties.
- (6) Fundraising:
- A Medley of Grand Ole Recipes by the Brentwood High School Band 1992;
- Several by local elementary schools giving the name of the parents, child and grade the child is in;
- 25th Anniversary Republican Women of Williamson County
The Special Collections Department is currently compiling a data base of the individuals named in our cookbook collection, many of whom, from the earlier books, are now deceased.
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 Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian
DNA testing offers the modern genealogist an important and powerful tool that can provide unique information never available to previous generations of genealogists. In fact, there are so many companies offering DNA tests on today’s market, it can be somewhat daunting to know where to begin. In short, the answer to the question – “what kind of DNA test should I take?” can be answered by asking, “What kind of information are you hoping to get?” Below I’ll review some of the different types of genealogical DNA tests out there, and explain some of the pros and cons of each.
This test examines DNA found on the Y-chromosome. The Y-chromosome is one of the sex chromosomes that determine the gender of humans. Women of have an “XX” set of sex chromosomes while Men have an “XY” combination. Consequently, one drawback of the Y DNA test is that only males can take it, and it only traces a direct paternal line. It will give you information on your father’s father’s father, and so on, but no information about any females in your line, as the Y chromosome is only inherited by males. This means a Y DNA test can be especially useful for tracing surname history and origins, as surnames are also usually inherited along a direct paternal line.
Two males descended from the same male ancestor will have inherited the same DNA marker. That means that if you or a male relative and another person have the same marker 40 generations back, this test will let you know. One interesting consequent of this is what’s called the “Genghis effect”. In researching DNA dispersal through populations, it was discovered that a large proportion of the male population in Central Asia and beyond carry the same particular Y- DNA marker, meaning, they are all descended from the same single male. Further research concluded this was probably Genghis Khan, who conquered much of Asia and whose sons (who continued ruling in various parts of the continent) would have continued passing on this marker.
In addition, Y-DNA tests can provide “deep genealogical” information. Humans began migrating out of Africa beginning as early as 60,000 years ago, but they did so in waves. Often, there would be a wave of migrations to somewhere out of Africa – say the central Asia for example – and that wave would stay put for thousands of years, before a sub group would split of and travel to another area. These waves left their DNA markers in the places they traveled and settled. These markers can thus be divided into one of a number of identifiable “haplogroups”, the migrations of which can be traced by examining what percentage of a population carries a particular DNA marker.
Y-DNA PROS: Can help trace family surname
Can provide matches with other males that have the same marker, this might help solve “brick walls”, or place your father’s line at a specific place and time.
Can provide “deep” genealogical haplogroup information
CONS: Only traces direct paternal decent.
Can only be taken by males.
– Familytree DNA offers a variety of Y-DNA tests that vary in price depending on how many markers are to be tested, and will provide member matches and surname work groups as well.
– The Nation Geographic Genographic 2.0 DNA test is more expensive, but will trace the Y-DNA line as well as the Mt and autosomal tests. However, it is focused on providing haplogroup information more than more recent genealogical data.
This kind of DNA test examines mitochondrial DNA. This DNA is only inherited from your mother. Thus this test will only provide information about you direct maternal line – your Mother’s mother, and on back. Unlike the gender exclusive Y-DNA test, however, this test can be taken by both males and females. This test is useful in providing haplogroup information, but provides the maternal haplogroup rather than the paternal. Since mitochondrial DNA is always inherited directly from the mother’s line unchanged, population geneticists can trace concentrations of particular DNA markers around the globe and extrapolate migration patterns from that. Both Family Tree DNA and the Genographic project also trace Mt DNA.
Mt-DNA PROS: Can provide matches with other females that have the same marker.
Can provide “deep” genealogical haplogroup information
CONS: Only traces direct maternal decent.
Autosomal DNA tests
These are the types of DNA tests offered by popular genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. The big advantage of this type of test, is that it traces both the father’s and the mother’s line. The drawback is that it is only accurate to a limited number of generations. You’ll get no haplogroup information here, but companies such as Ancestry do provide an “ethnicity estimate”. By comparing your DNA markers against a sample collection from various populations around the globe, a rough estimate can be made. They can, in effect, tell you “your DNA looks like its 20% Irish, 40% German, and 20% Russian” for example. Of course, this information can only be compared from comparatively recent generations, and is not the same as tracing one’s haplogroup back thousands of years. In addition, details about the sample population against which your DNA is being compared is generally proprietary, so we don’t know how many people were sampled, or from what exact area. Another big advantage of using companies like Ancestry.com, is that your much more likely to find a match between your DNA and another Ancestry.com user, since so many people use this popular site.
PROS: Traces both paternal and maternal lineage
More useful for more recent genealogy. Primarily 6 – 8 generations back.
Popular companies like Ancestry.com and 23&Me can provide a large number users against which to compare your DNA.
In general, these tests tend to be a bit less expensive
CONS: Lacks any “deep” genealogical component – does not provide haplogroup information
Usefulness is largely determined by how many other users of this service have similar DNA to yours – thus there is no way to know how useful the test will be before you’ve taken it.
Some accessible introductions to using DNA to trace populations available at your library:
Brian Sykes: Seven Daughters of Eve
Saxons, Viking, and Celts
Spencer Wells: Deep Ancestry
The Journey of Man