Blog Archives

Finding Your Family on Census Records Through Ancestry.com

by Dorris Douglass, Special Collections Librarian

CensusRecordUse of Ancestry.com is free In the Special Collections Department 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);
    • Cephus=Josephus;
    • Daisey = Margaret ( for a Queen Margaret whose favorite flower was a daisy);
    • Dick = Richard, rhymes with Rick;
    • Dollie, Dolly, Doll = Dorothy;
    • Duke=Marmaduke;
    • 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;
    • Nancy=Hannah,
    • 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!

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Heritage Display March 2017

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.

  1. English, Welsh, Polish, German, French, Scandinavian, Scottish
  2. Welsh
  3. Greek, English
  4. Snowbeast (AKA Canadian)
  5. Venezuela
  6. Indian
  7. Hispanic
  8. British
  9. Tamil, Hindi
  10. Prussia, Austria, Germany
  11. Italy, Germany
  12. Norwegian, German
  13. African American, German
  14. German, Prussian, Polish
  15. Scottish
  16. Thai
  17. English, Welsh, Italian
  18. Tamil, Hindi
  19. Alien
  20. Chinese
  21. China
  22. English, Scottish, Norman French
  23. Mongolia
  24. French, Great Britain
  25. German
  26. Brazilian
  27. Mexican, Spanish
  28. Mexican
  29. French, Mexican
  30. Italy, Germany, Europe
  31. English, Irish
  32. German, French, Irish
  33. Cuba
  34. Armenian
  35. Scottish, English, French
  36. Swedish, German
  37. Deutschland
  38. Swiss-German, English
  39. French, Irish
  40. Polish, English, Irish
  41. China
  42. Chinese, Hunan
  43. Thai, Chinese
  44. German, Swiss
  45. Antarctican
  46. Kiwi
  47. Canadian
  48. Pennsylvania Dutch
  49. Ireland, Germany
  50. Guatemala
  51. At this library we found out the Hill family from Texas is the Hill family from ESSEX U.K.!
  52. Irish, Italian
  53. Norwegian, Icelandic
  54. Czech, Dutch, German, English
  55. Norwegian, French, Polish
  56. Brazilian, Italian, Irish, English
  57. Irish, German
  58. Mexican
  59. Tartar Kazakhstan
  60. Italy
  61. Swedish, English, Scottish, Irish
  62. Scottish, Scandinavian, Polynesian, German
  63. Mexicana Latin of African and Spanish ancestry
  64. Venezuela, Peru
  65. Black, Irish, Blackfoot
  66. Balkar
  67. Cherokee, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Swiss, Nordic
  68. Germany
  69. Mexico
  70. Mexican
  71. Spanish, Mexican
  72. Columbian
  73. Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian
  74. Mexican
  75. Indian, German, Dutch, English
  76. Italy
  77. Syrian
  78. European
  79. Vietnamese
  80. Anglo-Irish, German-Polish
  81. Scottish, Welsh, English
  82. Spanish, Scottish, French, Polish, Welsh, Irish
  83. Haitian
  84. Irish, Cherokee
  85. Spanish, Italian, Greek, English, Scottish, Irish, Moroccan
  86. Indian, Irish, German, English
  87. German, English, Irish, Dutch
  88. Spanish, Scottish, Irish, English, Danish, German, French, Ecuadorian, Incan
  89. Ghanaian, Haitian
  90. German, Irish, Scottish
  91. English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Swiss German, Cherokee
  92. Haiti
  93. Celts, France, Ireland, England/Wales
  94. French, Scottish, Cherokee
  95. Canadian
  96. Italian

20 Year Retrospective of Thelma Battle’s Williamson County African American History in Photographs

thelma

Over the past 20 years, since her first exhibit in 1996, Ms. Thelma Battle has displayed over 3000 images in 18 exhibits in observance of Black History Month and in celebration of the culture of Williamson County’s African American community.

This year, the Williamson County Public Library hopes to honor her tremendous effort, commitment, and contribution as a grass roots historian.

The 130 images on display this year are taken from all of the past exhibits Ms. Battle has compiled. The complete display can be viewed in the downstairs and upstairs display cabinets next to the elevator, and in the Special Collections department on the 2nd floor.

thelma 2

 

Also, in honor of Black History Month, Jane Landers, professor of history at Vanderbilt University, will lecture on her more than twenty years of research on the African Diaspora in various parts of the Americas. Her graduate research on the first free black town in in the Americas (formed by runaways from South Carolina who fled to Spanish Florida) supported archaeological investigations, a National Landmark registry and a museum. Since then she has also worked on diasporic sites in Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. Landers now directs an international effort to digitally preserve the oldest records for Africans in the Americas.

This presentation will present an overview of the rise of the African slave trade and the subsequent diaspora of Africans through the Americas.  Main themes will include differences among European slave systems in the Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French colonies of the Americas and the resulting varieties of cultural expression and resistance of the enslaved.  You will also be introduced to the wide variety of evidence now available for studying the African diaspora in the Americas.

The African Diaspora_Feb.26

An Extracted Scot Finds Himself in Hungary: How to Get Started with Ancestry.com

By Stephen McClain, Reference Departmentancestry_logo

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 Recordsancestry1

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.

ancestry3The 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.”

Military Recordsancestry2

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…

The Annual Williamson County African American History Exhibit is Here!

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Migrations of Williamson County African Americans, Feb. 2-28, 2015 — Special Collections Department, Williamson County Public Library

The Special Collections department at the Williamson County Public Library is hosting its annual photographic exhibit on Williamson County African American history by local historian and author Thelma Battle. This year’s exhibit is “Coming & Going,” and examines the history of migration to and from Williamson County in the Black community. Topics will include the earliest slaves in the county, the reconstruction era exodus, the impacts of war, and modern immigration into Williamson County for industry, sports, and more. The exhibit is held in the 2nd floor Special Collections department at 1516 Columbia Ave. in Franklin, and will run from Feb. 2nd – 28th in honor of Black History Month.

Also in honor of Black History Month, the library will be hosting a free lecture, “The African Diaspora through the Americas,” on Friday, February 20 at 2pm-4pm in the downstairs meeting room.  Jane Landers will lecture on her more than twenty years of research on the African Diaspora (a diaspora is a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area) in various parts of the Americas. Her graduate research on the first free black town in in the Americas (formed by runaways from South Carolina who fled to Spanish Florida) supported archaeological investigations, a National Landmark registry and a museum. Since then she has also worked on diasporic sites in Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. Landers now directs an international effort to digitally preserve the oldest records for Africans in the Americas.

displayThis presentation will present an overview of the rise of the African slave trade and the subsequent diaspora of Africans through the Americas.  Main themes will include differences among European slave systems in the Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French colonies of the Americas and the resulting varieties of cultural expression and resistance of the enslaved.  You will also be introduced to the wide variety of evidence now available for studying the African diaspora in the Americas.

________________________________________________________________________________________

For More information, contact the Special Collections Department on the 2nd floor – 615-595-1246

The Williamson Room and the Battle of Franklin

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian03d7e2d1064e09f7531b755c057924a6

While you are in the library during the sesquicentennial celebrations, take a moment to stop by the Williamson Room, located in the Special Collections Department on the second floor. With floor to ceiling windows on three sides of the room, you will be standing right in the heart of where the Battle of Franklin occurred. Facing southwest from this room, you will be looking toward the two miles over which the Confederates advanced from Winstead Hill, completely exposed to enemy fire. Facing northeast, you will be about 500 feet from the position of the Union embankments. From this idyllic spot overlooking Columbia Avenue, it’s hard to imagine that by the end of the day on November 30, 1864, you would be looking over some 10,000 casualties, over 6,000 of which were Confederate – including 6 killed or mortally wounded generals.

There are several new markers displayed in the room commemorating the Battle, as well as an original 1878 map of the battlefield, portraits of the fallen Confederate generals with accounts of their final rolls in the terrible battle. Several pre-1900 first edition books relating to the Battle of Franklin from the Col. John L. Jordan collection are on display as well. It is worth the visit for the beautiful view and a quiet moment of reflection on the scope and toll of the terrible battle that occurred here 150 years ago.

Our Ancestors’ Occupations

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),
  • Blksmth=Blacksmith,
  • Chap=chaplain,
  • Comm=Commissary,
  • Dmr=Drummer,
  • Drm maj= Drum Major,
  • Far=Farier,
  • Fgmstr=Foragemaster ,
  • Mus =Musician,
  • QM=Quartermaster,
  • Sdlr=Sadler,
  • 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.

The Retirement of Dorris Douglass

By Dorris Douglass, Special Collections LibrarianIMG_9357

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.

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Click for information about her retirement party!

 

Beginning genealogy: Those (not so) pesky neighbors!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

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.4332964512_8d5eb8f643_o

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.

Ancestors Found Behind Locked Doors

shelvesBy 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 door 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.

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