Monday, March 30, 2009

Your Ancestors’ Signatures

No doubt all involved in genealogy research seek to find photos of their relatives. But how many think to seek out copies of their signatures at the time periods corresponding with those photos. What is the purpose you ask? To see what might be learned about the ancestors from those signatures.

In an article “Understanding Your Ancestors’ Autographs,” Linda Jean Limes Ellis notes that she had not given much thought to her ancestors’ handwriting until she found a document showing her great-great-great grandfather’s signature in connection with his swearing in as Justice of the Peace in 1846 when he was nearly 55 years of age. When she compared this particular signature with one that she had on a copy of his Last Will and Testament signed one day prior to his death (when he was 69 years, 3 months and 15 days) as well as a signature that she had on a copy of a marriage document signed when he about 21 years of age, she realized that signatures can reveal a lot about someone. By the pitch of a particular letter, she could satisfy herself that he personally wrote each of the signatures but the scrawling of the letters allowed her to detect how weakness and illness had evolved during his life.

Her advice is “Whenever you look at a beloved ancestor’s photograph, ask yourself, ‘Do I have his or her signature from the same time period?’ If not, begin your search for it...An ancestor’s name, written by his or her own hand, is as unique as a fingerprint. Thus, understanding what your ancestors’ signatures are trying to tell you augments whatever else you already know about them. Autographs, and we can think of them as such, are among the many gifts our ancestors gave to us.”

Ms. Ellis’s article appeared in The Ohio Genealogical Society’s December 2007 edition of the “Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly,” Volume 47, Number 4.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wyoming Newspaper Project

The Wyoming State Library is making available online access to historical Wyoming newspapers. This project involves digitizing a statewide collection of Wyoming newspapers covering the period 1849 to 1922.

The first collection release covers selected years ranging from 1867 to 1922. Researchers can access the individual issues through keyword searching or browsing through the collection by title, year, city or county.

To access the website, copy and paste the following URL into your web browser: <>

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Exciting Announcement for Michigan Researchers

“Seeking Michigan” is a brand-new website for Michigan historical records. Featured on the free website will be nearly 1 million Michigan death certificates for the years 1897 to 1920. In addition to having the records digitized, they are indexed for easy searching by name, death date, location, age and more. Approximately 25 percent of the nearly 1 million death records have been added thus far with the remaining death records expected to be online within the next month. To visit the website, copy and paste the following URL into your web browser: <>

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Genealogical Codicil to My Last Will and Testament

Have you given thought about what should become of those genealogical records and materials that you have worked so tirelessly to accumulate? Will your family know what your wishes are? Don’t want to leave things to chance?

Consider a codicil to your will that will spell out your desires. A draft of such a codicil appears below. Note: There are several similar variations of this codicil found on the Internet, including, making it impossible to give the proper credit to the original source.

If you’re not inclined at this time to make an amendment to your will, consider copying the codicil into your word processing program and completing those italicized parts with your information. Then keep a copy in a prominent place among your genealogical records -- updating when appropriate. This may not be as good as formally amending your will but it can provide detailed guidance to family members at a stressful time when heads may not be thinking too clearly.

Genealogical Codicil to My Last Will and Testament

To my spouse, children, guardian, administrator and/or executor:

Upon my death it is requested that you DO NOT dispose of any or all of my genealogical records, both those prepared personally by me and those records prepared by others which may be in my possession, including but not limited to books, files, notebooks or computer programs for a period of two years.

During this time period, please attempt to identify one or more persons who would be willing to take custody of the said materials and the responsibility of maintaining and continuing the family histories.

[If you know whom within your family or friends are likely candidates to accept these materials, please add the following at this point:

"I suggest that the persons contacted regarding the assumption of the custody of these items include but not be limited to"

and then list the names of those individuals at this point, with their addresses and telephone numbers if known]

In the event you do not find anyone to accept these materials, please contact the various genealogical organizations that I have been a member of and determine if they will accept some parts or all of my genealogical materials.

[List organizations, addresses and phone numbers at bottom; include local chapters, with their addresses, phone numbers and contact persons if available as well as state/national contact information and addresses]

Please remember that my genealogical endeavors consumed a great deal of time, travel, and money. Therefore it is my desire that the products of these endeavors be allowed to continue in a manner that will make them available to others in the future.

Signature ______________________ Date ______________

Witness _______________________ Date ______________

Witness _______________________ Date ______________

Monday, March 9, 2009

Deciphering Old Handwriting

If you want to enhance your ability to interpret old census, courthouse, archive, Bible and church records, check out this on-line tutorial: “Deciphering Old Handwriting - From a genealogy course taught by Sabina J. Murray.” Not only will you learn but you will have an opportunity to try your hand at deciphering. Copy and paste the following URL into your web browser: <>.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Problems with reading old records

Having success in locating an old record is an exciting event for anyone doing genealogical research. But one must guard against letting their exuberance cloud their use of good judgment in utilizing the information found in the document. Old records are not always easy to understand and interpret.

For example, a county marriage register included the following language for a specific marriage record:

“I do hereby certify that I have solemnized the bonds of Matrimony between xxxxx and xxxxx, agreeable to license issued from the office of said County.

Given under my hand this 15th day of April 1828.”

For years the date of 15 April 1828 has been interpreted as the date of marriage for the particular individuals involved. It is identified as such in materials available from Family Search and books publishing county marriage records.

In reality, the couple was married 31 January 1828 -- as noted in the Family Bible. The above certification is believed to be only a statement that the marriage was performed by the individual signing the certification and the date, 15 April 1828, is the date when he made the certification. Giving further credence to this belief is the fact that the same individual made similar statements in a series of adjacent entries - all dated 15 April 1828.

For a fairly comprehensive treatment of problems to watch out for when examining old records, look at’s “Problems with reading old records: what to watch for.” You can access by copying and pasting the following URL into your web browser: <>.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Immigration to the United States

Want to know more about immigration to the United States? Harvard University makes available on the web a collection of materials from its libraries, archives, and museums. “Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930” can be accessed by copying and pasting the following URL into your web browser: <>. Be sure to click on “Timeline” to view key dates in U. S. immigration history.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Looking Beyond the U.S. Federal Census

The U.S. Federal Census may not be your only census source. For additional sources at the state level, see Kansas Council of Genealogical Societies’ “Helpful Census Information.” To view, copy and paste the following URL into your web browser: <>