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# Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Researching an Ancestor's Murder
Posted by Diane

Q I found out my great-great-grandfather Juan Chavez was murdered in Valencia County, NM, in 1883, but that’s all I know. How can I find out more about this story?

A Start by thinking about the kind of records a murder might generate: death records, a coroner’s investigation, newspaper coverage, a criminal trial. Let’s take these one at a time:
  • New Mexico became a state in 1912 and didn’t mandate death certificates until 1920, so one may not exist for your ancestor. Since some counties kept vital records earlier than the state did, contact the Valencia county courthouse at Box 969, Los Lunas, NM 87031, (505) 866-2073.
  • Newspapers might have published obituaries, as well as articles about the murder, investigation and trial. New Mexico’s state archives and library have large historical newspaper collections. Subscription sites Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank  have a few New Mexico newspapers covering 1883 in their searchable databases. Libraries in Valencia County also may have old newspapers.
  • Also look for probate records, which are created when a court distributes a deceased person’s estate. Valencia county probate court records are microfilmed at the Family History Library (you can tell by running a place search of the online catalog on the county name).
You can rent the film by visiting a Family History Center near you. First rent the index (film #2312158), and if there’s a file on your ancestor, note the packet number. Then you can request the roll of film covering that probate packet.  
  • Mysterious or violent deaths often led to a coroner’s investigation, usually part of court or police records. A search of the New Mexico state archives’ online catalog on Valencia court records brings up a listing for collection #1974-031, which has county records from 1847 to 1979. Coroners’ inquests from 1882 to 1908 are part of the justice of the peace records.
You could visit the archives in Santa Fe to search, or e-mail a research request. There may be fees associated with research requests.
  • If someone was arrested for the murder, records from a criminal trial would answer a lot of questions. The state archives’ collection #1978-003 has records for US territorial and New Mexico district courts covering Valencia County, including criminal cases from 1852 to 1912. In this collection, series V, file 13-24, covers 1852 to 1909.
These early case files aren’t numbered, and without the accused’s name, you’ll need to examine the records pretty closely to see which case involves your ancestor.

black sheep ancestors | court records | US roots
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 5:18:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Researching Ancestors in the Direct Tax of 1798
Posted by Diane

Q. What is the direct tax of 1798, and are these records available online?

A. To fund a military buildup for a possible war with France, Congress enacted a $2 million direct tax in July 1798.

Each of the country’s 16 states had to come up with its share of the $2 million. A state’s quota was based on population, with slaves counting as three-fifths of a person. State officials created their own forms and valued property, enumerated slaves and collected the taxes.
  • Houses valued at more than $100 were taxed on the value. Since many of these homes had expensive glass windows, this is also called the “glass tax.” Some homeowners went so far as to brick over windows to reduce their homes' value.
  • Slaveowners were taxed 50 cents for each able-bodied slave age 12 to 50
  • All other real property, which included houses valued at $100 or less, was taxed at a fixed percentage of the value.
The controversial tax was repealed in 1799. Resulting records include valuations, enumerations and tax collection lists.

Because the law allowed responsibility for the tax to be transferred to other governmental departments, with no directive to forward records to Washington, many of these records have been lost. Existing records are scattered among various repositories, with Pennsylvania having a strong collection at the National Archives facility in College Park, Md.

Known 1798 direct tax lists and their physical locations are listed on the National Archives Web site.

Learn more about the Connecticut records, discovered in 2004, here.

Unfortunately, the records' varied locations means you won’t find a comprehensive online database for all types of direct tax records from all states.

NewEnglandAncestors.org, the Web site of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has online databases for Massachusetts and Maine direct taxes in its subscription collection (membership starts at $75 annually). Not all towns are included—an 1800s Boston Customs House janitor was feeding the records into a fire when a clerk stopped him.

A Google search on 1798 direct tax or 1798 glass tax might net you an index to records for your ancestor’s area. That’s how we found this index for a list from Berkeley Parish, Spotsylvania County, Pa., a blogger’s list of those taxed in Bethel, Mass., and this index to a list from Tyoga Township, Lycoming County, Pa.

Genealogical publishers such as Heritage Books might have indexes in book form.

If you know of an online direct tax index or tip for finding records, click Comments (below) and post the link.


Colonial ancestors | tax records | US roots
Tuesday, May 05, 2009 4:41:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Reading Old Documents: The Long S
Posted by Diane

Q. I noticed that the hornbook pictured on page 12 of the May 2008 Family Tree Magazine has a 27-letter alphabet, with a unknown letter between r and s. What’s the story?

A. The 18th-century English hornbook shown in our May 2008 History Matters column (here’s the hornbook—it's from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections division) features a character called the long s.

The long s, which looks like a lower-case f, was common in 18th-century England and Colonial New England. It was often used as an s at the beginning or in the middle of a word (as in fentiment), or as one or both letters of a double s (congrefs).

The long s was not generally used as the final letter of a word—for that, people used the familiar short, or terminal, s.

The long s fell out of use around 1800 in England and 1820 in the United States.

For more on the long s, see Wikipedia's well-illustrated article and the book Researching Your Colonial New England Ancestors By Patricia Law Hatcher (Ancestry, $16.95).

The book is available for a limited preview in Google; I've added it to Family Tree Magazine’s Google Library for your linking convenience.

genealogy basics | printed sources | US roots
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:16:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Investigating an Ancestor's Presidential Award
Posted by Diane

Q. My grandfather, a lawyer, received a Certificate of Appreciation from President Roosevelt on April 15, 1943, "in grateful recognition of patriotic services rendered in aiding in the administration of the Selective Training and Service Act." The governor of Maryland also signed it.

I'd like to find out what he did to earn this certificate. I can't find anything in Maryland state archive searches. (This question is from the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum.)

A. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 required American men aged 21 to 35 to register beginning in 1940. Those whose names were drawn had to serve 12 months.

In 1941, Congress approved by one vote the President's request to extend the term of service. After the United States entered World War II, a new act made men age 18 to 45 liable for military service; those up to age 65 had to register.

There are any number of ways your grandfather could've participated in administering this legislation, so first dig through attics and closets and quiz relatives for clues that may give you a starting point. Then take these steps:
  • Was he a lawyer for the government or for a firm? If the latter, perhaps his involvement was through his employer. A relative might remember the name, or you could check a city directory.
If he was a government employee, his records would be at the National Personnel Records Center (part of the National Archives and Records Administration) in St. Louis. Records may be restricted for privacy reasons; instructions for making a request are online.
  • If he was prominent enough to get an award from the president, maybe he made the news. Search newspaper databases such as Google's News Archive, the subscription site GenealogyBank, or NewsBank, available through many libraries.
  • Reading a history of the Selective Service System may offer clues to your grandfather’s participation or even mention him.
  • Selective Service System records are in the National Archives' Record Group 147, which includes correspondence, official appointments, conscientious objector case files and more. The mostly paper records, some of which involve state draft boards, are distributed among various National Archives locations. Start with the administrative records at the archives' Washington, DC, and College Park, MD, locations.
These records aren’t indexed, so study a finding aid (the archives recommends two) and enlist the help of an archivist.
You also can hire a researcher; the archives has posted a list of recommended researchers by topic.
You can use the Archival Research Catalog People Search to see if your grandfather’s name appears in any National Archives catalog descriptions. (Note that even if he’s not in the People Search, the records still may mention him.)


occupational records | US roots
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 9:49:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Finding Ancestors in the Civilian Conservation Corps
Posted by Diane

Q. My relative worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Where can I find more information about his time there?

A. This question was inspired by a post in our Forum.

The CCC—which happens to be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year—was established March 21, 1933, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. By the time the CCC disbanded in 1942, when Congress ceased its funding, more than 2.5 million workers had participated.

It was a multi-agency effort, with the Army running CCC camps and various federal agencies sponsoring them.

Over 4,500 camps were established in all states. African-Americans were segregated in “colored” camps. Each enrollee earned at least $30 per month, and had to send $25 of it home to family.

It’ll help your search if you know your ancestor’s camp and the dates he worked, so ask your family members and pore over your research for clues.

The Colorado state archives has a statewide CCC enrollment index, which gives the enrollee’s name, county, birth date and camp.

Employment records of CCC workers are in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. You can fill out a research request following these instructions. Provide as much information as possible, and send either a written OK from the person in the record or proof of the person's death.

Most administrative and other records—project reports, correspondence, the CCC’s Happy Days weekly newspaper, publicity materials, meeting minutes, photographs, accident and death reports—are part of Record Group 35 at NARA’s College Park, MD, facility.

Records of the separate Indian Division of the CCC are with Bureau of Indian Affairs records in NARA’s Seattle and Denver regional facilities.

The CCC records aren’t indexed and few are microfilmed, so you’d need to travel to NARA or hire a researcher there to use them. The finding aid Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps by Douglas Helms should help.

Some of the camps had newspapers, you can learn their titles using the Center for Research Libraries online search.

Learn more about the CCC on these sites:


occupational records | US roots
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 8:38:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Help! My Ancestor's Birth Record Is Restricted
Posted by Diane

Q. I’m having difficulties getting a relative’s birth records because I live in a state that restricts vital records. I’m not an immediate family member, and thus not entitled to the record. Any suggestions?

A. You don’t say about when the ancestor was born, but many states loosen restrictions on records created more than 75 or 100 years ago. So first, double-check the rules where your ancestor was born. If older certificates are unrestricted, you may need to request the record from the state archives. Try these ideas, too:
  • Try to find someone who is a qualified family member of the person in the record, and ask if he or she will request it for you (or perhaps the person already has a copy). A relative may be able to help you connect with the person, or you can post to surname message boards.
  • See if you can get an uncertified copy of the record. Unlike a certified copy, an uncertified copy can’t be used for official purposes such as identification. The uncertified record also may contain a bit less information.
  • Look for a birth index in print, online or on microfilm. It’ll certainly have less information than the full record, but you can confirm the person’s name, place and date of birth, and maybe the parents’ names. To find printed or microfilmed indexes, check with the state archives and a local library. Also, run a place search of the FamilySearch catalog on the county of birth, then look for a vital records heading. You can go to your nearest Family History Center to rent the microfilm.
  • You may need to go to other sources for birth information. The person’s church may have recorded his or her baptism. Maybe there’s a family Bible entry or the newspaper announced the good news (check newspaper databases such as Ancestry.com’s or GenealogyBank’s, or visit the local library for microfilmed papers).
  • Military records, death certificates, cemetery records and the Social Security Death Index can provide birthplaces and dates. Remember that these records, created long after a person’s birth, are more likely to contain errors than a birth certificate.
See the December 2006 Family Tree Magazine for more help finding ancestors’ birth records. If you have more tips, click Comment to post them.


birth/death records | US roots
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:09:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Doing Genealogy With Just a Name and SSN
Posted by Diane

Q. I’m stuck on my Dad's family tree: I have his father's name, birth and death dates, and Social Security number (SSN). I can’t find anything on him. I have only his mother's first name, and I can’t get a birth certificate without her surname. Where do I go from here? Can I find out information with a Social Security Number alone?

A. Yes—you can request a copy of your grandfather’s application for a Social Security card, called an SS-5, from the Social Security Administration (that's how I found my great-great-grandmother's maiden name). You’ll find how-tos and a link with the address on the Genealogy Insider blog.

The fee is $27. In your request, provide your grandfather’s full name and SSN, and state your relationship and the reason for your request. If your grandfather is living, you’ll need his written consent.

Where do you go from here? A lot of people start with about as much information as you have, so it can be done.

First, fill out a pedigree chart with names, and dates and places (including counties) of birth, marriage and death. Then search an online census database, which you can do free at libraries offering Ancestry Library Edition (you also can subscribe to its sister site, Ancestry.com, for $155.40 per year) or HeritageQuest Online. The 1850, 1860, 1880 and 1900 censuses are free at FamilySearch Labs. Start with the most recent census during your grandfather's lifetime and work back.

Depending when your grandfather was born, his record might be on microfilm at the Family History Library. Run a place search on the county name and look for a vital records heading, then see if any films cover the right year. You can rent the film by visiting a local branch Family History Center (see our list for locations).

Do you know the year and county where your grandfather died? (If not, look him up in the Social Security Death Index.) Death records are often easier to get than birth records. They also may be on microfilm, or by request from the state vital records office.

Was your grandfather an adult during any wars? If so, check military records. Look for WWI and WWII draft registrations on Ancestry.com or Ancestry Library Edition. The National Archives and Records Administration keeps military service records—see the research guide on its Web site.

This is all just for starters. Details you uncover and resources you learn about will lead you in new directions. You can get advice and stay up to date on new resources by reading Family Tree Magazine.


genealogy basics | US roots
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 8:17:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Finding Your Ancestors' Cattle Brand Registrations
Posted by Diane

Q. How would I trace cattle-brand registrations? I have the names and sketches of some brands my great-grandparents used, and I'd like to see if the documentation would provide any genealogically relevant information.

A. Ranchers such as your great-grandparents had their own marks or brands they usually burned into cattle hides to show ownership. Most states have livestock boards that regulate the movement and branding of livestock, says Robert Gant, curator of the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyo.

It'll help to know when your great-grandparents used the brands, since records of brands are kept in annual brand books. The books are often available in county libraries or state archives; some state livestock boards may search their records for a fee.

If you're lucky, the state will have digitized historical brand books. Search Utah's Division of Animal Industry's brand books from 1849 to 1930 on the state archives Web site. Records show the brand symbol, name and county of residence of the person registering the mark, location on the body of the animal, and date the brand was recorded.

A Google search on your ancestors' state name and livestock board or cattle brand should point you in the direction of the records. Montana, for example, puts records of 1873-1950 brands in the Montana Historical Society Research Center. Once you find the repository with the books you need, you can visit or submit a research request.

You also may be able to find a book about brands in the state, such as the 1936 publication Texas Cattle Brands edited by Gus L. Ford (Cockrell, out of print).


printed sources | US roots
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 10:39:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]