Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FamilySearch Labs and John Simpson

In my last post, I showed how FamilySearch Labs is making a large number of original documents available. But that isn't the only reason FamilySearch Labs is a big deal for researchers. Equally important is the nature of the indexing in FamilySearch Labs. It's much more extensive than most traditional genealogical indexing, and it allows researchers a broader range of search strategies.

While most genealogical indexes in the past only abstracted the principal name in a document, FamilySearch's new indexing often includes all of the names. So, for example, a typical index of death certificates in the past only recorded the name of the deceased. But death certificates typically include other names, such as the name of the decedent's parents. The new FamilySearch indexing abstracts all of those names. An update to my Simpson case study shows the impact more extensive indexing can have.

My grandfather's father was named John Simpson. He was born in Lawrence County, Ohio in 1876, but grew up in neighboring Jackson County. (His father was also named John Simpson.) My great-grandfather later moved to West Virginia and then Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where he died when my grandfather was a teenager. My grandfather didn't talk about him a great deal. After my grandfather died, my parents found a somewhat mysterious letter from my great-grandfather to my grandfather, written just before my great-grandfather's death, expressing regret or shame about his own life. So my great-grandfather was always an ancestor I was curious about.

Genealogical research has provided me with a lot of information about the Simpsons of Jackson County and their origins, but I still don't really know what the letter was referring to.

A few days ago, I searched FamilySearch Labs for my great-grandfather. On the main Record Search page, I entered the name "John Simpson" and the place "Jackson, Ohio, United States." This came up with three hits. The first was an 1850 census record for a John Simpson in Erie County, Ohio. I have no idea why this came up - it appears to be a glitch. The second hit was my great-great-grandfather's 1917 death certificate from Jackson County- part of the collection of Ohio Death Certificates, 1908-1953.

The third hit is the most interesting. It's a 1940 death certificate for an African-American woman (recorded as "colored") from Columbus, Ohio. The death certificate lists her birth year as 1891 and her birthplace as Jackson County, Ohio. It records her father as "John Simpson" and his birthplace as "Jackson County, Ohio." After researching a bit further, I believe I may have found other records about the same woman, which indicate she retained her mother's last name, rather than Simpson, as she was growing up.

This is interesting to me because I haven't come across any men named John Simpson residing in Jackson County in this time period besides my great-grandfather and his father. So is this woman the unacknowledged daughter of one of my Simpson ancestors?

It's possible, but I don't have a strong reason to think so based on this one piece of evidence. Information on death certificates is often incorrect, as it was submitted by next-of-kin who might not have been entirely clear on these details. (In the book, I point out my great-grandfather's death certificate from Uniontown contains a number of inaccuracies.) Also, I don't really know whether or not there was another man named John Simpson in Jackson County in 1891- the lack of a 1890 census makes it difficult to even venture a guess.

Nevertheless, it opens a new line of inquiry about my great-grandfather that I never would have considered if the index only included the decedent's name; I never would have searched on this woman' s name.

This is kind of indexing is particularly useful for tracking a female ancestor, as you can search based on the names of her parents, even if you don't know her married name.

For another example of extensive indexing, check out this naturalization index from the Cook County Circuit Court Archives. Given how immigrant names often get mangled, it's really great to be able to search on address, birth town, and occupation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Familysearch Labs and Ella Palma Neil

I hope to use this blog to track changes in genealogy research since I completed my book and update my four case studies with new information.

This post does a bit of both.

FamilySearch Labs
My book mentions FamilySearch Labs briefly, but it was just launching as I finished the book, so I didn't explore it in any depth. Essentially, FamilySearch Labs is the new suite of digital tools created by the Family History Library. Of particular interest to me is the Lab's Record Search tool. This is a new database of indexed primary documents; most of the documents are fully digitized. It's an amazing resource. It makes huge number of primary documents available, it's rich indexing allows complex searching, and it has a really appealing interface for viewing digitized documents. As a demonstration of it's usefulness, I'll run down some of the new information I gleaned about my four case studies using Record Search.

Ella Palma Tischer Beaudette Lovgren Neill
In one case study, I trace the ancestors of a woman named Vera Beaudette, who was the great-grandmother of a friend of mine. Vera's mother was Ella Palma Beaudette, nee Tischer, and was one of the most colorful characters in the case studies.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Ella married Adolphus Beaudette in 1891. They had one child (Vera) but the marriage ended unhappily, and the couple divorced in 1902. In the 1910 census, she is oddly recorded on the census. Her daughter, age 17, is recorded as the head of the household, and she is recorded as Palma E. Lovgren, lodger:

In various documents from after that date, she is listed again as E. Palma Beaudette.
But in 1919, she published a history of East Chicago, Indiana, and is listed as E. Palma Beadette-Neil.

So, it appears that she remarried twice after divorcing Adolphus Beaudette: once to a man named Lovgren, and once to a man named Neil.

Discovering the particulars of these marriages was difficult because there was no easily accessible index to Cook County, Illinois marriages after 1900. If (as in my case) you did not have a date of marriage, it was very difficult to research.

A few weeks ago, Cook County marriages from 1871-1920 were added to Record Search. Searching for Beaudette, I found a 1918 marriage between Albert E. Neil and E. Palma Beaudette.So far, I haven't found much about Mr. Neil. Nor have I discovered a marriage to a Lovgren. Nevertheless, I have an important clue that was previously inaccessible. In another post, I'll talk a bit about the extensive indexing on FamilySearch Labs and how it provided new clues in my Simpson case study.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Upcoming Online Class

My online ALA class, Genealogy 101, will run from Feb. 16 to March 21. Here's the course description:

Genealogy 101 is aimed at reference staff with little or no experience in genealogy, and will provide tools for assisting patrons with family history research. The goal of the class is to give students confidence and skill in assisting family history researchers.

This five-week online course for library students and reference staff provides an introduction to American genealogy reference service. The course will outline basic sources and strategies, centered on a single case study. Topics covered include the U.S. Census, vital records, immigration research, military research and a variety of other basic genealogy sources. Students will also receive instruction in reference desk strategies and tools for further professional development. The course will cover archival material, print reference tools and online sources.


Greetings! This blog is a companion to my book, which was published about two months ago. I'll be posting book-related news, event publicity and occasional updates to the information in the book here.