I’m going to do a series of posts on sites I’ve found useful in doing my genealogy research. This first one will be on the USGen Web Project. The main portal can be found at http://www.usgenweb.org/states/index.shtml From there you click on a map of the states followed by a list or map of counties at the state site. What you get to from these clicks varies widely. Some county sites have a great variety of valuable information, while some others are a bit lacking. But you’ll not know until you dig in and see. I suspect there are some web sites available which rate given USGen sites, but I haven’t gone looking for them yet. I’d like any experienced genealogists to give us some examples of good and not-so-good county sites that they know of. I’ll start a collection of them according to what feedback I get and if there’s a more comprehensive listing somewhere, I’ll add a link or links to this post.
Since I’ve only been to a couple of dozen USGenWeb sites myself, I’m hoping to get a lot of tips eventually, and I’ll try updating this post as seems warrented.
To get things started I’m going to check with the the two counties I’m most interested in; Licking County, Ohio (where my mother’s ancestors lived for about 130 years from 1803-1930+ and Washington County, Pennsylvania, where these Licking County ancestors lived for a few decades in the late 1700s to the early 1800s.
LICKING COUNTY, OHIO
Well, a pleasant surprise looking at the first page. Robert Sizelove, Sr. is now the coordinator there. I have communated with him in e-mail and he’s done a lot of work photographing and reading gravestones in Licking County… Well, looking things over, I got thinking about a bunch of photos which I’d taken at Green Hill Cemetery in Licking County Ohio but had never renamed to indicate whose graves they were… Then I found I needed to figure out how to print out a list of the gravestone files, but more recent versions of Windows don’t make it easy, so I had to relearn how to do things in a DOS window, but I finally got it done and now I’m busy renaming files and attaching copies to the people in my Mother’s family tree who are among those whose stones I shot. So I guess the take-away is that you never know where things will lead you when you go to a USGen Web Project site. Next post I’ll do the same for the Washington County, Pennsylvania site, but no promises what I’ll find to write about there.
When I wrote about Wade before, it was in the context of how to find someone in a census when the surname is so mangled that it is hard to find. This time I want to talk about a salient feature of the censuses that I did find that involved him and his family. Namely, the 1850 census shows the family as Mutlatto. Mutlatto can be used in several sorts of situations, but generally it means someone of mixed racial heritage. Some correspondents have wondered if Wade Borin could have been Black German, which might look like Mutlatto, but I have a photo (which I’ll try to add to this post) of Wade and Mary (Dardinger) Borin which makes him look somewhat dark complected, but not particularly German. More importantly, his given names, “Wade Hampton” were well known in South Carolina in the 18th century and earlier . Wade Hampton I was an officer in the Revolutionary War and also the War of 1812. His son Wade Hampton II also served in the War of 1812 and Wade Hampton III was a colonel in the Confederate Army. After the War Wade Hampton III was Governor and Senator from South Carolina. Of particular interest is that according to Wikipedia (which see for more info on the Wade Hamptons) at his death Wade Hampton I was said to be the wealthist planter in the US with over 3000 slaves. This brings up the question of whether the Burdens came from the Hampton line and were freed at some point before Wade Burden was born? I don’t have any absolute answer, but it’s always possible it could be answered with a genetic test. Wade and Mary had nine boys and a girl, so there are undoubtedly a lot of Borin males running around who could be tested. Of course, since they don’t have the Hampton surname, it might mean that the connection was via a mutlatto daughter.
The other interesting question is why Wade Burden changed his surname to Borin and went white? I read a book a number of years that pointed out that for the most part people with black blood in them identify with their black line even when and where there’s no necessary reason to do so. I don’t know how modern blacks would respond to this question. I had a black roommate for two years in college, but he was an Ibo from Nigeria and did not have any knowledge of black culture in the US. Likewise I have some black friends now, but they’re also either recent immigrants or we haven’t actually talked about racial identification. Anyway, I’d be interested in anyone’s input.
BTW, Mary was 18 and Wade 27 when they married in 1871. But in the 1860 census, when he’s still with his family in what’s now West Virginia, he’s listed as Mutlatto while in 1870 when he’s working as a farm hand he’s listed as Hampton Boran (white). It may be he changed his racial classification so he could join the regular Union Army, and then stuck with it.
I suppose a good way to judge how serious someone is at genealogy is to see how s/he handles citing references. By that criteria, I’m still somewhat of a novice. There are lots of “official” rules on how you should handle citations, but I still just want to put in a decent way for someone else to be able to find out where you got a particular piece of information. Since censuses are still the major references in my databases, I’ve taken to using a pretty simple rule when citing them. I put in the date (e.g. 1900 followed by the location of the census. I put this in the head of family’s record under Residence and also add the head’s occupation, if one is given, as an occupation datum, without bothering to add the location since it is assumed to be the same as the corresponding residence. I also add occupations for other members of the family, but add the location to indicate they’re not a head of household. I admit I’m not real consistent about adding occupations for children, etc., but I’m trying to do better.
For other citations, I generally use the title of the database as an actual citation. I sometimes will add other information, but generally assume people will try checking the reference I cite before making it part of their own database. If I have other sources which vary, I’ll put the variant in the citation for the one I don’t use in the person’s record. This isn’t an ideal way of doing things, but it saves time. Now many times I just add data from online trees so that I have something to work on, but I don’t reference where I found it. There are so many trees available online that it’s impossible to figure out who got what where, and so writing down just what tree you took a piece of information from won’t be of much help, and might make someone think you’ve somehow verified the person’s data, when you haven’t. I’m always happy to help someone figure out where data I provide came from, but sometimes I just have to say, “I don’t know.” I have a couple of important pieces of data in my trees which I don’t know if are correct or not, but I keep them there to remind me I need to research them further.
If anyone has the time, I’d be interested in hearing how you do your citations and how much you do to verify the information you add to your Family Trees.
These days there are so many family trees available on the web that it’s a real problem deciding what to do about them. While some of them have lots of citations and even documents included, others simply copy the work of others and that without much critical evaluation. Now you can, of course, spend lots of time trying to verify data you find and then carefully document where you got your data from and what your evaluation reveals. But if there’s one thing in short supply for anyone doing genealogy, it’s time. So how can you use the limited time you have when confronted with a virtually unlimited supply of raw data? I use the Reagan procedure, “trust but verify.”
Here’s my basic procedure.
- Look for likely trees. In Family Tree Maker / Ancestry.com, it’s as simple as clicking a leaf or starting a new search. Most of the time there’s at least one tree which appears in the search results , and even when there isn’t, there may be a tree for another family member. Even using another genealogy program, you can probably find a tree for a person searching Google or another search engine.
- Once I’ve found a likely tree for a person which matches information I already have, I start entering the data into my tree by hand. It’s possible to merge trees, particularly if you are working with a tree you’ve started online, but I’ve found that it rarely saves you time in the long run since there are likely differences in how I do things and another person does things so that I have to look at everyone I’ve merged and make changes anyway. This may include eliminating lots of “Living Surname”, which I find it too cluttering to keep around. I’ve got one tree that I’m doing this to right now and it’s not a whole lot of fun. Besides, when you enter data by hand, you have a chance to catch errors in your tree or the other tree.
- Verify the data you’ve entered. For recent generations of Americans, this is usually possible via the censuses, at least up to people born before 1930. Hopefully, in another couple of years, the 1940 census will be released and a great many other people will be available to be found. Even now there are lots of data sources for recently born people. Since most of my ancestors for the past couple of hundred years lived in Ohio, an important resource for me is the Ohio Deaths 1908-1953 database at FamilySearch.org. This is all the death certificates for Ohio during this time period. This will let you find people born back to the 1820s or so and often the names of their parents as well. Several other states also have death certificates for a period of time available at FamilySearch.org.
- Repeat the whole process using the new data you’ve found.
- Contact people who have uploaded the trees you’ve used to see if they’re interested in exchanging information on your areas of mutual interest. This is the easiest way to find information on living people. Of course some people are worried about giving out data on living people, (and I’ll be discussing such worries and what to do about them in a future post), but it’s worth a try. Be sure to give some proof that you’re actually who you claim to be, BTW.
I admit the above is a bit sketchy, but I’ll try expanding on each step in future posts.