Tuesday, March 17, 2009

May the luck of the 18.75% Irish Be With You

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I decided to determine exactly how Irish I am. To figure this out, I looked at my great-great-grandparent's generation. At this generation, I have 16 ancestors, three of which were born in Ireland. This makes me a total of 18.75% Irish. Using the same method I calculated that I am 37.5% German, and 43.75% Colonial American (by which I mean families that have been in America for at least 300 years). It is likely that some of the colonial branches of my family have Irish origins, but I consider these to be too distant to be a real connection to Ireland.

The families I trace back to Ireland are all in my mother's family -- the Sullivans. Three surnames on this side trace back to Ireland -- Sullivan, Hickey, and either Gallagher or Shields (this last family is a bit of a brick wall). These three families arrived in the St. Louis, Missouri area from Ireland between 1855 and 1875. Despite the relatively small percentage of my ancestry that is from Ireland, it is a heritage with which I closely identify, mostly because the Irish families represent the most recent immigrants in my tree.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Socialists among us!

I have not yet posted on my mother's family, the Sullivans, as I have been focused on catching up with posting all my research on my father's family first. However, I have not been neglecting this family. Just yesterday I made an interesting discovery while researching my g-g-grandmother Hannah Selby Sullivan's family.

Hannah Selby was born in 1848 in Rockville, Indiana. Her family is a very interesting one. I am descended from Mayflower Pilgrim Richard Warren on her mother's side. Richard Warren is the pilgrim who left the most living descendants. Consequently more Americans are descended from Richard Warren than any other pilgrim, so his families are well documented and have many interesting and prominent stories.

Hannah father's family had remained a mystery. I know from Hannah's death certificate that her father was Joseph Selby, born 1824 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Even though the death certificate was filled out 96 years after Joseph's birth, I had reason to trust it, as it was filled out by Hannah's older sister, Elizabeth, who was the person most likely to know where her father was born.
I had difficulty finding the family for Joseph Selby because he left Virginia prior to 1850, the first census that shows all members of a family. Based on other census data for Rockbridge co. I had hypothesized that his father was a John Selby, born 1786 in Maryland. But I did not have any information to confirm this. I also had no confirmation of what had happened to Hannah siblings.

Yesterday I got a response to a message board post on Ancestry.com which cleared up this mystery. The poster had a copy of a manuscript entitled "Mary Ann Selby: Her Ancestors and Descendants, Vol. 2" by Ruth Thayer Ravenscroft, 1948. This manuscript contained information given to the author by Fanny Selby Hindman, Hannah's sister. It confirmed that her father was the son of the same John Selby I had spotted on the census records in Rockbridge county. The manuscript also listed the names of his siblings, and his mother, Hannah Miller, daughter of Hugh Miller.

However, perhaps the most interesting nugget to be found in this manuscript was in the info on Hannah's siblings. One of them was John H Selby, who I had in my records born 1857 in St. Louis died 1893 in St. Louis. Strangely, his St. Louis death record said he was buried in Terre Haute, Indiana. I had no idea why. Fanny Hindman's records cleared this up: He had married a woman named Eugenie Debs, who was from Terre Haute. He was buried there with her family.

You may think Eugenie Debs sounds like a familiar name. I thought so too. A quick search of the census records confirmed my suspicion. Eugenie Debs was the sister of Eugene V. Debs, the famous Socialist candidate for President in the early 20th century. Eugene V. Debs is easily the most famous American Socialist. Debs started his career as a railroad union organizer. He gained fame after a strike in 1894 in Chicago led President Grover Cleveland to send in the Army to quell the strike. After the strike he was put on trial, where he was represented by the famous attorney Clarence Darrow. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which found Debs' arrest lawful.

While serving his time in jail, Debs discovered Socialism. After getting out of jail he helped to found the Socialist Democratic Party of America. Debs ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920. The 1920 campaign was conducted entirely from federal prison where he was once against serving time for his union demonstrations. Despite being jailed for the entire campaign, he received over 6% of the popular vote in 1920, though he received no electoral votes. The next year, Debs' sentence was commuted by President Warren G. Harding. Debs died in 1926, shortly after having been committed to a sanitarium in Elmhurst, Illinois.

I will post more on the Sullivan family later, but I just thought I would share this odd connection to my family. It just goes to show that when searching for your roots, you never know what your digging might uncover!

Related Links:
Gravesite of Eugenie Debs Selby
Gravesite of Eugene V. Debs
Gravesite of John H Selby
Eugene V. Debs (Wikipedia)
Debs family, 1870 Census
John H. Selby Death Record
Hannah Selby Sullivan Death Certificate

Friday, March 6, 2009

Famous Fridays - Dolley Madison

Dolley Payne Madison
First Lady of the United States

Dolley Madison is my 3rd Cousin 7 times removed. (via my paternal great-grandmother Charlotte Beasley)
Likelihood of Relationship: 80%

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How I Research

Every genealogist has a different research strategy. Some spend hours in libraries and write to record keepers in distant countries on a regular basis. Others simply click paste together every tree they can find on the internet and (hopefully) sort out the mess later. I prefer accuracy over speed, but I also know that many people can't afford the time and effort needed to build a tree based entirely on original documents. So I thought I would share my quick and cost effective research philosophy and methods.

I am soon to be an attorney, and am now very used to billing my time. So I tend to analyze different research avenues based on how much time it will take and how much it will cost me. If there is only a slim chance that I will discover useful information, then I give the research a low priority. For example, a trip to Virginia or North Carolina to view colonial records might produce a copy of a will of an ancestor or some other useful information, but the cost is not worth this discovery. Many people have already researched these colonial documents, and so it is much easier to simply rely on a summary of the document that can easily be found online. While it is not as solidly reliable as the original document, it is better than simply relying on unsourced family trees. I think this strategy provides a happy medium between costs and accuracy.

With that in mind, here is how a typical research session goes. I start on Ancestry.com, where I keep my online family trees. I have a US records subscription through Ancestry. They offer a World records subscription, but their international records are too paltry to make this a worthwhile investment.

Typically I start my searches by looking at census records. Census records back to 1850 are very useful, as they list each member of a family and their age, allowing you to connect children with parents going backwards, assuming the names are not too common. Census records after 1880 also include the relationship of the person to the head of house (i.e., "daughter"), as well as the birthplace of the person and their parents. The most useful census of all is probably the 1900 census, as it contains the birth moth and year of each person, the number of children they have had, the year they were married, and the year they immigrated if applicable. I use ancestry.com to search census records because I like the options in their advanced search tool, but they are not the only source for this data. FamilySearch.com's Pilot Record Search now has census records from 1850 through 1920, all for free.

I never rely solely on census records to prove a family connection. Keep in mind that some people are always missed by each census, so you should never assume that you have found your ancestor simply because only one person with that name shows up in the location where your ancestors lived. Instead, it is best to cross reference census data against other sources. What records to use depends on the location and time period of the ancestor in question. For modern (20th century) ancestors I look for birth, marriage and death records. Availability of these varies by state. I am mostly interested in families from Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana. Of these, Missouri has the best records available online. Missouri's Digital Heritage Project has scanned death records from 1910 through 1957 (1958 is being added now and they need your help! Email archref@sos.mo.gov for more info!). They also have some useful 19th century records, including naturalization records and civil war service records.

A death certificate is a great place to find information as most certificates include such useful bits of info as the exact birthday, birthplace, parents' names and sometime their birthplace, and spouse's name. If no marriage records are readily available, then death certificates are the best way to learn the maiden name of a mother. And don't forget to check for the death certificates of siblings in order to confirm info. Keep in mind that death certificates are not filled out by the person who died, so the survivors might not always know the correct information. Comparing a few siblings can help sort out such inconsistencies.

If the ancestor did not live into the 20th century, then the best source for information is usually legal records, including wills and deeds (land purchase records). Obviously wills usually name the children of the deceased. But wills are rare, and deeds are a good source if no will can be found. Deeds often record gifts of land made by someone to their children prior to their death, as a way to avoid probate, so often these records will also mention family relations. Even if they do not specifically spell out the relationship, they can be a strong indication that one exists.

Finding these records can be a challenge. The online availability of these records depends on the location. Often google searches for "will book" or "deed book" plus the name of the county will bring up at least partial results. Sometimes local county pages for the US Genweb project or the Genealogy Trails project will have these records transcribed online. Ancestry.com also has some counties (mostly in the former colonies) in their subscription database. If the records are not to be found online, try contacting your local Family History Center. These centers provide access to microfilm records collected by the LDS church. The catalog of records available from the FHC can be found here. Try searching by county and state name.

Finally, if you are completely stuck and cannot find any records online for an ancestor, try genealogy message boards. It is likely you will find someone at least researching the same family. E-mail them and beg for help. They may have copies of the records you need. It worked for me, and I'm always happy when I have a chance to return the favor and help people who e-mail me for help. If you are in need of research help, e-mail me. You can find my e-mail address by clicking on "view my complete profile."