“It runs in the family”: Family health history pedigree

Did you inherit grandpa’s nose?  Are your eyes the same color as great-aunt Anna? Your genetic inheritance determines these, and other, physical characteristics. Medical conditions can be inherited as well as the risk of developing certain diseases.  As a genealogist, you collect a lot of information about your ancestors.  We tend to focus on dates and places – birth, marriage, death, occupation, travel. Do you also record information about illnesses?  What do you do with that information?

October is Family History Month.  It is a time for collecting and organizing information about your family. I suggest that you also develop a systematic plan for gathering and recording your family’s health history.  Thanksgiving is National Family History Day, as declared  by the U.S. Surgeon General. [1]

What are some genealogical sources of health information? Well known sources include death certificates and obituaries.  Less well known sources include various census records and county histories.

  1. Death certificates. Usually list cause of death and contributing factors.
  2. Family members. At your next family gathering, ask questions about your ancestors’ medical and health histories.  Someone might remember that your cousin twice removed had kidney stones and that her mother died from the same thing! Label this information as ‘tentative’.  Remember to cite source and date.
  3. Obituaries. Cause of death sometimes listed.  “A lingering illness” suggests illnesses such as cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease/ emphysema, dementia, heart failure, kidney disease, neurologic disease or stroke. Following an accident, people may survive for years with various levels of disability.  “A sudden illness” suggests a more acute condition although the person may have had symptoms for days, weeks or months.
  4. Birth certificates. May list weeks of gestation, which could indicate prematurity. May also report complications of pregnancy suffered by the mother.
  5. County death records. Usually a list of names, dates  and cause of death.  Availability of these records varies widely.  I found some county death records in Texas for the years 1917-1920 when causes of death were overwhelmingly ‘influenza’ and ‘pneumonia’.
  6. Look for information in newspaper social columns.  “Mrs. Mary Adams returned home Tuesday from Oklahoma City where she attended  the funeral of her sister, Susie, who died from pneumonia.”  A brief death notice may follow an earlier story about an accident or that the person had been admitted to the hospital.  Obviously, before our recent privacy laws went into effect!
  7. Published and unpublished family and county histories. Look for details that may lead you to search for other records.  “John James died after falling off a horse. He lingered, speechless, for three days.”   “Marilyn Samuels spent her last years in a tuberculosis sanitarium.”
  8. Reports of a woman’s death soon after giving birth. Sarah Ostrander Richards, my great-great grandmother, probably died from complications associated with childbirth.  Here is the evidence:  “Mr. [Nathaniel] Richards second wife was Miss Sarah Ostrander, born June 20, 1801 and died March 27, 1836. She had one son, Ostrander, born March 20, 1836.” [2]

CENSUS RECORDS show limited health information.

  1. Decennial Census records. Some included space to check if the person was ‘deaf, dumb, or blind’.[3]  (1850 census, column 13; 1860, column 14; 1870, column 18; 1880, columns 16-19; 1885, columns 16-29). If person is ‘inmate’/ patient of hospital or other institution, search for other clues about why person is there.
  2. Census mortality schedules,  data gathered from 1850 through 1885.[4] In general, these schedules listed persons who died within 12 months before the census.  Cause of death was one recorded item.
  3. 1880 census supplemental forms:  Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes (wording as posted on NARA website): [5]   Information limited to the named categories.
    1. Schedule 2: Insane
    2. Schedule 3: Idiots
    3. Schedule 4: Deaf- Mute
    4. Schedule 5: Blind
    5. Schedule 6: Homeless Children
    6. Schedule 7: Prisoners
    7. Schedule 7a: Pauper and Indigent

How do you document your family’s health history?  One method uses the U.S. Surgeon General’s website, My Family Health Portrait.   

Susan_famhealthhx_crop

Other websites that you may find helpful (listed alphabetically by author):

Centers for Disease Control:  Family Health History.   https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/

Family Search Blog:  4 steps to starting a health history.  Includes a downloadable Family Health History form.    URL:  https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/4-steps-starting-health-history/

Genetic Alliance: An easy to follow booklet, “Does it run in the family: A guide to family health history.”     URL:  http://www.geneticalliance.org/sites/default/files/GuideToFHH/GuidetoFHH.pdf

Laura Landro, 30 March 2014, New Tools to Track Your Family Health History, Wall Street Journal,     https://www.wsj.com/articles/no-headline-available-1395070890

Donna Prezcha,  Tracing your health history, URL:  https://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/79_donna.html

Why is it important to know my family medical history?   URL:   https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/inheritance/familyhistory

Vibrant Life, 6 Medical History Questions You Should Ask Family,  Article 6, 19 July, unknown year;  http://www.vibrantlife.com/?p=2365

Summary:

In this post, I presented  common and less common sources of family health information.  Add to your to-do list:  Develop method to collect and record family health information.  Add family health information to records. Use multiple sources.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

REFLECTION:

I collect family health information but haven’t routinely documented  the information in a meaningful way. Until I used the Surgeon General’s website, I only vaguely understood the importance of a genetic health history.  ‘Cause of death’ is an item on forms that I use.

What I learned:  nothing new at this time.  However, my learning curve for this information has evolved over the past 5-6 years.

What helped:  Knowing about the Surgeon General’s website. I presented this information to nursing students for many years.

What didn’t help:  nothing really.

TO- DO:  Review family health and medical information collected to date.  Use more diverse sources of information.  Record individual health and medical information on research logs.

SOURCES:

[1] Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative website,  URL:  https://www.hhs.gov/programs/prevention-and-wellness/family-health-history/about-family-health-history/index.html

[2] J. B. Stephens, Compiler, History and Directory of Newton and Ransom Townships, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania (Montrose, Pennsylvania: J.B. Stephens, 1912), p. 86; digital images, Pennsylvania State University Libraries Digital Library Collections, (http://collection1.libraries.psu.edu/cdm4 : accessed, viewed, downloaded 2 July 2010; Nathaniel Richards family – 3 wives and their children.

[3] Blank copies of Census forms available from National Archives and Records Administration:  https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/charts-forms

[4] See note number 3.

[5] See note number 3.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots, 2018

Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker (1907 -1985)

On this “Thankful Thursday” ,  I express my gratitude to Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker, my maternal great-aunt, for writing down names and information about the Maurer and Tucker ancestors[1].  I have a carbon copy of the original.

Maurer Tucker History_ca1980_for blog_April 2018

Page 1 of “Maurer-Tucker Family History” written by Blanche Viola Maurer Tucker, ca 1980.  Carbon copy privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee. 

Do you remember carbon paper?  carbon paper imageBefore copy machines, there was carbon paper.  First, insert a piece of carbon paper between two pieces of paper.  Write or type on the top page.  An exact copy, more or less, of the top page appears on the subsequent pages. Generally, you can produce three or four clear copies this way. Each piece of carbon paper lasts for 4-5 copies.  Messy, but effective!

For more information about the history of copying, read this story:   ‘Photocopier’ 

Back to my story. Viola was my mother’s aunt, my maternal grandmother’s sister.  Called ‘Olie’ by us, she had always lived with my grandparents (at least, as far back as I can remember!).  I didn’t really think much about those living arrangements when I was a child or even as I became an adult.  I knew that both of Olie’s parents died when she was young and that’s why she lived with her sister.   As I carefully reviewed documents for Genealogy Do-Over  and recorded information on research logs,  Olie’s situation really hit me.

Blanche Viola Maurer was born on March 16, 1907, the youngest  of nine children born to  George Herman Maurer and Anna Klee.  Her brother, Herman Charles, born in 1893, was her closest living sibling.  Between 1893 and 1907, Herman and Anna buried two children – Charles Harry and Lillian.  Charles Harry, born in 1893 and died in 1894, was probably twin brother of Herman Charles.  Lillian, born January 7, 1901, [2]  ‘died in infancy’ according to Viola’s handwritten family history. [3]

Anna was 43 years old when Viola was born.  It is possible that Anna was beginning to go through menopause at the time.  When Viola was 11 years old, Anna died [4]  leaving Viola and her 60-year-old father alone.

Charlotte  (aka “Lottie”),  Viola’s only living sister, married Esbon J. Tucker in June 1917 [5].  Lottie and Esbon did not establish  their own home immediately.  In January, 1920[6], the census taker found Herman Maurer,  widower and head of household with 13-year-old  Viola, as well as Charlotte (Lottie), Esbon, and their two children, Esbon, age 2, and Eunice (my mother).

Herman , Viola’s father, died in May  1927[7] , leaving 20-year-old Viola an orphan.  She continued to live with Lottie and Esbon. [8] Viola had no children of her own but was like a second mother or a big sister to Lottie’s children.  Viola was an accomplished needlewoman.  She taught her niece, Eunice,  to knit and crochet.  Eunice, my mother, then taught me.  I still enjoy these crafts.

As mentioned in the introduction, I did not appreciate her situation until now.  Olie was a constant person in my grandparents’ home, as she had been when my mother was growing up.   I cannot imagine losing my mother at age 11 and my father by the time I was 20!  What was it like to constantly rely on a sibling for a home?  How did she respond emotionally to these events?

Consider the time period.  Women rarely worked outside of the home in the 1920s and 1930s.  Was Olie a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ during World War II, when so many women took on the jobs of men to support the war effort?  Mom never said anything about that and I never thought to ask.   According to the 1940 census, Viola worked as a salesclerk in a bakery. [9]  That explains all of the wonderful cakes at their house!

By 1970, Lottie suffered  several strokes and dementia.  Pop and Olie cared for her at home for as long as they could.  My mother said that she only found out about the problems when Pop decided to put Lottie into a nursing home, about 6 months before her death. This very difficult experience probably deepened the bond between Pop and Olie. After Lottie died in 1974,[10] Olie married my grandfather. Two old people, living together for decades, now joined in marriage.

Esbon Tucker_Viola Maurer_1975

How did Viola  feel about all of her losses?  I remember her as being cheerful and kind.   At first, she probably was overwhelmed then accepted her situation.  I do not know how I would have reacted .  Did the experience make her stronger?

Viola wrote the nine-page family history in the late 1970s or early 1980s. She mentions Lottie’s death (1974) and her own marriage to Esbon but not Esbon’s death in 1984.[11]  Using available resources, I have confirmed much of the information that she gave.  One surprising fact is that she reported her full name as Blanche Viola Lucy Maurer when she applied for a Social Security number.  [12]  This is my first encounter with that name!  I learned earlier that Germans traditionally used a middle name in everyday life rather than the person’s given first name.

Again, I express my gratitude to you, Blanche Viola Lucy Maurer Tucker, my third grandmother. Thank you for teaching my mother to knit and crochet, so she could teach me. Thank you for being part of my childhood.  Thank you for taking time to write down our family stories. Questions still to be answered:

  1. Is there another ancestor named Blanche in the family history?
  2. Is Viola’s middle name of Lucy on any other documents?

 

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

Reflection:

I started writing this post about 2 months ago but wasn’t sure exactly what direction I would take.  As I searched for inspiration, I looked again at daily blog prompts  suggested by Thomas  MacAntee.  The idea of “Thankful Thursday” caught my eye. I am grateful to Viola for many things. We visited my New York grandparents only once a year but I vividly remember some things – a red and white enamel kitchen table with pull-out leaves (now a collector’s item!), two black and white cocker spaniels,  German stollen (a sweet yeast bread),  a sleeper chair (like a sleeper sofa but twin size), a musty basement.  As I delve more into the family history, I see German connections in each generation.  The written legacy of names and dates proves invaluable, even though, on the surface, the contents appear skeletal.  I build from the bare bones outward. Without Viola’s document, progress would be much slower.

What I learned:  carbon paper is hard to find in 21st century America. I developed a new appreciation for the difficulties that Viola must have faced from her early teens.  Or, am I projecting my own values on her?

What helped:  Amount of research already done on the Tucker-Maurer family.  Transcription of Viola’s history done in 2010. Copies of birth and death certificates from New York.

What didn’t help:  Nothing that I can think of.  Not ordering Viola’s birth and death certificates before writing blog.

Future:   Consider other daily topics for future blog posts. Order Viola’s birth and death certificates. Order death certificate for Anna Klee Maurer, Viola and Charlotte’s mother.

Sources: 

[1]  Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker, “Maurer- Tucker Family History.” (Handwritten notes. Huntington, New York, ca. 1975-1980);  carbon copy  privately held by Susan M. Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2010. Copy given to Ms. Ellerbee by her mother who received copy from Viola ca 1980.  Transcribed by Ms. Ellerbee in 2012. Ms. Ellerbee is great-niece of Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker.

[2] “New York, New York, Extracted Birth Index, 1878 – 1909”,  online database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  :  :   accessed 10 April 2018); entry for Lillian Maurer, born 1 Jan 1901, Kings, New York; citing  “Index to New York City births, 1878-1909”, New York City Department of Records/ Municipal Archives, New York City, New York.

[3] Maurer., “Maurer-Tucker Family History,” Section – Charlotte Amalie (Anna) Maurer, page 1.

[4] Cyber Angel, “Anna b Bklyn d Huntington NY 1918 hus Herman,” Surnames: Maurer Family Genealogy Forum, discussion list, 8 February 2002;  (http://genforum.genealogy.com   : accessed & printed 9 June 2007), transcription of obituary posted in Brooklyn Standard Union, 28 July 1918.

[5] Suffolk county, New York, Affidavit for License to Marry (3 pages), 14570 (stamped); 783 (penned), Esbon J. Tucker Charlotte A. Maurer, 1 June 1917; New York State Department of Health, Vital Records Section, Genealogy Unit, Albany, New York.

[6] 1920 U.S. Census, Suffolk county, New York, population schedule, Huntington, enumeration district (ED) 113, p. 7A (penned), dwelling 136, family 139, Viola Maurer, daughter, age 13; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com    : viewed, downloaded, printed 14 March 2017); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T625, Roll 1269.

[7] Hermann Maurer, death certificate no. 10424 (1927), Department of Health of the City of New York, New York City, New York.

[8]1930 U.S. Federal Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Huntington, enumeration district (ED) 63, p. 2A (penned), p. 132 (stamped), dwelling 35, family 46, Viola Maurer, sister-in-law, age 23; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : viewed, downloaded & printed 14 March 2017); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T626, Roll 1651.

[9] 1940 U.S. Federal Census, Suffolk county, New York, population schedule, Huntington, enumeration district (ED) 52-97, p. 12 B (penned), household no. 463, Esbon Tucker (head); Viola Maurer, sister-in-law, age 32; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : accessed, downloaded, printed 14 March 2017); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T627, Roll 2785.

[10] Charlotte Tucker, death certificate # 031537 (9 April 1974), New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Albany, New York.

[11] Esbon J. Tucker, death certificate no. 100055063 (barely legible) (18 July 1984), New York State Department of Health, Vital Records Section, Albany, New York.

[12] Blanche Viola Lucy Maurer, SS no. 077-09-2343, 30 Nov 1936, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Elegy to Elizabeth  A. Hayes Ellerbee

In honor of Women’s History Month, I write about women in our family tree. This story is about Elizabeth A. Hayes Ellerbee from Alabama, my husband’s paternal great-great grandmother.

Elizabeth took a chance marrying Jim Ellerbee. She knew his story.  Along with other young men from Georgia, Jim joined the army of the Confederate States of America in 1861. He left his wife, Sarah Bailey, and their two young children in the care of her father, Judge William Bailey.  Rumor has it that Sarah’s stepmother, Indiana Cherry, Judge Bailey’s 3rd  wife, “did not like her step-daughter and step-children, so she had them move out of the house and into the slave quarters. . . .” [1] Sarah died before Jim returned home in June, 1865. A slave woman greeted Jim with his children, 6-year-old Sarah and 4-year-old William.

In November, 1865, Elizabeth A. Hayes, 21 years old, married James John Ellerbee, six years her senior, a widower, and father of two young children. How did Elizabeth and John know each other?  Elizabeth, born in Alabama in 1844,  and her family probably lived in the same county as Jim Ellerbee.

Elizabeth gave birth to 7 children during their 12-year marriage.  One child, John Uzemer, lived only 3 years and died in Georgia.[2]  James John Ellerbee died in December 1877, leaving Elizabeth with eight children, ages newborn to 10 years:  Asa (age 9 months); Wright (age 4); Barzellia (age 5); James Walter (age 8); Anna C. (age 7); Demarious (age 10); William (age 16) and Sarah (age 18).

The year 1880 – three years since her husband died. Jim’s oldest son, William Green Ellerbee (born 1861) followed his grandfather to Cherokee County, Texas, in the late 1870s.[3]  He must have corresponded with his stepmother.  Within a few years, William returned to Calhoun County, Georgia, and resided there with his sister. [4]  Elizabeth, now 33 years old, supported her family  as a field hand, possibly the only type of work available to her. Her two oldest children, 13-year-old Demarious and 10-year-old Anna, also worked as field hands in Early County, Georgia[5].  Elizabeth’s mother, 67 year old Moses Hayes, lived with them and cared for the younger children. The family’s situation can only be described as difficult.

Within a year or two, William moved his sister, stepmother and her children from southeastern Georgia to eastern Texas. [6] Elizabeth’s six children now ranged in age from 3 to 14 years old. Traveling in a covered wagon, the 700+ mile journey took 6-8 weeks. They possibly followed the south’s Old Federal Road through Alabama and Mississippi, crossing the Missisippi River at either Natchez, Missisippi, or Shreveport, Louisiana.

The next decades presented some stability for Elizabeth, her children and stepchildren. Two more of her children (Anna C. and Barzellia) died between 1880 and 1900.   “She managed her household with frugality and she educated her several children very well despite the hard times that prevailed everywhere.” [7]  . Marriages and the birth of grandchildren occurred in or near Cherokee County, Texas:

  • May 1888- William Green Ellerbee married Mary Ann Gulledge;  7 children.
  • November 1888 – Sarah Alice Ellerbee married John Grum Martin; 6 children.
  • January 1895 – James Walter Ellerbee married Katharine Deborah Powell;  6 children.
  • January 1898- Demarious Albina Ellerbee married Thomas Blanton; 7 children.
  • 1906 – Asa Alexander Ellerbee married Laura B. Lester; 3 children. They moved to Leflore County, Oklahoma by 1910.  Asa later moved to Oklahoma City, where he died.
  • About 1932 – Wright Roswell Ellerbee married Laura B. Lester; 1 child.

With one exception (Asa), all of these families remained close to Elizabeth. [8] [9]

Elizabeth A Hayes EllerbeeElizabeth Hayes Ellerbee died on March 25, 1917 in Cherokee County, Texas. She was buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery at Wells, Texas. Many of her descendants are also buried there.

Elizabeth Hayes Ellerbee ‘s life was full of unexpected events, some happy and some sad.  At the age of 21, she assumed responsibility for a husband, shattered by war and the death of his first wife, and his two children. She lost her husband after only 12 years of marriage. She gave birth to seven children and buried three of them.  She appears to have had close relationships with both of her stepchildren.  She left familiar surroundings in Georgia, traveling 700+ miles to post-Civil War Texas to pursue a better life for herself and her family.  Overall, I see her as a woman who took chances and left a legacy of hope for her descendants.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

REFLECTION

I rediscovered Elizabeth’s story during creation of an Ellerbee scrapbook for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday in January, 2018. What a wonderful story for my blog!  Women’s History Month in March is the perfect time to publish it. I began to appreciate the challenges and hardships faced by Elizabeth as I dug deeper into the records. She had to be strong to endure. She may say, “I did it for my children” and think little about the sacrifices that she made.  She met the challenges of being a single parent for her children and stepchildren. I am sure that she got discouraged at times.

Taking on the role of ‘man of the house’ had to be difficult for 17-year-old William. How I wish I knew more about the slave woman who cared for Jim and Sarah’s children after Sarah’s death. That is a story to be discovered! Secondary benefit: meeting one of my genealogy goals for the year to tell more stories about my husband’s family.

What I learned:  always more in the records to be discovered. Look beyond names & dates. I learned about the “Old Federal Road” which could have been the route taken from southwest Georgia to east Texas.

What was helpful: having records semi-organized and easy to locate for review.  Demarious’ Bible records sent to me last year by one of her descendants.  Research and commentary about the family in The Ellerbe Family History.

Not helpful: Nothing I can think of at this moment.

To-Do List:  Confirm death dates & locations for Anna and Barzellia.

 For more information about the Old Federal Road:

The Old Federal Road in Alabama:  http://oldfederalroad.aum.edu/

South’s Old Federal Road https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Overland_Travel_1784_to_1839,_National_Road,_Old_Federal_Road,_Chicago_Road_(National_Institute)#The_South.E2.80.99s_Old_Federal_Road

Wagon trains to Texas:  http://www.genealogy.com/forum/regional/states/topics/ms/8044/

Archaeological Survey of the Old Federal Road in Alabama:     https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gregory_Waselkov/publication/259398790

Henry DeLeon Southerland & Jerry Elijah Brown. The Federal Road through Georgia.   Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1989.

Jeffrey C. Benton (compiler). The Very Worst Road: Travellers Accounts of Crossing Alabama’s Old Creek Indian Territory, 1820-1847. Tucscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 2009.

REFERENCES: 

[1] Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1986), p. 14-43.

[2] Family data, Demarious Albina Ellerbee Family Bible, Holy Bible, (New York: American Bible Society, 1876); original owned in October 2016 by Darby Blanton, [address for private use], Darby is descendant of Demarious Ellerbee & Thomas Blanton.

[3] Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p. 14-43.

[4] 1880 U.S. Census, Calhoun County, Georgia, population schedule, District 626, enumeration district (ED) 4, p. 420B, dwelling 351, family 347, Sarah Elerbrie [Ellerbee] 20; digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed, downloaded, printed 3 March 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administratin, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T9_0136.

[5] 1880 U.S. Census, Early Co, Georgia, pop. sch., Damascus, enumeration district (ED) 026, p. 214A, family #, Elizabeth Eleby [Ellerbee] ; digital images, Ancestry (http;;//www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 4 September 2011); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. , microfilm publication T9, Roll 144.

[6] Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p. 14-43.

[7] Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p. 14-43.

[8]  1900 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., Justice Pct 8, enumeration district (ED) 30, p. 284A (printed), Family #21, John G. Martin (head) [wife, Sarah A. Ellerbee + 6 children]; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : downloaded & printed 4 September 2011); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Roll: T623_1619.  On same page: Family #22: Will R Ellesbee [Wright R. Ellerbee], head, 24; Elizabeth A. Ellesbee [Ellerbee], 58; Asa Ellesbee [Ellerbee], 23 ; Family #23: James W. Ellesbee [Ellerbee], wife Catherine + 2 children. Elizabeth is recorded as the mother of 7 children, 4 still living.

[9] 1910 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, population schedule, Justice Precinct 8, enumeration district (ED) 0024, p. 14B (penned), dwelling 272, family 272, Ellerbee E (head), 60, wd; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 3 March 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T624_1538.

Writing & revising a family history. Part 1. Content & format.

This blog post is the first of three posts about revising a previously written family history. The focus of this post is Content and Format. The next post discusses Citation of Sources. The third post, Evaluating Sources, includes types of sources.  Examples from my own work are incorporated throughout.

When I grew serious about genealogy 10 years ago, one goal stood out– to write and publish a history of dad’s paternal family, Posten. Writing the family history became more important following Aunt Grace’s death in 2011. Aunt Mary, dad’s youngest sister, is the only one of Dad’s siblings still alive.  I finally completed the history in 2012 and sent copies to a few people, including Aunt Mary.  The original manuscript[1] traces our family back to Thomas Postens (1782-1854), dispels an oral family tradition about Thomas’ parents and grandparents, mentions family histories of several women who married Posten men (maiden names of Richards, Fulkerson, LaCoe)  and discusses our possible relationship to Poston/ Poste/ Posten families found in late 1700s/ early 1800s Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The document represents over 20 years of genealogical research.

The format of the first edition is relatively informal.  Yes, I presented facts and noted sources.  I also included information about the research process, such as moving forwards and backwards in time to discover the names of all 8 children of one family and the mother’s maiden name.  Journal type entries are common. I documented process as well as results. In essence, I created a working document rather than a finished piece.

My sister commented that the history was ‘confusing’. When I read the document again in 2014, I realized what she meant. It all made perfect sense to me!  But, it may not make sense or seem logical to others.  For example, in each generation, I began numbering individuals again with number 1.  My reasoning? I thought it would be easier for my elderly aunt, and others, to understand. While that may be true, random numbering does not meet any genealogical standard.  Over the years, I have read and consulted multiple published family histories.  Each one seems to have its own numbering system!

How important is it to follow a genealogical standard for numbering? Some may consider this irrelevant.  I respect their opinion, especially if the system is logical and easily followed by readers.  Identifying your readers guides your choice of numbering. A sequential numbering system in which each person has a unique number, starting with ‘1’, is one possibility.  However, if you plan to submit part or all of your work for publication elsewhere, such as an historical society journal, follow the guidelines for that journal.  A recognized numbering system improves the quality of your work in the eyes of others.  An item added to my research toolbox is the 2008 summary by Joan Curran, Madilyn Crane and John Wray, Numbering your genealogy. [2]

Since 2012, I attended several workshops and webinars about publishing and consulted with a professional genealogist. Participation in the Genealogy Do-Over[3] helps me to refine research skills and extend my research toolbox.  I began to look more critically at each piece of data and each document. Right now, I am still stuck on finding my great-grandfather, Daniel S. Posten (born 1859) and his parents, James D. Posten and Meriam Mills, in 1870 census. This particular objective has been temporarily put aside. See how my thought processes work?  Not always in a straight, linear fashion!

Back to writing, revising, and eventual formal publication of the Posten family history. Based on what I have learned, recommendations include:

  1. Choose and follow a specific numbering convention for lineage. Rationale:  Follow a specific, recognized genealogical numbering system.
  2. Reorganize content, start with Dad and work backwards in time. Include facts and stories about direct ancestors with only 1-2 paragraphs about collateral and ‘possibly related families’.   Rationale:   Less confusing while still acknowledging real and possible relationships.
  3. Describe research process as addendum to relevant chapter or section. Rationale: readers can choose to read or skip this information.
  4. Add family group sheet at end of each chapter, as relevant. Rationale: provides overview of family, including siblings of direct ancestor.
  5. Write articles about collateral families (surnames of women who married Posten men) and other ‘possibly related families’. Delete most, if not all, appendices.  Rationale:  Less confusing to readers.  Shows readers that additional information is available, if they are interested.
  6. Insert footnotes at bottom of each page in addition to a reference/ source list at the end of each chapter. Rationale:  When readers copy individual pages, they often copy only that page and may not also copy or refer to the list of references at the end of the chapter.
  7. Revise entries for footnotes and reference/source lists. Rationale:  Follow recognized system with complete and accurate citation of sources, recording the “specific location of each piece of data” and “details that affect the use or evaluation of that data.”[4]  Location does not necessarily refer to the library where you found the item but to the item itself.  (Citation of sources, including footnote entries, will be addressed in another post).
  8. Locate print copies of as many sources as possible. Whenever possible, cite the print item rather than online image. Rationale: This is a personal preference.  I prefer to handle the actual book or journal article or document.  The original item sometimes has additional information that is not included online. If print copy is not readily available,  use online copy of the original source, such as online copy of print book.
  9. Locate original sources for online images and indexes, as needed. Consult and reference the original sources/ repositories.   Rationale:  Many online images are from sources other than the website on which found. Online indexes use other sources to create the index.  Example:  The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) is the repository for U.S. Federal census records, not online websites which show images of those records and/or provide an index of the names on the original census record.  However, if using an online website, acknowledge the website as the place where you found the record as well as citing NARA as the original repository.

Here’s the original sequence of chapters and proposed changes:

Original Proposed revision
Chapter Working Manuscript- 2012 Proposed Changes- 2017
1 Posten Name The Posten name:  origins, derivative spellings, history of Pennsylvania county formation & relevance
2 Family origins- original immigrant. (moved to Chapter 8 in proposed revision) Daniel Richard Posten (1917-1998) & Eunice Bertha Tucker (1919-2007)- my parents.  Include info about meeting George Avery Posten in 1980s. Add brief info about Tucker  family.
3 Pennsylvania Posten families early 1800s. Summary of Poston histories (moved to Chapter 8 in proposed revision). Pennsylvania county formation (moved to Chapter 1 in proposed revision). John Ray Posten (1898-1948) & Jennie A. Richards (1884-1964) – my grandparents. Brief info about Richards family.
4 Jacob Postens. Includes descendent list from 1700s to 1900s.  (revision – brief mention in ‘who’s the daddy’ chapter). Daniel S. Posten (1859-1918) & Elizabeth Phoebe Fulkerson (1860-1938). Brief info about Fulkerson family.
5 Richard, Samuel, William Postens (included summary of Samuel Posten descendants in New Jersey).  (revision – moved to ‘who’s the daddy’ chapter) James D. Posten (1829-1914) & Meriam Mills (1834-1897). Brief info about Mills family.
6 Thomas Postens Thomas Postens (1784-1852) & Esther Brown (1790 -1841).  Brief info about contradictory information for children of their daughter, Phoebe.  Mention Elihu Posten as caretaker of Thomas’ deaf son after Thomas’ death.
7 James D. Postens Who’s the daddy?’ of Thomas Postens.  Evidence for & against each possibility. Omit detailed descendant lists.
8 Daniel S. Posten.  Includes Fulkerson/ Fulkerson. Beginnings.  Original immigrant.   1700s – early 1800s.  Poston family histories.  Summary of PA Posten families in other parts of the state, specifically Huntingdon county.
9 John Ray Posten. Includes Richards & LaCoe. Summary.  Include complete descendant list for Thomas Postens.
10 Daniel Richard Posten Not needed.
Appendices Appendix A.  Benjamin Avery Posten, Missouri Omit appendix.  Ancestor of George Avery Posten. Article for Oklahoma Historical Society journal.  Refer to article in relevant chapter.
Appendix B.  Elihu Postens, Monroe Co, PA Omit appendix. Brief mention in Thomas Postens’ chapter as caretaker of Thomas’ son deaf son after Thomas’ death. Article for Monroe County Historical Society.
Appendix C. William Poste/ Posten of Bucks & Huntingdon counties. Included info about other Posten families in Huntingdon county. Proposed lineage & link to James Posten & Rhoda Shafer of Iowa. Omit appendix.  Brief mention about William in ‘Who’s the daddy’ chapter. Series of articles:  1) William & Peter Poste to Huntingdon County PA Historical Society.  2)Other Posten families in Huntingdon County PA. 3) James Posten & Rhoda Shafter to Cass County, Iowa Historical Society.  Possibly a ‘how I did this’ article.

progress imageProgress to date:  chapter 1 revision – done, following the above recommendations.  Revision process begun on Chapter 2.   To anyone who hasn’t compiled your research yet,  start small, with one or two stories or generations.   Writing these blog posts has helped me.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hiREFLECTION:   took more time than I expected.  Went to library for print copies of many books which I had accessed online.  Pleased to find that Oklahoma History Society library has a complete set of the Pennsylvania Archives series plus other books that I used. Somewhat discouraged that I didn’t see duplications and confusing sections earlier.

What helped:  writing down a plan for the revision.  Print copy of 1st  edition as well as copy of 2nd edition on computer screen for easy comparison of both versions as I edit.  Time away from 1st edition allowed me to see it from a different perspective. Glad that I didn’t send 1st edition to county historical societies.  Constructive criticism from relatives who have a copy of 1st edition. Research tools obtained from participation in Genealogy Do-Over.  Attending a week-long webinar series about writing family histories and receiving additional input from an expert.  Further refinement of proposed family history.

What didn’t help:  Not being able to locate some sources again.  Some files are still not organized.  I have begun to use various tools more consistently so this problem should be minimized in the future.

What I learned:   One step/ chapter at a time.  Read previous chapters again before starting on next one. End product will be more reader-friendly with minimal duplication of information.

[1] Susan Posten Ellerbee, “Posten Family of Northeast Pennsylvania” (Yukon, Oklahoma:  Susan Posten Ellerbee,  [address for private use, ] Yukon, Oklahoma), 2012.

[2] Joan Ferris Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane & John H. Wray.  Elizabeth Shown Mills (Ed.). Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families and International Kin. Special Publication No. 97.  (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2008).

[3] Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016);  download from Amazon.com

[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 43.

Dreams, brick walls and fans

Today,  I am just frustrated!  I have hit a brick wall and am not able to even poke a hole in it! My new, improved research habits seem to be of little use.

brick wall

Our recent trip to Pennsylvania and connecting/ re-connecting to cousins was definitely fun and produced some positive results. Finding and photographing my grandparents grave was one of the highlights (see post:  A tale of 3 cemeteries, for details).  Online, John R. Posten and Jennie A. Richards are now listed as being buried in the correct cemetery.

About a week after returning home, a cousin sent me a copy of a newspaper clipping from the September 11, 1908, Wilkes-Barre Journal  entitled “Posten Family Reunion”. [1]  The article includes information that genealogists dream of – names, dates and locations! Evidence for best guesses!   Confirmation of hypotheses! The article lists “about forty members of the Posten family” who attended and mentioned the “reading of a brief history of the Posten family”  which was printed “in part”.  The progenitor of our branch, Thomas Postens, and his youngest son, James D. Posten (my great-great grandfather, aged 79 at the time of the reunion) were the focus of the history.

After my initial delight and surprise, I read through the list of names again and quickly recognized many of them.  Others were easily identified as children, grandchildren, cousins or other relatives by searching my family tree database.  However, a few people have me totally stumped!  To assist with the identification process, I created a table, similar to a research log, for the information given in the article.  Since couples were identified together, i.e. “Mr. & Mrs. C.B. Fulkerson” and married women were identified by their husband’s name, i.e. “Mrs. John Posten”, I added columns for individual names and their relationship to James D. Posten.  Thus, “Mrs. & Mrs. C.B. Fulkerson” are identified in the table as “Olive Jane Posten & Cassius B. Fulkerson, daughter and son-in-law”.  Mrs. John Posten is James’ daughter-in-law, Sadie Krum Posten. An additional column for “Comments” provides space for other information.

posten reunion attendees

From the list of approximately 40 people, eight are unknown to me.  They could be friends or neighbors, members of James’ church family, or guests of one of the family members.  The people that have me stumped are:

  1. Mrs. Lake and Helen Lake, Pittston. Could be mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or sisters-in-law. I have Henrietta Lake as mother-in-law of a distant cousin. [2]
  2. Murel Barlow, Pittston – given the naming conventions in the rest of the article, she could be a young single woman or an older woman who is either not married or a widow.
  3. Mary Bachman, Pittston– same comment as for Murel Barlow. Mary and Murel are listed together in the article, so they could be friends, maybe sisters?
  4. Miss Lizzie Knorr, Bloomsburg- possibly a younger woman.
  5. Mrs. Dotter and children, Clara and Reuben, West Pittston.

Month 9 of the Genealogy Do-over [3]  was presented shortly after I received the newspaper article. The topics are:  1) Conducting cluster research and 2) Organizing research materials- documents and photos.  Specifically, the first topic was just in time!

Using the F.A.N. (friends, associates and neighbors) concept, I plan to look at census records again for each of the known relatives who attended the reunion.  Expand search to people in their neighborhoods. In general, I stopped my research after discovering the names of spouses of children.  Example – I know the names  of C.B. Fulkerson and Olive Jane Posten’s children and the names of their spouses. However, I have minimal information about C.B. and Olive’s grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Expand search for 1-2 more generations.  Keep research logs for each person and search attempt.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

Reflection:   It has been about 3 weeks since my last blog post,  a delay due to personal and family issues.  And, therefore,  my post about this project was also delayed.  I haven’t decided if this project will be my next priority item or not. Working back from myself for the Genealogy Do-Over, I am still reviewing the vertical file for Daniel S. Posten, my great-grandfather and James D. Posten’s son.  I sometimes slip back into old habits, such as finding a census record but not documenting it on research log and/or not downloading/ labeling it in database.

What helped:  creating table to catalog information found in the reunion article.  I now have, in print, a list of who is known and who still needs to be identified.  Reminded myself to stay focused on task and don’t follow BSO today—it will still be there for another time!

What didn’t help:  Initial frustration at not finding information easily.  Trying to work too quickly and not taking time to document findings.

What I learned:  Take a deep breath and slow down! Keep Genealogy Do-over book in plain sight and refer to it often!  The goal is to do solid research that is well-documented with a reasonable analysis, not to finish the project in record time!   I will still encounter brick walls.

[1] “Posten Family Reunion,” The Wilkes-Barre Record, 11 September 1908; online images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed & printed 18 August 2017).

[2] Alexander Sherman Lee (1867-1913) Family Group Sheet, Descendants and their spouses of Phoebe Postens Brotzman, Brotzman Family Tree.  Privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma, 2017.  Thoroughly documented with quality resources; includes comments about missing resources , content of available resources and contradictory information between sources.

[3] Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook (https://abundantgenealogy.com/tag/genealogy-do-over/    :  accessed 1 Sep 2017),  “Month 9-September 2017”.

Genealogy Do-over: Month 1, Part 2

Progress report:  Month 1,  Goal #2:  locate/ sort/ file essential documents and those that ‘”took considerable time, effort and money to order or collect.   Set aside for later review.”[1]

As of April 24, 2017 (Month 4),  this task is finally, almost complete for maternal & paternal lines, maternal  & paternal- in-laws families, taking much longer than I anticipated.  But, then, I realize that there are 500-600 people (or more) in each tree,  going back 5-7 generations.  Yes, not all of those people are directly related to us!  My husband said, more than once, “I hope that all of this  will actually help!” as I totally took over a dining room table.  Son #2 has his computer on our office desk so that space isn’t currently available.  I kept telling husband and sons, and reminding myself, that it was as much for those who will inherit my files as for me now.  I think that their eyes glazed over more than once when I tried to describe why I was doing this!   During the re-organization process,  I tried to carefully review documents.  I jumped ahead to Month 4 (research log) for a couple of brick walls and questions that came up.   I am proud of myself that I only followed 3-4 BSOs!  Staying away from those is a definite challenge!

What is a BSO?  BSO stands for “Bright and Shining Object”.   According to Thomas MacAntee [1],  a BSO is anything that “can cause your research to be derailed while you lose focus on your original research goal.”   For me, this has included not only those hints on the genealogy websites but a note that a town in the 1880 census no longer exists (spent 2 hours finding out more that was not really relevant to our family’s history), a 1940s newspaper clipping about a boy with our surname (turns out he was son of a 2nd cousin) and the death certificate of wife of  distant relative (until 2 am tracking her parents).   He recommends using a To-Do List.  To-Do lists include what you are trying to find, what you have found, and what you need to find to meet your research goal.  Basically, it’s a research plan and incorporates the BSO that is tempting you.

disco-ball-150x150

BSO example #1:    Finding 1st wife of  my  maternal great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Tucker.  According to oral family history, his wife’s name was Margaret/ Maggie Irwin.

Census records for 1870, 1880 & 1900 show Jeremiah and wife, Margaret.   A closer look at 1900 census record shows that Jeremiah & Margaret have been married for 33 years or estimated marriage year about 1867.  So, what’s the problem?  1870 census record – child, Lavinia, age 8 (born about 1862).  1880 census – daughter, Lanna, age 18.  If marriage information given in 1900 census is correct, then Margaret is probably Jeremiah’s 2nd wife.   Next item of interest already in my files, death certificate for George Tucker (age 3 in 1880) — his mother’s name is listed as Margaret Collins.  Wife, Margaret, listed in 1870/1880/1900 census records died before Jeremiah, who died in 1914.

Was  Jeremiah Tucker married to another woman named Margaret ?

This is definitely a BSO!  At any other time, I would have gone after this immediately.  But, I restrained myself .  So, here is the To-Do list:

  1. Confirm death date & location for Margaret Tucker.  Obtain death certificate.
  2.  Confirm death date & location for Lavinia Tucker; obtain death certificate.
  3. Obtain death certificates for other children of Jeremiah & Margaret – William Frederick Tucker (my great-grandfather),  Augusta Tucker Sanford.
  4. Search New York marriage records for Jeremiah Tucker and 1st wife, possibly also named Margaret, years 1860 to 1862.

During the re-organization & review process,  I encountered more BSOs and was able to avoid the temptation most of the time.  Frustrating?  Yes,  because I REALLY want to find the answer to the questions!   I will discuss other BSOs and my experiences with research logs  in a later blog.

For the moment,  I am beginning to see the benefits of the time spent on the re-organization of my files.  For each person, I can quickly scan 1 or 2 sheets of paper and see exactly what I need to find.  I also have entered  questions on the to-do tab in my genealogy software program.  Most of these will eventually be entered on the more detailed research logs.  And, future searches will, hopefully, be more focused and efficient because of time spent now.

Still to be done:   complete scanning of BMD certificates sent to me from cousin.  Put original certificates in archival quality plastic sleeves in appropriate notebooks.

[1] Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016);  download from Amazon.com