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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Black Sheep are the Most Fun

Sometimes I wake up too early in the morning and can't get back to sleep right away. Rather than lay in bed and toss and turn, I get up and do a few genealogy tasks. Usually, I get tired and can go back to bed until a more decent hour.

However, lately I've been spending the better part of several really early mornings (let's call it "pre-breakfast genealogy") reading old news accounts of a very interesting murder trial in Vermont in the early 1900's. (Thanks, Google News!)

Several things made the story of the more than just interesting:

  1. The accused male and female murderers were only 19 years old at the time of the murder.
  2. The accused female murderess was married and carrying on with at least three additional men.
  3. The accused female murderess had "accidentally" dropped and killed her 6-month-old baby the year before.
  4. The accused male murderer practically gave himself whiplash turning state's evidence.
  5. The accused male murderer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment (other times reported as 20 years).

After the young lady was found guilty, it became even more interesting:

  1. The convicted female murderess was sentenced to hang.
  2. The convicted female murderess was convinced her sentence would be commuted to life.
  3. The convicted female murderess's death sentence was postponed three times while her case was escalated to higher courts. Eventually it went to the Supreme Court.
  4. The case was so sensational that it gained international attention and news articles were found from around the world. 
  5. Some of the articles were less than ten years old even though the murder happened 110 years ago.
  6. The convicted young murderess was sent to the gallows.
  7. Apparently the task of hanging the young murderess did not go well and she did not immediately die.
The young male murderer was alternately described in news articles as a "half-wit" and/or a "half-breed." He was my father-in-law's second cousin. I have no idea if my father-in-law's family was aware of the news at the time, but I have to think they did even though they lived a thousand miles away. 

I have no doubt that the male murderer was a half-wit, or at least easily led, as he allowed himself to be convinced to be a murder accomplice. Once the young man was released from jail, he was not heard from again. So the next task will be to see if I can find any trace of him after 1925. Now that is a challenge!

While I obviously don't condone any type of illegal activity, finding a story like this certainly makes the task of adding some color to the family history much easier.

I suggest checking Google News for articles about your family. Once you've entered your search terms, click on Search Tools, and from the drop down box, change the selection from Any Time to Archives. You might be pleasantly surprised to find how many old newspapers are available.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are Your Ancestors from Minnesota? Part 2...

As mentioned in one or more previous posts, I use the Minnesota Historical Society (MnHS) website frequently when researching my Minnesota lines. I am particularly fond of the birth and death indices, but there are many other resources that are helpful to family researchers.

One such resource is the index to the Minnesota State Census. The index is just that, an index, and does not link to the actual images. Those images can be ordered online from MnHS for $9 each. The actual images can also be found on if you are lucky enough to have a subscription. is also available at many local libraries for patrons. If you are planning a trip to a library that has, using the MnHS index online ahead of time can save you some searching time at the library and allow you to quickly access the images you need during your visit.

As explained on the MnHS site, "This index includes Minnesota State Census records from 1849, 1850, 1853, 1855, 1857, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905."

Did you notice what I did? There are census records available for 1885 and 1895. Since the 1890 Federal Census records are all but destroyed, the state census can supply an excellent 1890 substitution for those Minnesota families.

The information returned during a state census search can vary by census year. Information returned when searching in the 1905 census, for example, includes:

Birth place
Census Year

To the upper right is an image from my great-great-grandfather's census record returned when I searched by first and last name. By his age, birth place, and residence, I can be relatively sure this is my great-great-grandfather even though there was more than one Andrew Jackson Riggs in the state at the time. I could search again, using only the last name, the county, and year of census to identify other possible family members.

I hope you enjoy using the resources available at the Minnesota Historical Society site as much as I do.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Are Your Ancestors from Minnesota?

The Minnesota Historical Society (MnHS) has some great tools for family researchers. Because both my husband and I have family from Minnesota, I have these tools bookmarked so they can always be close at hand. If truth be known, I actually have them memorized and can get there with just a few keystrokes.

The tools that I happen to use the most are the birth and death certificate index searches. The birth certificate index search is a great tool that sometimes gives difficult-to-find information just on the search results. The site explains, "This index currently covers the years 1900-1934, supplemented by about 2700 pre-1900 records."

This site contains records transcribed from county records and therefore will contain errors. But because of the search tools, it is sometimes possible to find records that have been transcribed erroneously. The search fields for the birth records include:

  • Last Name (exact, starts with, ends with, or contains)
  • First Name (exact, starts with, ends with, or contains)
  • Mother's Maiden (exact, starts with, ends with, or contains)
  • Year of Birth (pick a range anywhere from pre-1900 to 1934 or use the default of All)
  • County (All or select one)

There is also a choice for "No soundex, Soundex, or Extended Soundex," The results can be displayed sorted by Last Name, First Name, Birth Date, or Birth County.

If you are like me, you picked up on the mother's maiden name field. While it doesn't have to be a search field, if the information was transcribed, the maiden names are available in the results list. This is a great way to find the maiden names of those hard-to-find women that married into the family. 

While the number of available years doesn't seem to be all that helpful, it really fills in a gap. The widely available 1900 census gives the birth month, year and birth state for each living family member born before 1900. also has a Minnesota birth index the dates of the index are 1935 to 2002. So between the Minnesota Historical Society and, there is a full century of births available. While not everyone has an Ancestry subscription, it is often available at local libraries.

I don't often order the actual certificate but they are available with a click of the "Add to Order" button on the results page for a fee of $9. I have used this index as a source over 400 times in my family file so it has been well used.

The other resource that I use most often at the Minnesota Historical Society website is the death certificates index search. As explained by MnHS, "This index covers death certificates from 1908 to 2001, supplemented by death cards from 1904 to 1907."

This search is very similar to the birth search with the same search fields and the same search options. Both searches also allow you to enter the birth certificate number as a search field. I would imagine might be there to allow for fast searching once you have narrowed down the results list to the ones you want to order.

What I really appreciate about the death certificate index is that there is an additional results option. You can save the results as .csv (Comma Separated Value) file. The site gives instructions for copying and pasting the text results into a text editor and saving as a .csv file. This is useful if there are a lot of results and you want to sort and search on different fields. 

I am fortunate to live less than 20 minutes away from the Minnesota Historical Society.  I don't have to order death certificates but can go to the MnHS when time permits (which unfortunately isn't very often). But to prepare for visits, I downloaded the information for certificates I want to look up and imported into Excel. I created a Word template that has all the additional fields I wanted for recording death or family information. I merged the downloaded information into the template and then add the other information available to the resulting document as opportunities arise. Other fields that I added:

  • Current address of the deceased
  • Death location
  • Birth date and birth location
  • Marital status and spouse name
  • Father's name and birth location
  • Mother's name and birth location
  • Informant
  • Cause of death
  • Burial information
I have used the Minnesota Death Certificates Index as a source over 900 times and have many more to look up. There are many other family research resources available at the Minnesota Historical Society both online and at the library itself. Thanks to MnHS for making these great resources easily available!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Minnesota Marriages - A Great Resource

I just had the most wonderful weekend with my
family and friends watching my son marry his lovely fiance. The ceremony was beautiful with just the right number of mishaps to make everyone less nervous. The reception was unbelievable with terrific food, gorgeous decor and wonderful touches that truly added meaning. Then there was the weather: not a cloud in the sky, temperature in the low 70's, just a trace of a breeze and peak fall colors to boot. Since the wedding was in northern Minnesota, anyone who had to drive up from the Twin Cities had the most stunning drive this season.

I managed to squeeze in just a couple of hours of genealogy research even on this busy weekend. Our "up north" cabin is equipped with DSL Internet access and wireless. Both my husband and I need to be connected to escape so it is a must-have if we are to "get away from it all." I guess that makes it just "get away from some of it." Even if we are connected to work, we are also connected to the fun stuff. So even my frozen weekends up north can be very productive.

After the ceremony I started wondering when my son's wedding would be on the Minnesota Official Marriages System (MOMS) website. This website has become a God-send for me. One of the most difficult pieces of genealogy can be to find the maiden names of women that marry into the family. The MOMS website lists marriages as far back as 1845, depending upon the county. I also found marriages from as recently as last weekend. That also depends upon the county. Of course, these records are transcribed from county records and can contain errors.

Even so, I heartily recommend visiting MOMS if you have any Minnesota residents in your tree OR if you have residents of neighboring states that lived in the bordering counties. Those tricky ancestors of ours sometimes married just across the border of a neighboring state. Once you have found the correct record, the site connects you with the proper contact info to order the certificate if you need it. I rarely order certificates but I have used the information available there in my family tree database almost 700 times.

I will recommend, as always, that you try different spellings, or searching on just the wife or husband. While the site allows limiting your search to just one county, I suggest leaving it open unless you get too many results. I've also found that it searches well on a partial name, first or last. This can really help when you are relying on transcribed records.

One last note, there is a link near the top that lists the dates available for each county. It is helpful information but not 100% accurate. Le Sueur County indicates there are no records available. Yet, the two oldest records I found were from Le Sueur County.

Thanks to the Minnesota counties who put their marriage data online!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Useful Calendar Tools

I spend a lot of time looking a parish records in Norway from 1700-1900 AD. Many of the older records name the liturgical name for that particular Sunday instead of the calendar date. This requires some interpretation and the following is a description of what I have used in the past. I previously posted this to the Trondelag listserv at and on Dick Eastman's member pages.

If you are struggling with date conversions as I have many times, try these bookmarks.

I keep these bookmarks handy when I am looking at the digitized parish records. They are very handy for figuring out dates. Sometimes I have to go back or forwards a few records to find a recognizable liturgical date, but then I can usually figure out which date I need. For example, I might find a baptism a few records back that occurred on Palm Sunday, and then be able to figure that the Sundays after refer to Easter, Misericordia Domini (1st Sunday after), Jubilate (2nd Sunday after), Cantate (3rd Sunday after), etc. It seems a good portion of the year is counted by the numbers of Sunday after Trinity so often you can count from there.

This bookmark lists the liturgical/ecclesiastical dates and their meanings:

This bookmark lists when the 
liturgical/ecclesiastical dates occur in any given year (Click on the Back to Ecclesiastical Calendar to get to the year entry form):

And finally, this bookmark gives a one page calendar for any given year. It's very handy for counting those dates like 15th Sunday after Trinity. You simply choose a year and click Make Calendar (in the current webpage layout, it is the very top choice on the page). You get a printable one-page calendar in a new window. 

The link above is great for figuring out dates in other cases also, for example, when looking at news articles where you know the publish date and the article refers to next Tuesday as the day for a funeral service, it is easy to figure out what the actual date is the article is referring to.

Since I posted these links a few years ago, I have found an app, called RC Calendar which claims to be a liturgical calendar from 1970 to 2300 and beyond. I found that it seems to be equally good before 1970 even by a few hundred years. I haven't done a huge sampling to check the dates but I am satisfied so far with its calculations. This app works on iPhones and iPads and it looks like it is made for other mobile devices also.

I wish you good luck figuring out those dates!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Finding Treasures at

I love books of all kinds but I especially love books about family history. I have a few sites that I visit to find books but I love I have found too many books there and I usually have to pull several out of my shopping cart before I check out. describes themselves this way:
"Launched in 1996, AbeBooks is an online marketplace where you can buy new, used, rare and out-of-print books, as well as cheap textbooks. We connect you with thousands of professional booksellers around the world and millions of books are listed for sale. Shopping on AbeBooks is easy, safe and 100% secure - search for your book, purchase a copy via our secure checkout process and the bookseller ships it straight to you." 

A recent find for me was for a little town in Brookings County, South Dakota called Sinai. I was aware there was a history book. I even had copies of of some pages that related to my family in that area. But for some reason, I still wanted to see the book. I tried to find it in libraries and online but was not having luck. Then I checked back with and one day it was there. I quickly ordered it and was not disappointed.

Paging through the book I found a large photo of my grandfather. He was listed as the coach of a local young man's baseball team in the 1935.

If you have a lot of family in one specific location, a county or town history might give you a lot of information. They can be particularly good for finding women's maiden names, where families moved from or to, or other hard-to-find information. Like all "found" information, it needs to be verified. But these local history books certainly point you in the right direction.

The Sinai History Book is new enough that it is still under copyright and not available anywhere as a free digital download. But that is something to keep in mind when you are looking for books that you are interested in. And that is a topic for another day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Unexpected Gems - Find A Grave

One of my go-to sites of late has been Find A Grave. This site, with the help of graveyard enthusiasts and garden-variety genealogists (like me), just keeps getting better and better.

I've had occasion to use it as a source for birth, death, marriage or other events several hundred times in my family file. What I love is when I find someone has posted a picture. Sometimes it is just a picture of the cemetery entrance, sometimes it is a picture of the headstone of the person I am looking for. But sometimes, it is a picture of the person, their family, or even their obituary.

The obituary can lead me to finding even more information about other family members and is a priceless find whenever it happens.

If there isn't a photograph of the headstone, you can put in a request for one. I recently joined the site as I feel I have used it so much I should give back. One way of giving back is to review photo requests that are in your area. If you enjoy tramping through cemeteries and finding the headstone you are searching for, this area of volunteerism may be for you, too.

The site has a fabulous list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and is worth going through. Here is an example on one question and answer, in an area that I continually try to improve on: providing sources for my data in my family file.

From the Find A Grave website FAQs:
How do I cite Find A Grave in a bibliography?
Please feel free to cite Find A Grave in your bibliographies, lists of references, etc. in whatever format you deem appropriate. Please note that, while Jim Tipton is the creator of Find A Grave, he is not the author of all of the content. If the information you are referencing includes a "bio by XXXXXXX" line, please cite that author as well. 
Sample citation: Bio Author. "Web Page Title". Find A Grave. Date of (your) access.
Sample citation: Bio Author. "John Doe". Find A Grave. 6-1-2008.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Making Time for Research

I have set myself a very lofty goal: I will create a book showing the genealogy for each of my children's great-grandparents. That amounts to eight books. I have almost finished one, complete with many photos, stories, newspaper articles and, of course, the documented genealogy. But that leaves seven to go.

There are many obstacles: only one of the eight families has more than just a couple of photos. Two of the great-grandfathers died young and so the stories they had are long forgotten. Travel for research is limited. But the greatest obstacle is T-I-M-E.

I normally don't spend a lot of time researching in the summer as I spend time golfing, fishing, reading and hanging out at the cabin. This past summer I started something a little different. I started spending my time at the breakfast table doing some genealogy as well.

I don't try to do any in-depth data entry or source work. But I might find a site or two online that has good information about one of my eight families. Then when I come back to spend a little more time, at night or on the weekend, I have a list of sites marked to go back and review.

So this blog is my "research log," if you will, of sites that I have found proven to be valuable to me in my research. Sometimes little treasures come in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.