My First Trip to the National Archives

On this past Tuesday I made my first trip to Washington, DC to research in the National Archives.  My friend Donna joined me and at the Archives we met my newly discovered (thank you internet) cousin Elisa from California.  Our 5th great grandfathers were brothers who fought in the Revolutionary War, Samuel & William Kenly.

None of us had researched at the National Archives before and we were overwhelmed by how friendly, willing to engage, and laugh as well as helpful the staff were.  My focus was on two ancestors who served, Capt. John Cribbs, died at St Clair’s Defeat in 1791, and the second, Private Jeddiah Rumble served in both the Mexican-American War in 1847-1748 and the Civil War.  Jeddiah received Bounty Lands for his service in the Mexican War and I was looking for pretty much anything or everything related to his service.  I had already located his Mexican War pension.

My first pull requests for both gentlemen, returned nothing, a big old goose egg!  I couldn’t imagine there wouldn’t be records, but the big question became where were they at?  After several discussions with staff members, 5 at one point, including much laughter and jokes about my ancestors hiding, even in the National Archives, we found Jeddiah.  The images on indicated a volunteer unit, but he was actually regular army!  Add to that the Mexican War wasn’t a huge war, and the records are mixed in with the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 records, labeled “Old War”.  In the end I got his Mexican War enlistment papers, CMSR records, bounty land application packet, his discharge papers and surgeon certificate.  For his Civil War service I have enlistment papers, his resignation letter due to health issues suffered during the Mexican War, and information on what to ask for to get his medical records.

Captain Cribbs is a different story.  There was a fire in 1800 where many of the early records were lost, including many of the records related to St Clair’s Defeat.  Capt. Cribbs CMSR’s are on microfilm and some of the US Levies regimental records still exist.  These records however will need to wait for the next trip.

I brought home the survey to fill out as to how helpful the staff were (extremely) which today I will fill out and put in the mail.  The last thing I will do is write my Congressman and Senators.  The National Archives is a wonderful resource for historians and genealogists.  In this era of budget cuts, I want to let my representatives know how much I appreciate their funding this institution.  Oftentimes, those of us happy with facilities don’t speak up and share our enjoyment and that may contribute to these institutions being on the chopping block come budget time.  I have decided (after the issues in Indiana) to be proactive.  When I use a facility (county, state or national) I will write the appropriate representatives, and thank them.  What I have discovered is that even our representatives have fallen prey to the notion that everything exists online and we are wasting money on archives.

Climbing down from  my soap box.  Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend.

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My Vital Documents Report

In my prior post, My Vital Documents, I discussed classifying your sources so that GenDetective can tell you which vital documents you have located and which you still need to find.  Our spreadsheets are accurate as long as we always remember to identify the documents we have found or sent away for.  The key word in that sentence is “always”.  When I get a new document, and do my little happy dance, I quickly scan the document into the computer, record the information into my family tree, file the document and move onto the next.  Since I send for documents in batches, I frequently get more than one back on the same day.

I was relying on the accuracy of my spreadsheet, but sometimes forgot to record the documents I had received. The GenDetective My Vital Documents report solves this issue.  Since I always record the information and sourcing in my family tree, having all of the information in one place and using that to generate my tracking report eliminates the “I forgot” issue.  And yes, I did send for the same document twice (at least it was only $3.00, but still).

To create the My Vital Documents report in GenDetective navigate one of the two paths shown below:

1. Reports By Task 1. Reports By Task
2. Tell me about my family 2. How close am I to meeting my research goals?
3. My documentation 3. My vital documents
4. My vital documents

After running the My Vital Documents report you should see something similar to this:

My Vital Documents

My Vital Documents

Now that you have your report with blank squares, filled in squares and check marks what does it mean?  Wait, what do the filled in squares mean?

  1. Check: you have the document
  2. Empty square: you do not have the document
  3. Filled in square: you have an index that points to a document

As wonderful as an index is, for example, the West Virginia Birth Index 1853-1969, it only contains a subset of the information recorded on the actual birth certificate.  In genealogy, an index directs us to really good information.  Go and get a copy of the record the index points to.  For a 2nd cousin, I won’t pay for a birth certificate, however, if the collection is online for free, I will happily download the image.  For my direct lines, I purchase the certificates, however, since my genealogy budget is not unlimited, these are an “over time acquisition”.  This report helps me prioritize my acquisitions as well as tracking which documents I have and don’t have.

Why does it seem like no matter how many courthouses I visit, there are always more waiting?

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My Vital Documents

The GenDetective 2  the My Vital Documents report can replace your document tracking spreadsheets.  It identifies, for each person, the key vital documents that we genealogists search high and low for.  If you have located information in an index instead of the actual document, that is also conveyed.

No vital documents identified as being found!

No vital documents identified as being located!

The first time you run the My Vital Documents report it will most likely be blank!  What happened?  Nothing, and you may agree you got a list of names with blanks, so nothing :-)  We need to first identify our sources and the types of information they convey in order to go from “empty” to “filled-in”.

Genealogy source citations are text, and GenDetective has no ability to interpret the meaning of the words in the source.  In addition, a picture is just a picture, and with no way to attach value to a specific picture GenDetective is unable to divine that one of the 15 documents associated with a person is the birth certificate, and another the death certificate. The upside is, that you can classify your sources so GenDetective can determine which documents you have and which you don’t.

To identify your sources, go to Configuration,  Identify Vital Records Sources.  The following screen will appear, filled in with your master list of sources.

Classify each source in your tree

Classify each source in your tree

You may notice that my sources have a prefix:

Birth Cert: Birth Index: Book:
Census: Church: CM: (cemetery marker)
Death Cert: Death Index: Immi: (immigration)
Land: News: Prob:
Taxes: War:

Unfortunately, these prefixes are not added by GenDetective. I have gone back through my source master list and added them.  First, because it was easier to classify my sources and second because I was defining the same source more than once, especially with newspapers. Using these prefixes allows me to quickly identify if I have used the source before or not, and if not define the master source.  However, if you would need to do this in your family tree software (FTM, RootsMagic, etc), not in GenDetective.

Go through your list of sources and identify which ones are associated with:

  • Birth Certificate (or registration)
  • Birth Index (I classify baptismal indexes, books & certificates as an index)
  • Death Certificate (or registration)
  • Death Index (I include cemetery transcripts and obituaries here)
  • Marriage Certificate (or license)
  • Marriage Index
  • Probate (I include any probate dockets)
  • Marker (cemetery markers)
  • Assets (I include taxes as well as assets)
  • N/A (not any of the “special” sources)

When you press the Save Changes button GenDetective will take a minute to update the changes to your system.  GenDetective will remember your selections even when you import a new GEDCOM file, so you will not need to repeat this process each time you import a new file, however, you may want to scan the list of sources to identify any new sources.

My Vital Documents after classifying my sources!

My Vital Documents after classifying my sources!

Whew, what a relief, the same set of great grandparents show my located documents after classifying my sources!  For a visual walk through of this process check out our GenDetective video “I Can Replace My Tracking Spreadsheets!” for $3.95 available at the GenDetective website .

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Did I Miss Information In That Census Record?

In our rush to find people in census records we sometimes grab the most obvious information and glance over the remaining columns in the census.  However, sometimes that additional information holds clues, information that points us to additional records.

Take that skinny column in a US Federal censuses beginning in 1900, “Owned or rented”.  In the 1900 census it is on the far right in column 25, and moves progressively closer to the left side of the sheet in later censuses.  The federal government was interested in home ownership among Americans as far back as 1900, but to me that little column screams DEED, in big bold blinking capital letters, go find the deed!

I have begun recording this information in my family tree using the standard event type:  property.  What about censuses before 1900?  Starting in 1850 the government wanted an estimate of assets:  real estate owned (land) and later added personal (furnishings).  I also record this information in the property event.  The GenDetective report “Asset information wasn’t recorded” tells me who I missed.  Looking at this example, the one thing you may notice is a name may be listed multiple times, one time for each census where I did not record the information.

People without assent information report

People without assent information report

Returning to the census forms, what about all of those other columns?  Some censuses recorded religious preferences, occupation, birth location of the person and their parents.  While you were recording the information in the census, did you pick up all of this extra information?  Back tracking through our family tree to see where we forgot to record information can be a daunting task.

These 10 GenDetective reports help you dig further into the census records you have already located.  They are:

  1. Birth month wasn’t recorded
  2. Birth year wasn’t recorded
  3. Birth location wasn’t recorded
  4. Father’s birth location wasn’t recorded
  5. Mother’s birth location wasn’t recorded
  6. Asset information wasn’t recorded
  7. Religious affiliation wasn’t recorded
  8. Men’s occupation wasn’t recorded
  9. Women’s occupation wasn’t recorded
  10. The number of children wasn’t recorded

To find these invaluable reports, in the Reports By Task view navigate to:

  • What information should I research?
  • Missing census records
  • Get more from the census records I have found

It’s been a while since I’ve run these reports, I need to go do that and record the additional information, and then see how that impacts the information I have about each grandparent.

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Digging Deeper Into Census Records

Census records are a genealogists best friend.  They are one of the first sources of information about our families that genealogists consult.  Censuses are a snapshot in time of the family, on a reoccurring basis (frequently 10 years) allowing us to follow our evolving families through time.  There are many different censuses:

  1. US Federal Census 1790 – 1940
  2. International  Censuses (UK, Canada, Wales, etc)
  3. Territorial censuses, required to become a state
  4. State censuses (NJ, NY, Ma, Md, Fl, etc)
  5. Local censuses & tax lists
  6. Australian Voter Registrations
Censuses page 1

Censuses page 1

Censuses page 2

Censuses page 2

Censuses page 3

Censuses page 3

Censuses page 4

Censuses page 4

The great thing about all of these diverse censuses is the records exist, meaning you can use them for your family research, and GenDetective is aware they exist.  GenDetective contains the definitions for over 50 different censuses, and many of these censuses span multiple years.  The Queensland (Australia) Voter Registration is available for 27 different years!  If someone from your family lived in a community where a government census was conducted, GenDetective will suggest you locate that person in that specific census.

My Census Progress for my Direct relatives

My Census Progress for my Direct relatives

How do you know what censuses you should be researching?  In Reports By Task, select How close am I to meeting my research goals?  and then select Census research.  The resulting report will list each census where you would expect to find a family member, the years, and your progress toward finding the missing census records.

Looking at this report you might want to know which people you still need to locate in a specific census and year.  To see that answer, look a few reports further down the list and click on Census research by year and person.  Select the census and year and the report will show you which relatives you have found and which ones you have not found for this specific year.

Direct relatives I still need to find in the 1840 US Federal census

Direct relatives I still need to find in the 1840 US Federal census

While looking for census records always seems like doing the laundry or taking out the trash .. there are always more waiting to be found, they are an invaluable resource when conducting our family research.

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Researching Census Records On Microfilm & Paper

Believe it or not, twenty years ago microfilm or binders of paper were the only way to research census records.  To say that today, we are spoiled by the internet and indexed searches is putting it mildly.  As we discussed in the prior two posts (Researching Census Records in GenDetective and Census Reports In GenDetective 2) the majority of the census reports in GenDetective are designed to work with an indexed census (think,,, etc).  So what changes if you are researching on microfilm or a book without an index?

Consider a state census like the 1875 New Jersey census.  While I couldn’t locate a population total for New Jersey in 1875, the according to the state in 1870 NJ had a population of 906,096 people and by 1880 the population had grown to 1,131,116 people.  Talk about a needle in a haystack.  Without those computerized indexes there are a lot of microfilm names to look through.  So how can you cut down the work (and hopefully avoid tired eyes)?

Location history for people missing selected cenus

Location history for people missing selected census

Identify the individuals you are looking for.  In the Reports by Task tab select:

  1. What information should I research?
  2. Missing census records,
  3. The census I want to search is unindexed
  4. I need a full location history for people missing this census 

This report provides a listing of the people who are missing the unindexed census.  This report provides a listing of every place (or location) where you have recorded an event for each person.  Using the information listed in this report you should be able to get an idea of the municipalities you want to search for this family; page by page.  If you don’t find the family living in the most likely community, you at least have a list of the other communities you may want to search.  Obviously, searching the entire list of approximately 1 million names isn’t feasible.

Report for research unindexed census records

Report for research unindexed census records

While this report works well when looking for someone who lives in the country (a small town or township), it doesn’t help with your city dweller.   If you recorded in your family tree any street addresses where your ancestors resided, then GenDetective has a report that may be able to help you.  Run the Who is missing this unindexed census? report, which includes source citations, addresses and notes.  In my family tree not every event has an address, most are only recorded at the municipality level.  Regardless of where you enter the address, in a field for this purpose (RootsMagic) or use the notes field (other family tree products), GenDetective will extract the information and display it for you in this report.

The report isn’t a magic pill, however, it does save you from looking at all of the events for any address you may have recorded.  The next step is to find the neighborhood and start looking for the right area.  Don’t forget house numbers may have changed between now and the time period you are researching.

Good luck with your census research.



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Census Reports In GenDetective 2

In my prior blog Researching Census Records in GenDetective we looked at using My Research Progress and color coded bar charts to click and navigate to a list of people who were missing a specific census record.  But, what if you want paper or a PDF?  A simple report that lists people missing census records, can you do that in GenDetective?  Absolutely!

List of census reports in Reports by Task

List of census reports in Reports by Task

In the Reports by Task tab for researching online for indexed censuses (, and others) click and navigate:

  1. What information should I research?
  2. Missing census records
  3. The census I want to search is indexed

The report that is highlighted is provides the answer to the question: Who is missing this census?  This report asks only 3 questions:  relatives of whom, what relationship and which census.  I selected direct of my daughters and the US Federal census.  A page from the resulting report is shown below and it lists the people by year in the census by

Who in my tree is missing the US Federal Census records?

Who in my tree is missing the US Federal Census records?

relationship.  Looking at this page we see some of those missing the 1840 US Federal Census and the start of those missing the 1850 US Federal Census.  This report answers the question based on the year in the census that is missing.

I now know who to search for in each year in a census.  Instead of a list of people by census year, I want a list of all of the census records each person is missing.  This will allow me to run a single search and look for only the missing years.  My question I meant to ask is “Who is missing any census record?”  Selecting this report asks 2 questions: relatives of whom, and what relationship.  The resulting report (shown below) gives me a list of missing records by person.  I see several different collections:  US Federal, New Jersey, New York, Missouri, Welsh and the British censuses, across 8 different 3rd Great Grandparents.  That first number listed, before each missing year in a census, [Ernestine 39 1900 US Federal Census], is the person’s age at the time of the census.  So in the search results I am looking for someone who is approximately 39 years old in 1900, 44 in the 1905 New York census and 54 in the 1915 New Jersey Census.

GenDetective report showing People who are missing any census record?

GenDetective report showing people who are missing any census record?

Not all of these census records are online.  Some of these are only available on microfilm or on paper (books), and in my next blog we will discuss reports for researching offline.  For now though, many of these census records listed are available online and I obviously need to do some research.

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