As odd as many genealogists find it, I do not just chase down the military records of my direct ancestors, but also for the grand-uncle and the spouses of the grand-aunt, ok as long as I am confessing, and the 1st cousins.  Why?  Because military records including pension packets can be a gold mine of genealogical data.  In addition, a lot of these men served in units with each other, they married each others siblings, and frequently their children married.

David Tipton FaithIn looking at the pension packet for David Tipton “Tip” Faith, my 3rd great grand-uncle, I found several  exciting documents in the 200+ pages of material.  David served in the Civil War and received an invalid pension.  However, David did not serve alone, he served with a couple of brothers and a brother-in-law.  David, William (my 3rd great-grandfather) and Michael are the sons of Henry Faith and Elizabeth Barnhart (4th great grandparents) and Abraham is the husband of their daughter Elizabeth.

  • David Tipton Faith – Company F, 75th Pa Volunteers
  • William Faith – Company F, 75th PA Volunteers
  • Michael Faith – Company K, 105th PA Volunteers
  • Abraham Wallace – Company A, 78th PA Volunteers

ReputationsIn the case of David’s pension, a Special Examiner’s investigation was conducted, with depositions being gathered from several members of the community.  Notice the column labeled Reputations.  I’m not sure how these reputations were derived but William, his sister Elizabeth and her husband Abraham enjoyed a better reputation than father Henry and brother Michael.  Nice to know that William had such standing in his community in 1885. According to a newspaper article I found, father Henry was known for his drinking and storytelling, so I must say I’m not really surprised to see he only had a “fair” reputation.

Signature of Henry Faith

Even at age 86 Henry, who died at age 91, was able to appear in town and was judged mentally competent enough to provide a deposition to support his son David’s case and as was still able to legibly write his name!

In one Civil War pension packet for a 3rd great grand-uncle, I found the words of my 3rd great-grandfather William, his siblings, his brother-in-law, and my 4th great-grandfather, Henry.   Makes me very glad I pull all of those “uncle” pension packets!

Henry's deposition

Henry’s deposition

William's deposition

William’s deposition

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This and That

Random thoughts.

Have you ever searched census records on ancestry.com?  Ancestry.com has a neat feature where you can correct a name that has been mangled in the index, allowing other cousins to find the person.  This is a great feature but only works when the name is only slightly mangled allowing the search to find it.  When I can’t find a person by searching, I usually browse the individual census records for the town/township where I believe my relative was living.  What I haven’t figured out is an easy way to edit the index to correct the massively mangled name.  Does anyone know a way to do this?  And if it doesn’t exist, ancestry.com, can you add a button to support locating a family on the page that allows the correction to the index?

Registration for the first week at GRIP is tomorrow, February 10th.  Have you ever attended a week long genealogy institute?  I highly recommend the experience!  There are several different conferences available at different times of the year.  Registration is generally first come first served and many classes develop waiting lists (which is why I have an alarm set 60, 30 and 15 minutes out from go time).  GRIP is held in Pittsburgh, Pa and since I live in Pennsylvania, it is the only institute that is drivable distance for me.  The instructors at each conference are the same nationally renown speakers that you would see at a “regular” genealogy conference.

Each week long course is devoted to an in-depth exploration of a specific topic:  DNA, The Law, Advanced Research Skills, Pennsylvania Research, German Research, Military Research, etc.  From the outside, a week seems like forever, but time flies with sessions that delve deeper into a topic than can be covered at a shorter conference with 4 lectures, (or in a 60 minute session).  This year GRIP has 2 different week long sessions:

  • June 26 – July 1st (registration is tomorrow February 10th)
  • July 17 – July 22nd (registration March 2nd)

Additional information about GRIP can be found at http://www.gripitt.org/ .

Note, I am not affiliated with GRIP and do not receive any benefit or compensation from this post.


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Local Tax Records

On Friday (Jan 22) I made a trip to the Northampton County PA Archives.  The archives is located north of Easton in Forks township and the staff are wonderful.  It was not my first trip to this archive but it was the first trip for Jill Stephens and we had a great time.  In my local county records research, I have secured the deeds for our ancestors from Northampton county, Lehigh county (prior to 1812) and Carbon county (prior to 1843).

County Tax Spreadsheet

County Tax Spreadsheet

I assembled a spreadsheet listing the ancestors I was interested in tracing, by year and for each year listed the townships where I have deeds saying they owned land.  I used state abbreviations for people who had moved out of the area or elsewhere and as they relocated to other PA counties I identified the county (if known).  I used dashes for those who were too young to own land in a year or were deceased.

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

Northampton County Taxes 1776-1808

My spreadsheet starts at 1752 when Northampton county formed and ended in 1850.  Based on what we found at the archives, it appears that Northampton County has tax records from 1776 – today!  You read that right, they have approximately 235 years of tax records!  Year, after year after year.  Some of the early tax records are stored as loose papers in file folders (1776-1808) in 5 cardboard boxes .  A few years appear to be missing, but we found my ancestors in most of these years.  Years post 1808 are in bound books by town and township name, in stacks on the archives shelves.

Between Jill and myself we took over 320 photos in a little over 4 hours (flash off) as we divvied up the work and passed the camera.  These records are not indexed, requiring you to read each fragile page.  The good thing was that the records were usually in alphabetical order.  Below is the 1885 Northampton county tax record for Heidelberg township showing Johannes Rumbel and his son Johannes Rumbel, Junr (2 above last row).

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA -- Johannes Rumble

1885 Taxes Northampton County PA — Johannes Rumble

The years from 1809 – 1850 will need to wait for another trip.  Thankfully, I live within an hour of the archive.

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Connecting to Database Redux

Have you seen this message “Connecting to database ..” in GenDetective and been frustrated that it never goes away?  There has been a recent upsurge in this issue after installing GenDetective OR after running GenDetective for months and, after installing updates, GenDetective experiences this issue.  If you have seen this issue, the solution to this issue is simple and quick.

First, what is the cause of the issue?  There are multiple versions of  Access  available and GenDetective uses the most recent Access Runtime 2010.  Office 2010 was the last version to run on all of the older versions of Windows, which were still supported and in widespread use, at the time of the GenDetective v2 release.  Sometimes, updates to software will helpfully remove older versions and newer versions may discourage the installation of older software.

I understand that this can be very frustrating!  In the blog post #1 Question Asked About GenDetective I discuss the software that is installed by GenDetective during installation.

What’s the solution?  You can easily address this with a couple clicks of your mouse:

  1. Uninstall GenDetective 2
  2. Reboot to make sure no part of GenDetective is running
  3. Download the runtime version of Access 2010 from Microsoft here
  4. Install the downloaded Access 2010 runtime
  5. Reinstall the full version of GenDetective v2 and the issue should be resolved
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Hello New Ancestors

2015 was a great year for my genealogy and family research.  For starters I didn’t disown anyone and that is really good news!  One of the things I do at the end of the year is look back over the prior year to refresh my memory on the newly identified ancestors and any disowned ancestors (aka ancestors I thought were mine but were not).  Each research year is filled with a lot of little successes and disappointments, however, I like to take stock of my big discoveries.

In the disappointment area, I haven’t made any progress on determining the parents of John Silvius husband of Anna Maria Yeagger, despite spending quite a bit of time in the Westmoreland County Courthouse.  I am a member of a group that is researching the Silvius/Silvis/Silvies/Silfies/etc family and they have determined parentage for John.  However, there are some issues (no offense to anyone in the group, but, I have unanswered questions).  DAR has information on John and Anna Maria, and unfortunately, I’m not certain that all of that information is correct either.  As a DAR member, I know the database is not infallible, especially for Patriots proven early in the DAR history.  The standards of proof were not as rigorous as today.  The parentage of John and Anna Maria just got the big reset button.  The more I research, the more I uncover additional John/Jonas/Johannes/Jonathan Silvius’s in the same area leading to a lot of documents and thus conflicting conclusions.  My long term task will be to go back to Greensburg and pull everything for any male Silvius with the names John/Jonas/Johannes/Jonathan and start sorting.

Now for the great news!  This year I welcome the parents of Agness Snyder/Schneider to my family tree: John Snyder and Agnes Finkbeiner.  Agnes is my 3rd great grandmother and she was married to Nicholas Reefer (or Rëfer/Reifer/Riffer/Refert), my 3rd great grandfather!  The Reefer’s and Snyder’s have been a dead end for me for quite a few years.  However, using a brute force method of genealogy research (read all wills of all men with a certain last name in a county during time period to be parent of someone hoping to uncover a clue), I hit the jackpot!  I found a will for one John Snyder/Schneider in Westmoreland County, where Agnes & Nicholas were from, whose wife was Agnes and who had a married daughter Agnes Rifford.  While the spelling isn’t a 100% match to any of my “known” variants, it is close enough that I leaped on the find.  The more I dig, the more information I have uncovered.  At this time while I don’t have “the smoking gun”, I do have a lot of circumstantial information supporting this conclusion, but wouldn’t it be nice that with my next visit to the courthouse I could uncover definitive proof?

That’s my summary for last year’s big genealogy finds, what are yours?

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Off Topic .. Passwords & Security

Just a little off topic today, but I wanted to write about passwords and security.  We know we should change our passwords that protect everything from our computers, banking accounts, shopping accounts and all other password protected applications.  However, if you are like me, there are just too many rules to the different passwords, and who can remember them all anyway?  So, like many, I resorted to a little book that I keep near the computer where I have the list of websites and my passwords.  A big security no-no, but what else can you do?

For the past year I have been using a product called RoboForm to solve the password/security problem.  It is a relatively inexpensive program $9.95 for first year, then $19.95 (currently) thereafter.  RoboForm provides a way to create random passwords AND it remembers the passwords for the applications and websites.  Even better, it securely synchronizes with your cell phone, tablet and other computers, providing you with your account information on all of your devices!

Now, you only have one password to log into RoboForm.  If you lose or forget this password you are sunk .. you have been given fair warning.  The information is stored encrypted using computer magic and the password you initially pick.  We each picked one complicated, upper & lower case letters and numbers password and we only have to remember it, one funky password!  It truly makes life easier.  If you change a password for a website RoboForm prompts you to save the change, replacing the old credentials.

Initial usage of RoboForm takes a bit of getting used to.  It installs in the browser toolbar of your browser or can be launched as a stand alone program.  Think of this as a replacement for your favorite website list, and use it when you want to log into a secure site like, amazon.com, ancestry.com, or your email.  You need to save links for all of your favorites, just the ones that have password protected accounts.  Banking sites are a little more complicated, but you can add prompts to the stored information that RoboForm tracks for each website, so the secret questions and your answers can be recorded as well for future reference.

This has truly simplified my life and I have been able to get rid of the little password book I kept where I scribbled down all of the passwords for various websites.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with RoboForm, other than using their product.  I benefit in no way by your purchase.  I do not get a referral bonus or affiliate credit if you chose to purchase the product, nor any other form of compensation. 

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Civil War Pensions: The GenDetective Reports

Given my recent focus on Civil War pensions, I was asked how I figure out who served and who received pensions.  For me, preparing to research Civil War pensions at the National Archives is two step process.  The first step is to identify the people served in the Civil War and who received a pension, whether it was the soldier, his widow, or his minor children.  The second step is to assemble a list of soldiers who received pensions and identify which pensions I wish to pull for this trip.

To identify the men who served in the Civil War I start by running one of these reports found by navigating to:

  1. Reports by Task
  2. What information should I research?
  3. Possible military service
  4. Who served, did not or may have served in this war?  OR Who may have served in this war?
Who served, did not or may have served in this war?

Who served, did not or may have served in this war?

I prefer to use the “Who served, did not or may have served in this war?” report as it takes into account the research I have already conducted.  If someone has a check in the Served column I’ve already identified their service.  Since I am looking for additional people who may have a pension, I only need to conduct searches for men with a check in the May Have column (may have served).

After working through the list of men to identify (and record) additional service, I export my GEDCOM file again and re-analyze it in GenDetective.  When I record the initial service/unit information in my family tree, if I have found a pension card for the soldier or his dependents I add a prefix of PENS: to the unit information.

The next step is to identify the pensions I wish to pull at the National Archives.  I can do this by using the “Who served in this conflict?” report:

  1. Reports by Task
  2. Tell me about my family
  3. Military service
  4. Who served in this conflict?
Who served in this war?

Who served in this war?

Run the “Who served in this conflict?” report targeting the Civil War provides the list of Civil War veterans who I have identified served.   Working from this report I can quickly identify the soldiers who received pensions, and then which pensions I wish to pull at the National Archives.

Scanning the list for the PENS: prefix I can quickly scan the report to identify the soldiers who have a pension that I have not yet pulled.  Once I have the list of soldiers with pensions, I focus on the soldiers from families I am most interested in at the moment.  After my research trip to the NARA I remove the prefix from the Military Service entry when I am recording the pension information.  This little trick allows me to speed my trip planning.

May this series of posts on Civil War pensions encourage you to pull your own families Civil War pensions from the National Archives or locate a genealogist to pull the records for you.  If you wish to locate a professional genealogist, I recommend using the Association of Professional Genealogists website to find a genealogist in the Washington, DC area who will pull Civil War pensions for you.  Happy researching ..


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