Archive for October, 2013

October 30th, 2013

Records of the Civil Conservation Corps – A Treasure Trove of Depression Era Ancestors

After the stock market crash in 1929, several programs were initiated to help the country recover from the depression that followed. One such initiative was the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC), started in 1933. The corps was opened to young men of between 17 and 21 years of age, and eventually 45,000 CCC camps employing more than 500,000 men were established throughout the United States. These young men are credited with building bridges, tending to soil conservation, planting three billion trees, and many other essential tasks. In the camps they were assigned jobs and given lodging, and they were expected to send $25 to $30 of their monthly salary back home to their families.

Additionally the corpsmen restored historical structures, established and managed tree nurseries, built dams, stocked waterways with fish, and developed wildlife streams and trails. They built lodges, lookout towers, museums, fences, drinking fountains and wildlife shelters. They were an integral part of America’s infrastructure right up until the time the corps was abandoned at the outbreak of World War II, when funds were then directed towards the war effort. Many of the CCC’s young members went on to serve in the war.

Records from the Civil Conservation Corps abound, and clues to an ancestor’s involvement in the corps can be found in enrolment cards, obituaries, photographs, or family heirlooms. You may have to search the records of several camps to find information about your ancestor, but once located some of the records you will find are:

  • Enrolment Cards – Contain the name and address of the enrolee, camp’s name and address, date they began service, discharge date, and reason for discharge.
  • Narrative Reports
  • Correspondences – May contain letters to or from enrolees regarding their experiences in the corps.
  • Discharge Certificates – Contain date and place of birth, length of enrolment, age, occupation, eye color, hair color, complexion and height.
  • Manuals and Handbooks
  • Rosters
  • Station Lists – arranged by type of camp, camp location, and project information.
  • Photographs

Original camp records can be found at the Civilian Records Textual Archives at the National Archives, while a list of states and campsites within them can be browsed online at the Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni Website. Personnel files of the CCC are available by written request only at The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). As when you are requesting any records, make sure you give the NPRC as much information as you can about your ancestor including; full name, date of birth, place of birth, era you are researching, and any other pertinent information. The more data you can supply, the greater your chances of finding your ancestor’s records. Happy ancestor hunting!

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October 23rd, 2013

Picking Through Plantation Records to Find an Ancestor

Finding African American ancestors has its own particular set of challenges. Because of the nature of slavery, there are few records that can be used for tracing ancestors who may have been slaves. One set of valuable genealogical documents does exist however, and they are plantation records. Plantations were huge commercial operations, usually employing more than twenty five slaves, and often hundreds. The plantation managers organized their work force according to two different systems.

The first system was the task system, which assigned a daily quota of work to each slave. Upon reaching their quota, the worker was allowed to work for themselves, or to pursue recreational or leisure activities. The second was known as the gang system. In the gang system slaves were divided into groups or “gangs”, everyone working at the same job. The gangs were supervised by a person known as a “driver”; often another slave who was in turned supervised by an “overseer.”

The importance of knowing the names of the different systems lies in the fact that different types of plantations used different systems. Rice plantations incorporated the task system, while Tobacco plantations used the gang system. Cotton and Sugar plantations originally used the gang system, but in later years switched to the task system. Knowing what type of plantation your ancestor worked on will help you to understand the system they worked under, and consequently what types of record may be available to them.

The parts of plantation records that have actual genealogical value make up only a small portion of the documentation, but they do contain information that the researcher will find useful. Keep in mind that plantation records are business documents, and slaves were often itemized as inventory. Careful records were kept of items such as clothing and tools that were issued to slaves, and hence the names of the slaves who received them were recorded as well.

Plantation owners also kept daily journals, and often recorded the work that was performed or unfinished on a particular day. These records are very useful for any plantation that used the task system, as remember each individual was assigned a specific quota of work to complete. As property, slaves could also be mortgaged or rented, and sometimes they were insured. Owners were also taxed on each slave they owned, and as such owners kept careful records of such transactions.

Plantation records are also often the only place to find birth records of slaves. When a child was born to a slave it became the property of the plantation owner, and consequently another “item” to inventory. Age would be important if the owner ever chose to sell that child slave, and consequently a birth record would have been created to prove how old he or she was. Owners often kept records of their slaves as a family group, though normally only the mother was listed with her children. As such, male ancestors who were slaves are harder to track down.

Though plantation records may be hard to find, some have been microfilmed and are available at many research libraries. One such collection is the Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolutionary through the Civil War series. A Guide to the Microfilm Edition of these records is available online, and it also yields a ton of information on what you will find in them as well as brief summaries of the Plantation owners and the slaves listed in them. They are downloadable in PDF format, and are an excellent genealogical tool for anyone researching their African American ancestors.

Online Archive Canada hosts an online collection of the Sugar Plantation Records of the Hall Family of Jamaica that dates from 1709-1835, while Sankofa-gen Wiki features a constantly updated collection of free historical and genealogical data concerning American plantations, factories, farms, or manors that used African slave labor. It includes the names of slaves, and is organized by state, county, and plantation.

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October 16th, 2013

Ethnic Schools – Often Overlooked Archives of Family Facts

Schools that are devoted to educating a particular ethnic group can be very valuable archives of ancestral records. Although it may take some effort to locate the records we’re looking for, they are out there, and can tell us what other sources can’t. In some cases it may be even easier to locate info on our ancestor in these institutions. For instance, schools overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are excellent sources for those tracing their Native American Ancestry and their records are on par with those found in modern schools.

Most Native American school records are housed by the federal government, and are stored on microfilm at the National Archives. The office of Indian Affairs also compiled school censuses of Indian children at town and county level throughout the United States, though not in any consistent format. In addition to normal public schools, institutions such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania served as boarding schools for Native American children. This school operated form 1879 to 1918, one of its most famous students being the renowned and talented Olympian and Football legend.

Until the desegregation of schools in 1954, most districts in the southern United States ran separate schools for white and black students. The scholastic census records during that time featured separate lists for black and white students, often using different color paper for each. Those records may also be found on microfilm at the National Archives, though researchers should be aware that the different color paper is not detectable on microfilm, and the records itself does not always designate race. Ione of the best known schools for black students is the Tuskegee Institute founded by Booker T. Washington. Some of the records from that institution are available online at the website.

Universities and Colleges

Institutions of higher level are excellent sources of genealogical information compared to those of primary and elementary school level. College and University records document registration, admission, course of study, and graduation, and often school archivists compile biographies and histories of former students. The preserved admission forms that most institutions possess can reveal a wealth of family data.

Yearbooks are also a go-to genealogical source, as they can reveal the attendance of an individual and provide biographical information about them. You will usually find yearbooks in the possession of alumni associations or in college and university libraries; they are well worth ordering if you trace your ancestor to such an institution. Alumni directories also yield valuable data such as subsequent business addresses and work histories of former students. Many also include the names of children or spouses.

Institutions such as West Point can be an excellent source of military records and histories. Of course they will only contain information about Union soldiers, and Confederate records are notoriously hard to find. Oversees institutions such as Cambridge University in England should also not be overlooked, and databases for such institutions can be found at sites like Of course is a subscription site and I like to stick to free genealogy resources, but these records do provide valuable information such as birth date and place, names of parents and siblings, occupation, and notable achievements.

The bottom line is that these specialized records should not be overlooked; they contain valuable data that you might not find anywhere else. Most of them are easy to access, and many are free. In fact, they are some of the best places to begin a genealogical search for a hard to find ancestor.

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October 9th, 2013

Divorce Meccas That Might Reveal Your Ancestor

Divorce records are held by a number of different courts and associated archives. It depends on the country, state, province or county, and as such they can be difficult to locate. In the United States however, certain areas are known to have been Divorce Meccas; places that granted divorce with little or no hassle. Beginning your search in such areas may greatly reduce the amount of research and time you need to invest in finding divorce records, especially if searching ancestors from the 19th century.

Certain states, counties and colonies had reputations as easy palaces to get a divorce. Strict laws in one state led to people migrating to areas where they could easily obtain a divorce. One such area was Ashtabula County in Ohio. Its close proximity to New York, Pennsylvania, and Ontario in Canada led to it becoming a popular place to get a divorce. As such, it granted many divorces to people who weren’t residents of the state. Chicago was also popular, granting over 400 divorces in 1868 alone.

An early divorce Mecca surprisingly was the state of Utah, where lax laws, inexpensive court costs, and no residency requirement led to many travelling there for the proceedings. The state finally tightened its divorce laws when too many out-of-state applicants began to swamp the Utah legal infrastructure. Another area that rose to prominence in granting divorces was Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In 1890 the city was a major railroad hub, and the easy access, a residency requirement that allowed anyone resident in the state for more than 30 days to get a divorce, and an abundance of lawyers led many divorce seekers to flock there. An additional perk was that a defendant need not respond in order for a divorce to be granted.

Western states were particularly notorious for granting easy divorce. The divorce rate in such areas actually rose faster than in previously mentioned areas, even disregarding divorces granted to people who had migrated to them for the sole purpose of a divorce. The most common ground for divorce at that time was desertion, and many of those granted divorces were women who had left their husbands behind to migrate westwards. The majority of divorces though were filed by males, especially those whose wives did not join them on their journey west.

The extreme number of divorces granted in the late nineteenth century was very much responsible for the move to regulate and control divorce in later years. The good part for genealogists is that many records were created and the majority of been preserved. Below are the repositories for divorce records in each of the states and areas we’ve mentioned. They are a good source of genealogical data, especially for female ancestors who might otherwise be difficult to locate.

Ohio – Marriages were first recorded by Ohio county probate judges in 1797. A state-wide index of divorces was begun in 1949 and is maintained by the Department of Health in Columbus. Records can also be found in the original county courthouses, and many have been microfilmed.

Utah – Divorce records granted by the LDS Church between 1847 and 1852 are available only to descendants of the parties involved, and on a limited basis. Federal District Court divorces for cases between 1852 and 1896 have been put on microfilm and can be viewed at the Utah State Archives, or the US National Archives in Washington D.C.

South Dakota – Divorces in South Dakota have been under the jurisdiction of the county courts and must be obtained from the county for any divorce predating 1905. Divorce records from 1905 till present are kept at the South Dakota Department of Health in Pierre.

Nevada – County clerks un Nevada began recording marriages in 1860, and divorce cases were heard in the probate courts. The records may be found at the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City.

New Mexico – The Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe at the University of Mexico in Albuquerque have many records of marriage investigations spanning the years 1693-1846. They can be accessed at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives

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October 2nd, 2013

Be Sure to Backup that Valuable Data!

We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years accumulating our genealogical data. It would be a shame to see all of that hard work wiped out by a single computer or other hardware failure. I back up my research data regularly, and not just in one place! As easily as a main computer could crash, so could an external hard drive fail, so I use an online storage facility to save my work as well.

I am still using an Edge DiskGo as my primary backup source. I have had it for eight years now, and as modern technology goes, it’s quite the dinosaur! I bought my Edge in 2005, it has 75GB of storage space, and file transfer is fast and easy. The same company makes flash drives in 8, 16, and 32GB sizes, which has won the Silver Award by Of course there are many newer and more modern external drives that are faster and have more space, it doesn’t matter which one you use; just that you use one.

I backup my work manually, but there is also software such as TimeMachine for Mac, and if you have Windows 7 or Vista, you already have a fairly decent backup program on your computer. Windows XP also has a built in backup program, but I have heard horror stories about people trying to recover that data when they switch to an updated Windows program, so I can’t recommend using it. The great thing about automated programs is that you can just set it and forget it, and your backups occur regularly.

The fact is that a fire, flood, or other disaster can not only destroy your computer, but the external hard drive attached to it. It is somewhat risky to have only a single, physical backup, so I backup my data online as well. There are as many options for online backups as there are for physical ones, but sites like Mozy and CrashPlan are popular options for many genealogists. They are easy to use, though they are pricey compared to services like Amazon’s Glacier and S3. The Amazon services are effective, but very complicated to set up and use, so I can’t recommend them for the average user.

Dropbox is another effective program to use. It is very convenient, and I send copies of all of my documents to it. What’s more, it’s free! Basically Dropbox serves as a home for all of your documents and photos, as well as any other files, and it automatically displays on all of your computers and phones. Alternatively you can access your files on the Dropbox website. The only downside, if you can consider it one, is that whoever you want to share your files with needs to have Dropbox installed as well. The initial free version gives you 2.5GB of storage, but for $8.25 per month you can get 100GB of storage space.

Don’t forget flash drives as an option. They come in a variety of sizes, take up little space, and can be easily transported if you want to share your genealogy data with others. The key is to always have at least one backup, and to backup your work regularly.

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