Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 17 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 September 14, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss finding those hidden gems. Most of the time we are really aren't looking for them, but we need to appreciate them when we find them. You never know when you will find a hidden gem that will open up another avenue for research.
As always, I enjoy hearing your comments.
James L. Douthat
HIDDEN GEMS In our genealogical research we find those little known hidden gems that shed light on our ancestors that we may or may not want to know. These gems make the lives of those ancestors come alive with reality, and we find they are just like us in so many ways. I have found most of them in the census, believe it or not. You will find most of them in the original version of the census and not usually in a transcription. The gems are little notes tucked inside the abstracted facts. Here are some of the examples I’ve found.
In the 1850 Marion County, Tennessee I was transcribing years ago, I noticed that all along the way there were added notes like “B” or “M” by most of the names. I had never run across this before. I guess I was about half way finished with the transcription when I found one that said “Bapt.”. It was then that the letters made sense. The clerk was making a statement about the religious preference of each of the families. There were the usual Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian. In the latter portion of the census were a couple of R.C. which I assumed were the Roman Catholics in the town. There was a Roman Catholic Church in the middle of town of South Pittsburg, and it still is there. This little tidbit may not make or break your research, but it does add a little insight as to where some of the names in the family might come from in the past. Certainly if a child is named “John Wesley” or “Asbury,” then knowing that these folks are Methodist helps to determine the origin of the name. Just one of those little hidden gems in research.
If a name is fairly common in a county, the various census records will help to establish if there are various spellings of a certain name. You might have my wife’s last name of “KELL” and in Warren County, Tennessee you will find the names of Kell, Keil, Kele, Kill, etc. all within one census. Each of these spellings were used and in some cases they are one family and in other cases various families. This really makes the research difficult, but really rewarding when you find the key to the answers. A double letter in the surname gives many different spellings for that name. With Kennedy you can find Kenedy, Kinney, Kinedy, etc. Those who transcribed the census originally wrote down what they hear spoken to them at the time. In most cases, the clerk did not know the family and the family did not know the spellings in the first place. In most of the census after the 1850, there is a block to indicate if the individual could read and write and in what language. Make a note of these little hidden gems right there.
Sad to say, some of the census records tell a story we don’t want to hear. I just finished reading one from Virginia where a lady age 58 had two daughters ages 21 and 23. Nothing special about this, but then there were two children born within three months of each other all in this group by the same surname. Now the real story behind all of this was one of the daughters was listed as “idiotic”. I know that the clerks called a spade a spade in those days, but this was a value judgment that may or may not have been accurate. The note is there nonetheless.
It is not just the census records were we find these diamonds in the rough. Years ago, I was researching my family in one of the Shenandoah Valley counties and found a deed record where the parties had to sign off on the property. The ancestor signed his name which he should have done since he could read and write. The clerk, however, wrote in the margin a very tell-tale note, “He signs in English, but in German his name is - - - -“. Many in the family insisted this was not true and the family was pure English. These family members did not want to admit that the family was German during World War I and II. We know nothing of this family prior to this man that signed in English.
While in the Shenandoah Valley, I was working on another family, and the clerk let me down into the basement of the courthouse to look at the original marriage bonds. Tucked inside the records of a sister of the ancestor was a note from her guardian. We knew all three were orphaned out early in the 1770s. The guardian wrote, “I have known her since birth to be the daughter of - - - -“. This is the only clue to the ancestor of these three children born to this man.
The little gems are there but you have to look at the original records to find them. Cherish them as they are nuggets of gold for they tell stories are found nowhere else in the records.
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