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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 11/6/2003

Beyond the Index: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the importance of getting to the original record. (To view this article follow this link.)

This week we return to that theme and look at some additional situations where the original record or the complete record was an integral part of the problem-solving process. Sometimes not going to the original can create brick walls where none existed.

Census Transcriptions
— 1880 Census
Genealogists have two main online options for searching the 1880 census: the websites of the Family History Library and subscribers also can access the actual image of the census page. Viewing the actual record allows the genealogist to read the entire enumeration (which may include details not listed on the transcription) and to potentially interpret a number or a letter in a different way. My ancestor is enumerated in 1880 with her children and her second husband. Interestingly enough, a daughter is enumerated as a "son" on the actual census. This has been "corrected" in the transcription from the Family History Library. The actual census also indicates that three members of the household were suffering from the measles at the time of the enumeration—a fact that was not included in the transcription. These details would not have been discovered if the actual record had not been viewed.

— Other censuses
It is not just the 1880 census where the original should be viewed. It is all census transcriptions, regardless of the year and regardless of the compiler. Humans make mistakes. And a failure to locate your ancestor in a printed census compilation does not mean she is not actually enumerated in the census. The original should still be searched, either via microfilm or the images at Printed transcriptions are a great time saver when they allow us to find the desired individuals, but they are no substitute for the actual census. Readers of this column have seen numerous examples of "funny" spellings, "odd" handwriting, and other census irregularities.

I remember one family historian who insisted her census work was done when she could not locate her forebear in the printed version of a certain county's 1850 census. I told her she had not searched the actual census. She insisted she had, patted the census book on her desk, and shot me a condescending look. We were discussing genealogy over the lunch hour and as kept her hand on the book, she continued bemoaning the fact that she could not locate her ancestor and that she had "done the census." I looked out at the desks of her staff in the outer office. "The printed census is a transcription," I told her. "Do any of the receptionists in the outer office ever make a mistake when copying something? Maybe it happened with the census, too." She shot me a dirty look and never discussed genealogy again. But I had made my point.

Probate Papers
The 1870 era estate record for a Michael Trautvetter was a genealogical gold mine. Michael died without children, so his heirs were other family members. His probate packet included receipts signed by several individuals, including a few with the surname Trautvetter. The problem was that nowhere in the packet was there any information indicating how these individuals were related. Based upon the unusual nature of the surname, the ages of the individuals, and the relatively small population of the area, I assumed they were siblings. But I was not certain and making incorrect assumptions is another great way to build brick walls.

However, I knew that for the era of Michael's probate there should also be ledgers (bound volumes) maintained by the court with additional probate information. These books were referenced in the same Index to Estates which had taken me to Michael's probate packet. One of the probate ledger references to Michael's estate delineated the relationship amongst the heirs. Now I had it. Had I only used the probate packet, I would have missed the wonderful document that tied the family members together and that was my first break in tracing the family overseas.

The Whole Packet of Papers
It also pays to read through the entire packet of estate papers. The initial filing in one ancestor's probate indicates that a certain heir cannot be found. The final report from the administrator shows that the "missing" person had been listed in the will with a childhood nickname unknown to the administrator. Had I not read the entire file, I would have thought the ancestor had one more heir than she actually had and would have missed the reference to the nickname.

Other Printed Books
Chances are the book is not giving you the entire document either.

And did you figure out the reference before you sent the book back or put it away? It can be very tempting to make copies with the thought that "I'll figure it out when I get home. I just can't waste time her fussing over these references." Time "wasted" figuring out a reference while the book is still in your possession is always well spent. We'll look at one quick example.

The Deeds of Amherst County Virginia, 1761-1807 and Albemarle County, Virginia 1748-1763 (by the Reverend Bailey Fulton Davis, reprinted by Southern Historical, Easley, S.C.) provides the following reference on page 179.

"Page 88, 7 December 1778. Jno. McDaniel, AC, to Isaac Rucker, AC for 140 pounds, 100 acres. Lines: Anthony Rucker, Hugh Rose, Joshua Tinsley, Edwd. Tinsley, Ambrose and Susannah Rucker."

I better find out just where page 88 originally was before I return the book. I need to determine what "AC" stands for as well. Turning few pages in the book before page 179, I realize that on page 174 of the book, the extract from Amherst County Deed Book E begins. Page 88 refers to page 88 of Amherst County Deed Book E. This is an important reference should I wish to refer to the original deed. I'll have to keep my page references straight, as there are the page numbers in the compilation and page numbers in the original deed book. A further analysis indicates that "AC" stands for Amherst County. These references should all be handled while I still have the book in my possession.

Is There More on the Deed?
I have used these deed abstracts before and in some cases the references are sufficient to solve problems. The difficulty is when they do not. The deeds do contain more data than is in the book. Particularly, the precise metes and bounds description of the property is on the actual deed. There may be some genealogy problems where platting out ancestral properties over a period of time is necessary. While not a five-minute job, platting sometimes has to be done in order to understand a series of transactions and get a better view of the ancestral neighborhood. If I only used the published transcriptions I will never obtain that information.

If you don't go beyond the index or the transcription, you may never go beyond the brick wall that sits at the end of your pedigree chart.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2003, All rights reserved.

Used by the author on his website with permission




































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