Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 11/13/2002

Biography Analysis

NOTE: Images of the biography analyzed in this article appear at:

Biographies from "mug books" and published books are a great lead-in to other records and sources. Many research suggestions are fairly blunt and obvious. That is not always the case, though, and a biography may infer a variety of leads other than those items specifically spelled out. One way to make the most of the biography is to reorganize the information it contains.

I find it particularly helpful to create a chronology based upon items in the biography. The dates of some events are spelled out, some events have suggested dates and some events "happened" with no reference as to a time frame. Additionally, I create three other lists of events, based upon whether the event took place before the biography was written, at the time it was written, or after it was written. By the time I have created these four chronologies, I already have plenty of research ideas floating around in my mind.

Harry Cheney — Not That "Other" Harry
Harry's biography indicates he and his siblings are listed in their order of birth. For the purposes of creating a chronology, it is assumed Harry and his siblings were born every two years. These years are listed with a "ca." in front of them to indicate they are estimated dates. The years of birth for Jeannette and Abraham are calculated from information provided in the biography. All these years of birth are subject to error.


  • 1797 (calculated) Jeannette Evans born in Pennsylvania.
  • 1798 (calculated) Abraham Cheney born in Pennsylvania.
  • 1824 Abraham Cheney leaves Pennsylvania for Ohio.
  • Ca. 1830 John Cheney born.
  • Ca. 1832 Thomas Cheney born.
  • Ca. 1834 Amon Cheney born.
  • Ca. 1836 Talitha Cheney born.
  • Ca. 1838 Rebecca Cheney born.
  • Ca. 1840 Elizabeth Cheney born.
  • 1842 Harry Cheney born.
  • 1843 Abraham Cheney leaves Ohio for Sangamon County, Illinois.
  • Ca. 1845 Margaret Ellen Cheney born.
  • 1852 John Cheney leaves for Colusa, California.
  • 1870 Abraham Cheney leaves Sangamon County, Illinois for Taylorville, Illinois.
  • 1870 Harry Cheney begins farming.
  • 1875 Jeanette Evans Cheney dies.
  • Before 1877 Amon Cheney dies.
  • 1887 Abraham Cheney dies in Taylorville.

    I've got a good outline of the family and their migration. Such a listing helps me look for records in the appropriate places.

    Items Without Dates
    There are several things mentioned in the biography, without a specific date. These events are crucial to researching the family's history. Having an estimate of the dates of some of these events will also make searching other records easier. Of course, these dates should be entered into my genealogical database, using the biography as a source and using "before ca. 1893," "ca. 1893," and "after ca. 1893" as dates. The "ca." is used because while the book was published in 1893, the information might have been gathered a year or two before the book's publication. I also prefer to do this as the biography may turn out to be incorrect in some cases. If I list the biography as the source of these dates when entering them into my computer database, then I can more adequately analyze them if other records provide different information.

    Things That Happened Before The Book Was Published (1893)
  • Thomas Cheney died in Taylorville, Illinois.
  • Amon Cheney died at the age of 32, sometime before Abraham's death in 1887.
  • Talitha Cheney married Dr. W. J. Chamblain.
  • Talitha Cheney Chamblain died.
  • Dr. W. J. Chamblain died.
  • Rebecca Cheney married Alpheus Lewis.
  • Elizabeth Cheney marries J. R. Johnson.
  • Margaret Ellen Cheney married J. E. Bradley.
  • J. E. Bradley dies.

    Things That Apparently Happened After The Book Was Published (1893)
  • Harry Cheney died.
  • Thomas H. Cheney died.
  • Rebecca and Alpheus Lewis died.
  • Elizabeth and J.R. Johnson died.
  • Margaret Ellen Cheney Bradley died.

    Things That Were Happening As The Book Was Published
  • Thomas H. Cheney lived in Springfield, Illinois.
  • Harry Cheney lived near Taylorville, Illinois.
  • Rebecca and Alpheus Lewis lived in Roseville, Illinois.
  • Elizabeth and J. R. Johnson lived near Taylorville, Illinois.
  • Margaret Cheney Bradley lived in Springfield.

    Make A Copy To Highlight
    When performing the analysis, I found it helpful to use a highlighter to mark names and certain other items in the biography. Do not use this marker on your original copy. Make a working copy on which you can write and make notations. Some highlighters cause problems when copies are later made with the highlighter present. Highlighters are also not generally considered archivally safe materials.

    Now What?
    Armed with my analysis, I am better prepared to begin a search of additional records. The biography provides specific dates of death for Harry's parents. I would start by searching for both their obituaries and for a death certificate for Abraham. Jeanette died in 1875 two years before most Illinois counties began keeping death records. I could also search for a probate file for Abraham. Personally, I would wait to search land records until I had searched for Abraham's probate. If Abraham owned real estate upon his death (and it appears from the biography that he probably did), the inventory of his estate should provide a legal description of that property. This would allow me to determine the precise location and more effectively search land records.

    Census Work?
    I'll begin searching for this family in the following areas in the following census records. While doing this, I'll work with the most recent census and work my way back in time.

    Harry Cheney in the census
  • 1870, 1880 and 1900-19307#151;Christian County, Illinois near Taylorville.
  • 1850 and 1860 probably with parents in Sangamon County, Illinois.

    Abraham Cheney in the census
  • 1880 Christian County, Illinois—near Taylorville.
  • 1870 in either Christian County or Sangamon County, Illinois.
  • 1850 and 1860 Sangamon County, Illinois.
  • 1840 Coshocton County, Ohio.

    Illinois Death Certificate Index?
    A search on the Illinois State Death Certificate Index ( ), revealed a potential hit for this Harry Cheney. A man by that name died in Christian County, Illinois, in 1926, apparently at the age of seventy-nine. Obtaining a copy of this record should be high on my priority list.

    What Else?
    Frankly, I'm done making my list and am ready to research. I'll search the records I've already outlined and see what they tell me. Then, I can regroup and go from there. The records mentioned will provide me with enough information to begin my foray into additional materials. Without knowing what these records tell me, too much additional speculation about research procedures may be a waste of time.

    In Summary
    Do more with that biography of your ancestor than just read it and file it. That verbal sketch of your ancestor may be just the ticket to expand your research.


    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 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 2002, Inc.


  • Other genealogy articles by Michael John Neill

    Genealogy Section of Ebay

    ---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!