Given Name(s) Last Name

From the Ancestry Daily News
Michael John Neill – 10/29/2003

Grandpa Would Be 100: Reviewing Your Files

There are many ways we can review our genealogical files. An occasional perusal of "old" information is a great way to catch errors, notice new leads, and follow up on items that somehow originally were missed by your genealogy radar. This week, we'll take a look at some old columns I have written with a particular focus.

The day this column originally runs would be my paternal grandfather's 100th birthday. Cecil Neill was born on 29 October 1903 near Stillwell in Hancock County, Illinois. Like many of his generation, he did not have a certificate registering his birth, even though the county had begun recording births nearly thirty years earlier. Half-Irish, his ancestry covers a wide area of the United States and a wide variety of resources have been used in researching his ancestry. In today's column, we look at a variety of older articles that have touched on his ancestry in some way shape or form.

Selective Service Records
In "Selective Service Records," we discussed how genealogists can obtain copies of American Selective Service records for their deceased ancestors. In order for me to obtain a copy of my grandfather's selective service record from the World War II era, it was necessary to include a copy of his death certificate. From this record, I received a copy of his registration card, which included birth information and his signature. This article can be found here.

Analyzing Pre-1850 Census Records
A four-part series analyzed pre-1850 census records for Pennsylvanian Thomas Chaney, one of my grandfather's ancestors. The largest difficulty with pre-1850 census records is that only heads of household are listed and other family members are enumerated in aggregate head counts only. This series of articles looks at Thomas Chaney's pre-1850 census records in some detail and includes links to the actual census images used.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Biography Analysis
Analyzing ancestral biographies from those old county histories can bring new research clues to the forefront. The difficulty with many of these biographies is that they contain much superfluous prose and they are not always written in purely chronological order. The article "Biography Analysis" presents an analysis of a Chaney cousin of my grandfather, taken from a "mug book" in the late nineteenth century.

Court Records
Court records are an excellent genealogical tool and have been very helpful in the search for my grandfather's ancestors. The article "Killing the Hogs and Threatening the Neighbors—Court Records Solve a Kentucky Problem" discusses how court records were used to prove a parentage in early nineteenth-century Kentucky, one of the many places and time periods where court records are particularly helpful.

Land Records
Most of my grandfather's ancestors were farmers, at least in the United States. I always try to use land records in these cases. The one potential problem is that every ancestor who was a farmer did not necessarily own land.

"Where Did the Farm Go?"

Get Wild: Using % and _ at the Bureau of Land Management Website

A more comprehensive listing of land articles from this column can be viewed here.

Family Traditions
In Analyze the Tradition several family traditions from my own family are discussed. Included is a story on my grandfather's grandfather Rampley, a Civil War veteran who supposedly met his wife and decided he would marry her before even talking to her. Looking closely at your own family traditions may cause you to see overlooked research opportunities. This article can be viewed in the Ancestry Daily News archives.

Women and Property
Like everyone else, half of my grandfather's ancestors were women. One ancestress was Sarah Turberville, who died in Orange County, Virginia, in the 1760s. Based upon her probate and other information, she is believed to have outlived four husbands. A series of previous articles discusses Sarah, her husbands, her children, and her estate in some detail. (Please make certain to read the entire series before sending any comments.)

"The Oft-Married Sarah," part I

"Rushing around to Figure Sarah Out, part II"

"The Reality of Sarah's Realty, part III"

Ancestral Signatures
For some genealogists there is no greater thrill than finding an original copy of an ancestor's signature. The article "In Their Own Hand" discusses several types of records where ancestral signatures may be obtained. Several of these examples are from my grandfather's ancestry, including records in Illinois, Maryland, and Virginia.

Off-Topic Articles
"Off topic Article Brings Results" discusses how an article unrelated to my actual research got my work on my Neill family jump-started. After getting my mind back on my own problem, I located the marriage bond for my grandfather's grandparents in New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1860s. An additional lesson here is that websites for state or provincial archives should always be referenced for their services, bibliographic materials, and online databases. And it never hurts to read an article you think "won't help." You never know when it just might cause something else to "click."

Census Problems
Many surnames in my grandfather's pedigree have few spelling variants and are relatively easy to search for in records. This can make research easier, but it can also make things more difficult when there are serious spelling or legibility problems. The best example is from the 1880 census. The township where Grandpa's Rampley relatives settled was also heavily settled by Germans, one of whom was the 1880 census enumerator. He did a great job with the German names, but the non-German names occasionally are listed in unusual ways. Grandpa's Rampley relatives are listed as Ramlei, Ramplei, and Rampley. In some cases, analyzing the first names was extremely important in order to locate the correct family. The 1880 images for various members of the Rampley family are viewable here. The article analyzing these entries can be found in the Ancestry Daily News archives.

Using the Library
We've mentioned the Ancestry Daily News archives several times in this article and readers are encouraged to take a look at previous writings from the Ancestry Daily News penned by all the columnists. There is a wealth of information, particularly articles discussing research methodology and online search techniques.

It is easy to use the library. Articles are classified by broad topics here.

If it is a specific article or topic for which you are searching, the Learning Section has a search box. This search box works best if you have a specific topic in mind or remember a key phrase from an article or its title.

Reviewing Your own Material
Consider using ancestral birthdays or anniversaries as a time to review your own genealogical files. You never know what leads and ideas may be sitting in your files, just waiting for you to rediscover them.

Copyright 2003, 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 email him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

Michael's other genealogy articles