NOTE: This blog was posted on 25 Nov 2023 on the Empowering Genealogists with Artificial Intelligence Facebook group. Since my blog two weeks ago on using AI to write a narrative, I’ve been getting a lot of questions and comments. I’ve been told that AI doesn’t work with some sites; I have found that to be not true. I have also found a temporary work around for footnote/endnote citations that look more like what genealogists use – simply provide this prompt: Please write all footnotes in Chicago format style. You will have to go back and fill in some info, like the enumeration district for censuses, but it will be closer to what we are used to seeing.
I was interested in seeing how a narrative summary with endnotes from various sources that had similar data would be written.
I used the same prompt: You are a professional genealogist and expert writer. Please write a narrative summary with endnotes from the attached file. (AI seems to place all sources at the end, whether you make the request as a footnote or endnote. This could be due to my requested writings being short.) The endnotes for the example below are funky looking because they are sources from sources, meaning the information that was being compared was the main source, like Ancestry.com, and not where the source cited in Ancestry.com came from.
Each request was made using a new message on ChatGPT.
The files I uploaded individually were:
Ancestry.com from Life Story with and without AI. AI selected “What was (region) like when (individual) was (event).”
FamilySearch.org Source/Detail and About
FamilyTreeMaker from Individual Report
LegacyFamilyTree from Other Reports>Individual Summary
MyHeritage.com side view of Family Tree for named individual
Roots Magic from Reports> Individual Summary
The information for all but FamilySearch.org was generated by me over the years. The data was always entered into Ancestry.com, then synched with RootsMagic and FamilyTreeMaker. A gedcom from Ancestry was uploaded to both LegacyFamilyTree and MyHeritage so no media is available on either of those sites. FamilySearch.org does include a minimal amount of information from me but most of the data was generated by family members.
I then gave ChatGPT the following prompt:
Today you are an expert data analysis and professional genealogist. Prioritize fidelity to the information below; dry recitation, avoid editorialization. Process the data sentence-by-sentence, from beginning to end. Extract this structured data: “Name”, “Relationship”, “Event Year and Location Baptism”, “Event Year and Location Marriage”, “Event Year and Location Children”, “Event Year and Location Death”. The response should have the header row in line 1: “Data From:”, “Name”, “Relationship”, “Baptism” “Marriage”, “Children Name & Birth Year”, “Death”. Column A should have the header row: “Ancestry.com With AI”, “Ancestry.com Without AI”, “FamilySearch About”, “FamilySearch Source & Detail”, “Family Tree Maker”, “Legacy Family Tree”, “MyHeritage.com”, “RootsMagic”. Enclose all cells or fields in quotation marks; omit, ignore, and avoid commas and other punctuation in the original data in your response in an attempt to keep the CSV error-free. Display dates in military format meaning day month spelled out and not by number and year. Display your response in a code window for easy copy-and-paste.
The results are attached above. I’ve color coded them to denote synch (pale green), gedcom (blue), not my own data (yellow).
Interesting how the diacritical marks are shown by Ancestry, Legacy, MyHeritage, and RootsMagic. FamilyTreeMaker omitted them. The apostrophe before and after August was originally quotation marks. Not sure if that is standardization issues or software/technical limitations.
I was surprised that Ancestry, which has the full location for events, simplifies to only provided county and state. The complete marriage location would be Baileytown, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana. I wondered why Westchester Township was omitted and discovered I had never entered that in any of my generated trees. I had mis-entered death location as Chesterton Township instead of Chesterton, Westchester Township. This is a nice way to enhance and correct your data. (Chesterton is actually in three townships but the events occurred in Westchester).
All of the sites had the names of children. FamilySearch provided the most information (child’s name and dates). Legacy and FamilyTreeMaker both named all children. Not sure why RootsMagic didn’t specify. And now we know MyHeritage considers six children as “several.” Personally, I’d call that a handful plus!
I can see another use for this when trying to figure out where online public trees vary from yours and what source info (if any) they might have. It’s also a nice clean timeline that takes little effort to create.
Next I decided to take the Excel info, re-enter it into ChatGPT and give the original narrative prompt again. Since every narrative had been slightly different I wondered what the final product with the full information available would be. (I should mention I did the first narrative a few weeks ago in RootsMagic and there were three hallucinations but the rest I did on Wednesday and there were none.) Here is the compiled narrative:
Samuel ‘August’ Samuelson was a pivotal figure in his family lineage, with his life journey documented across multiple genealogical platforms. Born on January 3, 1839, in Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden, Samuel was the son of Samuel Howard Erickson and Anna Elisabet ‘Lisa’ Torstensdotter. His baptism, a significant event in his early life, is consistently recorded in these sources, reaffirming the importance of his Swedish origins.
Samuel’s life took a significant turn when he married on February 17, 1871. While the exact location of his marriage varies slightly in records, ranging from Baileytown to Westchester Township in Porter, Indiana, it’s clear that this event marked his transition into family life in the United States.
The couple was blessed with several children, though the records differ in detailing their names and birth years. FamilySearch Source & Detail provides the most comprehensive list, including Johan Victor (1872-1921), John Louis (1873-1919), Alfrida (1874-1886), Ada Emilia (b. 1876), and two sons named Gustav Theodore (the first born in 1877 and died the same year, and the second born in 1879). This detail adds depth to our understanding of Samuel’s role as a father and the legacy he left behind.
Samuel’s life came to an end on January 14, 1908, in Chesterton, Porter, Indiana. The consistency of this date across multiple records emphasizes its accuracy and the end of an era in the Samuelson family history.
Baptism and Birth: Samuel’s baptism and birth details are consistently recorded across Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, FamilySearch Source & Detail, MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com (with and without AI), and RootsMagic.
Marriage: The date of marriage is consistently noted as February 17, 1871, but the location varies slightly, as recorded in different databases.
Children: The most detailed account of his children is provided by FamilySearch Source & Detail, with other databases offering varying levels of detail.
Death: Samuel’s death date is uniformly recorded as January 14, 1908, across all sources, with slight variations in the location’s specificity.
The answer is a definite maybe! Here’s what I did with one of my brick walls and Chat GPT. This story revolves around a stolen identity of John A. Long who served in the Union during the Civil War. After his death someone in Marion, Indiana assumed his identity and received a pension. The scammer resided in the Home for Disabled Veterans there and is buried in their cemetery. Interestingly, the man’s tombstone is for a John A. Long that served in New York. But no man by that name served in the regiment written on the tombstone. I asked ChatGPT for some help in solving this dilemma and here was the results:
Cross-Reference Census Records: Look for any John A. Longs or John Longs in the state where the scammer lived, especially around the time the identity was assumed. See if any disappear from the records or have inconsistencies in their details.
Local Newspapers: Scour local newspapers from that era for any mentions of John A. Long, especially in the context of veterans or obituaries. Sometimes these articles can provide clues not found elsewhere.
Military Records: Since he was buried near a home for disabled vets, there might be admission records or logs that could contain discrepancies or additional information.
Check Neighboring States: Given that he switched the infantry unit to New York, it might be worth checking records from neighboring states as well.
Land and Property Records: If he lived in a home for disabled vets, there might be land or property records that could provide more information or even list next of kin.
DNA Testing: This is a long shot, but if there are any living descendants who are curious enough, a DNA test could potentially link them to the scammer’s real family.
Consult Other Experts: Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one. Maybe consult with experts in Civil War history or forensic genealogy.
Legal Documents: Wills, marriage licenses, or other legal documents might have been altered or faked. These could contain mistakes that reveal his true identity.
Local Lore: Sometimes, stories get passed down that never make it into official records. Local historical societies or elderly residents might have stories or records that could provide clues.
All sound ideas but unfortunately, DNA wouldn’t be available as it looks like the man had no children. Supposedly had a wife in Michigan but no woman found with the name he provided on the intake form. Can’t find them in the 1880 US federal census either. I then mentioned there was a connection with the Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic in Michigan, California, and Indiana and asked AI for some out of the box ideas to find records. Here’s the response:
Wow, Lori, you’ve really dug deep into this mystery! 🕵️♀️ It’s like you’ve hit a genealogical brick wall made of steel. The Odd Fellows connection and the financial advisor being part of the Grand Army of the Republic are intriguing leads.
Given what you’ve already done, here are some more “out-of-the-box” ideas:
Fraternal Organizations: Since you suspect he was an Odd Fellow, have you tried reaching out to the current Odd Fellows organization? They might have historical archives that aren’t publicly available.
Medical Records: You mentioned he was admitted to a Disabled Vet Home and had dementia. While it’s a long shot, medical records might have additional information, like next of kin or previous addresses.
Railroad Employment Records: Many Civil War vets worked on the railroads. These records sometimes contain personal details and could be another avenue to explore.
Church Records: If he was religious, baptismal, marriage, or burial records from local churches might offer clues.
Military Buddies: The scammer had to get the details of John A. Long’s service from somewhere. Could he have known someone who served with the real John A. Long? Maybe look into the men who served in the same unit.
Pension Fraud Investigations: Given that he was scamming the pension system, were there any investigations into pension fraud at the time that might have records on him?
Check for Alias: Since he was so good at assuming identities, it’s possible he used more than one alias. Look for inconsistencies in other records that might indicate another assumed identity.
Foreign Records: It’s a stretch, but could he have immigrated from another country and assumed a new identity upon arrival? Immigration and naturalization records might be worth a look.
Consult a Criminal Historian: Someone specialized in the history of crime might have some unique perspectives or resources to offer.
Social Network Analysis: Map out the known associates like the financial advisor, and see if any patterns emerge that could lead to the scammer’s true identity.
All great ideas. If you’re stuck, try AI. Let me know if you solved your brick wall with their help.
Artificial Intelligence – AI – You either love it or fear it. I’ve just begun using it in my genealogy practice and I think you’ll find what I’ve discovered useful.
I just completed a 4-week class through the National Genealogical Society so I have many more tricks up my sleeve to save time and money. I’ll be sharing my personal discoveries over the next four weeks.
If you have RootsMagic, then you are aware that you can have the program write a narrative of your family members. Above is what it looks like for my husband’s second great-grandfather, Samuel Samuelson.
Short and not very sweet, right?! Lots of corrections are needed. Not a very entertaining story.
Instead of selecting narrative, I selected RootsMagic Reports>Individual Summary. It is a compilation of all the facts you’ve found about your ancestors. I’ve highlighted it below to stand out from my blog content:
Individual Summary 24 October 2023 1 Name: Samuel “August” Samuelson1–3 Sex: Male Father: Samuel Howard Erickson (1810-1890) Mother: Anna Elisabet “Lisa” Torstensdotter (1797-1868) Individual Facts Residence 1700–1882 (age 0–about 43) Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden4–10 Residence 1700–1882 (age 0–about 43) Lake; Porter, Indiana, USA11–12 Birth 3 Jan 1839 Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden13–57 Arrival 1851(about age 12) 37,51,58 Departure 10 May 1851(age 12) Östergötland23,35,49 Emigration 1852 (about age 13) Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA59–61 Residence 1860 (about age 21) Residence Post Office: Coffee Creek; Westchester, Porter, Indiana, USA14,26,40,53,55,57 Residence 1862 (about age 23) Calumet, Lake, Indiana62–64 MilSvc 16 Aug 1862 (age 23) Civil War 73rd Indiana Infantry Regiment19,31,45,65–67 Residence 28 May 1863 (age 24) Calumet, Lake, Indiana, USA68–70 Residence 1870 (about age 31) Westchester, Porter, Indiana, United States17,29,43 Arrival 1874 (about age 35) 24,36,50 Residence 1880 (about age 41) Westchester, Porter, Indiana, United States15,27,41 Residence 1900 (about age 61) Westchester Township (North Half), Porter, Indiana16,28,42 Occupation 13 Jan 1908 (age 69) Farmer; Chesterton, Porter, Indiana18–19,30–31,44–45 Death 14 Jan 1908 (age 69) Chesterton Township, Porter, Indiana18,20–22,30,32–34,44,46–48,71–76 Medical 14 Jan 1908 (age 69) Skull; Chesterton, Porter, Indiana18,30,44 Accident 15 Jan 1908 (age 69) Tribune, col. 3, p. 5.; South Bend, Indiana77–79 Accident 15 Jan 1908 (age 69) Tribune, col. 2-3, p. 10.; South Bend, Indiana80–82 Burial 16 Jan 1908 (age 69) Augsburg Lutheran Cemetery, Porter, Indiana18–19,21,30–31,33,44–45,47,83–88 Accident 16 Jan 1908 (age 69) Breeze, col. 1, p. 2.; Monroeville,Indiana89–91 Accident 24 Jan 1908 (age 69) Banner, col. 3, p. 2.; Bristol, Indiana92–94 Lawsuit 5 Mar 1908 (age 69) Argos Reflector, col. 6, p. 6.; Argos, Indiana95–97 Alt. Name A. Lifelong Republican19 Arrival Nordamerika23,35,49 Residence Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa36,50 Probate Porter, Indiana, USA73,76,98 Individual Summary 24 October 2023 2 Departure W. Harg37,51,58 Marriages/Children 1. Maria Svensdotter – Swanson (1849-1880) Marriage 10 Jan 1871(age 32) Her parent’s home, Baileytown, Porter, Indiana19,99–104 Marriage 17 Feb 1871(age 32) Her parent’s home, Baileytown, Porter, Indiana105–107 Children Johan Viktor “John Victor” Samuelson (1872-1921) John Louis “Louie” Samuelson (1873-1919) Alfrieda Frederika Samuelson (1874-1881) August Theodore “Gust” Samuelson (1877-1879) Gustaf Teodor “Gust” Samuelson (1879-1947) John Louis “Louie” Samuelson (1848-1919) Ada Emilia Samuelson (1876-1955) 2. Unknown spouse Children Ada Emilia Samuelson (1876-1955) Notes Notes: Samuel “August” Samuelson General: In the 1970’s,family members stated wife’s name was “Mary Swanson” . Samuel was a lifelong Republican.
The summary isn’t very easy to read, either. If you want to engage your family this certainly wouldn’t be the way to do it. Enter ChatGPT.
I did pay the $20.00/month with cancellation at any time for the 4.0 version to try out its capabilities. I understand that temporarily, the paid subscription isn’t available so keep checking back or use other AI (Claude or Bard).
All I did after opening the ChatGPT account (provide name, email, date of birth, cell number, sign on, and password) was to click on 4.0, use a credit card to pay for the month, and then copy the above Individual Summary and paste it in the chat box with the directions, “You are a professional genealogist and expert writer. Please write a narrative for the following:” In seconds, it was complete. But it was missing the sources so I replied, “Wonderful job! Please include source citations.” Seconds later, the finished product.
There were some errors, but they were easily corrected. I did control + c to copy it and placed it on Word by clicking control + v (paste). It was in a box so I right-clicked one of the box lines, went to home>borders, and removed it.
There were three errors. The first was the computer misreading from an authored work. It wrote that Samuel had emigrated at the age of 42 instead of 12. The article had mentioned he had spent 42 years in Indiana, not Sweden, explaining where the age came from. AI is not very good at math! The next error claimed that Samuel had once lived in Lake County, Indiana. He hadn’t but he did go there to enlist in the Civil War. Deleting Lake County was a quick fix. So the computer did what genealogists shouldn’t do – it assumes. Lastly, the article claimed Samuel had been involved in a lawsuit in Bristol, Indiana after his death. Nope, his children testified in a lawsuit that was brought by the family of a man who was killed in the train accident in which Samuel also died. The Bristol, Indiana newspaper reported it. This took a minute longer to correct.
I also wish it had elaborated more on Samuel’s Civil War experience as he was severely injured and then captured as a POW. I would have also liked more about the awful way he died and that his children were named. All items I can easily add. I understand why it didn’t add the war information as I have scanned in the NARA file to RootsMagic but that program can’t yet read handwriting or .jpg yet.
AI also does not put dates in the British military format that we typically use in genealogy so that was another update to make.
My biggest wish was for the source citations to be entered correctly. I gave ChapGPT that request. I plan to develop a template that I can easily fill in info going forward.
What was nice about this experience is not just that you have a quick biography of your ancestor but it will also help you clean up your saved facts. I had saved a naturalization record but it wasn’t for my Samuel. When I was fixing the sources I caught it and easily deleted it from both RootsMagic and Ancestry.com where RootsMagic had gotten it from. Hadn’t thought of using AI to clean my tree but it did accomplish that.
I’m not done with the bio but here’s what ChatGPT came up with. Let me know what you think – I appreciate your thoughts on this interesting new tool for genealogy:
Samuel “August” Samuelson’s life story is a testament to the enduring spirit of an immigrant who crossed continents and oceans to find a new home and build a future in the United States.
Born on 3 January 1839, in the picturesque village of Stora Haddebo, Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden.[i] Samuelson was the son of Samuel Howard Erickson and Anna Elisabet “Lisa” Torstensdotter.His early years were shaped by the serene landscapes of rural Sweden, where he spent the first decade of his life.[ii]
On 10 May 1851, at the tender age of 12, Samuelson’s life took a remarkable turn when he embarked on a journey to America. Leaving behind his familiar homeland, he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Chicago, Cook, Illinois, in 1852.[iii] It was a courageous step for a young boy, but it marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
Over the years, Samuelson’s path took him to various places in the United States, however, he made his home in Westchester, Porter, Indiana,[iv] His journey was not just one of geography but also one through time, as he lived through the tumultuous years of the American Civil War.
In August 1862, at the age of 23, Samuelson’s dedication to his adopted country led him to enlist in the 73rd Indiana Infantry Regiment, where he served bravely during the Civil War.[v] This commitment reflected his deep sense of loyalty to the land he had chosen as his own. ELABORATE
On 10 January 1871, at the age of 32, Samuelson took a significant step in his American journey by marrying Maria Svensdotter Swanson at her parent’s home in Baileytown, Porter, Indiana[vi] Together, they began building a family and welcomed several children into their lives. NAME CHILDREN
Samuelson served his community as a farmer and his political beliefs are reflected in his lifelong affiliation with the Republican Party.[vii]
Tragically, Samuelson’s life took a devastating turn on 14 January 1908, when he suffered a severe skull injury as his horse-drawn sleigh was hit by an incoming Pere Marquette Railway train.[viii] He passed away at the age of 69 in Chesterton Township, Porter, Indiana, leaving behind a grieving family and community. His final resting place is Augsburg Lutheran Cemetery in Porter, Indiana.[ix]
Throughout his life, Samuel “August” Samuelson encountered various challenges, including an accident that made headlines in newspapers like the South Bend Tribune, Chesterton Times, Monroeville Breeze, and the Bristol Banner. His descendants found themselves involved in a legal dispute in Argos, Indiana, in 1908, as documented in the Argos Reflector due to the railroad employee’s negligence. ELABORATE.
Despite these trials and tribulations, Samuelson’s legacy endures through historical records and documents, which provide a glimpse into his remarkable journey from Sweden to the United States, his service in the Civil War, and his life in Indiana. His story serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of immigrants who sought a better life in a new land, leaving an indelible mark on the history of their adopted country.
What do you think? Are you ready to give AI a try?
[i] “Sweden, Church Records, 1451-1943,” Västra Harg, Östergötland, Sweden, Samuel Samuelson, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, citing C:1, Fodde, 1797-1840, Roll IJ-532, p. 503.
[ii] Weston A. Goodspeed & Charles Blanchard, Editors. Counties of Porter and Lake, Indiana: Historical and Biographical: Historical and Biographical Illustrated. Chicago: F. A. Battey & Co, 1882 p. 310, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 306 of 770.
[iii] “Sweden, Emigrants Registered in Church Books, 1783-1991,” Samuel August Samuelsson Eriksson, 10 May 1851, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing p. 202.
Ibid. Goodspeed & Blanchard.
[iv] 1860 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, John Johnson (sic), Dwelling 277, Family 211, page 34 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 10 of 23, citing NARA Roll M653_289.
1870 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, Augt Samuelson (sic), dwelling/family 185, page 23 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 23 of 35, citing NARA Roll M593, RG29.
1880 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule,
Samuel Samuelson, Dwelling 253, Family 265, page 27 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 27 of 38, citing FHL microfilm 1254304.
1900 United States Federal Census, Westchester Township, Porter, Indiana, population schedule, Samuel Samuelson, Line 13, sheet 8 (handwritten), digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 15 of 26, citing NARA Roll T623.
Indiana State Board of Health, Death Certificate, Samuel August Samuelson, 14 January 1908, Record 193, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023, image 996 of 2808, citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Roll 9.
Findagrave.com, Samuel August Samuelson, (1839-1908), Memorial No. 2569980, citing Augsburg Lutheran Church Cemetery, Porter, Porter, Indiana, created by Laura Heckman. Photo by Angelo D. Angeles and Laura Heckman. Obituary and news article of accidental death by Steve Shook.
“American Civil War Soldiers,” Samuel Samuelson, 16 August 1862, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
“Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital database; Fold3.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
“Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] News, A Large Number of Cases Finally Disposed of, 29 May 1895, p. 6, c. 5, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal, Pensions for Veterans, 31 May 1895, p. 7, c. 3, digital image; GenealogyBank.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] News, Pensions for Indianians, 13 June 1900, p. 2, c. 5, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 1 November 2022.
The Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal, Pensions for Veterans, 23 July 1901, p. 7, c. 3, digital image; GenealogyBank: accessed 1 November 2022.
[vi] “Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941,” S. A. Samuelson, 11 February 1871, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing Porter County, Indiana, Marriage Record Volume 3, p. 572.
“Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” S. A. Samuelson, 10 January 1871 Marriage Registration, digital database; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing FHL microfilm 001686156.
[viii] The Argos [Indiana] Reflector, No Title – “Samuel Samuelson,” 5 March 1908, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021, p. 6, c. 6.
The South Bend [Indiana] Tribune, Two Killed at Crossing, 15 Jan 1908, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021, p. 10, c. 2-3.
The [Monroeville, Indiana] Breeze, Two Pioneers Killed by Train, 16 January 1908, p. 2, c. 1, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 202.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Two Lives Sacrificed on a Grave Crossing, 16 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 42, p. 1, c. 3-4, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Had a Premonition, 23 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 43, p. 1, c. 1, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Chesterton [Indiana] Tribune, Funerals, 23 January 1908, Vol. 24, N. 43, p. 4, c. 1, digital image; Findagrave.com: accessed 24 October 2023 posted by Steve Shook.
The Bristol [Indiana] Banner, Two Killed at Crossing, 24 January 1908, p. 2, c. 3, digital image; Newspapers.com: accessed 13 February 2021.
“Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999,” Samuel A. Samuelson, digital image; Ancestry.com: accessed 24 October 2023 citing Porter, Indiana Will Record Vol. C-E, 1891-1914.
Last week I mentioned I had gone Boots on the Ground to Mercer County, Ohio to try to uncover some family mysteries I had – where John Duer and the Landfairs were buried. Although I got closer, I hadn’t found the location yet.
I decided after spending the day in the library to stop by the courthouse to see if I could solve some other mysteries. The first was to try to pin down when Great Uncle Charlie Landfair left Mercer for Adams County, Indiana. He is my black sheep uncle and I am just intrigued with the things that man got away with. I am contemplating writing a book but I am far from extensive research for that.
I could tell by the looks on the 3 clerks’ faces how they felt when I showed up at 3:15 pm on a Friday afternoon asking for a divorce record I wasn’t sure existed for Charles and Rebecca Landfair sometime between 1885 and 1890. The clerks silently looked at each other so I volunteered that a crazy genealogist just had to show up late on a Friday afternoon, right?!
One clerk laughed and added that she was just getting ready to leave. That left two, neither of whom was excited about this task. The youngest got an old index from a backroom and began to look for a Landfair record. I was peeking over the counter and realized quickly she had the wrong volume. I knew this because I spied my great-grandmother’s name and the record I was searching for was 30 years earlier. I asked what years the volume contained and she told me to 1890. I then told her that wasn’t the right book. She turned to the front but no date was written. Ignoring me, she continued searching for the name.
The other clerk had heard me and asked how I knew it was the wrong volume. I replied my great-grandmother‘s name led me to believe this was a volume from about 1909. The second clerk told the younger clerk to go back and check the closet. Yep, here comes the correct volume, and Uncle Charlie was found quickly.
His name in the index was found quickly there was a new issue and that was no one wanted to go into the basement to retrieve the documents. From the numbers listed, it appeared that there were a lot of documents. I offered to leave my name, phone, and address in case they wanted to do this the following week but it seemed to me they never wanted to do this. I get it; if you aren’t a genealogist why in the world would you want to climb around a dusty dark basement to find a 130+-year-old piece of paper?
The second clerk informed the younger clerk where the documents would be in the basement and she reluctantly left. Meanwhile, the second clerk asked me why I wanted the documents.
I told her that, as a genealogist, I was fascinated with the man. I knew where his horses had been buried as he had special coffins made for them but he never bothered, as a physician, to fill out a death certificate for his second of four wives. He had gone to prison for malpractice but then been pardoned by a governor. He was a nasty alcoholic who happened to walk out of jail once and no one went after him, figuring it was safer to let him sleep it off wherever he went and bring him back in the following day. He claimed to have completed medical school in Cincinnati but even the state of Indiana felt that never occurred yet they continued to let him practice. And boy, did the townsfolks love him. He had a large and thriving practice.
By this time the young clerk had returned with no papers. She had a blank look on her face and kept repeating, “It’s a mess.” I assumed she meant the basement but it turned out she meant the court case. After repeating “It’s a mess,” several times she shook her head and said she’d have to give it to me at some later date. I then left my contact info.
As I left I asked if the courthouse held tax records between 1850-1860 as I wanted to find out when John Duer and family arrived. None of these records are online. I was told that microfilm was made years ago but they are held in Pennsylvania and no one can access them. The clerks told me to ask in another office.
I went downstairs and found the clerk with her head in her hands at her desk. I told her what I wanted and she asked why I needed the records. After explaining she said, “But they’re in the basement.” Here we go again…
She did agree to allow me to go down with her after obtaining the key from another room.
The basement was the neatest, cleanest basement I’ve ever been in! Metal shelves line the walls and down the center. There is adequate lighting. The maintenance man had a neat workroom there, too.
This clerk took me over to the north wall and pointed to a set of books marked Duplicates. She said they would contain a duplicate property record as the bill is due in April, say 1850, but the assessment was made in fall 1849. If the property was paid on time then it was denoted in the Duplicate books. She tugged at a volume, ripping part of the spine. I suggested we pull a volume out from the end of the shelf. Once it was out she told me she didn’t know how I was going to page through and I asked if I could take the volume to a table we had just passed. She hadn’t noticed it. We walked to the table, and she said, “Good luck” and quickly left.
I didn’t find the Duers but I found several other ancestors listed and took as many photos with my phone as I could before the battery died. I had taken way too many pictures that day at the library!
By the time I left the basement, she was not back in her office so I couldn’t thank her. What a treasure trove that basement was! I will definitely be back but next time I’m bringing hubby and a back up camera. So many ancestors, so little time.
And those divorce records…two weeks later I got a call that they found them but they couldn’t figure out how to copy them. I asked how they copy them for others and was told no one has ever asked for a copy before. I knew that wasn’t true as I had asked for my great-grandmother’s records several years ago. I suggested that they turn the book on the copier and get half a page at a time.
Later that day I got a call from another clerk in accounts who asked me for a credit card to charge my record request. I gladly gave her the numbers.
Keeping my fingers crossed that the documents arrive soon!
While I was in Celina, Ohio, as I mentioned last week, I found another hint about John Duer. I had blogged twice this year about my search for his final burial site.
A year ago in June, in a book in Allen County Public Library, (Editors. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions Volume VI. Celina, OH: Mercer Co. Chapter OH Genealogical Society, 1990, np.) I had discovered that he might lie in row 15 of Kessler Cemetery in Ohio. The transcription simply noted “John Duer, unreadable.”
Kessler’s trustee had years ago sent me a copy of their records but row 15 was missing. Both of John’s wives were buried at Kessler, along with some of his children, so it seemed logical that the book was noting his burial location.
My husband and I went out to the cemetery in March and found what we thought might be his grave but it wasn’t in row 15. The rows are not straight so it might have been, depending on how someone counted from the newer section. I thought it looked more like 14 but there was no stone in what I considered 15 so I could see how someone might interpret the rows differently. I was overjoyed anyway with the find.
Except, it wasn’t John’s burial place. When we returned in May with cleaning supplies it became apparent that it was for a child with the same name and who just happened to die the same year my John did. Sigh.
At the Mercer County Public Library, I found another book, and this transcription was clear about what was recorded on the stone in row 15. That stone is no longer standing in Kessler. You can see the top pic of the page.
What had me totally floored is that this book has the exact same title page as the one I found in the Allen County Public Library but the contents of the book differ. One must have been updated but it doesn’t note that anywhere in the volume I found in Celina. Here’s what the page looks like for the volume in Allen County Public Library:
At this point, I decided to call it a day at the library and I headed for the courthouse.
Meanwhile, this wish remains, too, but with every find I get closer to solving this mystery.
Next week I begin my Creepy October series. By the time that concludes I can’t wait to share my courthouse experience AND the weirdest identity theft I uncovered from 1891. Stay tuned.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much in the Celina, Mercer, Ohio library. I spoke with one of the librarians in August and she mentioned that the collection was held in a small room, the local volunteer didn’t come to help out researchers anymore, and there had been no response from the local historical museum contact in the past year so no information on the contents of that museum was available. Not very promising information to hear and besides, the location was 1 ½ hours from my home. Still, I’ve always wanted to visit as my paternal lines were in Mercer County from the 1840s through the 1940s so I hoped that some secrets would be given up.
Hubby was off on a trip of his own so I decided to take the day to research. I wasn’t sure how long I would spend at the library and depending on what I found, I might also visit the courthouse. This was the courthouse I contacted years ago when I was searching for a divorce record for a great-grandmother. It took me 9 months to get them to send me the record and it was only after, at Christmas time, I had sent a reminder email that I had been a good genealogist all year and all I wanted for Christmas was the record. I finally received it.
I had planned to arrive at the library when they opened at 9 AM but my crazy GPS took me to a lake, instead. It was a beautiful lake but definitely wasn’t going to help me locate records so I pulled out my phone and used an alternative GPS to find the library, about 10 minutes away.
I was amazed at the wealth of the information that I discovered! Some kind soul had compiled an obituary collection of 3 x 5” cards and they were stored in the old wooden card drawers. Remember those? Arranged in alpha order by author, title, and subject. What I found was surprising as I had looked for the burial location of John Duer and Peter and Catherine Lanpher/Landfair for years and wasn’t able to find it. The obituary card listed an obit for Catherine. Wow! But there was a problem – it listed no source. So whoever typed the card likely had found one once but where did it now reside? I looked through every piece of paper in the file cabinet by surname. Scanned each shelf book by book looking for a cemetery book, church record, death index, and family genealogy – nothing was found for Catherine.
I went to look for a librarian to see if they knew what the sources for the obit cards were and was told they came from a newspaper that was on microfilm. The librarian set it up for me but alas, going forward 4 weeks for this weekly local paper, no obit appeared. The obit did not list a cemetery, which was the main interest, but I also was interested in seeing if the obit had other information that might have been left out of the card. Struck out again but I know that somewhere out there one resides and so this item remains on my wish list.
Like me, you probably have spent years searching for a document to prove an identity or relationship.
Perhaps you were looking for proof of where an individual lived between census years.
Maybe you are trying to pinpoint when a family relocated to another area.
You’ve searched high and low and after checking the regular recommendations, went as far as boots on the ground. Then you began looking in unlikely places with the hope that just maybe the record you seek will appear.
Geez, I’ve even talked to pictures of the deceased based on author and genealogist Henry Z. Jones Jr.’s books that seemed to work for some genealogists.
This year I have discovered several documents that shed light on my husband and my ancestors and I’m going to spend the next few blog posts discussing how I FINALLY have gotten closer to finding what I was looking for.
I’m beginning this series with the most unusual way I located my husband’s maternal grandmother’s family’s school records. I never saw this one coming.
Back in 2014, I began looking for Elsie’s school records because I had acquired her 8th-grade exams and certificates for school attendance and I was writing a book about her husband’s line, Perseverance Amidst Adversity.
I was living in Florida and contacted Crown Point, Indiana, the county seat of Lake County, to try to locate Elsie’s enrollment records because the family changed the spelling of their last name and I wanted to see when it evolved from Johannesson to Johnson. I was told the records were never received from Gary.
I tried calling Gary but never got a response. Their main library had been shut down for lack of funding and the messages I left at a school district office were never returned.
Looking over the documents again I realized that the program for the 8th grade graduation that I had obtained from a relative stated Elsie resided in Miller, which was an unincorporated area in 1910 when she was in school. The diploma, however, stated she was attending school in Hobart, a town southeast of Miller. I called Hobart and was told that the records had been turned over to Gary when Miller became a part of Gary in 1919. This is a good reminder that boundaries change while the person of interest never moved.
I then tried contacting the county’s library and museums. No one had the record. Next, I tried the Indiana State Archives (ISA) which is supposed to keep records for schools that are no longer in existence, IF the school district has also ceased to exist. Elsie had attended a one-room schoolhouse, long gone. ISA also keeps records for districts that are or were unable to maintain the records. They had nothing.
Obviously, I had first tried all the usual online sources and even some smaller ones, like Genweb and at that time, Rootsweb. Nothing.
So, imagine my surprise one day when I was walking through the New England Genealogical and Biographical Society in Boston and decided to look at the Indiana shelf. There was a transcription of Lake County, Indiana school records and there was an Elsie, just not mine. To be honest, I was surprised that there were two Elsie Johnsons, close in age, in the same small school district but I shouldn’t have been because Johnson is not an uncommon surname. Elsie’s record I found listed her father, who had enrolled her, along with the enrollment date. She was a few years older than my Elsie.
In 2020 I created a lecture on the importance of school records and one of my slides shows the record for “Elsie that is not related” to my husband. I include it as I reminder to attendees how there is often more than one person at the same time in the same place with the same name. I also add that I’m hopeful that one day, I’ll find the records I seek, even though I’ve been told they don’t exist.
Hope is a beautiful thing and doesn’t just work for Pandora! I never give up hope of breaking through brick walls and finding other records that will enrich the lives of my ancestors.
Earlier this year I wrote a journal article for the Indiana Genealogist on the importance of school records that was published September 1. In the article, I mention the Boston find and my hope that one day I’ll locate Elsie’s records.
This article was read by Lynn Jackson, a librarian at the Lake County Public Library. It is the same library where I began my genealogical journey in the late 1960s.
Lynn realized that the library was in the process of scanning the enrollment records for Indiana University North West. She did not find Elsie’s page, however, she did find the school enumeration records for Elsie’s half-siblings and a sister. I could not believe it!
First, I had never had someone read a journal article I wrote and took the time to search for a missing record I noted. My appreciation for this kind, knowledgeable librarian is immense! Give this lady a raise!
Second, I’m kicking myself as I had reached out to IU NW years ago, but I never asked about school records. I asked about city directories as I mentioned in another lecture on interviewing how I never clarified my grandmother’s response about where the family first lived when they moved to Gary. My grandmother responded on the corner of Washington and Ridge Road. It hadn’t dawned on me to ask which corner; obviously, there are 4 and it was between census years. I had contacted IU NW for city directories they hold but it wasn’t for the years I needed.
Thirdly, I’d like to remind you that you must reach out again to archives to verify that they don’t have the information. Perhaps they acquired what you needed after you had first checked or, like me with a past blog about mysterious John Duer, a more knowledgeable staff member will look and find the record in an unlikely place. Lynn recommended I reach out to them to see if they have further information on Elsie which is a wonderful idea.
The enumeration record found does show that Johnson was used for the family when Elsie’s older sister by one year began her school career. Yes, the information is limited but there is so much to discover even when data is not exactly what you are looking for.
The moral of the story, look everywhere, make contacts far and wide, and write a journal article. Who would have thought that?!
Was watching the news and saw a drone image of the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Pete., Florida after Hurricane Idalia went through. Looks like my old stomping grounds flooded again.
The photo above is me with our dog, Misty. The flood was unexpected and not due to a hurricane, though hurricane season had begun. It was the result of heavy rainfall and a high tide. Luckily, the water stopped before entering our home.
We weren’t so fortunate three years later when Hurricane Elena decided to sit offshore for two days. We lost all furniture (shown above) except for the crib, which was on high casters, and our kitchen table and chairs which were made of solid wood. Every appliance was shot – refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer, water heater, and air conditioner. All the flooring had to be replaced. So were the baseboards and lower part of the wallboard. That meant walls that had wallpaper had to be all redone and other walls needed to be repainted. A window had broken when a branch hit it, letting water in, and slashing the drapes. The wind whipped through the house and knocked mirrors and pictures off the walls. We had no phone or electricity for 3 weeks as we had to let the lines dry out. I don’t even like to think about the yard cleanup – dead fish, snakes, and insects hiding under the sea grass, branches, and assorted debris blown in from who knows where.
The pic below is from a different storm, Hurricane Frances. By then we had moved to Tarpon Springs. Our home was spared but a large branch of an old oak in our backyard wiped out our neighbor’s fence as it fell. Insurance didn’t cover it so we took turns with the chainsaw to cut it up, and lug it to the front, for the city to pick up. They weren’t really happy about it, either.
My heart goes out to those who are rebuilding once again. As I mentioned above with Elena, Idalia didn’t even make landfall in the Tampa Bay area but it caused widespread damage there. That area is overdue for a 100-year storm which makes the likelihood of another disaster on the horizon increase.
I’m not trying to invoke fear; I’m trying to point out that one day the big one will arrive.
If you don’t live in Florida don’t get a smirk and think this doesn’t apply to you because it unfortunately does – fires, floods, tornadoes, derechos, hail storms, snow storms, and the list goes on, can affect you wherever you reside.
If you haven’t already planned for preserving your records you must make that your priority.
I’ve blogged about it previously and now would be a good time to review that.
In an emergency, you aren’t likely going to have time to collect and save all your items. Sometimes, all you can do is grab your keys, wallet, and phone.
Rebuilding after a loss is stressful, exhausting, and mentally painful. There’s so much to do it’s hard to know where to begin. Genealogy is not going to be your priority.
Now is the time to make sure your genealogy collection is preserved.
Sure, things can be replaced but your lifelong work of collecting photos and records would be lost. Take the time NOW to digitize. From someone who has experienced too many hurricanes to county, you’ll be thankful.
I’m not sure if it is my location or if you, too, are experiencing difficulty in finding local archives open for use.
I blogged last year about my problem in locating someone who has a key to unlock a mausoleum where one of my husband’s great uncle is buried. I have yet to find a way inside.
I’ve tried to visit two local museums but they, too, are always closed. One has been under renovation since before the pandemic. No response when I sent a few messages on Facebook requesting information about their holdings. Another claims to be open between Memorial and Labor Day but it hasn’t been. There is a sign on the door that provides an email and a phone number for more info. The email is non-deliverable and the phone doesn’t allow for messages. I have repeatedly stopped by; a few weeks ago, a person was leaving the building as I drove up. I asked how I could arrange a time to visit and was given a different email to make a request. It happened to be a member’s work email. This individual said they would also email the member to let them know how I obtained their email address. Never got a reply. I got a tip last month that a group uses the basement weekly so I showed up and found the door open. A woman was at the entryway and I asked for information on the museum. Was told she didn’t have any. Asked for a particular individual I was told would be at the site that evening. She didn’t respond but the man did hear his name and came from an adjoining room. His story is that my email doesn’t work and couldn’t explain why he hadn’t tried the phone number I had also provided which is local. Claimed he’d contact me and would arrange for me to come and look at the archives. Still waiting.
Last week I blogged about visiting the Wells County Public Library. I tried to contact their historical museum to arrange a day/time I could visit as I’m trying to gain more info about my Great Uncle Charles Landfair. Their website directs folks to send a message through Facebook. No response.
Last summer I visited a small museum in Mercer County, Ohio. The docent recommended that I call and schedule a time to meet with a more knowledgeable area historian. The number is out of service. No one responds to the website form filler request for information.
If you are a long-time reader you know I do not give up easily. So, after a while, I try again. After a few more days I reached out to the local library; the response is usually, “Good luck with that.” They have no additional information. I then contact the Chamber of Commerce. They often don’t have any information, either.
Yes, this is frustrating but there is a bigger concern than poor Lori not finding records. What is happening to these small communities’ history? Without access, the stories of the past are being erased.
Sure, the pandemic took a toll on all of us. Membership declined. Folks got used to staying at home and haven’t got back into volunteering. Younger people weren’t always welcomed into historical groups. Many of them are too busy raising families and working to get involved.
We shouldn’t be letting roadblocks become dead ends!
Reactivating historical organizations and societies is vitally important. If the area has little interest in stepping up, then the archive holdings should be transferred to an organization that is willing to preserve the artifacts.
I know firsthand how hard it is to let go. Last year when I relocated and downsized I had no room for my family’s heirlooms. They have been passed on to family members who can use and enjoy them. I know that giving them to the next generation was wise as they are in good hands. Museums need to do the same if they do not have support to maintain the collections.
You learn a lot when you attend a genealogy event but I had no idea that I was going to learn something that changed my understanding of a situation that personally happened to me in childhood.
Recently I served as a Summer Judge Assistant for our local 4-H organization in the Genealogy category. I was in both Girl Scouts and 4-H in my youth but in neither organization did I participate in any genealogy badges or projects.
My parents were divorced so my mom was my Assistant Girl Scout Leader for my Brownie Troop 345 and my step-mother was a 4-H Leader.
In 4-H, I participated in the sewing category at the Porter County, Indiana Fair in the mid-1960s. I can’t recall exactly what the item was; I think I sewed an apron but that might be wrong. What I strongly recall is that I received a Blue Ribbon.
Over the years the item I sewed and the ribbon has been lost but I remember receiving the ribbon. I was proud of earning that award.
Imagine my surprise when I just discovered that EVERYONE who enters a project on time receives a blue ribbon. Um, this seriously burst my bubble! My family thinks this is hysterical.
Now I’m not even sure that my item was entered at the Fair, which I didn’t attend. The ribbons are awarded by a judge at a pre-fair event, which is what I assisted with. My now local Fair is not until September. The items will then be brought back for the Fair display. I now suspect that I didn’t have visitation on the day that the item was to be judged so my step-mother must have just submitted it on my behalf. Since I never spoke with a judge it didn’t go to the Fair. Sigh. At 9 years old I would have had no understanding of the rules or the ability to get myself to the judging event alone.
This brings up something we must all think about. When we are recording our memories, even those we personally experienced and didn’t just hear about, we must keep in mind that we didn’t have the full understanding of the situation as a child. When looking through an adult perspective the events are colored. Compound that with remoteness to the event and like me, not really remembering what I sewed, the event becomes less historically accurate.
Think of how that impacts the oral history that has been passed down to you. Yes, there is truth in it but it is likely not the whole truth.