Forensic Genealogy, Burned Counties, Same Name Individuals and more: Tidbits from the #BYUFHGC
We have been at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy in Provo, Utah this week, learning about records, methodology, and discovery. Here some highlights.
Forensic Genealogy, Unclaimed Inheritances, and Missing Persons
In a fascinating class by forensic genealogist Michael McCormick, AG, I learned about the real world problems that paid, professional genealogists solve. Certified and accredited genealogists are freqeuently hired by attorneys who need legal problems solved. In fact, Michael pointed out that “forensic” in forensic genealogy doesn’t mean using DNA to solve genealogy problems (although a friend pointed out on Twitter that forensic genetics does include DNA testing). The work forensic simply means related to legal work – “belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of judicature or to public discussion and debate.” Michael said that forensic genealogists do work with legal implications and may use the same methods.
Forensic genealogists often work to locate next of kin for situations like an estate settlement, oil and gas companies searching for land owners of the land they want to drill on, real estate title and conveyance, military repatriation for servicemen and women who died overseas and need a proper burial, unclaimed persons who are deceased but unidentified or have no known family, returning belongings and important heirlooms such as purple heart medals, dual citizenship where ancestry is needed to apply, adoption cases, and cold cases such as the case of the unknown child on Titcanic.
Michael brought up the new website Family Tree Now which has been unpopular for listing people’s current addresses, but is helpful for forensic genealogists who are searching for next-of-kin. Are you interested in helping solve a case? Check out the Unclaimed Persons Database at ClaimUs.org.
The Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) is a professional business league dedicated to advancing public awareness and understanding. Visit their website to join or find a forensic genealogist who can serve as an expert witness.
Burned County Research
Julie Stoddard, AG, taught about record loss and replacement records in genealogy research. What can you do when you encounter a burned county (or any other type of record loss)? You can look for substitute jurisdictions, record types, and repositories. Julie, who is accredited in the mid-south region of the United States, knows from her research experience that when facing record loss, you often have to come up with a theory and then try to prove it disprove it using substitute records and indirect evidence.
Julie suggested starting with learning about the location – understand the history of the locality. Read county histories and learn about county boundary changes. Make sure you understand the exact time periods and types of records that were lost. There may be more records available than you know.
Julie gave many strategies for more effective research, including to formulate a research question and think about which documents would answer your research question. Going after specific records will help. If all those records are lost from the burned courthouse, start thinking of which records could be substituted.
Which records were recreated after a courthouse burned? Land records. When land records burned, landowners brought in their original copy of the deed and the courthouse land records were recreated.
If the courthouse burned, you can look for non-county records as substitutes – such as federal records (like military pensions or land grants), state records (state census, legislative papers), town records (school, militia, road records) and private records (family bibles, newspapers, business records, university manuscript collections).
Another important strategy to try when records have been lost is to research the friends, associates, and neighbors of your ancestors in federal census records and more. To read more about Julie’s tips for researching the FAN club, check out her blog post here: How to Do FAN Club Research via Best Steps Genealogy. Julie and my mom (Diana) studied together as they worked on accreditation.
Which Charles is Which? Separating Same Name Individuals
One of my favorite classes was by Melissa Finlay, She spoke about an individual named Charles Donohoo that she researched and submitted as part of the accreditation process. She showed us the how to separate which records belong to which man using “clue webs” or mind maps. It was so helpful to see her thought processes and methods.
Using military pension records, cemetery records, marriage records, and more, Melissa led us on a fascinating journey of discovery. Read more of Melissa’s tips at her website, Boundless Genealogy.
Misbegotten Children: Tracing Family Lines of the Illegitimate
Peggy Lauritzen, AG, spoke about a subject that she has read about and studied extensively: illegitimate children and the records that reveal information about them for genealogy. When I discovered that one of my ancestors was illegitimate, I studied as much as I could about it and also find the history of this fascinating. My ancestor, Sarah, was one of four illegitimate daughters of Ann Miller. The LDS church membership record for Sarah in 1856 in Swineshead, Lincolnshire, England, was one of only two records with her father’s name on it. Sarah’s mother and father lived in the same parish and never married. I assume he was the father of all four of her children (although I’ve only found records that show he was the father of two) and have always been curious about why they never married.
Peggy’s class gave me a lot of food for thought. She spoke about what to look for to know if a child was illegitimate – is the mother listed alone with the children? Are any children in the family extremely close in age, so that they could be raising an illegitimate child of a sister?
We learned in the class that the onus fell upon the midwife to ask the mother giving birth who the father was so he could be served a bond to take care of the child. If she refused to name the father, schools would not admit the child. The maternity hospitals and lying in hospitals would not admit the mother. The child would be barred from orphanages, no military commissions and priesthood (in England). It was imperative that the mother revealed the name of the father. Despite this, many mothers refused to name the father, or did not know the identity of the father (perhaps she was raped).
Misbegotten children were less likely to be baptized, as is the case with my ancestor Sarah. They are also more likely to be stillborn (because the mother was hiding the pregnancy) or the victim of infanticide.
To find the identity the father, look for all records around that time. Look at all the records surrounding that time. Research the men in the mother’s life. Could be an uncle, relative, etc. What road did she walk to go to town to the store – the father could be along that route. Analyze the child’s name – who could she be named after? To learn more expert tips for Peggy, check out her blog – Anxiously Engaged.
One day during lunch I spent some time in the conference vendor hall. My friend, Devon Lee, creator of Family History Fanatics and author, was there promoting her books. I purchased two of her books. One is a memoir of her time doing beauty pageants in Texas. I was privileged to preview and help edit one of the chapters and after reading that tidbit, I wanted to read more. Full of fun pictures and stories about her transformation from a headbanger to a beauty queen, “From Metal to Rhinestones” is captivating.
I also purchased her book, “A Recipe for Writing Family History.” I’m looking forward to following her steps to create my own memoir! (I don’t have any stories as tantalizing as her story of transformation, but hopefully I can write my stories in a way that will be just as interesting to my descendants.)
I’m so proud of my mom for earning her Accredited Genealogist credential, just two weeks ago! She taught 5 times at the BYU Conference and 2 times at the youth family history conference, making for a busy week.
I went to all seven of her lectures and learned so much. She chose a few of her most viewed blog posts as the subjects. The presentations she gave included:
Look at Your Family History in a Whole New Way: Mind Mapping (the blog post) and here are the slides: Mind Mapping Presentation. This was my personal favorite of her classes!
If you want to learn more about the research services Diana is offering, go here: Family Locket Genealogists.