Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Visualizing Ancestral Origins in Color

So it all started with one of those silly Facebook quizzes.

You know, the ones where you copy and paste what the first person wrote, but fill in your own information. Except, this time it had to do with family information; so it caught my eye!

I was born in _____.
My mother was born in _____.
Her mother was born in _____.
Her father was born in _____.
My father was born in _____.
His mother was born in _____.
His father was born in _____.
I live in_____.

It's simple enough, right? A few of my genealogist friends shared it, and I was *this close* to filling it out myself when I thought, "Mine will be so boring!" Mine would say Virginia for everyone!

But then I got to thinking, what if I could create a visual that showed the various places of origin for my ancestors...in color!? Instead of colors for each state - since my ancestors are nearly entirely from Virginia into the 1700s - I figured I could focus on specific counties and cities in Virginia.

I searched the internet for a free simple family tree template until I found one that I liked. I settled on one particular chart because the boxes were blank and it allowed for 7 generations including a box for me. I downloaded the free chart as a pdf, took a screenshot to turn it into a jpg, and cropped the image.

I still didn't know how to fill in the blanks, though! Then I remembered that I have the Paint 3D app on my Dell. Using this program, I tried to color each box until I realized that would be a pain...and then discovered the fill tool. This allowed me - with a click of a button - to fill an entire box at once. Super easy!

I chose a color for each county my ancestors were born in, along with a few other states (Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York) and Germany. 

Here is my color key:
Virginia Counties & Cities

Richmond City - blue
Powhatan - yellow
Dinwiddie - light blue
Norfolk City - green
Petersburg City; Prince George - orange
Halifax; Pittsylvania; Mecklenburg - purple
Charles City County - red
Chesterfield - dark red-brown
Brunswick - lime green
Lynchburg City; Nelson; Franklin - pink
Essex; King William - light grey
Cumberland - gold
Louisa - light red

Other localities & situations
Indiana - brown
Pennsylvania; New York - light brown
Germany - teal
Unsure of origin but known ancestors - tan
Brick wall/unknown ancestors - black

For my Indiana ancestors, some of their parents were from Pennsylvania and New York, but I didn't want to struggle finding a distinct enough color for only two people. There are also situations that needed to be specified - the unknown situations. For a few ancestors, I know their names but I have no direct evidence of where they were born (only where they lived). For two ancestors, I have yet to identify them for certain, so for now they are brick wall ancestors.

But wouldn't all of that look cool in one visual just for the State of Virginia?

How cool is that!? 

You'll notice that I used the same color for a few places. This was for two reasons. Two locations (Essex County and King William County) had only one ancestor born there. In the case of a maternal great-grandmother's side, Petersburg City and Prince George County, I thought it would be easier to keep them together. The same applied to Halifax, Mecklenburg, and Pittsylvania counties. My ancestors from those counties seemed to bounce back and forth between all three. The blank Virginia map that I used can be found here

But does this help any? Does this serve any real purpose - I mean, besides being cool!?

I think so, yes! It's not only a visually appealing tool to visualize my ancestral origins, it's also helpful to see trends and unexplained anomalies in my ancestry. 

Here are some examples:

The counties and city in pink are the origins of an ancestor who met a man who was studying at law school. Other counties, like those in light grey and light red are anomalies - they're outliers that I have yet to explain. How did those ancestors meet their spouses several counties over? I still don't know!

It also gives me a visual of trends in my family. While many of my ancestors stayed put for quite a while - most of them actually - some did migrate, to the East! My ancestors' westward migration must have occurred prior to the late 1700s because the trend in the mid 1800s was to move northeast closer to Richmond. 

One last thing I noticed - I'm much more from Halifax County (with a few ancestors passing through Pittsylvania and Mecklenburg) than I ever gave credit for! One quarter to be precise! I always knew that I had two great-grandfathers from Halifax (and they're somehow not related - that I can find so far!) but I had yet to have a visual to see it all laid out until now.

What had all begun as a passing glance at a few Facebook posts turned into a super helpful genealogical tool! I now have reason to research a few of my ancestors more specifically. I can also more confidently speak to the origins of my 4th great grandparents as a whole.

Oh! And before I forget; the top level in my ancestral chart - my 4th great grandparents - were born between 1745 and 1838. This huge range is due to several generations of older men begetting my ancestors on my fathers side, whereas there are several generations of young women giving birth to my maternal ancestors. 

Have you made a similar chart to visualize your ancestral origins in color? How could you use my methods described here to make new discoveries in your family?

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Cracks in an Impossible Brick Wall

In family history research, there are days where we make great headway – like the stars suddenly align, and new branches of our tree just sprout out. But most of the time, we may feel stuck staring at our brick walls waiting for a brick to move.

In 2018 and 2019, I wrote about ways that I have been working on my Williams family brick wall: making sure I have a solid base of research with vital records and census records, then by using marriage and church records, descendancy and DNA research, and then combing personal property and land tax records. All of this gave me a much clearer image of the various Williamses living in Powhatan County, Virginia during the 1800s.

But there has remained this one problem: I still don’t know the identity of Joseph Williams’ father! So how do I make my staring-intently-at-the-brick-wall sessions more productive? What can I do besides wait for new DNA results to appear...or hope for a moment of genius to come over me?

1. Look at what you already know 

The first thing we want to do when looking at a problem we can't solve is to determine what you already know. Establish that first.

So in my case, what do I know already about Joseph Williams? I know that he was born about 1817 or 1818, probably in Powhatan County (based on the 1860 census). If he wasn’t born in Powhatan County, he lived there at least since 1838 when he first pays personal property taxes and marries Ona Ann Adams.

And though we have no explicit evidence about the parentage for Joseph Williams, there is some reason to suspect John Williams may be his father. As I wrote in my blog, Why Genealogists Ought to Love Taxes:

From 1832 - when the tax lists began listing numbers of men over 16 - until John Williams last appears in 1837, there are only four white Williams men listed by name in Powhatan County: John, George W, Henry, and James H Williams. Only John Williams lists more than one white male over 16 years of age during that time period, and he does so beginning in 1834.

Though no record states explicitly the name of Joseph’s father, there are other contemporaries of Joseph who do list their father as a John Williams. James H. Williams, at the time of his second marriage to Pauline Utley, lists his father as a John Williams. This James H. Williams – in both this marriage record and in census records – is recorded as being born in Amelia County. Lucy Williams, the daughter of John Williams, marries John Adams in 1832. John Adams was the brother of Ona Ann, the wife of Joseph Williams. John Williams, the son of John Williams married Martha Maxey in 1826 in Powhatan County. Are they all the children of the same John Williams?

And then there’s also what we can glean from autosomal DNA results. There are numerous descendants of James H. Williams who match several known descendants of Joseph Williams along with many of their known shared matches. So far, there haven’t been any other connections identified between these matches except for their descent from these two Williams men. Many of the shared matches between these two groups are also individuals descended from the Utley family from Goochland. James H. Williams married an Utley. Several Williams men married Utley women in Goochland in the early 1800s as well.

2. Y-DNA work 

Since I first wrote about my Joseph Williams Y-DNA mystery nearly a year and a half ago, a few more people have Y-DNA tested. And though my wall has not been broken down, I have reason to believe it might start to crack a little bit!

Earliest Known Ancestor
GD* at 37
GD at 67
GD at 111
Markers tested
Z. Williams
R. D. Williams
Aaron Williams 1770 SC
B. E. Williams
Joseph Williams 1817 Powhatan, VA
B. B. Williams
Powell Williams 1735 Goochland, VA
J. C. Blackwell
Jesse Blackwell 1745 Goochland, VA
C. L. Blackwell
Jesse Blackwell 1745 Goochland, VA
M. R. Blackwell
Jesse Blackwell 1745 Goochland, VA

*GD – genetic distance: number of mutations or differences between two test takers

Since first buying a 37 marker Y-DNA test, I upgraded my father’s Y-DNA test to a 67 and most recently to a 111 marker test. In doing so, it has given me more clarity as to how closely he actually matches his closest matches. Unfortunately, only 4 of his closest 7 matches at the 37 marker level have upgraded to 67 markers, and only one of those has tested all the way up to 111 markers. More frustrating still is that Z. Williams, his closest match at the 111 level, has not listed his earliest known ancestor.

The next match, R. D. Williams, is descended from Aaron Williams of Georgia who was born in South Carolina. Though this is nearly as frustrating in its distance from Powhatan County, Virginia, it was a relief to see a Williams match after so long of only seeing a hodge-podge of other surnames. B. E. Williams is my father’s second cousin; these Y-DNA results, along with sharing an expected amount of autosomal DNA between them confirms their descent from the same Williams man.

More recently, I contacted another Williams man, descended from Powell Williams. Powell Williams lived in both Powhatan and Goochland counties in the early 1800s and was a contemporary of Joseph Williams. I had kept my eye on his records, always curious how the two might be related. And happily, this descendant of Powell’s matches my father’s Y-DNA! Eureka!

The remaining three matches in the table, Blackwell men, all descend from Jesse Blackwell of Goochland County. But how do Jesse Blackwell, Joseph Williams, and Powell Williams connect?

3. Trip to Goochland Courthouse 

Before heading to Goochland County – the county immediately north of Powhatan – I wanted to find as much as I could about Powell Williams. I found him in several chancery cases, confirming names of his siblings (Edward and Samuel), a son George W. Williams, and that his father was also named Powell Williams.

Descendants of Jesse Blackwell had told me that he was born out of wedlock to his mother Anne but I had never viewed his records at the courthouse. So I decided to view Jesse’s record myself, and see what I might also find out about Powell Williams, Sr. This took me to the order books for Goochland County.

“Jesse the son of Anne Blackwell is ordered to be bound by the church wardens of Saint James Northam Parish according to law unto John Harris.” – June Court 1755

So here we have the confirmation that Jesse was the son of Anne Blackwell. It doesn’t name his father. Was he born out of wedlock? Perhaps to a Williams man from Goochland?

 “Ordered that the church wardens of St. James Northam Parish do bind Powel [sic] Williams an orphan boy unto Jeremiah Whitney a taylor [sic] according to law.” February Court 1744

Powell Williams was an orphan! But of whom?

These two records – from 1744 and 1755 – were both from St. James Northam Parish which falls in modern Goochland County. So we know that Jesse was born out of wedlock and Powell became an orphan in a similar time period. But how were they related? What's interesting is that Aaron Williams of Georgia had a son named Powell. Could it be a family name?

4. Orphans and Bastards 

This is where I’m getting a tad more hopeful that I can find out more about our Powell Williams and Jesse Blackwell. They have slightly unusual names, and now they’re getting involved in the courts by being bound out. That means we have a paper trail, y’all! Paper trail means records!

But to understand any of the paper trail, we need to know how the law affected our story.

Early America – as with modern America – was concerned about who was going to have to take care of the poor. Is it on the state, the Church, or the common man? If a person was too poor to take care of their children, it would become the duty of the Church (later the State) to take care of the poor children. They would be bound out to someone who could teach them a trade, or at least teach them Christian faith and morals.

The laws concerning orphans and bastard cases evolved over time – beginning in the 1600s but come from English law. These laws include the punishment for a woman who has a bastard child (a child out of wedlock), and the punishment for a bastard child born from a black or mulatto man. Laws concern servant women who have children out of wedlock. There are laws for how often a guardian would need to report back to the county government regarding the property that was entrusted to them for the child bounded to them. There are laws for a lot of situations!

The wonderful Kelly McMahon Willette recently taught a session at the Virginia Beach Genealogical Society on working with cases of unknown parentage, specifically with bastard cases. What I learned that night - and what I'm super excited to put into action in my research - is to check the index in the order books for "presentment" or "grand jury." Often the orphans or bastards are not listed by name in the index. Pro tip from Kelly!

To read some of the laws yourself - especially relating the time before and immediately after our Jesse Blackwell and Powell Williams, you can search the Hening's Statutes at Large for Virginia Laws. Some worth perusing are the following: 1656, 1691, 1705, 1727, 1748, and 1769.

Here are some resources relating to orphans and the illegitimate:
- Orphans' Courts in Colonial Virginia - Evelyn McNeill Thomas
- The Difference: Apprenticed or bound out - Judy G. Russell
- Illegitimacy in the United States - the FamilySearch wiki
- Researching Orphan Children and Adoption in Your Genealogy - Sunny Jane Morton and Judy G. Russell


My Williams mystery still eludes me. But I have made some progress by looking at what I already know, processing what I learned from updates to Y-DNA results, taking a trip to the courthouse, and by looking at Virginia laws relating to orphan and bastard cases. Genealogy is a process of continual education. As we research, as we process and write, we get greater clarity that can help us put cracks in our seemingly impossible brick walls.

What is keeping you from solving your "impossible" brick wall mystery? How might you make new discoveries if you take a look at your problem from a different perspective?

This post was inspired by the week 29 prompt "Challenging" of the 2019 series by Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks that I'm finishing up in 2020.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Friday, February 21, 2020

Planning for RootsTech 2020

Can you believe that RootsTech 2020 - the TEN year anniversary celebration - is next week!? In 2019, I wrote a piece "How to Prepare and Pack for RootsTech." After reading over it myself, and The RootsTech 2020 Survivor Guide, here's what YOU need to know if you're going to RootsTech 2020! This will be an updated version of last year's post.

When I'm preparing for a trip - whether it's just to see family or it's a long distance trip - I always feel like I'm forgetting something. And you know what? I usually do forget something!

So to assist not only myself, but also to make sure that you get the most out of your RootsTech 2020 experience, I'm putting together this simple list for how you can plan for this year's conference.

How to prepare 

1. Study the schedule and decide which classes you'll attend

You can view the full event schedule here and the class schedule here. Make sure you read the class descriptions and learn about the instructors. Also, if you see a few classes that you've *GOT TO* attend, assume that others feel the same way. Those classes will likely fill up fast, so you should have a back up in case they're full when you arrive to class. Find another class that you'd also be interested in for those spots just in case. There's nothing worse than being turned away from a room and then not knowing where you're going next. Planning will take away this problem!

Also, check out our exciting list of keynote speakers! If you don't know who they are yet, a bit of research beforehand will help you appreciate the time you have with them next week.

2. Download the RootsTech app

Why should you use the RootsTech app? Because it'll make your experience so much easier. I used the app last year, and it helped me find classes, make my schedule, and even let me rate my instructors. You can learn more about the app and how you can download it to your device here.

3. Schedule time to visit the Family History Library

The conference is held just blocks away from the famous Family History Library - the world's largest family history library! This may be overwhelming, so make sure to check out their website to figure out what resources you want to prioritize on your visit. After the busy class schedule, you won't have a whole lot of time to be at the library unless you skip classes. So, decide what items at the library you'll access and then use your time at the library wisely.

Family History Library Hours during RootsTech 
Monday–Wednesday: 8:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m.
Thursday–Saturday: 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

What to pack 

1. The right clothes and shoes

Salt Lake City in February is a chilly place. Make sure you pack appropriate clothes for your trip. The good news is that snow isn't in the forecast this year. The first part of the week, the highs will be in the mid 40s and sunny, while later in the week will be in the mid 50s. Also, remember that your clothes represent you. Are you going to RootsTech for networking and furthering a genealogical career? Or, are you going simply to learn and make connections? The type of clothes you wear should reflect your purpose. In addition, you'll be doing a lot of walking at RootsTech. Make sure you have comfortable shoes that will allow for all those steps!

2. Laptop or notebook for notes

RootsTech is like going to college for a week. You'll be in class after class and there's no way you'll be able to absorb everything you are taught. So, it's best that you have a way to take good quality notes of your classes so that you can look back at it another time after the conference. I'd recommend bringing a laptop if you're a fast typer. This will allow you to take organized notes while your presenters are speaking. You may also want to bring a notebook if you're more of a doodler or note taker that way.

3. Backpack or shoulder bag

You're going to be walking a lot with your laptop and whatever else you're carrying. So, make sure you have a good backpack or bag to carry with you during the conference.

4. Money

When you go to the Expo Hall you are going to want to walk out of there with some goodies. Books, DNA test kits, cool family history stuff! That means you'll either need cash on hand or cash in the bank to make debit/credit card purchases from the many vendors available. Budget for this.

Expo Hall hours
Wednesday, February 26, 5:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Thursday, February 27, 10:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.
Friday, February 28, 10:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 29, 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

5. Portable charger for mobile devices

Between using your mobile device for the RootsTech app, following new friends on Twitter or Facebook, checking e-mail, and regular use of your phone, you are going to want to make sure you can charge your mobile devices. You can bring your wall chargers with you, but you're going to have a hard time finding wall sockets when you need them. So, last year I purchased a portable charger to keep me charged up all week long. It was worth every penny! Two highly recommended portable chargers are the Anker PowerCore 13000 and the Anker PowerCore 20100. It's a wise investment for RootsTech.

While you're there

1. Health

Between flu season and the onslaught of the coronavirus, RootsTech came out with their Additional Health & Safety Guidelines for RootsTech SLC 2020. The main recommendation from RootsTech while you're there - and as health professionals would agree - is that you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer stations on entry and exit of all meetings and (of course) the bathrooms. This year, there will be hand sanitizer and masks available at all Info Desks and throughout the Salt Palace.

2. Explore

If you have time in Salt Lake City, make sure you explore! Here's a list of things you can do while you're in the beautiful Utahn city. I have Dole Whip on my "must do" list this year. Zeppe's Italian Ice in City Creek are offering 10% off to anyone who shows their RootsTech name badge!


RootsTech is a blast! But it's also a whirlwind of experiences, connections, and new discoveries. So make sure that you're prepared for this wonderful trip. I hope these suggestions prove helpful for you and that we can connect at RootsTech 2020! If you've been to RootsTech before, and you notice that I've left out a helpful suggestion for the conference, please make sure to leave a comment below.

RootsTech is THE place if like me you want to encounter your ancestors through family history and remember the past made present. I'll see y'all at RootsTech 2020!

Friday, January 31, 2020

RootsTech 2020 Lineup

Time flies when you're doing family history, y'all!

It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in tears listening to the amazing Natalia Lafourcade share her heart and passion through music at RootsTech 2018. And somehow it's already been a year since RootsTech 2019 - an amazing week which necessitated three blog posts: part 1, part 2, and part 3. It was just that fun; I learned that much!

So as I sit here listening to Natalia Lafourcade daydreaming of RootsTechs of yesteryear, let's check out our final lineup for our keynotes and entertainment for 2020.

Wednesday, February 26

Our General Session, at 4:30 p.m. MST, starting off our 10th anniversary of RootsTech will feature FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood. This isn't a talk to miss, folks! Whenever we have Steve speak, we're sure to get news of technological and genealogical advancements from our friends at FamilySearch! And don't forget that all of our resources from FamilySearch are free - so these will be free resources that will help push your tree back further, fill it out more, and help you more truly encounter your ancestors.

Thursday, February 27

We'll begin our keynotes on Thursday at 11 a.m. MST with Leigh Anne Tuohy. You may remember her family as the subject of the 2009 true story, The Blind Side, in which she was depicted by actress Sandra Bullock. I really hope I have the chance to interview Leigh Anne!

You can follow Leigh Anne at Instagram and Twitter.

Friday, February 28

Friday's keynote speaker for 11 a.m. MST was announced as David Hume Kennerly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning White House photographer who has photographed all U.S. presidents from LBJ to the present! With experiences like his, you better believe I'll try to meet with him to hear his stories! You can follow him on Twitter.

And don't forget that just as educational as RootsTech is, this week is also just as entertaining! They call it a show for a reason, y'all! So Friday night, we get a show at 8 p.m. MST by comedian Ryan Hamilton. You can watch his special "Happy Face" over at Netflix. Find him at Twitter here. After a few days of learning, this will be a great evening to relax!

Saturday, February 29

Saturday's keynote speaker, at 11 a.m. MST, will be Emmitt Smith from the Dallas Cowboys! Besides his long football career, he also appeared on Dancing with the Stars as well as Who Do You Think You Are? Follow him at Twitter with this link. He's sure to bring a lot of energy and experience to the stage!

What else?

Don't forget to check out the full schedule for the week, download the RootsTech app for your smart phone or tablet, and start making your schedule! Check out who will be in the Expo Hall so you can prepare how much extra luggage to bring for all your new goodies you pick up!

If you just wish you could come but just can't make it out to Salt Lake City, Utah, there's a Virtual Pass! With this option, you'll have a whole year to watch videos from recordings at this year's RootsTech. Be sure to check out that link for the full list of classes available to those with the Virtual Pass. Don't pass up this great option! [Punny, eh?]

You can read more about all of our keynote speakers and entertainers over at the press release from FamilySearch.

RootsTech may be 25 days away, but it's not too late to register now!

I hope to see all of y'all at RootsTech 2020, from 26-29 February!

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Seeking Ancestors in Cemeteries

Visiting a cemetery for the first time in search of an ancestor is like showing up at a party where you only know one person hidden in the crowd. It can be intimidating; how long will it take to find them? Everyone seems to be wearing the same thing!

Taking a trip to visit our ancestors is exactly that: a visit, an encounter, an important meeting.

Well, at least, that's how I feel about it anyways. You see, I come from a faith tradition that prays for the dead (technically we don't pray for dead people - we believe they're alive in Christ, but theological hair-splitting isn't what you clicked here for is it?) so when I visit an ancestor's grave for the first time I like to pray as well. I pray part of the Trisagion prayers (a type of memorial service you can check out here) and ask God to grant them peace and comfort.

These are people I never got to visit in this life, so the least I can do is visit them and pray for them.

And recently, I finally had the blessing to visit my grandmother's family where they rest in Petersburg, Virginia. I've written about my grandmother's parents before, Mimi and Pop, as well as my link to the Mayflower through my great-grandmother. Funny thing is though, I had never visited Mimi's parents before. Until Thanksgiving!

They're buried in the beautiful Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg. The cemetery also has a page on Find A Grave which proved super helpful in finding my ancestors. From Find a Grave, I found which sections of the cemetery their plots were located. And then I was able to use the Ward Map of the cemetery to find where those sections are located within the cemetery.

I started by searching for my great-grandmother Mimi's parents. I could hardly read the writing on my 2x great-grandfather, Ralph Riley Edgerton, originally from Lake County, Indiana. His grave marker rests lower than the grass that had begun to grow over the stone. 

And beside him rests his bride, Lillian Dee Emory of Prince George, Virginia. 

I spent some time cleaning the dirt and grass from the stones, but there's only so much you can do when you show up unprepared and with only a stick and an old napkin. 

Next, I found Lillian's parents: William Robert Emory and Minerva Jane Rainey. A photo of their grave stones are at the top of this page. You can hardly read the stones. I had to trace the letters and numbers with my fingers to make out exactly what each said. 

In looking at the page for the parents of Ralph Riley Edgerton, William Amos Edgerton and Abbie L. Strong, I started to feel really lost! The Find A Grave entry says they're in "Ward Lee, Section 1, Square 5b" but I couldn't find them anywhere. I walked back and forth looking for the graves I saw in the image online. After walking all over and still no Edgertons, I left without finding them.

A month later, after Christmas, I went back in search of the Edgertons. I had to find them. I have spent so much time with their family getting my membership with the Mayflower Society, I couldn't stop until I had met them! So I called ahead with the cemetery and found out that though they were in Ward Lee, technically that section was part of the neighboring section next to the road. Oh! So the map is a tad more complicated!

I was so glad to finally find them! And to think I wouldn't have been able to find them without a few websites and a simple call to the cemetery.

Now, you'll notice all of these stones are rather dirty. So I decided to look into how to properly clean grave stones. This past Saturday, I attended a Cemetery Restoration Workshop at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia. It was put on by the Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation in partnership with the Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries.

We learned the best - and simplest - ways to safely clean grave stones. They showed us how with popsicle sticks, water, and - if necessary - Orvus Wa Paste, we can clean up nearly any stone. 

I'll be updating y'all with some before-and-after photos of these stones once I get out there in the Spring to clean them up. They recommended waiting until you have a 70 degree day to make sure the stone is warm and isn't going to have freezing temperatures after cleaning. 

It was great to finally meet my grandmother's family this year! Soon, I'll get out there to clean their stones too. And eventually, I'll have to take a trip out to Halifax County, Virginia to visit my grandmother's other side, the Brooks!

This post was inspired by the week 22 prompt "At the Cemetery" of the 2019 series by Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks that I'm finishing up in 2020.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

On the 7th Day of Christmas, RootsTech gave to me...

Did you know Christmas lasts 12 days? As an Orthodox Christian, that means that I have 12 days of feasting! Christmas began on December 25th and doesn't end until January 5th. So guess what? That means I still have a few Christmas presents for y'all!

*On the 7th day of Christmas*...RootsTech gave to me...(and you!)

...a whole lot of reasons to be excited about RootsTech 2020!

In this post, I'd like to make sure we're all up to speed on what we can look forward to for this year's conference!

Great Genealogy Speakers

With over 300 classes to choose from over the course of 4 days...there are tons of opportunities for us to learn a lot in one week. With all of these classes, you're sure to spend time learning from some of your favorite genealogy speakers. Each year, RootsTech also gives an opportunity to up and coming presenters who bring fresh and new ideas that will help boost your research.

Keynote Speakers

Friday's keynote speaker was announced as David Hume Kennerly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning White House photographer who has photographed all U.S. presidents from LBJ to the present!

Saturday's keynote speaker will be Emmitt Smith from the Dallas Cowboys! Besides his long football career, he also appeared on Dancing with the Stars as well as Who Do You Think You Are? He's sure to bring a lot of energy to the stage!

We still have a few more speakers yet to be announced...so I'll have more news to share next month!


One of my favorite parts about going to conferences is seeing old genealogy friends. There aren't a whole lot of people that understand the excitement that genealogists have when we find a new record...but at RootsTech, our friends understand! This is part of why it's great to be part of this genealogy community.

New Friends

Every conference, I make new connections and new friends. We stay in touch through Facebook, reading each others' blogs, and through Twitter. We share ideas that might be that little bit of inspiration we needed to take our research a tad further.

RootsTech Pass Giveaway

For RootsTech 2019, I was able to give away a free RootsTech pass to one lucky winner through being a RootsTech Ambassador. And at RootsTech we were able to meet up and get to know each other too. It was awesome!

And this year, as an Ambassador once again, I was able to give away a pass to...drum roll please...Jennifer de Fiebre! I look forward to connecting with Jennifer this year at RootsTech 2020!


Will you be coming to RootsTech? If you can't make it all the way to Utah, have you considered getting an online pass to watch from home? I have so many reasons to feel like RootsTech is a late Christmas present...and I hope you'll get to experience it with me this year at RootsTech 2020!

Stay tuned to more news about RootsTech in the coming months!

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

*Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Discovery in Revolutionary War Records

Before living in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, I knew practically nothing about the military. The difference between the Navy and the Marines seemed to me as mysterious as the difference between the Redskins and the Cowboys, the Red Sox and the Yankees, Barcelona and Real Madrid. I just didn't get it.

But as I've gotten to know service members - mostly in the Navy - I've grown to understand some of the lingo, the way of life, the complexities of their transient lives as they've moved in and out of the area. And as I've been able to unlock some of the mystery of the military, I've also grown to appreciate some of the complexities of military records.

In this post, we're going to look specifically at Revolutionary War records. Where do you find them? What records contain evidence of service to the United States during the War of Independence? And as we investigate these records, we will be looking at examples from Powhatan County, Virginia as they relate to John Stratton.

Setting the stage: what are we looking for?

When it comes to looking for a patriot ancestor, or working to prove that an ancestor was a patriot, it would serve us well to set the stage. What is the time period, exactly? What do we consider as service to the United States? How old would have our ancestors been at the time?

The Daughters of the American Revolution has a clear list of accepted Revolutionary War service, as does the Sons of the American Revolution. Both organizations define the time period as between 19 Apr 1775 (the Battle of Lexington) and 26 Nov 1783 (the withdrawal of the British from New York). A patriot is defined as someone who offered military, civil, or patriotic service to the cause of American Independence. Be sure to check both sites in the links above for the whole list of service possibilities.

In our modern era, we think of adulthood as beginning at either 18 or 21, depending on the topic. In the 18th century, the time of the Revolution, a free white male was a tithable (taxable as a member of the labor force) at the age of 16. This was also the age of enlistment into the military.

So we're looking for an ancestor who was 16 between 1775-1783 who offered either military, civil, or patriotic service in support of American Independence. You may want to search some of the available resources on Ancestry, for example Revolutionary War Records: Virginia, by Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh and Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution by John H. Gwathmey. Now let's look at some of the possible ways our ancestors offered military service.

Military Service: Militia

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia passed an act on 5 May 1777 to regulate and organize the colony's militia. In this act, the General Assembly set out the structure of Virginia's militia and the age of service. All free males between 16 and 50 (with a long list of exceptions like those in public office, those producing firearms, and the clergy) were included as part of the militia, with free mulattoes serving as drummers, fifers, or pioneers.

The commanding officer of each county formed companies of 32-68 men. The companies were formed into battalions of 500-1000 men. Each company was commanded by a captain, two lieutenants, and an ensign. Each battalion was commanded by a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and a major. Once a month, except in January and February, there would be a private muster of every company. And in April and October each year there would be a general muster of the whole county.

Militiamen would be expected by 11 AM on their muster day, or they would pay a fine based on their rank (captain - 40 shillings, lieutenant or ensign 20 shillings, every non-commissioned officer or soldier 5 shillings). When they arrived at the designated location, they would have to bring the weapons according to their rank. Poor militiamen would be provided arms to be used and given back to the county. Officers carried swords while privates carried either a rifle and tomahawk, or good firelock and bayonet with all the necessary ammunition.

If you have free male ancestors that were between 16 and 50 during the revolution, they would have either served in the militia or served in a capacity that exempted their militia service. (Or they were Loyalists and likely fled the country.) For researching militiamen in Virginia, consult Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War by J. T. McAllister. You can find the full text online and you can also find it through Ancestry as a searchable collection. The records of county militias were the responsibility of the county. That means militia records are at the county level; you will find lists of officers listed in county court minute books, deed and order books.

Military Service: Continental Army

While the militia was mandatory yet irregular service, the Continental Army formed a professional regular army for the new nation. On 4 Nov 1775, the Continental Congress called for an army of 20,372 men, with regiments of 728 men, divided into eight companies. On 16 Sep 1776, a reorganization of the Army called for 88 battalions or regiments, 15 of which were from Virginia. The benefit of Continental Army service is that these records were kept by the National Archives. We just need to develop an understanding of what records are in which record set.

The case of John Stratton

Oh John...John...John. Why did your Mama have to name you John? John Stratton of Powhatan County is my 4th great grandfather. When it comes to a case of men with the same name, or proving that various records are for one man with a common name, it can get tricky. Or, if one isn't careful, it can seem all too easy!

Take for example, this M881 card abstract for John Stratton, a Light Dragoon from Virginia with the Continental Troops. If you notice, it's undated and contains no identifying information as to where this John Stratton lived or served. It does contain a curious number listed under remarks: 12.591. [If you know what this points us to, please let me know!]

The image immediately before this abstract card in the collection is the jacket envelope that lists and holds the cards for this soldier. 

This jacket envelope contains a tad more information; we learn that John Stratton served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Troops. The card number listed is simply the number stamped on the back of the abstract card (the previous image) that this envelope holds.

The funny thing is that this is all the evidence anyone ever has that a John Stratton served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons of the Continental Troops. Yet Harriet Russell Stratton in A Book of Strattons makes the assertion on page 223 that this record is for my John Stratton who lived in Powhatan County. As we saw in "Nurturing a Critical Eye," there were two John Strattons living in neighboring counties at the same time. There was also a John Stratton in Northampton County that served in his county militia. Additionally, numerous people have joined both SAR and DAR with John Stratton as their patriot through this service record, but also through citing a record that he served the Powhatan County Militia.

So did my John Stratton serve as a Light Dragoon or was he in the Powhatan Militia? Or both? How many John Strattons were there in Virginia?

Digging Deeper

After making a solid timeline for John Stratton and all the Strattons in Powhatan County during and right after the Revolution, I was sure that there was only one John Stratton of age at the time. So my next line of action was to find the record that my John Stratton of Powhatan County served in the militia.

There in Powhatan County Deed Book 1, on page 179 we read that "At a court held for Powhatan County at Scottsville the twentieth day of June one thousand seven hundred and eighty one...John Stratton [was appointed] Ensign to the company formerly commanded by Robert Hughes who is now a prisoner of war." This was pretty great news for me, because I had evidence that my John Stratton of Powhatan County served not only in the militia but as an officer. Though there isn't a pension file for him, I have found several of John Stratton's neighbor's pensions. The pension of his captain, Wade Mosby, is also available online. By reading these available pensions, I have been able to understand where John Stratton may also have served during his time with the militia.

But was he in the Light Dragoons? John Stratton fathered nine children, and many of his descendants have joined the DAR and SAR through their descent from him. His DAR patriot number is A111137, and his SAR patriot number is P-299349. Both organizations list his name as John Handley Stratton with his service being to the First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Troops. One SAR application approved in 1969 combines the two and reads that John Handley Stratton was an "Ensign, First Regiment Light Dragoons, Continental Army." I would have to clean up this mess.

A trip to the DAR Library

Where did all these applicants get the middle name Handley? And how does everyone from a published book to SAR and DAR connect my John Stratton of Powhatan who served as an ensign with the county militia to a John Stratton in the Light Dragoons? To try to answer these questions, I took a trip to the DAR Library in Washington, D.C.

The first DAR member to use John Stratton of Powhatan County as their patriot ancestor was accepted in 1909 with National Number 71195. She lists his full name as John Handley Stratton. But she also provides his parents names as James Henry Stratton and Annie Handley, and his paternal grandparents as Joseph Dickinson Stratton and Mary Anne Huster.

If you're just following names, your eyes would have turned into beating hearts of joy. All done. Finito! But we're not just following names, and we already know that John's father was William, the son of Edward Stratton III. So we know that DAR member 71195 is wrong about John's parents and grandparents. And see anything curious about the mother's surname? Handley. I can't say where she got this information but it seems she has assumed John's middle name from the surname she had for his mother.

So far, we've looked at Compiled Service Records, Deed Books and Order Books, DAR and SAR applications. Next, let's look at a more systematic approach for how we can find more about this John Stratton who served as a Light Dragoon. 

Searching National Archives records

I'm not going to lie, I really struggle making sense of National Archives records. They seem a never-ending list of numbered and un-numbered records, some indexed some not, some online some not, some free and some behind multiple paywalls. So what's a passionate researcher to do? Figure it out!

First, read some articles on Revolutionary War records available at the Family Search Wiki. Know what is available on subscriptions you are already paying for. For example, here's a full list of Revolutionary War collections on Ancestry. This is helpful, because many other records are only available at a library, for a fee on Fold3, or only at the National Archives. 

Fun fact: all the National Archives microfilm publications for the Revolutionary War begin with M. The first publication you want to check is Compiled Service Records, M881. These records are a compilation of other records the War Department gathered together into one place. You can browse and search these records on Ancestry here. To learn more about M881, check out this page. For more background and to better use this record set, read this article by Craig R. Scott. The M881 records are made from the original and copied records which are in two other publications, namely M246 and M853.

M246 is titled "Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783" and is available on Ancestry. You can browse the collection by regiment. Included in this collection, for example, are the pay rolls of the First Regiment Light Dragoons. M853 is titled "Numbered Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay, and Settlement Accounts, Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records." 

Other National Archives publications related to the Revolutionary War

- M860, General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers (58 rolls)
- M879, Index to Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel Who Served During the Revolutionary War (1 roll)
- M880, Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores Who Served During the Revolutionary War (4 rolls)
Note: M880 is listed together as one collection with M881 on Ancestry.
- M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (2,670 rolls). Available on Ancestry
-  M847, Special Index to Numbered Records in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775–1783. (39 rolls).
- M853, Numbered Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay, and Settlement Accounts, Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records. (41 rolls). 
- M859, Miscellaneous Numbered Records (the Miscellaneous File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775–1790s. (125 rolls). Available on Ancestry.

Read more about these collections

Dig deeper into less well known Revolutionary War records - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Thank you, General Fred C. Ainsworth! - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Revolutionary War pension files—an introduction - Claire Prechtel-Kluskens

Trevor K. Plante, Military Service Records at the National Archives, Reference Information Paper 109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009), available online.

John Stratton: Light Dragoon

One of my questions was whether my John Stratton, who served the Powhatan Militia as an ensign, was also the John Stratton who served the Continental Troops as a Light Dragoon. To answer that, I was hoping to find records relating to the M881 showing more detailed biographical information on John Stratton, Light Dragoon. M881, Compiled Service records, are arranged alphabetically by regiment. The person immediately after John Stratton, in the First Regiment Light Dragoons, is Seth Stratton. Hmm! Another Stratton. Worth looking deeper. What if they were related and from the same county?

These are two of the four abstract cards listed on the jacket envelope. Like John Stratton's, the first card lists a number, 87.787, for a remark. [Don't forget to tell me if you know the secret to this number!] The second card provides more detail, showing that Seth was in the Third Troop of the First Regiment Light Dragoons. 

By searching M804 on Ancestry, I found Seth Stratton's pension file. Through scrolling through M246 for the First Regiment Light Dragoons, I found Seth Stratton in the pay rolls of the Third Troop. 

I haven't been able to connect John and Seth Stratton, except that they both served in the First Regiment Light Dragoons. I haven't found John Stratton in the pay rolls yet either, so I'm not sure if they were in the same troop. What I'm hoping to find is evidence of a residence for the John Stratton Light Dragoon. Since I know my John Stratton lived in Powhatan County during the Revolution, this will be a determining factor for separating these records or combining them for one patriot. 


There are a variety of different records available for conducting Revolutionary War research. Whether you are trying to find your patriot ancestor, prove your patriot's service, or (like I'm trying to do) disprove a record belongs to your patriot, there are records available worthy of your seeking and sleuthing. 

Revolutionary War records are available in courthouses, on microfilm, indexed in books, and online. Some are available for free on Family Search and at the National Archives, others are included in an Ancestry subscription, or with a subscription on Fold3. But records are only as good as the researcher that uses them, y'all! So educate yourself about the records available, how to use them, and how to make the most of your time in the archives. 

I may not have all the answers to my John Stratton conundrum, just yet. But I'm confident that with more research and with more experience with National Archives publications, I will solve the riddle!

This post was inspired by the week 21 prompt "Military" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

*Photo by Rick Lobs on Unsplash.*

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