Feed on

Today we can leave behind many items which help our descendants understand our times. There are newspapers, books, computer records, letters and other documents which have been preserved (many hopefully in acid-free folders), and so forth. Back in time most of these things did not exist; however, wills and deeds do exist, but they seldom provide much in the way of personal information.

On the other hand probate records offer a great deal in the way of describing the lives of our ancestors. This is particularly true of those instances where the probate records include an inventory and sometimes the results from the sale of the inventory items. Often the sale records indicate who bought which items.

What follows is an example from one of the finest pieces of genealogical research of which I am aware. While I played a very minor part in this research, from this effort I learned a great deal while working with a brilliant team which continues to work on the project years later. The results of this continuing effort can be seen at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~berry/. Jim Jackson was the author of the excerpt from the web site which follows:

“There are some quite interesting observations and interpretations to be made from this data (a probate inventory). First of all, I organized all of the items listed in the inventory into five categories and tabulated the listed value for each category with the following results:

1) Livestock = 23% of total

(49 animals which included horses, cows, pigs, sheep and geese)

2) Crops/Products = 4%

(rye, corn, flax and wool)

3) Slaves = 58%

(two slaves)

4) Household Items = 9%

(furniture, kitchen utensils)

5) Farm Equipment = 6%

(tools and other stuff)

“By far, the most valuable items of personal property were the slaves. Individually they were more valuable than any other item, and combined, they formed over half of the total value of the physical property items. The next most valuable category was the livestock, which was worth almost one fourth of the entire moveable property value, belying their survival value for a pioneer life style. And he did have a lot of animals! – 5 geese, 2 horses, 6 sheep, 22 pigs and 14 cows – 49 in all. I don’t think there was much of a sales market for livestock, you’d have to transport it to “the city” for butchering and all, so these were probably animals raised for home consumption – subsistence farming and ranching.

“The last three categories account for a small part of his estate, but the information they provide far outweighs their low percentage values. A detailed analysis of all of this data allows us a closer look into the everyday life of Thomas Berry. For example, we can get a pretty good idea of his diet. The meat appears to have consisted, primarily, of pork and beef. There certainly could have been deer and other wild animals included, as well, but we have nothing in this data to help on that issue. There were also dairy products, probably milk and butter, and possibly goose eggs. The appraisal itemized a churn, which, no doubt, was utilized to separate butter from milk. The butter probably indicates that they had a high fat diet, but they probably needed it due to their labor/energy intensive lifestyle. I imagine the goose down could also have been used for pillows and bedding (feather ticking). The wool of the sheep would have been processed (washed and carded) and run through a spinning wheel (another appraisal item) to make yarn, and if someone in the neighborhood had a loom, then bolts of cloth, and possibly felt, could have been made, which would be quite useful for making all sorts of clothing items The yarn probably would also have been used to knit clothing items, such as scarves, socks and sweaters.

“Kitchen items included several kettles, a pot, an oven (could this be what we refer to as a Dutch oven?), a pot rack, tongs, and pewter dishes, plates and spoons. The pewter ware could have been brought over to America from the old country. There were also earthen plates, knives and forks. Furniture items included a chest, several bedsteads, a chair, and a looking glass (mirror). It’s a good bet that these were all homemade items except for the mirror, which was probably brought over from the old country. Household items also included dog irons for the fireplace, candlesticks and a book (presumably a bible).

“The crops tabulated in this appraisal included rye, corn and flax. Rye was used to make flour for bread, not to mention whisky. The process of separating the chaff from the seeds was quite labor intensive. Corn, of course, was for corn meal or corn on the cob, and both corn and rye had to be ground into flour. Flax was used to make linen in a process somewhat similar to processing wool. Flax has a central hard shaft that had to be physically removed, then the flax is carded to get it oriented in the same direction so the spinning wheel could be used to make thread from it.

“The tools and equipment owned by Thomas Berry are interesting for the clues they yield in regard to his life style. He owned a plough, which must have required a draft animal, such as a horse or ox, to pull. The bridle, harnes, chains and bridle, saddlecloth and saddles, quite clearly show the importance of horses in his life. These animals also pulled a wagon, and there were several wagon boxes. Planting, harvesting and other processing tools included shears (presumably for shearing wool from sheep), several scythes, sickles, a shovel, hoes, and a pitchfork. Wood working tools included an axe, a cross cut saw, a wedge and an auger. There were also three different kinds of knives (a graining knife, a currying knife and a drawing knife), as well as a grindstone to keep them sharp.

“The material appraised in Thomas Berry’s estate reflect the labor intensive life of a pioneer in the backwoods of America. We see evidence for raising animals, preparing wool and flax, spinning them into thread, planting and harvesting crops, separating and grinding grain and corn and acquiring and preparing firewood. This was almost certainly what we would consider to be a hard life. It appears that they spent much of their waking hours ensuring that they had the basics of food, shelter and clothing. In addition, they had the assistance of several slaves, whose basic necessities also had to be provided for.”


One could turn such an analysis into a novel about their family in the 16 or 1700s. Or, this analysis presented in a Register Report would vastly improve the quality of one’s research.

I have just returned from the Cumberland Gap Genealogical Jamboree where I delivered a speech at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. I was once again impressed with the Park Rangers, in this case Tommie Sue Watkins who has been with the Service for over ten years. She readily helped me set up for Powerpoint in a, to me, unfamiliar location; introduced me to the audience; sat in on the presentation and ran after me in the parking lot to deliver items I had accidently left behind. I have been similarly impressed with Rangers at the Vicksburg National Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park in North Carolina.

I discovered I had some information tangential to the Park the staff did not, so I will relate what I know about this remarkable genealogical site.

The Cumberland Gap (Gap) was created ages ago by a meteorite in the Cumberland Mountains in the lower part of the Alleghany Mountains. It was discovered in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer. At the time it was but an Indian path. In the early 1770s Daniel Boone was hired by the Transylvania Company to hire some loggers and enlarge the path. Early in 1775 there were perhaps 20 men in Kentucky.

In August 1775, Daniel Boone and Hugh McGary (for full disclosure, my 4thG Grandfather) along with Thomas Denton and Richard Hogan brought their wives and children through the Gap into Kentucky. This event is portrayed in George Caleb Bingham’s famous painting Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap. The painting now hangs in the art gallery at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Boone and McGary families split up near present day Brodhead with Boone continuing to Boonesboro and McGary to Harrodsburg. McGary brought the first Bible into Kentucky and a Boone child brought a cat.

In the 1790s with the help of Jean Jaçques Dufour, winemaker for the Marquis de Lafayette, McGary and Henry Clay became members of the Kentucky Vineyard Society. Kentucky was the site of the first commercial vineyard in the United States and by 1860 Kentucky was the third largest wine producing state.

The Woman’s Club of Harrodsburg in 1926 erected a plaque which reads, “… Remembering The First Mothers of the West to Enter the Wilderness, Mrs. Daniel Boone, Mrs. Hugh McGary, Mrs. Richard Hogan, Mrs. Thomas Denton….”

The Gap National Park has a 2-3 mile, hairpin-turn road up to the top of the mountain, called Pinnacle Overlook. One can look straight down to the town of Cumberland Gap, TN and likewise see a vista with miles of intersecting mountains, rivers and lakes in the distance. I would rate the view in the top ten of my life. Nearby you can stand in Kentucky and Tennessee and stoop to put a hand into Virginia.

Between 1775 and 1810 some 300,000 settlers crossed Cumberland Gap and began settling the land west of the Appalachians. Probably some of your ancestors were among them.

More can be learned and seen at the website for the Park: http://www.nps.gov/cuga/index.htm.
More on the Genealogical Jamboree can be seen at:http://www.wil-syl.com/jamboree3

As discussed earlier, the Cumberland Gap Genealogy Jamboree will be held this coming weekend, June 9-12, 2011. The schedule, speakers and other data are noted on the website at http://www.wil-syl.com/jamboree3/.

Cumberland Gap was founded in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, an early Virginia physician and explorer. Nature created the site much earlier when a meteorite created the Middlesboro crater in the Cumberland Mountains, which are part of the lower Allegheny Mountains. Without the crater, it would have been difficult for packhorses to cross the mountains. The Gap is part of the famous Wilderness Road.

Initially there was an Indian path through the Gap. Daniel Boone and some loggers widened it for wagons and groups of settlers.

In early 1775 there were perhaps 150 single men and Indians in Kentucky. In August 1775, Daniel Boone and Hugh McGary – along with Thomas Denton and Richard Hogan were the first to bring their families through the Gap. Between 1775 and 1810 some 2-300,000 people went west along this route.

Hope to see you there.

My genealogy software has a Match and Merge function, as do some competitive  programs. This function performs nunerous processes, but normally permits one to take a GEDCOM from another researcher and merge that data into your own, at the same time identifying possible matches so that duplicates are not created. The following comments do not fully explain the Match and Merge function since they differ between each software version, rather, the comments address some cautions about the process.

I merged two databases only once, about six months after I started researching my family. I found a lady with the maiden surname I carry. Her husband had my mother’s maiden name. I excitedly added 1,100 names to my data using a GEDCOM  only to determine much later that the husband was not a relative. Bad mistake!!

So I had some good data and some useless data. But that was only the beginning of the problems I had created.

Since my professional background was as a Management Consultant, shortly after starting research I laid down some characteristics I wished to be consistent within my data. Just as my clients wished a standard product modified to their company, I wished the same thing for my project.

Here is a partial list of my “Standards” for data:

  • All birth, death, marriage and burial location data will include a county;
  • All birth, death, marriage, etc data will have no abbreviations except Cty;
  • Notes will be arranged in chronological sequence;
  • Paragraphs will not have indents but line up to the left edge;
  • Book titles will be italicized, not underlined;
  • Legal document writings will be italicized;
  • Proper grammar and sentence construction should be used.                                                                                                             .

There are a few more but they all come under the heading of “consistent …… and readable”

It would be a miracle if another person used my “standards”, so I have always entered by hand data coming from another database, except for the 1,100 of long ago. If the Notes were consistent with mine, I would Copy/Paste.

While there are certainly accidental exceptions to “my standards”, generally my Register Reports provide a standard look and feel when printed and ultimately combined into books.

The following article is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at http://www.eogn.com.

Today I read an online message from a reader of this newsletter in which she bemoaned the quality of genealogy information found on the Internet. She went on at some length to say that the information found online is full of inaccuracies, is posted by people who don’t know what they are doing, and that “genealogy information found on the Internet should never be trusted.”

I was sympathetic to what she wrote until that last part. NEVER be trusted?

I will be the first to agree that there is a lot of inaccurate SECONDARY information on the Internet. But let’s not overlook the fact that the Internet also brings us images of ORIGINAL source records as well.

Want to see the record of your great-great-grandparents in the U.S. Census? Click with your mouse and look at the IMAGE of the original entry without leaving your home. Want to see a naturalization record? IMAGES of many of them are available online. Would you like to see granddad’s World War I Draft registration form that lists information about parents? The IMAGE of the original document is available online. Want to see an obituary? Several online services provide IMAGES of the newspaper obituaries. And how about the Southern Claims records, many of which were never available before on microfilm? IMAGES of each record are now available online.

Yes, the Internet certainly is a mix of good and bad news, but let’s not condemn everything. Looking at images of original source records on the Internet makes us better genealogists than those of us who used to be limited only to transcribed (secondary) sources. We have much more information available today than ever before. Some of it is good information, such as IMAGES of original records. Other information found online is questionable, such as secondary information contributed by someone else. Let’s not condemn everything simply because some of it is bad.

We do have an education problem. We need to educate newcomers as to what information is immediately believable versus what information requires independent verification. This education process must be active on all genealogy sites, including this one, and must continue forever as new genealogists join us. However, I will suggest that this requirement for education should not stop us from looking at images of original records.

There is an old saying that pops to mind, something having to do with babies and bathwater.

Looking forward ten or twenty years, I suspect that eventually all of us will focus primarily on images of original records, as found on the Internet. As millions and millions of additional images come online, the references we all enjoy will continue to improve. I see that as a great advance in genealogy scholarship.

Have you ever been to the Cumberland Gap, walked a bit of the Wilderness Trail? There is an incredible amount of history to be discovered at the Gap. As you would know, it was the gateway to the West, long before St. Louis erected the Arch and called it the gateway to the West.

There is a National Park nearby. Our National Parks and those who staff them are  true treasures. In fact one of them in the Vicksburg Memorial Park got me started into genealogy and I am forever grateful to that Ranger.

There will be a National Jamboree at the Cumberland Gap on June 9, 10, 11 and 12 in 2011. If you go to http://www.wil-syl.com/jamboree3/ you can learn all you need to know.

I’ll see you there.

I have written before about the value of adding pertinent history surrounding or on the date of particular events in the lives of our ancestors. I believe it makes reading our family histories more interesting and sometimes helps to explain their reactions or actions to those events.

Earlier in December 2009 I copied from my father’s biography or Notes a description of the The Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916-1917 because he had participated in that event.

I also added the following  taken from the local newspaper of the day: By means of the wonderful long distance telephone, people in Madisonville can now talk with people at Hopkinsville, Nashville, Henderson, Evansville and intermediate points, and the conversation can be as distinctly understood as if the persons conversing were within a few feet of one another. The route will be extended to Louisville in the spring. I added, “his birthday was thus celebrated.”

Since Google can tell you almost anything you want to know, today for the first time I asked what happened on his birthday, and this resulted in my adding:

“His birthday failed to forecast the future, however, as on that day The United States Supreme Court declared income tax to be unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.”

Historical and interesting, would you not agree?

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »