Genealogists: share your tips

I started this because most genealogists are, like me, self taught, and thus sometimes we’ll be experts at an obscure source nobody else seems to know about but something that’s almost basic knowledge to most genealogists we have no idea even existed. Also, even if you’re skilled, we all hit brick walls and go nuts over that one piece of missing info, so please share any sources or search tips that have been really helpful to you.


Federal Agricultural Censuses- 1850-1870

These were part of but separate from the regular Population Census but if your ancestors lived on a farm (and unless you’re an umpteenth generation big city-ite then at least some of them probably did) they’re a goldmine as far as telling you how your Civil War era ancestors actually lived. They’re set up by the name of the property owner and include such information as size of farm, number of improved/unimproved acres and value of each, what crops are grown and how much, how many livestock and animals they own, how much butter they’ve churned, etc…
One thing I find interesting in my family, all of whom were in Alabama at that time, is how few of them grew cotton. The richer ones, all of the slaveowning ones, of course grew it as a cash crop, but the yeoman farmers I descend from rarely produced more than 3 or 4 bales (it was just too labor intensive) and concentrated instead on corn and other staples. I learned that several grew rice and raised sheep, neither of which was uncommon in the state at that time but also not activities associate with Alabama.
Also interesting is seeing cultivated land appraised at roughly $10 per acre (uncultivated for about $3 per acre), which is almost unthinkable- even when adjusted for inflation that’s a fraction of what it sells for today. This indicates why the yeoman class moved around so much- if the farm fails, move on- it’s easier and cheaper than breaking your back trying to make the old one work.
Also interesting was learning that one of my Confederate cavalry ancestors had a father-in-law who was a small time farmer but owned 6 horses (most farmers of his wealth range owned 1 or maybe 2, many of them owned mules instead). I had wondered why this man became a cavalry soldier when he wasn’t wealthy by any standard and most cavalry men had to supply their own horse [which his father didn’t even have one of in the 1860 [the Confederate ancestor is frustratingly missing from that census], but this implies his father-in-law was probably a breeder (no 200 acre corn farm needs 6 horses, especially when he also had 2 mules) and perhaps his son-in-law (my ancestor) learned to ride by working for him. (Not proven, but a reasonable theory.) has begun digitizing some of the Agricultural censuses but they don’t have them for most states. Pretty much all state archives would have them on microfilm though.

FOOTNOTE.COM- it’s a private company but they digitize the collections of the National Archives. I’ve found records on ancestors from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, some of them very detailed (including physical descriptions, run downs of injuries sustained, parole papers- one had a sister who squabbled with the Confederacy for three years over $28 she believed was owed her dead husband.) It’s a pay site but it’s very reasonable- $7 per month for unlimited downloads [with no minimum commitment] or $1.50 per document.

The early and mid 19th century copies of TREATIES IN FORCE often have information on Revolutionary War veterans and their widows applying for pensions. While the government has digitized most of it google can be a lot easiser to use to find the information [“your ancestor’s name” + “treaties in force”] as a lot of genealogists and historical associations have made a lot available in html format that’s more easily searchable.

State Censuses- most states conducted their own censuses in addition to the Federal Government’s decennial censuses. They usually weren’t as detailed, but since they were usually done in years when the decennial wasn’t run they can give information about timelines (e.g. you know your ancestor was in Kentucky in 1850 and in Kansas by 1860, an 1854 Kentucky or Kansas Census [hypothetical, I don’t know if either state had one that year] can answer whether they migrated before or after that year). Many states both north and south performed censuses in 1865-1867 to get counts of how many citizens from their state died in or had permanent disabilities from the Civil War.
Google Searches

One of my favorite tips for searching Google that I’ve stumbled upon is the last will and testament search. Before the 20th century the vast majority of wills and other legal documents began with the words “in the name of God amen”, and if you’ve ever found an ancestor’s will you’ll know that next to photographs and heirlooms they’re the ultimate find, especially when the estate is inventoried.

Google search “your ancestor’s name” county state “in the name of god amen” can yield online wills; I’ve found several this way.

Tip: if your ancestor was named Johnson T. Burke of Lincoln County, Georgia it’s best to search

rather than “Johnson T. Burke” which will usually only look for that exact name, and even a spacing error or deleted punctuation such as “Johnson T Burke of Lincoln Co., Georgia” can throw it off.
Because slaves were the most valuable movable property a person could own in most cases, I’ve been able to find probable ancestral matches for several African-Americans I’ve helped do genealogical queries. They may not know the name of the master who owned their ancestor but they know their ancestor was named Simon Morrison and he lived in or around Dekalb County, Georgia- a “in the name of god amen” negro simon morrison dekalb county" might be able to find a will in which a person named Morrison is bequeathing a slave named Simon which, while not conclusive, can give new avenues of research. (I used the word ‘negro’ because the wills of slaveowners were far more likely to reference him as “my negro man Simon” than “my slave Simon”).

Here’s hoping somebody else reads and shares.

Wear latex gloves
Use lube
Warm the speculum
Be patient
Defuse tension
Really, warm the speculum

reads OP, blinks, puzzled
Oh. Sorry.
slinks out

I do believe you’re thinking of gynecology.

Though it is related. Either way you find some interesting and disturbing things when you look up grandma.