12 March 2017

Change is Big and Small

Change is a constant in life, from the small, like growing from a child to an adult, to the big, like moving to an new home or starting a family. Our ancestors experienced many of the same changes we do today, only the small details are different. Society changes, technology changes, family changes, they all continue to happen. Placing our ancestors into the larger context of life around them is, I believe, an important step in gaining insights into who they were and why they may have made the decisions they did as revealed by the documentation they left behind.

One of my favorite current ancestors of study is Isaac Z Shelton. Isaac was born between 1844 and 1852 in Tennessee. I'm still working to determine a more accurate birth date, as his Georgia death certificate states April 1844, the 1900 US census states April 1847, while the 1880 US census claims 1852. Isaac died on 25 November 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

During Isaac's at around eighty years of life, he lived in, at least, Overton County and White County in Tennessee, as well as Atlanta, Georgia. Eighty years is enough time for a great deal of change. Plotting Isaac's life on a timeline of historical events gives a great picture of the kinds of changes that occurred. For example:
  • The transcontinental railroad in the US was built
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Increased industrialization
  • Economic depression (1873-1896)
  • The first flight (1903)
  • Automobiles were built and then became common place (Model T in 1908)
  • World War I
  • Women's suffrage in the US

23 February 2017

Gathering All the Information From a Document

One of the cornerstones of effective research is pulling as much information from a source as possible. As Elizabeth Shown Mills points out in "QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof," a source contains information, the raw data which we evaluate to provide evidence toward a research problem.

I recently found a birth register, via FamilySearch, containing an entry for Elodia Varin, one of my great grandmothers. While I could have stopped at collecting just her birth date, I found a great deal more information by taking a moment to examine the entire page. From the entry I was able to note that:
  • Elodia was born on 21 July 1898 in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
  • Elodia's parents were Joseph and Georgiana Varin.
  • Georgiana's maiden name was Gagnon.
  • Joseph and Georgiana resided in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
  • Joseph worked as a mill operator.
  • Joseph and Georgiana were both born in Canada.
  • All of the entries on the page have a record date of February 1899.
Even though this is a birth register entry for Elodia, the information culled from that entry goes beyond just her.

photo credit: Kristofer Williams 'Icy Surf' - Brei├░amerkursandur, Iceland via photopin (license)

12 February 2017

Writing to Find the Gaps

Keeping track of my research on my personal family tree is an ongoing project in itself. It is very easy to get sidetracked (oooh, look at that document!) while trying to focus on a single individual and research question.

I spent much of the last year focusing on my Shelton ancestors. At the beginning of 2016, they were the family I knew the least about. I had the fewest documented facts about them. I could only go back one generation past my Shelton grandmother. A year makes quite a difference. My Shelton ancestors are now perhaps the best documented part of my tree.

And now I'm faced with the question: Do I continue working on the Shelton line or do I spend time on other branches of my ancestry? To help make up my mind, I decided to write a genealogical summary of what I have documented for each of my four major lines of research. The results of that effort show I definitely have gaps in my documentation.

The summary for the Shelton line contains three generations ending with my great-grandfather. The documentation includes census records, vital records, and court records.
  1. Isaac Z Shelton (abt. 1847 - 1929) and Amanda Pruitt (abt. 1853 - 1940)
    1. Isaac Denton Shelton (1892 - 1924) and Margaret Adelia Rice (abt. 1886 - 1972)
      1. George Alvin Shelton (1907 - 1998) and Vesta Estelle Hudson (1912 - 1991)
The Desjarlais line also contains three generations ending with my great-grandfather, though the documentation is heavily reliant on just census records. The information I currently have in my database is sparse.
  1. Jean-Baptiste Desjarlais (abt. 1842 - ?) and Eugenie (abt. 1845 - ?)
    1. Edouard Alma Desjarlais (abt. 1866 - ?) and Azama May Joubert (abt. 1865 - ?)
      1. Eugene Alphonse Desjarlais (abt. 1897 - ?) and Elodia Varin (1898 - ?)
My summary of the Ciske line is much like the Desjarlais line. It is heavily sourced from census records. There is a bit of flavor for Franz Cziske, my first direct line ancestor to immigrate to the United States, which is a step in the right direction.
  1. Franz Cziske (1835 - before 1900) and Justina Malest (after 1839 - 1926)
    1. John Ciske (1871 - 1876) and Christina Schubert (1865 - 1950)
      1. Gerald Lawrence Ciske (1901 - 1990) and Leona Strelow (1906 - 1998)
Of my Ratzman ancestors, I know very little. I have traced back to my second great-grandfather, though I only have his and his wife's names. Perhaps they are my focus for the year so that I can catch them up to the others.
  1. Edward T Ratzman (? - ?) and Alice Sailer (? - ?)
    1. Gordon Edward Ratzman (abt. 1907 - ?) and Margaret Boelter (abt. 1908 - ?)
The act of formally writing a report, for my own files, summarizing what I know and have documented for each line, has given me new insight into possible research paths for the future. There are branches that are flowering, while others are a tad stunted.

photo credit: Andi Campbell-Jones Scottish Weather via photopin (license)

30 January 2017

Deed - Isaac Z and Amanda Shelton to Samuel Stewart, 26 February 1895

I Z Shelton + wife
      to deed
Samuel Stewart
For and in Consideration of five hundred and
fifty Dollars to me in hand paid. I have this day bargained
and sold and do hereby transfer and Convey unto Samuel Stewart
a Certain tract or parcel of land lying and being in the 1st Civil District
of White County Tennessee, and described as follows to-wit:
Beginning on a Hickory near the S.W. Corner of a tract of land
deeded by Richard Mauldin and his wife Ann Mauldin
to Rachel Sims, running thence East on a line of the same 3 3/4
Poles to a Rock Corner of a tract of land conveyed by Richard
Mauldin and wife to Taylor Clark (Col)[,] thence N. 10° E. 10 3/4
Poles to a Rock a Corner of same[,] thence N. 28° E with a line of
the Lowery land 23 3/4 poles to his part oaks corner of the same[,]
Thence N 60 1/2 poles to a Rock said Sheltons S.E. Corner of tract conveyed
to him by J C Vandiver[,] thence west 14 Poles to a Rock[,] thence Southwest-
hardly 45 poles to a Rock[,] thence west 34 poles to a rock in the line of
a tract Sold by A. H. P Sims to J C Vandiver[,] thence S 2 1/2o
East with said line 45 poles to the Beginning[.] Also one
other tract described as follows[:] Beginning on a Rock in the
old Lowery line of said Sheltons S.E. Corner of a tract of land
Conveyed to him by J.C. Vandiver, running thence N 12 3/4 poles
to a Rock[,] thence west 13 1/2 poles to a Rock[,] thence Southwestwardly 12 3/4 poles
to a Rock[,] thence East 14 1/2 poles to the Beginning[.] [T]o have and to hold
the said tracts or parcels of land to the said Samuel Stewart and his
hers and assigns forever[.] [A]nd I do Covenant with the said
Samuel Stewart that I am lawfully seized and possessed of said
land and have a good right to Convey the same and the same is
unencumbered and I bind myself my heirs and represent-
atives to forever warrant and defend the title of said land[,] Except
about 3/4 of an acre in the S.W Corner of the above first
tract which was, heretofore was conveyed by deed to George Robinson
(Col) by said I. Z. Shelton[,] his heirs and assigns forever against
the lawful Claims of all persons whomsoever. In testimony
whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature this 26th day
of Feb 1895[.]
            I Z A Shelton {signature}
            Amanda Shelton {mark}
White County, Tennessee, Register of Deeds Volume 39:  137, I Z Shelton to Samuel Stewart, 26 February 1895: FHL 507916.

Transcribed: 19 November 2016 by Phillip Ciske

23 January 2017

Deed - Isaac Z and Amanda Shelton to George and Florence Robinson, 22 December 1894

I Z Shelton
      To Deed
For and in consideration of fifteen
dollars to us in hand paid, the receipt of which is here
acknowledged we have this day bargained and sold
and by these presents do transfer and Convey unto
George Robinson and his wife Florence and their
heirs; a Certain tract or parcel of land, lying and
being in White County, and state of Tennessee in
District no “1”, and bounded and described as
as follows: Beginning on a Rock in George Rob-
insons South boundary line, running thence West
10 1/2 Poles to a Rock; Thence North 9 1/2 Poles to a Rock,
Thence East 12 1/4 Poles to a Rock; Thence South 10 1/2 Poles
to the Beginning, Containing about one acre
more or less[.] To have and to hold said tract or
parcel of land to the said George and Florence Rob-
inson and their heirs forever: We Covenant with the
said George and Florence Robinson that we are lawfully
seized and possessed of Said land, and have a good
right to Convey the same, and that the same is
unencumbered; We further Covenant and bind our
selves our heirs and representatives to forever warr-
ant and defend the title to said land to the said
George and Florence Robinson and heir against the
lawful claims of all persons whomsoever[.]
            Given under our hands
and seals this 22nd day of December 1894[.]
attest,                                    I Z Shelton          {seal}
    W G Sims                         Amanda Shelton  {seal}
White County, Tennessee, Register of Deeds Volume 35:  256, I Z Shelton to George Robinson, et al, 22 December 1894: FHL 507916.

Transcribed: 19 November 2016 by Phillip Ciske

16 January 2017

Tracing Jennie O Shelton

One of the definitions of the verb form of trace is "to discover by going backward over the evidence step by step," a meaning which fits genealogy very well. A second, similar definition, "to follow the footprints, track, or trail of," also well describes our research.

Jennie O Shelton is one of my current research "subjects," one who is undoubtedly a good example of the trials of tracking a female ancestor through time. She appears with varying names off and on in the records I've found.

From what I currently know, Jennie was born around 1883, likely in Tennessee, the daughter of Isaac Z and Amanda (Pruitt) Shelton. I have only the 1900 through 1930 US censuses to provide evidence for her birth date. Ages and dates provided on the census are always suspect, in my mind, and require other documents to back them up.

Jennie was married to J. T. Shortridge on 31 March 1909 in White County, Tennessee. However, she appears in her father's household, also in White County, in the 1910 census. The census enumerator recorded her as Jennie Shortridge. What happened to her husband? So far, I have found no trace of him other than the marriage bond, license, and return.

Jennie appears again in the marriage records for White County, Tennessee, in 1916 when she married P. Wash Presley on 30 July 1916. On the marriage record, she is named Jennie Shortridge. It appears that this marriage may not have lasted very long, as Jennie filed for divorce on 3 August 1917 in the White County Chancery court. The case papers, however, include a note that the case was closed as the parties reconciled. The note is regretfully undated.

Jennie next appears with her father's household in the 1920 census, now living in Atlanta, Georgia. Once again the question is what happened to her husband, Wash?

Isaac died in 1929, but Jennie remained living with her mother, Amanda, in Atlanta in the 1930 census. She appears one more time, in 1932, in the Atlanta city directory, listed as Jennie Presley.

To discover more of Jennie's story, I am going to need to search sideways. Instead of focusing just on Jennie and the Sheltons, I need to look at the Shortridge and Presley names, attempting to identify J. T. and Wash in the available records. I also need to expand the types of documents I'm looking at, searching resources such as court minutes and newspapers.

I think I also need to take one or more trips to Tennessee to do onsite research. I have the vacation time, I just need to plan to use it.

photo credit: Julien.Belli Melchsee-Frutt, Switzerland, 2017 via photopin (license)

09 January 2017

Guidelines to Transcribing

I am in the middle of transcribing papers related to a court case involving one of my ancestors. Below is a set of guidelines I'm working to internalize as I work. Many of them revolve around maintaining the context and appearance of the original document.


  1. Copy what you see exactly as it appears. Do not edit the text. If a comment is needed, place them in square brackets.
  2. Use square brackets to show alterations or edits to the text.
  3. Retain the original punctuation and capitalization.
  4. Retain the original line breaks.
  5. Always include a full source citation on each page of the transcription.
  6. Take a break, especially when puzzling over a particularly strange or illegible portion of the text.