29 October 2016

Look at the Record - Going Beyond the Search Results

Indexes are great. They help us focus our research and enable us to jump straight to records of interest. However, they are finding aids, not records. Indeed, sometimes indexes will only present a partial picture of what is, or is not, available.

I came across such a weakness while examining the 1891 Enumeration of Tennessee Voters on Ancestry, one of the primary replacements for the lost 1890 federal census in Tennessee, for members of the Shelton family. Since I have already found Isaac Z. Shelton in Overton County, Tennessee, in the 1880 federal census and in White County, Tennessee, in the 1900 federal census, I first focused my search in those two locations.

Among the search results were the following males over the age of 21 within my two counties:

  • O. L. Shelton in White County
  • Jacob M. Shelton in Overton County
  • Jake Shelton in Overton County
  • Spolwood Shelton in Overton County
Seeing that Isaac is not represented, nor does he appear with his name or various variations, I could have stopped there, but good research practice means looking at the actual images, not just relying on the search results from the database index.

Paging through the images for White County I discovered another Shelton who was somehow missed by the indexers:
  • M. L. Shelton
I have so far not uncovered an ancestor by those initials, but I am certainly filing him in my to-be-researched list.

Double-checking the entries from Overton County, I found that "Spolwood" is actually recorded as Spotswood Shelton on the image. The cross bar for the t is located above the vertical stroke, but is consistent with other Ts on the page.

Have I located my ancestor Isaac Z. Shelton yet? No, but I now know that I will likely need to continue examining each image to truly say he is not in the 1891 census substitute.

Without indexes we would spend hours having to page through records. However, indexes can contain transcription errors and/or may not contain all of the information we need. Always look at the actual record.

24 October 2016

Ancestor Profile - Isaac Denton Shelton

Isaac Denton Shelton was born about 13 March 1892 in Tennessee1 to Isaac Z. and Amanda (Pruett) Shelton.

Denton spent most of his life in White County, Tennessee, primarily near the town of Sparta. The 19002, 19103, and 19204 federal censuses all record him in White County, though perhaps not always in the same residence.

Like many in White County at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was a farmer, until he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1920s, where he worked in a saw mill.

Denton married Margaret Adelia Rice on 30 January 1910 in White County, Tennessee.5 They had eight children together.

Denton died in Atlanta, Georgia, on 12 December 1924 at the age of 336. According to his death certificate, a tree fell on him causing fractured cervical vertebrae, spinal cord damage, and total paralysis. He passed away within 12 hours of the accident at Grady Hospital in Atlanta.


1. "United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918", FamilySearchDenton Shelton, 1917-1918; citing White County, Tennessee, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,877,748.

2. 1900 U.S. census, White, Tennessee, population schedule, civil district 6, enumeration district (ED) 153, sheet 3B (penned), dwelling 47, family 49, Iza Shelton; digital image, FamilySearch; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1604.

3. 1910 U.S. census, White, Tennessee, population schedule, civil district 1, enumeration district (ED) 188, sheet 3B (penned), dwelling 61, family 63, Denton Shelton; digital image, FamilySearch; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1526.

4. 1920 U.S. census, White, Tennessee, population schedule, civil district 8, enumeration district (ED) 147, sheet 15B (penned), dwelling 116, family 119, Denton Shelton; digital image, FamilySearch; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1770.

5. "Tennessee, Marriages, 1796-1950," FamilySearchDenton Shelton and Adelia Rice, 30 January 1910; citing White, Tennessee; FHL microfilm 507,886.

6. "Georgia, Deaths, 1914-1927," FamilySearchDenton Shelton, 12 December 1924; citing certificate 36299, Department of Archives and History, Atlanta; FHL microfilm 2,322,736.

15 October 2016

Where Did I Find This Map?

I have worked on tracing my Ciske ancestors off and on for more than ten years. I would count at least eight of those years as a newbie, also called a "baby," genealogist. I happily spend hours online clicking, reading, downloading, and completely ignoring and not documenting where I found information.

In my files I have an image of a plat map showing portions of Mantiwoc and Calumet counties in Wisconsin. One of the plats is labeled "J. Cziske," so I am sure I saved it because it relates to my family. However, that is all I can recall. I know I saved in the morning on 10 November 2010, a Wednesday of all days, but where I found it, no clue.

Thankfully I found an alternative map for the same location and year which I can correctly document with a source citation.

My lesson learned is two-fold:

  1. I will probably need to relocate the source for many of my early finds which I excitedly downloaded and neglected to document. 
  2. Everything, regardless of how I obtained it, needs to be documented in some fashion so that I can properly source it later.

04 October 2016

Reading the Instructions to Understand the Census

Do you read the instruction manual when you get a new gadget or appliance or game? When it comes to something familiar, or something I think is familiar, I admit I at most give the table of contents a quick scan. While recently examining the 1920 census for information on one of my ancestors, I found myself wondering at what seemed to be an irregularity in the data recorded.

The census enumerators were only human and often made mistakes. Our ancestors also share in the blame. After all, the enumerator could only record what they were told by the person they were interviewing. In this case, however, the combination of data across three columns at first look seems okay, but after a moment of thought just did not seem correct.

1920 U.S. census record for Ike Shelton
Ike Shelton's occupation is recorded as the manager of a wood yard working on his own account (OA). What does "own account" really mean? If he ran his own wood yard, I expected Ike to be recorded as an employer. I turned to the 1920 census instructions for enumerators to see if the enumerator simply made a mistake or if I was making the wrong assumption.

The 1920 census instructions defines own account as
A person who has a gainful occupation and is neither an employer nor a salary or wage worker... Such persons are the independent workers. They neither pay nor receive salaries or regular wages. Examples of this class are: Farmers and the owners of small establishments who do not employ helpers...
In contrast, an employer is defined as
...one employing persons...in transacting his own business. The term employer does not include the superintendent, agent, manager, or other person employed to manage an establishment or business...
With this distinction in mind, I realized that Ike Shelton likely owned and ran his own small business. He was his own boss and employee.

As genealogists, we spend hours examining the population and non-population schedules of the census for our ancestors. We faithfully record the who and when and how old, and maybe make note of occupations and other items of interest. Attempting to understand the reasoning behind the responses recorded by the enumerator, by reading the instructions for each census, helps to make the information gleaned that much richer.

03 October 2016

The Who and What

A first blog post traditionally is a "who I am" and "what this blog is about" introduction. As a budding genealogist and lover of history, I find that tradition irresistible.

Who am I?

My name is Phillip and I am a budding genealogist. Over the past few years, I have found myself spending more and more time researching my family lines and seeking genealogical knowledge. The research fascinates me. I have a life-long interest in history, and placing my own family within the larger world provides hours of fun.

What is this blog?

I decided to start this blog to help fulfill a couple of goals. First, I wish to become a better writer, especially regarding writing about family history. Practice, practice, practice! Second, I wish to share what I have and continue to learn regarding my family history and genealogy in general.

Here's to the journey.