Thursday, August 11, 2016

Free Civil War Records and Tips for Finding State Pensions

This is a cross post from my other blog The Occasional Genealogist. I've been updating both blogs and decided this was a particular post that I should actually copy to this blog, not just link to.

[Originally posted 30 May 2016 at]

This morning I read in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about FamilySearch's new Civil War record releases. I'm always excited about more records (or even indices) coming online, but for me, the big news may be the new landing page.

This page is a listing of free online Civil War Era records (so Federal and State Census records are included as well as Freedmen's Bureau records). These are just the records provided free through FamilySearch, though. Previously, it's been time-consuming to review FamilySearch for Civil War records. This makes it much easier. However, you do need to realize these are just from FamilySearch. The list is so long; you might think it is comprehensive.

Off the top of my head, I know there are free Georgia Confederate pensions available online in the Virtual Vault from the Georgia Archives (collections are alphabetical, scroll down to see the "Confederate" collections). These are also available at if you have a subscription. It's easier to search at if you have that option. You may have enough information to find the record quickly in the Virtual Vault.

I also know Oklahoma Confederate Pensions are available online for free from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. The index to these records is also available on the same page.

Because individual states granted Confederate pensions, the collections are much smaller. If your state of interest isn't listed on the FamilySearch page, it's worth Googling the state you are interested in and "Confederate pensions" to see if they are available online or if there is at least an index. In most cases, a person got a Confederate pension from the state where he resided when applying, regardless of the state he served from. The rules to receive a pension varied by state as did the year they were first allowed. As a general rule, your ancestor or his widow probably had to survive until about the turn of the 20th century or into the 20th century. He or she also had to be needy. Governments (state or federal) weren't just tossing money around, so the veteran or widow had to show they needed the additional support, not just served. This also means some people would not have applied because they didn't want to ask for charity. Of course, some people applied under false pretenses to get free money.

What does all this mean? You should check to see if your ancestor applied for a pension but you can't assume they received one even if you know they served in the Civil War. If your Confederate ancestor moved around after the Civil War, you may have to check a lot of different places. If you have Union ancestors, you most likely have to order the pension from Washington, D.C.

FamilySearch's new landing page for Civil War Era Records will make your research much easier. Now there's no excuse for not following up on those potential sources.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Good News for NYC Researchers

Too often "genealogical" news is about records being closed---no longer available for research. This has consistently been a problem in NYC records (although they have been closed, not suddenly closed). Recently there's been some good news and now that good news has turned into new online records, even better, FREE online records.
  I don't usually post every new collection that comes online (or news of every state closing records access). However, I sympathize with the woes of NYC genealogists. I usually have to deal with records that were never created or were destroyed. How frustrating to know the records were kept and still exist but not be allowed to use them! Here's a small victory for genealogists in the form of marriage record indexes. You can read more details, get links, and learn more about the "history" of this records access battle in Upfront with NGS, the blog for the National Genealogical Society. This is a great blog for news about U.S. genealogy, consider following it if you aren't already.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Understanding U.S. Census Records: Beyond Names, Ages, and Birthplaces

For U.S. genealogy research, census records are a key record. If you aren't from a location with centuries of vital records, census records might be the first record you used. Online research is making different records easily available to beginners. However, if you consider yourself a genealogist, even a beginner, and you're researching people living in the U.S., you should be using census records once you get back to 1940.
So, there's a good chance if you're reading this, you consider yourself pretty familiar with U.S. Federal Census records. So let's test your knowledge. Answer the following questions based only on census records.

  • Did your family own a radio?
  • Did they rent or own their home?
  • Did they live on a farm?
  • Did they have a mortgage?
  • Could they read or write?
  • Did they own land?
  • What race does "Ot" stand for?
  • Do you know what "Pa" means in the naturalization column?
  • What occupation is "Secy.?"

Did you know you could find this information in census records or do you know how to find out what the abbreviations mean? You can and much more. Each census year there are different questions asked and different abbreviations. The instructions that were given to census enumerators are available online and for free. This is far more detailed than the tiny headers found at the top of each column of the actual census form. In fact, you may find the instructions indicate a column has a slightly different purpose than you thought.
Enumerator Instructions 1850 to 1950 from IPUMS USA


So why would you want to use the enumerator instructions? First, you could learn more about your ancestors. There's a lot more to learn than just the information in the quiz above. Second, you can start to define your ancestor. What I mean by that is you will be able to tell your ancestor from someone of the same name and age. You may also be able to identify your ancestor when they are listed with the wrong name and age.

Data Matching

If you haven't realized it, much of genealogy is matching up data points about a person to identify them. You almost always use the data points of a first and last name. You can also use an estimated birth year (i.e. age in a certain year), state of birth, family members' names, and occupation. All of these appear in census records (but not in every census record). Some census records also contain information about immigration and naturalization, native language, race, living situation (house, farm, mortgaged or free, and more), marital status, number of children born to a woman, and if they owned a radio. For urban residents, you can match up information with city directories and trace them year to year.

More Records

That brings me to another reason to understand the instructions. Many city dwellers often don't own their land/home but what about rural residents, particularly farmers? Some census records explicitly ask if the residence is owned or rented but others have a column for the value of real estate owned. If they owned their home or any real estate, you should be looking for deed records. Similarly, if you have an immigrant that is naturalized or in the process of being naturalized, you should be looking for those records. However, you do need to be careful as a spouse may have gained citizenship through marriage. This may or may not be reflected in the enumerator instructions. There may be other leads indicated from a census record, read the instructions so you know what you are looking at.

Errors, Errors, Everywhere

Hopefully you are aware that census records are full of errors. This is another reason to use the instructions. You remove one variable by knowing what the enumerator was supposed to record. That does not mean the enumerator followed the instructions but if they did, you won't be guessing what each piece of information means. You'll also have a baseline to tell how likely it is that particular enumerator followed the instructions or how careful he or she was. You may also find what you thought was "wrong" is actually correct based on the instructions. Keep in mind, the purpose of the census is to record statistics for decision making, not to provide "facts" to genealogists. Occasionally it even turns out what appears to be conflicting information from two different census years actually agrees, based on the instructions.

I hope you're excited to add the census enumerator instructions to your genealogical toolbox. If you have only been gathering names, ages, and birthplaces from the census, you may find you learn much more about your ancestors when you milk the census for every piece of information it provides.

Enumerator Instructions 1850 to 1950 from IPUMS USA
Update: You can find an Evernote template and instructions on my other blog, for performing basic census correlation

Monday, March 28, 2016

More Information on C and XC Pensions

When I lived outside of Washington, D.C., a large part of my genealogical business was digitally copying Civil War pension files at the National Archives. This was usually very straightforward work, but occasionally it would be a bit more complicated. Pension files that remained active into the 20th century (and that includes files from other wars, I just wasn't asked to copy those very often) were given an additional number. This number appears on the index card as a "C" or "XC."

General Pension Info

To simplify the process for clients wanting a pension file, I created a web page with additional information and links. Although I no longer offer this service, I left the page up for those who used it as a reference. You can find it, here. This page includes links to the different online indexes and a little information about the differences.

C and XC Information

Additionally, there is a link to a 2010 NARA blog (NARAtions) post about C and XC pensions. This is a really useful article to help you understand C and XC pensions. However, it is from 2010, and there is at least one update to it.

A New Home for XC Pensions

The Fall 2015 NARA Researcher News has an article about veteran claim files (including "pensions") transferred from the V.A. to the National Archives St. Louis. Since the newsletter is a pdf, the link will just open the full newsletter. You can click on the title of the article in the table of contents, and you'll be taken straight there, though (it starts on page 7 so click the title next to "7").

C Pensions in Limbo

The article is pretty straight forward, but I do want to add a little personal experience. I have a "C" Civil War file that is not at NARA that I have been trying to get for years. I contacted the National Archives St. Louis after the article came out and they were able to confirm that it is still being held by the V.A. The article states files went from a "C" file to "XC" on the claimant's death. This Civil War veteran is clearly dead, but he still has a "C" file. The article also says "XC" files were transferred. You would think (logically) that all Civil War files would have been transferred by now, but it does appear it is literally "XC" files that were transferred. I wasn't sure if the article said "XC" instead of writing out "C and XC." This makes sense if you think from a filing point of view. The pensions are purely numerical. No effort has been made to separate "C" files from earlier wars so that will have to happen before they will be transferred.
If you need a "C" Civil War pension not held at NARA I, you still have to request it from the V.A. for now.

Links from this Post

Pension page from J.P. Dondero Genealogy
2010 X & XC Pension post from NARAtions
2015 Fall Researcher News with Article on Transferred XC Pensions

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

NGS Conference Streaming Announced

Click for more information. In my series "For the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next," I wrote about national conferences and mentioned online access options. NGS has announced the live streaming options for their 2016 conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There are two tracks you can watch on two different days (so you can pick either or both). You get access through August 7th, so you don't have to watch live.

Both tracks look fantastic. The first is about land records and includes both mapping, records, and Google Earth. The second is titled "Methods for Success" and is more about meeting the standards for quality research. Check it out, though, it includes lectures about evidence standards but also conveying what you've done (sharing), using autosomal DNA, and ethics. If you have never attended a lecture (or read a book, not just one article) about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), using negative evidence, or similar topics, you will really benefit from learning about these techniques. You may even find this frees your from the research plateau you've been stuck on and helps you finally progress on some of your harder problems.

This second track is the type of lecture I will attend over and over again (I will even attend some lectures repeatedly when it is literally the same lecture I have heard before). Meeting the GPS becomes more complex as your problem becomes more complex. Because of that, it's necessary to refresh your knowledge on what it really takes to solve a complex genealogical problem. It's not uncommon for the same researcher to make solving one problem too easy and solving another problem too hard. Every problem is unique, and we all have our quirks which can lead to under researching one problem and over researching another.

Attending lectures by a variety of presenters (which both tracks provide) helps you identify the skills or techniques you underutilize or misuse. For me, I underutilize writing in my personal research. I often get interrupted when working on my own genealogy and never get back to writing a conclusion. When I do write up my results (even incomplete results) it always makes a huge difference. In the "misuse" category, I tend to go more for "exhaustive research" when it is supposed to be "REASONABLY exhaustive research." Not surprisingly, if I'd write, it'd make it obvious when I've reached "reasonably" exhaustive. I also know I will misremember or forget key points due to working on one problem extensively. What I misremember or forget is influenced by the problem. That means I don't have the advantage of knowing what mistake I am probably making. A refresher lecture helps reorient my brain, so my personal quirks have as little negative effect on my research as possible.

You can get the full details of the live streaming options at the NGS Conference blog, (click here for the live streaming info page).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Can a Genealogy Journal (as in diary) Help You?

I've recommended a genealogy journal (or diary) over on because I think it is a great tool for any genealogist, including those who don't have a lot of free time. Even if you're able to carve out time for genealogy organizing or, heaven forbid, actual research, a genealogy journal can still help you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How to Do Genealogy on the Cheap, the Right Way

How to do genealogy on the cheap

Still Not Convinced You Need to Spend the Money to Order Records?

There is a great post on the Preserve the Pensions blog this week [Preserve the Pensions is a fundraiser to digitize the War of 1812 pensions, sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies]. This post highlights some great finds in War of 1812 pensions involving neighbors of the applicant/soldier. This is just one of the many benefits you'll often find when you use/order original records.

Don't Stop at the Index

The War of 1812 pensions are being digitized but you do know most genealogy records are not online, don't you? And even if they are online, they may not be images or they may not be searchable images. You can read my earlier post about unindexed images, here. You're going to have to order some records if you want to further your research.

Some genealogists find an index or database entry and stop there because it's not always easy or cheap to order the original record. It is definitely worth it, though. You can read the above-mentioned post on It includes a link for a little more info on cluster research. You can also read a previous post from this blog about Bounty Land Warrant Applications, which is related.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Offline Lectures and Courses Part III: Institutes

Offline Lectures and Courses

for the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next

This is a continuation, the introduction and part I are here, part II, here.

Part III: National Institutes

The other primary type of "national" genealogical education event is an institute. Currently there are four U.S. institutes that should be relevant to the target audience of this series, the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed, formerly the National Institute on Genealogical Research or NIGR), and the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP). All of these could be described as "general" genealogy institutes and all are in-person, not online. There may be other topic specific institutes and there are other online institutes.
First I'll describe the one "different" institute.
Gen-Fed is the only one of these four that does not offer multiple courses to choose from. It is a single course focusing on using U.S. federal records from the National Archives (Archives I and II). Optional trips to the Library of Congress and DAR Library are included. I don't label it topic specific because if you are researching U.S. ancestors, the material taught at Gen-Fed should be part of your standard research arsenal. Gen-Fed was not held in 2015 but will resume in July 2016, registration is in February 2016. Also, note that Gen-Fed is not a beginning institute. It can certainly be called an intermediate institute but determining if you are "intermediate" is difficult. Dealing with federal records can be complicated. You need a firm genealogical foundation before attending so the material can sink in.
IGHR, SLIG, and GRIP are all week long institutes where you choose a specific course. These range from a beginner course to very specialized, advanced courses. Which courses are offered changes each year and it is usually possible to see which courses are coming up (to a limited degree) so you can plan ahead and plan your budget. All three institutes are excellent and offer very high quality instruction. A unique feature of SLIG is you can also do some research at the Family History Library. Other than that, choosing which to attend should be based on the courses offered and your budget.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Genealogy Journal Study Groups

Genealogy Journal Study Groups

for the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next

This is a continuation of the post "Genealogy Periodicals"

Joining a genealogical journal study group is extremely beneficial. There are online study groups (try googling "NGSQ Study Group") and in-person study groups. Here in Georgia, the Georgia Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (GA APG) hosts a quarterly study group meeting. The Georgia study group is aimed at professionals and those aspiring to be professionals (at least in their skill level if not actually taking clients) rather than beginners but you may find different groups near you.
One advantage of a study group is you can start your own if one doesn't exist. It's beneficial to have a more experienced genealogist in the group but it's not necessary. Better to have a study group than not if a "mentor" is all you lack. You can use the article by Bill Litchman mentioned in the first part of this post to help guide you.
Seek out opportunities through your local genealogical society, at a local repository, or just the local library. There may also be genealogy interest groups at a local church, senior center, or retirement community. Some lineage societies may have sufficient genealogical interest to provide study group participants.

Return to "Genealogy Periodicals"

Genealogy Periodicals

Genealogy Periodicals: Journals, Newsletters, and Magazines

for the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next

An often underutilized source of self-education is the genealogical journal. Genealogical journals are one of the only ways to learn how to do quality genealogy by studying quality genealogy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Loving Fold3's Native American Collection? (free through 15 November)

If checking out Fold3's Native American Collection has your interest peaked, learn more about Native American genealogical research with this month's free webinar from the Georgia Genealogical Society.
Wednesday, November 18th (3rd Wednesday of the month) the Georgia Genealogical Society will host their monthly FREE webinar. The topic for November is "American Indian Ancestry and How to Document It" presented by Angel Walton-Raji. You can learn more and register at
These free webinars are usually NOT about Georgia genealogy so check out the list of upcoming webinars not matter what your research interests. Archived (past) webinars are available to current GGS members.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Did your ancestors claim to descend from an "Indian princess?"

This is meant to be a short post so I'm not even going to go into any of the explanations about the "Indian princess" story. If you've heard it in connection to your family, read on. From November 1st to 15th, Fold3 is offering free access to their Native American Collection. If you really have Native American ancestry that's great but even if you don't, you may find valuable genealogical information in this collection.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Offline Lectures and Courses Part II: National Conferences

Offline Lectures and Courses

for the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next

This is a continuation, the introduction and part I are here.

Part II: National Conferences

At some point you will need to take your genealogical education to the next level. National level in-person events, national conferences or national institutes, may be the best choice for you. Online options are another choice or you may be fortunate enough to find the same quality and quantity of education locally. National conferences and institutes require multi-day time commitments. They have the associated expenses such as travel, lodging, and food in addition to the registration cost. Choosing to spend the extra money is a major consideration for most genealogists.This post and the next are designed to explain what to expect from a national conference or institute so you can decide which educational options will be best for you.

Friday, September 18, 2015

October is Family History Month, mark your calendar now!

No, I haven't completely lost track of time. There are usually so many genealogy related events in October you need to check them out now so you can plan appropriately. Below are events near me or that I'm hoping to attend plus links to sites where you can check out many upcoming genealogy events across the country and world.

Offline Lectures and Courses Part I: Local Socities

Offline Lectures and Courses

for the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next

Part I: Intro and Local Societies

One of the easiest ways to improve your genealogical skills is through lectures, classes, seminars, institutes, and other "taught" mediums. Being directed by a "teacher" is certainly simpler than having to find the information yourself and I'd consider listening easier than reading. A live teacher, online or offline, also gives you the chance to ask questions.
In the last few years, quality, and more advanced, lectures/classes have been coming online. This is great for genealogists who can't travel. And even if you can travel, it gives you more options. Some of these online options are free. The more in-depth or advanced ones usually cost money. This article is about offline education, but online choices are getting better each day. You should find a combination of online and offline education that works for you.

Education from Local Societies

The best "economical" option for taught education, online or offline, is usually through a genealogical society. Larger societies often have both online and offline educational offerings. Webinars are often free for members or available in an archive so you don't have to attend live (this loses the advantage of asking questions but is better than completely missing out because of your schedule). Nearly all societies, regardless of size, offer offline education.
Local genealogy societies may be at the state or county level or for an area or even specific topic. They usually have in-person meetings which include a lecture or several lectures. County level society meetings are usually free and held monthly. There may also be more involved events such as conferences, seminars, or fairs which require paid registration. State or regional societies usually meet less often and their events often feature several lectures requiring a paid registration. Events with a paid registration also often feature one or more vendors, a great chance to pick up some genealogy books, maps, software, or charts.
Don't assume a local society only has lectures related to local genealogy. What is offered depends on the membership: what their interests are, how many members, and how active they are. Also, all societies are looking for more volunteers. This is the primary limitation on what they can offer. It doesn't matter how many members there are if there aren't enough volunteers to handle running the society and its programs. Consider volunteering with your local society regardless if their programs exactly fit your needs. You may find one more set of hands is all they need to add a program you love.
Check out the societies near you for convenience and also the societies for the locations where your ancestors lived. You may find events you are willing to travel to.
Part 2 will cover National Conferences