WRHS Spring Seminar featuring John Philip Colletta, Ph.D.

Happy New Year, Genealogists!

The following announcement is from the Seminar Chair of the Genealogical Committee at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. I know him pretty well!:

I’m excited to let you know about our upcoming seminar this spring with Dr. John Philip Colletta. Please feel free to share the news with your groups and genealogy friends. We can’t wait!

The Genealogical Committee of the Western Reserve Historical Society is pleased to announce this year’s spring seminar featuring Dr. John Philip Colletta. On Saturday, April 9, 2016. Dr. Colletta will be presenting a full-day seminar featuring four presentations, “Getting to Know Your Immigrant Ancestor,” at the WRHS History Center in University Circle. One of America’s most popular genealogical lecturers Dr. Colletta and the author of several well-known genealogy books, including They Came in Ships, Finding Italian Roots, and Only a Few Bones.

Registration begins at 9:00 am. Cost for the event is $45. For complete information and online registration, please visit: (link shortened) http://tinyurl.com/pb9bjqw. We hope to see you there! Registration will be limited, so don’t miss out! If you have any questions, please contact Chris Staats at chris@staatsofohio.com.

Please note: To register online, scroll to the Tickets section at the bottom of the page linked above, select the number attending, and click Add to Cart.

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Speaking and Research Pages Updated

Hello World,

It’s been awhile! I’ve made a few updates to the site.

First,  I updated my speaking page to include some new topics and add brief descriptions of each topic. I hope to continue to add a few new ideas in the upcoming months. Also, if you are part of a library or society that doesn’t have access to many local speakers, I can present any of these topics in a live webinar format.

Second, I removed the research services page. Due to my current schedule, a cannot currently take on any new client work. I do hope to return to the research-for-hire world once time permits.

Despite my time limitations, I hope to make a return to regular posting. Being on an academic calendar, my year turns over at the end f June. Look for my New Academic-Year resolutions post soon!



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Creativity and the Genealogical Proof Standard

I’ve recently been musing about my personal need for creativity, and where creativity fits in the genealogy world. I’m still in the musing process and apologize in advance for mixed metaphors, but throw this out there:

At first glance, the Genealogical Proof Standard seems anything but creative:

1. A reasonably exhaustive search
2. Complete and accurate citation of sources
3. Analysis and correlation of the collected information
4. Resolution of conflicting evidence
5. Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion1

Exhaustive searches? Citations? Analysis and correlation? Conflict resolution and logical reasoning? That sounds like the sorts of things that would send the eyes of great creative minds rolling wildly in their heads. Or is it?

The docket books we struggle to lift, the manuscript pages we gingerly turn– even those websites we click through with wild abandon– are all physical, tangible things. The information we extract from those sources exists. We can put our finger directly on that information in the docket book, manuscript, or computer screen.

What doesn’t exist, though, is evidence. Evidence does not exist until we create it. We create it by applying that information in a way that answers or helps to answer a question, which we’ve also created. No matter how rigorously we collect, analyze, and correlate information, we have to create evidence. Have you ever watched the show “Chopped” on the Food Network? Three chefs are given identical baskets of ingredients, and judged on the dishes they create with them. Not all dishes are created equal. Some chefs have a better understanding of the ingredients and how to prepare them. Other chefs pull different items from the kitchen to combine with those ingredients to make a better final dish. Some chefs are simply more creative– successfully combining ingredients in a way that wouldn’t have occurred to other chefs. Sound familiar? Any product that never before existed requires creativity, and the level of creativity can have a direct impact on the final product, whether it’s a gourmet meal or a proof argument.

Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, affirms the need for the Genealogical Proof Standard (stay with me): “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but my lack of control over them.”2 Is there a genealogical researcher ever that didn’t experience that same passion and lack of control when we first jumped into family history? The GPS provides a means for us to control our passion, to make our work as accurate as possible. That controlled, logical approach doesn’t extinguish creativity, however. Flannery O’Conner best describes the relationship between creativity and the need for logical, methodical analysis: “The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees.”3

Of course, the final step of the GPS is where we actually create our art as genealogists– the soundly-reasoned, coherently-written conclusion. It’s Kerouac’s On the Road, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, a Mozart piano concerto, the perfect soufflé. Though speaking about fiction writing, Ms. O’Conner describes every well-written genealogical proof summary, proof argument, or journal article: “The novelist makes his statements by selection, and if he is any good, he selects every word for a reason, every detail for a reason, and every incident for a reason, and then arranges them in a certain time-sequence for a reason.”4 No matter what previous professional background you bring with you to genealogy, you have to be willing to create– indeed driven to create.

Since I’ve already leaned heavily on Flannery O’ Conner (one of my favorite writers, if you haven’t guessed by now), I will let her have the final word (well, almost final):

Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn’t require his attention.5

And there is nothing that doesn’t require the genealogist’s attention. Now go forth! Create!

  1. http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html []
  2. Allen Ginsberg, Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952 (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2006),199;Google Books (http://www.books.google.com: accessed 3 Jan 2015). Quote is often attributed to Jack Kerouac. []
  3. Flannery O’Conner, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Strause, and Giroux, 1970), 82; Google Books (http://www.books.google.com: accessed 3 Jan 2015) []
  4. ibid., 75 []
  5. ibid., 84. []
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Registration Open for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference Columbus, Ohio, 8-11 April 2015

Woohoo! The OGS conference is one of my personal favorites of each genealogical year. I hope to see many old friends, make many new ones, and spend three days in a genealogical bubble! Below is the release by Program Chair, Shelley Bishop, who has rocked the whole programming thing for this conference!

Registration Open for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference, Columbus, Ohio, 8-11 April 2015

Bellville, OH, 29 December 2014: The Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) is pleased to announce the program schedule and registration for its 54th Annual Conference, OHIO: Your Genealogical Cornerstone. The conference will be held April 9-11, 2015, at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square in Columbus, with numerous pre-conference activities on April 8. The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, will give the keynote address.

The twelve-page program brochure is now available to view and download at www.ogs.org/conference2015/index.php. Registration is open for both online and mail-in options. Hotel reservations may be made at the special conference rate via a link from the above site. Attendees will enjoy free Wifi in all guest rooms and conference facilities, as well as complimentary parking for one car per room.

Pre-conference activities on Wednesday, April 8, include tours and research opportunities at the Ohio History Center, tours of the Ohio Statehouse, and several workshops at the hotel. From Thursday through Saturday, family historians of all experience levels can select from over 90 presentations on a wide variety of topics to enhance their genealogical skills and understanding of their ancestors. The conference features 44 expert speakers from across the country. Tracks include:

Thursday: Organizing & Productivity, Problem-Solving Strategies, Records & Resources, Across the Ocean, Sharing Family History, and Forensic Genealogy.

Friday: Skill Building, Technology Tools, German Ancestors, Methods for Success, Military Research, and African American & Southern Ancestors.

Saturday: Getting Started, Records & Resources, DNA/Genetic Genealogy, Ohio Ancestors, Research Challenges, and Preserving Your Heritage.

A variety of social events, including luncheons and an informal evening gathering with live music, are offered for attendees to make and renew connections with others who share a passion for genealogy. New this year are express breakfast and grab-and-go lunch options. Businesses and societies will offer their products, books, software, expertise, and more in the exhibit hall.

Sign up to receive posts from the OGS Conference Blog, www.ogs.org/blog, for updates and details about conference activities.

Visit www.ogs.org/conference2015/index.php to view the program brochure, register, and make your hotel reservations. The Ohio Genealogical Society, founded in 1959, is the largest state genealogical society in the nation. We look forward to welcoming you to Columbus in April!

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Researching Stark County, Ohio Property Records Is Free and Easy

While Stark County happens to be the county in which I was born, I rarely have had any need to research there. However, if you DO have Stark County research, be sure to take advantage of one of the handful of counties in Ohio that have digitized all of their deeds and made them available for free, directly through the County Recorder’s website. While it may seem less than intuitive, once you figure out how the system works, you’ll see that it’s actually quite efficient.

First, go to the Stark County Recorder’s site. Click on the “Search Records” link from the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. Acknowledge the disclaimer to continue. On the next screen, you will need to register for your free account (all that’s asked for is name and email address).



Once you’ve registered, you arrive at the main search page. Assuming you are doing historical research, select “Archive Search.”


In the archive search, you will have a split screen. The top of the screen is where you search the indexes. The bottom is where you select the book, volume and page once you have found it in the index.



The index system seems a little clunky, but once you work through it a few times, it’s actually pretty slick. From the index section, you need to select: Which record group you are searching, the time period, the specific range within that time period (forget the fact that the site refers to this as “Alpha”), and then the page of the index you need. How do you know which page? Selecting the “1 Pg Name/Corp” page brings you to the index key. Just as an example, let’s look for the earliest deeds for Martin Funk:

Here are the selections to start the index search for early Martin Funk deeds:




Selecting the Pg Name\Corp brings us to the index key:


The left-hand column is the first letter of the surname, and the letters across are the first letter of the given name. The nice thing about this index is that it is consistent across the books. Once you know the page for the name you’re searching for, you don’t need to look it up each time. Here we are looking for page 163, so we can go back and select that from the index search:


The actual page numbers are listed in parenthesis, so there is no need to guess image numbers– the pages referred to in the docket books are correctly listed on the search page. This is the page image for our selection:


The first deed listed for Martin Funk is found in B:377. We can now go back to the bottom half of the search screen and get that page:















And that’s it! We now have the deed we were looking for. It can be printed and saved directly from your browser.



If we had not found any deeds in the date range we were looking for, all we need do is go back to the index selections, pick a new range, and go to page 163 of that book (since we already know the page on which surname F, first name M appears).

Happy Hunting!


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Claire Bettag Seminar, NARA Land Records and Gov Docs!

On Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 9am to 4pm, don’t miss a rare chance to see one of the great genealogical speakers, Claire Bettag! Claire will be doing an all-day seminar at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. The focus of the seminar is research in NARA land records and Gov Docs. I had the pleasure of attending Tom Jones’ Advanced Research Methods at GRIP in 2012. Claire taught several classes in that course, and I got to hear at least two of these. Fortunately, they are those sorts of lectures you could hear 10 times and still learn something new. I can’t wait to hear them again!

You don’t want to miss this– Claire doesn’t venture this way too often, so take advantage of the opportunity! For complete information and online registration go to http://www.wrhs.org/calendar/Genealogical_Committee_Fall_Seminar


Click the image for a printable pdf version of the flyer and registration form.


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1800 Federal Census of the Northwest Territory on Ancestry? April Fools!

Thanks to Mary Milne Jamba for asking this great question!

Mary was concerned about her citation to an 1800 census image for the Northwest Territory found in Ancestry.com’s “1800 United States Federal Census” database. Ancestry’s source information for this database says:

“Ancestry.com. 1800 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: Second Census of the United States, 1800. (NARA microfilm publication M32 [emphasis added], 52 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C”1

However, the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio does not appear anywhere in NARA’s listing of those 52 rolls.2 It’s not part of that microfilm publication.

If it’s not part of the cited source, where did it come from? It actually comes from a different NARA microfilm publication, “Second census of the United States, 1800, population schedules, Washington County. Territory Northwest of the River Ohio; and population census, 1803, Washington County, Ohio (M1804) [emphasis added]”3

Ancestry has merged this record with the M32 publication. They do mention in the record description, “Lost schedules include those for Georgia, Indiana Territory, Kentucky, Mississippi Territory, New Jersey, Northwest Territory [emphasis added], Virginia, Tennessee, and Alexandria County, District of Columbia. Some of the schedules for these states have been re-created using tax lists and other records. [emphasis added]”4

NARA added to the confusion by naming the M1804 publication something that it is not– a federal census. Nor is it a population schedule.

So how did it end up at NARA?

According to a description published by the Washington County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, the film was compiled by Claire Prechtel-Kluskens of the National Archives and Records Administration in 1994.5 Quoting the introductory matter on the microfilm, the page states:

“In 1962, all of the schedules reproduced on this roll of microfilm were in the Campus Martius Museum, Marietta, Ohio.  That year they were loaned to the National Archives for microfilming through the courtesy of the Museum, the Ohio Historical Society, and the Commissioners of Washington County, Ohio.  At that time, the negative microfilm was turned over to the Marietta College Library, while the positive was placed in the Microfilm Reading Room of the National Archives, Washington, DC.”6

Now that we know how it got there, WHAT IS IT? Below is a sample image from this collection (click for full-size):


Ancestry identifies the source of this image as “Year: 1800; Census Place: Newtown, Washington, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio; Roll: 1,” and cites publication M32 as the original source. But this isn’t Roll 1 of M32; it’s Roll 1 of M1804. For original image, see: http://tinyurl.com/m8935gt


The answer to that lies in statutes, specifically, statutes of the Northwest Territories.

Chapter 102 of the Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwestern Territory Adopted or Enacted From 1788 to 1833 Inclusive details:
“An act to ascertain the number of free male inhabitant of the age of twenty one in the territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio and to regulate the of representatives for the same.”7

Passed in 1799, the statute provides that:

“The enumeration shall commence on the first Tuesday of May next [1800], and on the first Tuesday of May every second year afterwards and shall be closed within thirty days after the commencement thereof. The several constables shall within forty days after the commencement of the enumeration, return to the clerk of the peace of their respective counties, accurate returns of all free male inhabitants of twenty one years of age within the townships allotted to them respectively, which returns shall be made in a schedule distinguishing the several families in which may be found a free male inhabitant of the age of twenty one years, by the name of their respective master, mistress, or other principal person therein, in manner following, to wit:
‘The number of free male inhabitants of the age of twenty one years within my township of _________ consists of _______ as appears in a schedule hereunto annexed. Subscribed by me this ____day of ________ AB constable.”8

The statute also provides the form of the schedule, worded almost exactly as you see in the image above:9


So the images on Ancestry are actually a territorial census, not a federal population schedule, taken to establish the number of eligible voters for representation purposes. While it’s obviously a valuable record set, it’s not quite the record set that the source information indicates. It’s a shame that this census AND the federal census for Washington County aren’t BOTH still around.

Nevertheless, learning as much as we can about  why a record was created and the laws that governed its form and function help us extract as much information as we possibly can. If nothing else, it makes for great conversation-starters at parties…assuming it’s a genealogical party.

The next question: Did NARA ever return the originals they were “lent” in 1962, and if so, to whom?

  1. Ancestry.com, “1800 United States Federal Census,”  Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7590: accessed 1 Apr 2014),  “Source Information.” []
  2. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, “1790-1890 Federal Population Censuses – Part 2,” National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/census/publications-microfilm-catalogs-census/1790-1890/part-02.html). []
  3. See FamilySearch Catalog entry– https://familysearch.org/search/catalog/720623?availability=Family%20History%20Library. []
  4. Ancestry.com, “1800 United States Federal Census,” “About 1800 United States Federal Census.” []
  5. Washington County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, “Washington County, Ohio, census description 1800 and 1803,” Washington County Chapter Ohio Genealogical Society (http://www.washogs.org/18001803.html: accessed 1 Apr 2014) []
  6. ibid. []
  7. Salmon P. Chase, The Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwestern Territory, Adopted or Enacted From 1788 to 1833 Inclusive: Together with the Ordinance of 1787; the Constitutions of Ohio and of the United States, and Various Public Instruments and Acts of Congress, Illustrated by a Preliminary Sketch of the History of Ohio; Numerous References and Notes and Copious Indexes (Cincinnati: Corey & Fairbank, 1833), 239; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=zpk4AAAAIAAJ&vq=census&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false: accessed 1 Apr 2014). []
  8. ibid. at 240. []
  9. ibid. []
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Overcome Genealogical Isolation– Attend A Conference!

I’m in my mid-40s. Even now, I don’t quite fit what many people consider the typical genealogical demographic. I certainly didn’t fit it over 15 years ago when I first started researching. Two-thirds of my research career was spent in relative isolation (no pun intended). I had never even thought about the possibility of connecting with other family history enthusiasts who weren’t my cousins. I had no idea why I would want to do such a thing. Thinking back, I don’t know why I wouldn’t. 

This post is for all of you that are in that same boat, regardless of age. I couldn’t have been the only one, and I would be willing to bet that it’s even more common now. 

In 2009, I decided to attend my first genealogy event: the Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference. Held at Sawmill Creek near Huron, Ohio, it was close enough for me to commute daily rather than commit to spending big bucks for several nights in a hotel. I can’t tell you for sure all the lectures I attended. I’m pretty sure I saw lectures about Pennsylvania genealogy and Virginia genealogy. I went to one about Irish research. I think I attended one about researching women ancestors. I know for sure that I attended a lecture about Civil War research.

I know this not because I remember the websites and other resources mentioned during the hour. I remember it because it was at that lecture that my genealogy career really began. I met Brent Morgan. And so it started. Brent and his wife, Sharon, were sitting next to me in this lecture. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but after the lecture we were talking. Upon learning I lived in Cleveland, Brent told me that I should go to the next meeting of the East Cuyahoga County Genealogical Society. He said they were having a great speaker that night. I asked who, and he replied that he was the speaker. I did go to that meeting, and then I joined the group. And I’ve never looked back.

I didn’t attend many meetings that first year, but I also joined the Lake County Genealogical Society to attend some of their programs. I started blogging. At first, I blogged about whatever came to mind, but it quickly evolved into a genealogy blog. Later that year, Lake County hosted Elissa Scalise Powell. I had seen her speak at the 2009 conference, and blogged about the fact that she would speaking at Lake County. I didn’t even think about it at the time.

Enter the 2010 OGS conference in Toledo. By that time, I had gotten serious about genealogy. Just prior to the conference, I joined the waiting list to be part of a ProGen group. I asked if I could attend the ProGen lunch gathering at the conference.  At that luncheon, I met a number of people, including local genealogist, Carla Cegielski, as well as not-so-local folks like Harold Henderson. The conversations were enlightening. Never before had I met so many people who were not only passionate about genealogy, but knowledgeable. After introducing myself, Carla told me that a number of people had attended Elissa’s talk because they had heard about it from my blog post. WHAT?? Someone actually found and read the blog? I had no idea.

My application to the First Families of Ohio was also accepted that year, and I planned to attend the banquet. One of the lecturers I saw at this conference was Craig Scott. Earlier that winter, Craig was speaking in Pittsburgh, but a winter storm prevented me from attending. In the lobby on my way to the banquet, I saw Craig, introduced myself, and told him that I was sorry to have missed his Pittsburgh appearance. He sat down in a chair and asked me what I wanted to know. He spent so much time talking one-on-one with me that I ended up being late for the banquet. I hate being late, but that was well worth it! At the banquet, I sat next to Jean Hoffman, who I had met somewhere along the line, probably having been introduced by Brent.

That conference was yet another mile-marker in my genealogical progression. The people I had met were so inspiring. We shared a common passion, and I jumped at the chance to completely immerse myself in genealogy, even if only for a few days, and with money I really didn’t have. Sitting in the lobby at that conference, I also joined APG.

Over the next two years, I kept my feet moving. I picked up a number of new volunteer commitments, and even started doing some client work. That summer I was put in contact with Margaret Cheney and– much to my horror at the time– launched my speaking career. I was now a member of East Cuyahoga, Lake County, Great Lakes APG Chapter, and the Western Reseve Historical Society’s Genealogical Committee.

The 2012 OGS conference was in Cleveland, my hometown! …and I couldn’t go. Not being able to get the time off work, I was relegated to manning the WRHS table for a few hours here and there. Enter Sunny Morton and Family Tree Magazine. While on my way to the vendor hall, I ran into Sunny. She offered to introduce me to her editor. Have you heard of the “elevator speech?” You know, where you have 30 seconds to tell all about yourself and how awesome you are? Not my strong suit anyway, I totally panicked. I was sure I sounded like a complete dolt and had totally tanked.

After the conference, I was glum, having only been able to spend a few hours there, all in the vendor hall. Even in that limited time, I managed to blow my chance at writing for publication. And a month later, out of the blue, I got an email from Family Tree. And a week later, another email. I went from thinking I’d blown my chance to suddenly having two articles with actual deadlines, almost like a real writer. Though I wasn’t even registered for that conference, it turned out to be one of the best ever, business-wise.

I could go on and on about the 2011 conference in Columbus, or the 2013 conference in Cincinnati. Each was spectacular, and each spectacular for its own reasons. But it’s really those first few conferences that set my life on its current path. Now I don’t expect you all to suddenly decide to become professional genealogists…especially if you like to eat, live well, etc. :) However: are you passionate about genealogy and not yet made a connection with the larger genealogical community? Are you are a newcomer looking for information and direction? A serious researcher looking to see top lecturers, immerse yourself in genealogical conversation, and make new connections? A conference can open doors to worlds you never knew existed.

That sounds cliche, but for me, it was totally true. I’ve met so many wonderful people since that conference in 2009– too many to name them all here individually, though I wish I could. I can’t even begin to imagine my genealogical life existing in total isolation. Many of you have provided me with milestone moments equally as important as these conference slices-of-life. Between conferences, institutes, and social media, my genealogical life is SO much richer with you all in it. I can’t thank enough.

So give it a shot. If you’re not sure and have some questions, drop me a line. I’m getting excited for this year’s OGS conference and would love to see you there. You can find the info at http://www.genex2014.org/ and register. Heck, make a long vacation out of it and head down to Richmond, Virginia to attend the 2014 National Genealogical Society conference: http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/.

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Help Wanted: Calling All Staats males from the DE, Albany, or NJ Staats families!

Okay, so this gig doesn’t pay much. In fact, if you’re looking for cash, you’ll be sadly disappointed. However, if the satisfaction of helping to sort out the origins of the Staats family in America floats your boat, you’re in luck. Colleague and potential cousin Dottie Staats Kerns has done a fabulous job getting a large number of Staats males from the West Virginia families to test. Purchasing the kits with her own money, she has gotten enough samples from each of the early WV branches that you can start to see the patterns– which line is more closely related to which. You can also see that they are all related to each other, although the exact relationship can’t be determined from the test. None of this replaces the paper trail and traditional research techniques; it’s just another tool in the toolbox. I don’t view these tests as an “answer,” but rather as a way to help guide us towards more evidence that will help guide us to evidence with which to draw a strong conclusion.

All of the WV DNA samples closely match the samples submitted by descendants of Jan Pieterszen Van Huysen family of Gowanus, (the patriarch of the Gowanus Staats family). So far, only one person from the Albany branch has tested. That test did not match the Gowanus branch tests even remotely. However, one test for comparison is simply not enough to draw any theories or conclusions. I won’t get into the details of how yDNA testing works, but at its most basic level, yDNA is passed from father-to-son, essentially unchanged. Ultimately, after analyzing certain “markers” along the DNA strand and how many times a pattern at that point is repeated, it’s statistics. By comparing data between tests, you can estimate 1) whether or not two males are related, and if so, 2) The number of generations within which they likely share a common ancestor.

No one from my branch, the Delaware branch, has tested at all. I don’t think anyone from the New Jersey branch has tested, either, but I could be wrong about that. I would love to get someone from my same DE line to test to help get a better idea where I fit in, but I am ultimately interested in helping build a database of ALL of the Staats families as a tool to help sort out the origins of each. I am especially interested in the Delaware branch, and have reached out to descendants of those families individually. However, I can’t write to everyone, and posting here is my way of hoping to cast the net a little wider.

What’s the catch? There really isn’t one. I have two testing kits at the ready. If you are a Staats male from any of these families and willing to help, I will send you the kits and instructions (it’s just a cheek swab that you rub around, stick in a plastic container, and mail it back to the company in the provided envelope. There’s no charge to you, and you can test anonymously. If you have any other question, please feel free to ask me.


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Is Your Genealogy Hearsay?


I am always looking for parallels between legal research and genealogical research. In my evidence and torts class this week, we studied Ohio’s Rules of Evidence regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence. It was a loooong stretch of class, and then suddenly we got to what I mentally labeled the “genealogy exceptions.” I woke back up. The “genealogy exceptions,”  as I call them, are hearsay statements that are admissible in court, and they include a large sampling of records that we normally use, or should be using as genealogists.

We’ve all heard “Objection, your Honor. Hearsay!” on TV, but what does it really mean? According to the Ohio rules, “‘Hearsay’ is a statement1, other than one made by the declarant2 while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”3 In other words, hearsay is a statement by someone without first-hand knowledge of an event, that is given as evidence to support a specific claim.

Start with the general presumption that hearsay is inadmissible. As an example, assume Witness A saw a van run a red light, causing an accident. Witness A then tells Person B (who was not at the scene, and had no personal knowledge of the incident) what they saw. In general, the testimony of Person B will be inadmissible, at least when it is offered as evidence of the truth of the matter– in this case, as evidence of the cause of the accident. There are exceptions…there are a lot of exceptions, but in general, if you didn’t see, hear, or otherwise personally experience something, and you’re not the one making a statement, your statement is not admissible as evidence.

What are some of the exceptions that allow statements by someone other than the declarant to be admissable? Here are a few from Rule 803 I think you’ll recognize:

(8) Public records and reports. Records, reports, statements, or data compilations,
in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (a) the activities of the office or agency,
or (b) matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to
report, excluding, however, in criminal cases matters observed by police officers and other law
enforcement personnel, unless offered by defendant, unless the sources of information or other
circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.

(9) Records of vital statistics. Records or data compilations, in any form, of births,
fetal deaths, deaths, or marriages, if the report thereof was made to a public office pursuant to
requirement of law

(10) Absence of public record or entry. To prove the absence of a record, report,
statement, or data compilation, in any form, or the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of a matter of
which a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, was regularly made and
preserved by a public office or agency, evidence in the form of a certification in accordance with
Rule 901(B)(10) or testimony, that diligent search failed to disclose the record, report, statement,
or data compilation, or entry.

(11) Records of religious organizations. Statements of births, marriages, divorces,
deaths, legitimacy, ancestry, relationship by blood or marriage, or other similar facts of personal
or family history, contained in a regularly kept record of a religious organization.

(12) Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates. Statements of fact contained in a
certificate that the maker performed a marriage or other ceremony or administered a sacrament,
made by a clergyman, public official, or other person authorized by the rules or practices of a
religious organization or by law to perform the act certified, and purporting to have been issued
at the time of the act or within a reasonable time thereafter.

(13) Family records. Statements of fact concerning personal or family history
contained in family Bibles, genealogies, charts, engravings on rings, inscriptions on family
portraits, engravings on urns, crypts, or tombstones, or the like.

(14) Records of documents affecting an interest in property. The record of a
document purporting to establish or affect an interest in property, as proof of the content of the
original recorded document and its execution and delivery by each person by whom it purports to
have been executed, if the record is a record of a public office and an applicable statute
authorizes the recording of documents of that kind in that office.

(15) Statements in documents affecting an interest in property. A statement
contained in a document purporting to establish or affect an interest in property if the matter
stated was relevant to the purpose of the document, unless dealings with the property since the document was made have been inconsistent with the truth of the statement or the purport of the document.

(16) Statements in ancient documents. Statements in a document in existence twenty
years or more4 the authenticity of which is established.5

Notice that almost every exception contains the language “statements of fact, ” and any of the documents listed here will contain them. What we can’t tell from any single individual document is whether or not a given statement of fact it contains is correct. If I’m a lawyer, I’m most interested in winning. The “correct” statement is whichever one most benefits my client. If other statements disagree, I’m going to be looking to keep them out of evidence or otherwise explain them away however I can. As genealogists, though ,we want to bring as many of these “statements of fact,” from as many different admissible sources as possible.6 We need to be able to examine and cross-examine (forgive the pun) each source to see what information it contains. We need to look at the information that each source contains, and what sort of evidence that information provides to help solve our case. Then we need to correlate all the various pieces of evidence from all the different sources7 to come up with the best possible argument to “prove” our case. As genealogists, we only win when we are the most accurate we can be given the all evidence available.

What does all this have to do with genealogy? It means that, in general, all those Ancestry, FamilySearch, WikiTree, or family history books are hearsay. Don’t admit them to your personal Court of Genealogy. The author or compiler of that tree, in most cases  1) did not have first-hand knowledge of the events about which which he is making a statement, and 2) is making that statement in order to offer evidence evidence to prove an assertion. The assertion in this case is kinship, asserting the correctness of a pedigree chart or family group sheet. What evidence IS admissible are all those sorts of documents that we should be using– the exceptions listed in Ohio Rules of Evidence.

Astute readers may point out a flaw here: I claimed that evidence from online or published family trees is not admissible, yet under exception 803(13), genealogies are admissible. True enough, you can admit them if you choose. But our goal as genealogists is truth, and we are looking to find and admit as much evidence as possible to get that goal. In the process of collecting evidence from all those other documents, that online of published family tree is either going to become superfluous to your argument, or it is going to be shown to be incorrect. If all you have is that genealogy, your chances of winning a case aren’t real good. That’s not to say that the genealogy won’t, in some cases, save you time building your case by pointing you to the actual admissible evidence from which the genealogy was compiled, but that is something better left in your notes than in your finished argument.

You ARE going to write out your proof argument, right? Not many court cases are won by plopping down a stack of papers on the judge’s bench and hoping that he has time to analyze it all and come to the same conclusions you did. Similarly, no matter how carefully a genealogist enters information into a database, no matter how meticulous and correct the source citations are– no one will be able to automatically divine how you determined that John, not Joseph was the father of your ancestor, or that he was married to Mary Williams, not Mary Smith. With three different documents giving two different dates, how did you conclude that the one that didn’t match was the correct date? You need to explain how all that evidence and its analysis fit together to arrive at the sound conclusion you’ve reached.8 It’s this written process of analysis and correlation that helps separate sound research from document-collecting.


  1. defined as “(1) an oral or written assertion or (2) nonverbal conduct of a person, if it is intended by the person as an assertion.” Ohio Rules of Evidence, Ohio Supreme Court, Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Judicial System (www.supremecourt.ohio.gov: accessed 7 Dec 2013); Rule 802(A). []
  2. A “declarant” is a person who makes a statement. Ibid., Rule 802(B). []
  3. Ohio Rules of Evidence, Rule 801(C). []
  4. …nice to know that my own marriage record is an “ancient document.” []
  5. Ibid., Rule 803(8-16). []
  6. This is the first piece of the Genealogical Proof Standard– a reasonably exhaustive search. For all GPS references, see “Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board For Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html: accessed 10 Dec 2013). []
  7. Parts 3 and 4 of the GPS– Analysis and correlation of the collected information and Resolution of conflicting evidence. []
  8. Part 5 of the GPS–Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion. []
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