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. []

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/.

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.


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. []

Ohio’s Orphans Court Records?

TOCIf you are like me, you scratched your head when you read something about Orphan Court records in Ohio. Isn’t Orphans Court something they have in other states, like Pennsylvania and Delaware? Yes, it is. But it’s also something that existed briefly in Ohio. Today, I had a chance to flip through an awesome, four-volume Ohio resource: Carrington Tanner Marshall’s History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio. If you are serious about Ohio research, and want to know the details of Ohio’s court system at any given time, this is the resource for you.

The Orphans Court was established June 16, 1795. Orphans Court was not a part of Probate Court nor even a separate judicial body, but instead, the functions of the court were performed by the Court of General Quarter Sessions. The court could supervise guardians, trustees, executors, administrators, and other people who cared for minors’ property. The court also had the power to recall administrators and enforce proper estate distribution.

The court was not the adversarial court we think of today, with plaintiffs and defendants arguing their positions. Rather, the court was inquisitorial. Judges were fact-finders, and their findings were considered proof. Orphans Court had the power to revoke rights of administration, and Probate Court had no alternative other than to appoint a new administrator or appeal to the General Court of the Territory.

So what’s become of these records? Within the territory that is now part of Ohio, there were nine counties, each of which had a Probate Court and an Orphans Court. According to the treatise, the only county whose Orphans Court records appear to survive is Washington County. Those records are held in Marietta College’s Special Collections.1

So the next time you are at a party and want to impress your friends, assuming your friends are total genealogy geeks like us, let them know about Ohio’s Orphan’s Court. If you want to be more geeky, be sure to check out this awesome resource for Ohio’s judicial history. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  1. All information in this post is from  Carrington Tanner Marshall, History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio, 4 vols. (New York : American Historical Society, 1934), 1:409. []

Finding Ancestors In Ohio’s Local Government Records Program

Ohio_Counties_sUnder the direction of the State Archivist, the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers was formed in 1970. The goal of the program was to fund and provide designated places for county and local governments to deposit their records of historical and genealogical value so that they could be maintained and accessed. Originally, there were seven network centers, each covering a specific geographical area.

Unfortunately, the program is no longer funded, which has resulted in some centers returning their records to the Ohio Historical Society, as well as other interested local repositories. Nevertheless, the records are still available, and are a terrific and largely ignored source for family history researchers. Very little of these records have been filmed, much less placed online. With the closure of some of the centers, it may be a little work to track down what records went where, but it is well worth the effort.

The record groups deposited in these centers vary depending on time and location. Not every type of record is available for every area. When you’ve exhausted the usual sorts of records and plucked all the low hanging fruit, the records in this collection help answer the question “Where do I go from here?” Some of the records are lists of names, such as the quadrennial enumerations or poll books. They can place your ancestor in a certain time and place, at times when no other records might. Other records are more narrative in nature and can provide details that enrich your understanding of your ancestor.

Typical records come from almost every county government office, and include:
Tax Records, Militia Records, Enumeration of Soldiers and Sailors, Poll Books, Tally Sheets, Justice of the Peace Dockets, Quadrennial Enumerations, District Court Records, Supreme Court Records, Military and School Records, Records of Indentures /Apprenticeships, Ditch Records and Surveys, Boys/Girls Industrial School Records, County Poorhouse Records, Mothers’ Pensions, County Home Records, Burial Record of Indigent Soldiers, Tax Duplicate, Order Books, Civil War Enumerations, Township Trustee Minutes, Mayor’s Court, Intoxication Dockets, Cemetery Records, and many, many more.

Happy Hunting!

Network Centers

Note: Centers marked with a * indicate that they have returned records, or are in the process of returning records. Contact that center to determine where records of interest were sent.

University of Akron
Archives Services, Polsky Building
225 S. Main St.
Akron, OH 44325-1702
(330) 972-7670
Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Wayne
*Bowling Green State University
Center for Archival Collections
Jerome Library – 5th Floor
Bowling Green, OH 43403-0175
(419) 372-2411
Counties: Allen, Crawford, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, Wyandot

*University of Cincinnati
Archives & Rare Books Department
Blegen Library – 8th Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0113
(513) 556-1959
Counties: Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland, Warren

Ohio Historical Society
Local Government Records Program (LGRP)
1982 Velma Avenue
Columbus, OH 43211-2497
(614) 297-2553
Counties: Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, Union

*Ohio University
Alden Library, Archives and Special Collections
Athens, OH 45701-2978
(740) 593-2710
Counties: Athens, Belmont, Gallia, Guernsey, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike Ross, Scioto, Vinton, Washington

Western Reserve Historical Society Library
10825 East Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44106-1788
(216) 721-5722
Counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain (also records from other counties obtained prior to the formation of the LGR program)

Wright State University
Dunbar Library – Archives and Special Collections
Dayton, OH 45435-0001
(937) 775-2092
Counties: Auglaize, Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Logan, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby. (Also some records from Adams, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren)

Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor
151 West Wood Street
PO Box 533
Youngstown, OH 44501-0533
(330) 743-5934
Counties: Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, and Carroll.

Genealogists Should Abandon the “Brick Wall” Metaphor

Have you ever built a brick wall? Me neither, but I know a little about the process. A brick wall is solid. Creating one takes a lot of skill. It’s not just slapping some bricks and mortar together and hoping for the best. It’s not some Neanderthal tossing bricks on top of each other and expecting them to stick. There is both skill and planning involved to build a brick wall that’s solid and long-lasting. Doesn’t this sound more like the process by which we actually accomplish our research, not something that suddenly stops it?

For a mason, one of the first steps is to lay a level foundation so that everything you put on top of that initial course is also level and square. Having laid that first course, a plumb line and level ensure that each successive course is also level. A skilled mason knows how to both mix and apply the mortar that binds those bricks together. When does a brick wall end? In practice, it ends when the wall meets the blueprint specifications. In theory, if you were building a wall with the only specification being that you build a wall as high as possible, the wall ends whenever you run out of bricks, run out of mortar, or the don’t have the knowledge of the techniques to make a really tall wall secure. (Can you say “GPS”?)

The commonly accepted genealogical definition of brick wall is something impenetrable that stands in our way– something that keeps us from continuing our research. In reality, a “brick wall, or at least the process of building one, better describes the  research process than it does something we run into . In genealogy, we are working with that theoretical mandate that we continue building as high as we can. We want to start with as solid a foundation as we can, and we proceed from there. Continuing the analogy, when we get stuck, it’s not because we’ve physically hit something– it’s because we’ve either run out of bricks, we’ve run out of mortar, or our wall is so high that we don’t know how to keep it from wobbling.

In this analogy, the bricks are either the sources or information we get from those sources; the mortar is the analysis that connects them; and the knowledge of construction techniques is the methodology we use to tackle the issue of stability or reliability. Therefore, “brick walls” should be something we actually try and create as genealogists, not something that gets in our way.

When we can’t reach anymore conclusions about our research subject, we haven’t hit a “brick wall,” we’ve simply run out of an ingredient required to build a solid structure. We need more bricks, mortar, or technique. If there’s no more to be had, then there’s no more to be had. We haven’t RUN into a wall– we’ve run OUT of stuff with which to continue building. Sometimes. we can find an alternative way to construct a solid wall, sometimes we just haven’t looked far and wide enough for more material, but other times we just don’t have what we need.

Now I don’t expect everyone in genealogy land to suddenly change their vocabulary, but it just struck me that the whole “brick wall” idea as we perceive it is a bad metaphor. When we’re stuck. we’re stuck — but there’s no wall in our way, it’s just that we can no longer build a solid one. Thoughts?

Who Do Ewe Think Your Ancestor Is?

You’ve looked high. You’ve looked low. You’ve looked wide and far. You’ve examined every common record you think might contain information about your ancestors, their friends, their associates, and their neighbors– all without much luck. Have you tried the records of their sheep?

I admit, I was more curious than anything else when I filled out the call slip for “Record of Sheep Claims” for Jefferson County, Ohio.1  I didn’t have much expectation that the sheep would give much genealogical information. I was pleasantly surprised. While they don’t provide a ton of genealogical information, sheep claims are a good example of a record that connects people in time and place, and creates an association.

What is a sheep claim? In 1893, section 4215 of the Ohio Revised Code outlines how a farmer can claim damages caused by dogs killing their sheep: “Any person damaged by the killing or injury of sheep by dog or dogs may present a account of the injury done with damages claimed therefor verified by affidavit at any regular meeting of the trustees of the township where the damage or injury occurred.”2 Even better, the law required two witnesses “who are freeholders of the neighborhood where the injury was done…[and] shall be allowed fifty cents each and mileage as in other cases…” Witnesses had to testify to the amount of damage of the claim and that the damage was not caused by either the claimant’s dogs nor his dogs, but by unknown dogs.3

The statute goes on to explain that allowed claims were to paid out of a fund created by a per capita dog tax. In the event that the fund was insufficient to pay all claims, the claims would be prorated. These records, along with the trustee’s signature approving the claim were to be transferred to the county commissioners “in care of the county auditor who shall enter upon a book to be kept for that purpose.”4

Warning: These books are large. In order to read the actual record, you’ll need to click on the image to see it full-size, but you’ll see that the trio of Henry Kitheart, Joseph Kitheart, and Walter J. Hussey come in together twice. William McCue’s witnesses were J.C. More and W.W. Moore.5 We can’t tell exact relationships from this record, but it is evidence of some relationship. Again, these aren’t giving us volumes of information, but they list names that connect people in a specific time and place. It’s those associations between our ancestors and those people around him that help make our ancestor’s identity unique. If this is a record that might contain one of those associations, do you dare overlook it?


This record group, and many many more are part of the Ohio Local Government Records program, which consists of several archives that collect and preserve lesser-used, but certainly useful record groups. You can go to the Ohio Historical Society’s website to learn a little more about the places that are part of the Ohio Network Of American History Research Centers, including links to those centers with online listings of collections. Or if you’re not in a hurry, you can come out to the 2014 Ohio Genealogical Society conference on April 30 – May 3, where I’ll be presenting a program about these records.

  1. Jefferson County, Ohio, Auditor, sheep claims, LGR 247, 1 volume, 1892–1927; Youngstown Museum of Labor and Industry, Youngstown. []
  2. State of Ohio, General Assembly, Acts of the State of Ohio, Volume 40 (Norwalk: Laning Printing Co.,1893), 348-349; digital images, Google Books  (http://www.books.google.com: accessed 21 Aug 2013). []
  3. ibid.  []
  4. ibid. []
  5. Jefferson Co., Ohio, sheep claims, 18-19. []

Wrestling With FamilySearch Record Collections That Use the Russell Index

The Russell Index. Just mentioning the name causes some to shudder. The skeleton key symbol emblazoned with its cryptic “l-m-n-r-t” message. The dreaded columns and rows.  Letters and numbers all over the page. Noooooo! If you do research in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, among others, you are going to have to master this index. I’m here to tell you, though, folks – this is one of my favorite indexes. With just a little bit of practice, I guarantee you’ll learn to love it, too. There are different variations of this index, but each revolves around the use of five key letters that follow the first letter of a given surname.

Russell index books are organized into individual volumes, according the initial letter of a surname. You may also find volumes that combine several initial letters into one volume. For example, you might find a single volume that contains all those surnames beginning with H, I, and J. Once you have the volume in hand that contains the surname you are interested in, ignore the first letter of the surname and identify the first key letter contained within that name. The Russell system uses five key letters: L, M, N, R, and T. If I am looking for the surname “Johns,” I first select the volume that contains the “J” surnames. Next, I need to identify the first key letter in “Johns.” That key letter is “N.” Once we know the key letter, index entries are going to be organized by first letter of the given name. If the surname doesn’t contain any key letters, use the “Misc.” column. Simple enough, right?

Using the chart below, what section would contain entries for Samuel Johns?1 (answer in the footnote)



This all seems rather complicated. How can I claim this is one of my favorite indexes? While not a true “sounds-like” index, the use of key letters groups similar-sounding surnames in the same section. This makes it easier to search for alternate spellings of names, as they are all in one place. For example, if I am looking for transactions for Rueben Summers, I will find them all in section 152, regardless of whether the name is spelled “Summers,” “Sommers,” “Summer,” or “Sommer.” What if I don’t know the given name that I’m looking for– only a surname? The Russell Index simplifies that search, too. Using the index above, if I’m looking for entries for an unknown Summers, I can start at section 12, go to 22, then 32, etc. In a general index that’s organized by surname, then by first name, and then chronologically by date, you would likely have to scroll through many, many more pages to find every entry of interest.

So how does this work online with FamilySearch record collections? Many of the collections that have been digitized and put online are not indexed, and you have to browse through them similar to the way you would scroll through using the actual microfilm. Many of the films (and therefore the digitized images of that film) contain more than one volume. Therefore, the inside cover of each index book – the page that usually contains the index key- might be found anywhere within the digital collection.

*Most* collections start at the beginning of a volume, in which case it’s fairly easy to find the index key, as it is usually within the first few images of the collection. If that’s the case, be sure to note the number of the image that contains it so you can go directly back to it if necessary. I’ve also found it useful to print out a key for the Russell Index variations that I most frequently use rather than have to keep going back and forth when searching for different names; it’s a real time-saver.

Need more Russell Index practice? Use the Russell index above to look for the following folks– the first few governors of Ohio.

Edward Tiffin?2
Thomas Kirker?3
Samuel Huntingdon?4
Return Meigs?5
Othniel Looker?6
Unknown Worthington?7

Just to make sure you don’t cheat and look directly at the answers, below is a Russell Index variation that uses two key letters instead of one. It works exactly the same way, but breaks the indexes down into more manageable chunks when there are lots of entries.


See? The Russell Index is NOT that scary. Take a deep breath, read the instructions, and then show Russell who is boss!

  1. Section 153. The only key letter is “n.” Following that column down to given names that start with “S” gives us the answer. []
  2. Tiffin, 53 []
  3. Kirker, 164 []
  4. Huntingdon, 153 []
  5. Meigs, 146 []
  6. Looker, 124 []
  7. Worthington, all those sections ending with 4 []

Attention Ohio Residents: New Gambling Law Passed in the Northwest Territory

betting,blackjack,casinos,chips,gambling,games,leisure,luck,playing cards,poker,recreation

In 2013, gaming in the (former) Northwest Territory is a hot topic. Casinos, internet cafes, or Keno games dot our Territory and can be found in just about every city, town, village, or station. Here in Cleveland, the opening of the Horseshoe Casino was big news. The new Racino just opened at Thistledown Race Track. How would these enterprises have fared in 1790 under the laws of Northwest Territory? They would have been shut down, lost their license, and been ordered to pay $100 “to the use of the territory,”1

In August of 1790 in Vincennes, the “act for suppressing and prohibiting every species of Gaming for Money or other Property, and for making void all contracts and payments made in consequence thereof, and also for restraining the disorderly practice of discharging Fire Arms at certain hours and places.” was passed.2 The preamble to the act details why such an act was necessary:

WHEREAS the population, happiness and prosperity of all countries, especially infant communities, necessarily depend upon the sobriety and industry of the people, and their attention to the moral and political duties of life, without which neither the great ends of society can be answered, nor the blessings of good government be felt. And whereas many pernicious games have been publickly practised in this territory, tending to the corruption of morals and the increase of vice and idleness, and by which the honest and unsuspecting citizen may be defrauded, and deserving families be reduced to beggary and want.3

The act  stipulates that:

if any person or persons within this territory, shall on his, her or their own account…publickly set up, permit, or tables, suffer, or cause or procure to be publickly set up, permitted or suffered, any species of gaming…whereby money or other property shall be betted, won or lost, or…may derive any benefit or advantage, in money, goods or other property, as a consideration for permission to play or bett thereat, each and every such person so offending shall forfeit and pay for every such offence…the sum of two hundred dollars.”4

Tavern keepers were also held responsible for any sort of gambling in their establishments or on their property, and were subject to a one hundred dollar fine for any offense.5 Interestingly, tacked onto this legislation was an additional regulation regarding the discharging of firearms. Anyone shooting their gun within a quarter of a mile of the nearest building of a city, town, village, or station would be fined between one and five dollars. Shoot your gun “after the setting of the sun and before the rising of the same” and you can expect another fine of the same amount.6 The exception to this law is one that provides insight into the daily lives and regular threats to those intrepid, early settlers of the Northwest Territory. It tells us a little bit about what was important to our frontier ancestors:

nothing herein contained shall be deemed or construed to extend to any person lawfully using fire-arms as offensive or defensive weapons, in annoying, or opposing a common enemy, or defending his or her person or property, or the person or property of any other, against the invasion or depredations of an enemy, or in the support of the laws and government; or against the attacks of rebels, highwaymen, robbers, thieves, or others unlawfully assailing him or her, or in any other manner where such opposition, defence, or resistance is allowed by the law of the land…. 

Provided also. That nothing herein contained shall be construed in or extend to prevent the necessary military exercise…firings of, or the discharging of cannon or small arms, by any soldiers or troops in the service of the United States…. 

[nor] to the act of killing or destroying…mad or wild animals of the brute kind lurking among, in or near, or preying upon or threatening to prey upon and devour any kind of animal stock, or the corn, grain, and other produce in, of or belonging to any plantation…nor to the hindrance of any person shooting at or killing any of the larger kind of game or wild animals, such as buffaloes, bears, deer, hares, rabbits, turkies, swans, geese that may happen at any time to come in view, or be passing or feeding near any city, town, or other place as aforesaid7.

  1. Theodore C. Pease, The Laws of the Northwest Territory, 1788-1800  (Springfield: Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, 1925.), 31; digital images, Internet Archive, Ebook and Texts Archive (http://archive.org/details/texts: accessed 30 Jun 2013). []
  2. ibid. []
  3. ibid., 30 []
  4. ibid. []
  5. ibid., 31 []
  6. ibid., 33 []
  7. ibid., 33-34 []