It’s Family History Month and I’m trying to fit in all sorts of fun to celebrate. Including an annual trek to Grand Rapids for Western Michigan Genealogical Society’s Got Ancestors! Seminar (tonight and tomorrow)—this year featuring D. Joshua Taylor (more about that later), a couple of talks, and whole lot of research.  This post is mostly me checking in with you all and highlighting some of the things I am planning and looking forward to.

TreeTalkOct2015I have a couple of presentations I’m prepping for in the Lansing area this month:

  • I’ll be speaking at Tree Talk, CADL South Lansing’s new monthly genealogy discussion group on October 17th at 2 pm, about my experiences with DNA testing for genealogy research. Future topics for the group include: Census Quirks & Hidden Surprises on Nov 21st and Genealogy Toys for Your Holidays on Dec 19th.
  • PitfallsI’ll also be presenting, “Pitfalls, Mistakes, and Strokes of Insight”—in which I expose some of my biggest research mistakes in the hopes that you won’t have to make them too—for the Mid-Michigan Genealogical Society on Wednesday, October 28th at 7 pm, for their monthly meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lansing.

I’m also focusing pretty solidly on my Bradley County, Arkansas families while waiting for the arrival of a new photo book from MacArthur and Princella Davis (Thanks for the heads up, Kelly!!!). I’m also taking the time to go back through the first book Afro American’s of Bradley County Arkansas 1800-1930, simply because I’ve made so much progress on these lines—not so much backwards in time, but unraveling the various connections throughout the community—that I think that more will make sense this time around.  Additionally, I had a lovely conversation with Mr. Davis after I ordered my book, who wanted to figure out how I fit into the family—he is my 3rd cousin once removed by way of Sam Trotter’s brother Matt and Mrs. Davis is the grand-niece of the husband of my 2nd great-aunt Cora Trotter Steppes.

I have a new fun project that I might be able to talk about later, plus at CADL Downtown Lansing we’re plotting and planning for our National Genealogy Day Family History Open House in March! Oh, and yes, I’m also eyeing a list of roadtrips and trying to decide how many are feasible in the next year. There’s so much I want to do!

Happy hunting,


While I am plotting possible roadtrips… I’m also trying to make full use of the resources I have access to at home so I’ll be talking about a few databases I’ve found—some within Ancestry and some outside it—in a few posts.

SSDIIn case you missed it—and thank you Anne and Jeff for bringing it to my attention— added a new and fabulous database at the end of July. The U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 expands on the information in the Social Security Death Index (sample to the right) including parents’ names, actual death dates; and various forms of the name (married names, middle names) used at different times in the person’s life.

YorkEdSandyI haven’t had time to fully mine this resource but my find of the week is the transcript of my Great Uncle Edward Sandy York’s application. Other than finding out his middle name was Sandy (after his father), it is also the first document I have found that has offered a possible maiden name for my 2nd Great Grandmother Agnes. He listed her as Agnes Ingram.

This is a particularly useful resource for maiden names, married names you might not have heard before, residences to explore, etc. For one of my cousins it listed two extra married names opening up a whole other line of inquiry.  Login in at home or head out to your library or archives and dive in to this new resource.

Happy hunting,


When you feel like you’ve run out of records and the trip to New York seems impossible to plan right now… what do you do? I tend to start researching the locations, ideally to unearth more records. For this particular branch of the tree that meant researching Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties in New York.  By looking through the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s website I discovered the NYS Historic Newspapers project—a fabulous resource for New York researchers! Again, newspapers are the perfect resource for finding out the dirt on our black sheep relatives—what sells in the news business has not really changed… scandal and crime being top of the list. And that’s how I learned another piece of Michael O’Shea’s story.

OSheaMWatertownReunion18860428I was aware of Michael’s existence. He was an Irish immigrant and tailor in Upstate New York. I believe he is a close relative of my 3rd Great Grandfather, Patrick Shea or O’Shea and I know the men married sisters, Amy and Theresa McCumber, and the two couples were listed consecutively in the 1850 United States Census in Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York. I had already found evidence that Michael and his wife were buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery in Rossie, New York (as was Patrick). But that was pretty much the total of my information prior to finding the newspapers.

Upon searching the NYS Historic Newspapers, I learned that Michael stopped by the hotel of George McLear in Rossie for drinks twice on the 21st of April 1886 and then while walking home that night fell into the Indian River. He was first reported missing but his body washed ashore days later.

OSheaMHisdeathwasnolossIn response, his widow, Amy, filed a civil suit against the hotel owner for serving Michael. The story plays out in articles in a number of the region’s newspapers in two counties as the case was tried, overturned and pursued again later by Michael’s daughter Rosanna. Ultimately the O’Shea’s lost the case when the defense persuaded the jury that Michael wasn’t that drunk and it had been a very dark night to be out walking without a lantern and it was likely just an accident.

His history of drinking didn’t serve the family well either as the defendant in the first trial remarked, “his death was no loss to the plaintiff as he was a worthless fellow and did nothing to support his wife.”


Happy hunting,


So as I noted, I’ve been working on a presentation on black sheep ancestors—which I’ve found a fair number of hanging out on my family tree. Some I’ve found by accident, some I obviously went looking for—like good old H.R. I’m going to write about a few of the side characters in my presentation because of their interesting stories and the great resources I found to research them.

SmithAbner1902I was trying to be better about following out the siblings of my direct ancestors and researching the siblings of Hugh and Jane Alison Massy starting with Rowland Hill and Elizabeth Massy Alison (because siblings marrying siblings). I’d hoped the double family tie might lead me to more information on my Massy-Alison family. But while the Rowland Alison family did move briefly to Detroit and it appears Jane and family followed along right after Hugh’s death, Rowland and family quickly moved on to Chicago where they settled and the research hasn’t yet led me to further revelations on my direct line. But it did lead to a few interesting characters like Abner Smith.

Rowland had at least 5 children including Edith who married Charles Lee Caswell in 1870. The couple had two children including Charles Lee Junior who studied at Northwestern University Law School and was admitted to the Bar by the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois on 1896. He worked in practical law in Chicago until he made junior partner in the firm Smith & Caswell with Judge Abner Smith upon the Judge’s retirement from the Circuit Court Bench in 1903. Smith and Caswell can each be found among the turn of the century who’s who for Chicago prior to the fall of 1905 when Abner became the president of Bank of America and Caswell appears to have gone on to found Caswell & Healy.

DarrowonSmith19090602By April the following year Smith and several others were indicted for conspiracy leading to the wreck of the bank. Among those who lost the majority of their investments was Clarence Darrow who paid out of pocket to all small depositors and served with his partner Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology) as attorney for the receiver, Daniel Healy, at Abner’s hearings. There are great detailed write ups in the Chicago Tribune Archives—like this one, “Smith Plea Met by New Charges”.  Abner tried every appeal possible before turning himself in to the Cook County Jail for transport to the State Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois in May of 1909. And then the process was lengthened when the Sheriff actually refused to transport him.

SmithARasclChiTrib1909In the end he served a year and a month, and on parole in July of 1910 returned home to Chicago and practicing law. His wife Ada died in 1914, he was enumerated as a widowed lodger in 1920, and when the census came round again in 1930 he had married his former partner’s widowed mother, Mrs. Edith Alison Caswell—Rowland’s daughter and my 1st cousin 5 times removed. Abner died in 1932 at the age of 89 and Edith died a year later.

One of my biggest finds from this side trip is that the Tribune archives are fabulous for researching the notable and infamous—especially if you have Chicago roots. And as cases get messy enough you may be able to continue your research in legal reviews or biographies of notable lawyers.

For example, Reports of Cases at Common Law and in Chancery Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois Vol 239 (available in Google Books) has a detailed and verbose review of the case which charged that the defendants wrongfully, wickedly, fraudulently, feloniously and unlawfully conspired, combined, and confederated… to cheat and defraud and injure the public…” and that’s leaving out a ton.

Happy hunting,


Working out of order… June included a day trip to ACPL’s Genealogy Center with the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society. It was a different perspective. I was attending more as a consultant to help the group if they needed than to focus on my own research, so I spent a bit more time keeping an eye out for my fellow researchers then I tend to. Even still it was my first experience of trying to do that trip and get anything done in what amounted to an afternoon. It will never be my first choice! But if you have to, plan ahead.

Clip from LAAGS Homework SheetI gave the group homework when they decided to make this their summer trip—links to The Genealogy Center’s website and catalog, instructions to use PERSI, and the basics I pass on in any of my talks that include planning for roadtrips.

That last on has bitten me more times than I care to admit (example)… but I am infinitely better than I was.

I went in to the day with the idea that I would track down a number of articles on the Hampton’s and their Allied families that traveled together from North Carolina to Arkansas in the early 1800s. I am more and more convinced that the answer to some of my slave brick walls will be found in researching these slave-owning families. Nothing definite as yet but I have a lot of leads to rundown that might help me connect to a few DNA matches.

Happy hunting,


So the summer has been a bit overwhelming and I am embarrassed to say I missed my own blog anniversary… but I’m back!

I’ve spent a lot of the summer jumping around in my research. And I’ll be covering a few of my experiences in the next few posts but first and foremost I’d like to give a very late shout out regarding the annual Abrams Foundation Family History Seminar hosted by the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan Genealogical Council last month. For those not in the know, it’s an annual Friday-Saturday event in July featuring  great speakers—generally one nationally recognized presenter (this year, Michael Lacopo) and a number of regional presenters—and a Lock-In at the Archives on Friday evening.

Jill Arnold’s session on World War I records at the Archives of Michigan was my Friday highlight. It was a great rundown of the collections suggested in a new research guide available at the Archives. It gave me a lot of ideas for researching my Shea uncles and cousin who served. My great grandfather was turned away from serving when they realized he had TB but he had three brothers and one cousin serve out of Michigan.

Cornelius Earl Shea's World War I Navy Veteran's BonusI was able to immediately follow up by using my time at the Lock-in to pull cards in the Veterans’ Bonus Files for Uncles Earl, George, Glen, and Cousin Roy Shea. I was particularly fascinated by the Navy cards which listed each posting (ship or base) where my uncles Glen and Earl were stationed including enrolling a day apart in Philadelphia and each serving their first 6 months together on the U.S.S. Massachusetts before splitting up. They served throughout the war leaving the service in March of 1919 having attained the same rank of Electrician 3rd Class Radio.

I was actually able to go back to work the next week and follow up with the book U. S. Warships of World War I by Paul H. Silverstone (available at the Archives) which offers pictures of either actual ships or a sample of their class along with statistics and information. It’s a nice piece of color to add to your understanding of your ancestors and those times.

My Saturday highlight was Michael Lacopo’s presentation “Deconstructing Your Family Tree,” which has undoubtedly become a very popular and needed theme of late. Lacopo reminded us that there are any number of errors within our research or others’—sometimes innocent, sometimes intentional—and we need to effectively evaluate sources getting back to original documents, tracking down the sources of published genealogies, and being mindful of why a document was created in the first place. The line that stayed with me, “If you’re going to give yourself a concussion do it properly,” by banging your head against the correct brick wall versus someone else’s.

In the two days I also attended sessions on genetic genealogy, using Facebook groups for genealogy research, and Michael Lacopo’s presentation on records between the Census. And I presented on my black sheep ancestors (such as Henry Massy)—from my point of view you have to find the humor in the situations and remember their actions  shouldn’t reflect on current generations.

I am fairly certain a good time was had by all. It definitely worked that way for me!

Happy hunting,


So, I spent the majority of the night of day #6 searching Google Books, the, the website of the University of Glasgow and what felt like a billion other possibilities. I came away with a tremendous amount of information about the Inglis family including Rev. Hary Inglis’ marriage to Mary Bryce and the transcription and film numbers for their children’s baptisms. But I didn’t find the connection. And so armed with every ecclesiastical biography I could find I started day #7 chasing Inglis’ and the hint of an Alison connection.

FastiEcclesiaeScoticanaep212It took me all morning and the rediscovering of a brief biography that had actually been among the first I’d found. [Note to self (YET AGAIN) and all interested… make sure you go line by line through a document.  Skimming might mean you miss the clue you’re looking for.] In the Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae, in a successional list of Forteviot ministers I found Hary and a brief summary of his life including notes on both of his wives the widow of Mr. Maxton and Mary Bryce the widow of Alison of Tofthill.

A quick spin in offered indexed listings for the marriage of Charles Alison and Mary Bryce on 05 Oct 1747 as well as the birth of their son, Charles in Nov of 1750. Dates are lining up neatly! I also have already noted that Hary’s son John (my Harry Alison’s uncle) started his career in the church at Tibbermore and his bio appears later in the Fasti ecclesiae—followed immediately by his successor, Thomas Taylor whom married Harry’s sister, Mary Alison. Everyone’s in the right place at the right time.



I spent the rest of the day pulling together the original baptismal and marriage records and building a better picture of the families. And as always it leads to more questions about the Bryces, Alisons, and the other connections listed in Harry’s memorials–like Lord Melville and Baron Montcreiff who appear to have been instrumental in Harry’s joining the British Army.

All in all it was a very successful day and a fabulous way to close my Salt Lake trip! I can’t wait to go back again!

Happy hunting!



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