23 May 2013

Favorite Records: Homestead Exemptions

     One of my favorite records are Homestead Exemptions.  I've used these records to help better understand the lives of my ancestors and fill in the blanks between census years.  So far I've used them to research my Georgia ancestors.  Georgia's records began in 1852 but, as these were state created laws, they began at different times in different states.  According to the Georgia Archive, "the basic purpose of this exemption is to make a certain amount of person's property untaxable."

     Given the purpose of the records, you might be able to guess what kind of information is included: the person who is seeking tax protection and details on the property needing protection.  These records will list the head of the household and in some list his family members.  Often, every member of the household will be listed by name; it's like a mini census!  Then there is a list of property, such as acres of land, livestock, furniture, and seemingly random items such as sewing machines and guns.  Sometimes you'll luck up and the record will include a plat map.

     For example, you can see the Homestead Exemption application for my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, William W Sprouse.  This record was filed in 1889 - hey, look at that! It's like a stand-in for the destroyed 1890 census.  It lists William, wife Nancy, and children Tully, Walter, Nina, Miller and Bernie.  This was exciting for me, in part because my Great-Great Grandmother, Nina Sprouse, never appeared on a census record with her parents.  The record also lists the family's property and it's value.  It's interesting to see the price of things in 1889.

     Finding these records is always exciting for me, even though they tend to indicate that my ancestors were struggling financially.  They are a bit of a gold mine and may help you learn something new about your ancestors.

18 May 2013

A Google Chrome Extension for AncestryDNA

     I was browsing Ancestry.com's DNA message boards the other day, when I saw a really interesting post.  A user of AncestryDNA was working on a Google Chrome extension to help fill in part of the features gap that is (in my opinion) a huge problem with Ancestry.com's autosomal DNA test.

     For those of you who might be unfamiliar with extensions, it's a little piece of code that you can download and attach to the Google Chrome web browser that modifies web pages.  In this case, the code adds a search function and the ability to download match lists and different data from your matches. The only hitch is that you have to view each match individually to allow the extension to log the data. The latest update sent out includes a feature that lets you pull all of your match's surnames with the click of one button.

     What I'm most excited about is the ability to search your matches by names or surnames. Take a look at the new search function that this extension adds:

     You can see a search box at the top of the screen with some search options. You can search by username or surnames.  In this example, I've searched for matches who have the surname 'Waters' in their family trees.  I have a results list of 10 matches.  Amazing! (Actually, what's amazing is that Ancesty.com doesn't already offer this feature).

     So, how do you get this awesome tool?  Email Jeff at jsnavely@cox.net. He will email you the extension and installation instructions.  Have fun!

17 May 2013

Happy Dances Lead To Head Wounds

     I didn't have to work today, so I slept in a little and then decided to go to the Georgia Archive.  It was an interesting and somewhat fruitful trip.

     First off, I left my flash drive at home.  This is not the first time I've done this!  Since I realized this 45 minutes after leaving the house, I had to stop at CVS to get a new one.  Then, when I got to the Archive, all of the "good" (aka, electronic) microfilm readers were taken.  But it was close to noon by then, when the archive clears out a little as people break for lunch.

     Indeed, this is what happened and I soon found myself at one of the good readers with a bunch of microfilm.  I had a few records to find that I had already researched using online indexes, so I was quickly doing a happy dance.  I then set about to research my McCurley and Shiflet lines.... and came up empty.

     After a while of feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere I decided to switch over to my Alexander line.  I've traced this line back to my 4x Great Grandfather, George Alexander, but had gotten stuck.  I decided to look up all the wills in Elbert County, Georgia, for men named Alexander who died in a time period before my 4x Great Grandfather was 50 years old.  This resulted in only four men.  I then checked the listed children in the wills for sons named George.  This isn't full-proof (in fact there are numerous ways that this might not work at all), but it was my best strategy and it gave me one result: William Alexander.  He died in 1854 and his will mentioned a son named George.  After doing some at-home research, I think that this could be my guy.  More on that in a later post.

     By this point it was about 1pm.  One of the employees made an announcement that, due to demand, they were setting up sign-in sheets for the good microfilm readers and asked that anyone who had been at one for more than an hour make room for other patrons.  I'd been at mine for an hour and a half, so I gathered up my things and moved to a hand crank machine.  I was the only person who moved. Guy next to me and ladies across from me who'd been there before me? They didn't even pause.  Good folks all around...

     Standing at my downgraded machine, I went looking for a variety of records for ancestors who decided to up and move house in their later years.  Mostly, these are men who I can't find death records for, but online trees list as died in some random seeming location.  I had luck with one record: the will of John Cash, my 6x Great Grandfather.   As I was happily adjusting my machine to get photos of the record: THWAP!  I slammed (yes, slammed) the side of my head into the microfilm reader. Ouch! But yay...

     A short time later  was able to get back on an electronic reader and I did a little more research before heading home.  All together it was a pretty good trip, even if a little painful.

14 May 2013

HBO's Family Tree

     Thanks to my sister's HBO Go subscription, I was able to watch the first episode of Family Tree.  I found it to be an amusing show, though it's probably not for everyone.

     First off, it's on HBO and it's british, so there is some adult language and sexual humor (I'd rate it a strong PG13 at the very least).

     Although it's not a genealogy show, much of the show dealt with a family history theme.  The main character, Tom, is having a Sunday dinner with his family and learns that his Great-Aunt has died.  She's left him a trunk, seemingly full of junk.  When Tom starts to sort through the trunk he quickly finds an old photograph of a man in a military dress uniform.  Intrigued, he calls his father, who suggests that it is Tom's Great-Grandfather, Harry.  From there, Tom spends the rest of the show seeking help in uncovering more about the photo and his grandfather.

Tom looks for a resemblance between the man in the photo
and himself, with a glove draped on his head.
     I was a little surprised by the format of the show, and how it felt a little like an episode of Who Do You Think You Are.  It's filmed as a mockumentary with "interviews," as well as with regular sitcom style scenes (think The Office).  Tom calls relatives to ask questions about the photo, he consults experts, they meet in a cafe to discuss their discoveries.  Does this not sound like an episode of WDYTYA to you?

     There were certainly non-family-history related portions of the show, but even some of those tied into family history in off-the-wall sort of ways ("How far back do you go back? How many ancestors away do you go? Like to sort of dinosaurs times?").  Other aspects of the show were much like any other sitcom.  Since this was the first episode, much of it was taken up with introducing the characters. The show is a comedy, and it's a very British comedy. There's a lot of off-the-wall banter between very kooky characters and seemingly pointless banter.

     Overall, I enjoyed the show and will continue to watch it.  I would recommend it to others, but would understand if it's not for everyone.

13 May 2013

Connecting With Civil War Ancestors Through Battle Maps

     Last week was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, a Civil War Battle fought in Virginia.  I know, from reviewing service records and researching regiment information, that my ancestors, Nathan Hyler and Frank Leaphart, fought at Chancellorsville with South Carolina's 15th Infantry Regiment, Company C.

     So I know that they were there, but what does that really mean?  Many of the battles fought in the Civil War were very large, involving troops from all over the country.  Where were my ancestors?  I'm a visual person, so when my google searching brought me to CivilWar.org's battle maps, I was able to really connect with and better understand what role my ancestors played in the battle.

     Take for example, this map of the Battle of Chancellorsville.  It's only a small piece of this map, which shows geographical features, modern day roads and historic troop movements.  I can see the 15th at the back of Kershaw's Brigade, moving parallel to VA State Highway 3.  If I were to visit Chancellorsville National Battlefield Park, I would be able to locate the exact location where my ancestors fought.

     Different battles have different maps. Some are contemporary to the time period, some have different levels of details, some represent specific times during the battle, or some have special features such as 360° views.  But all of the ones I've viewed have had maps like the one above, which I find the most helpful.  The maps can be found by browsing and searching from the maps page, or from the specific battlefield page.  If you've signed up for a free account, you can download copies of the maps in PDF form.  I recommend doing this, because you can't zoom on the website.

     From now on, when I visit a Civil War Battlefield where my ancestors fought, I plan to take a copy of one of these maps with me.  Finding that personal connection to history is what genealogy is all about to me, and these maps bring me one step closer to my ancestors.

10 May 2013

Where'd My AncestryDNA Leaf Hints Go?

     I logged in today to check my AncestryDNA matches (my autosomal DNA test from Ancestry.com).  I glanced over my most recent, un-viewed matches first, but didn't see anything promising.  Next I filtered my matches by those that have shaky leaf hints.  I went to scroll down the page, looking for new matches.  Boy was I surprised when my scrolling almost immediately brought me to the end of the page.

     I would estimate that 2/3 of my leaf hint matches are gone.

     When I first got started with AncestryDNA I used the function that allowed you to "star" your matches to keep track of those with whom I had found a connection.  I could then filter my matches by those that I had stared.  Once Ancestry allowed users to filter by leaf hints, I stopped doing that and started adding stars to matches that did have ancestral hints, but did not have leaf hints (ongoing bug, no resolution in sight!).  Organization is key.  So now that my leaf hints are gone, it means that I do not have a way to find my missing matches without sorting through 88 pages of matches and opening each one. And I never made a list of my AncestryDNA matches like I do with my ftDNA and 23andMe matches, because there is no search function!

     I was never 100% happy with AncestryDNA's autosomal test, but now I'm about fed up.  There are so many basic functions missing from this product and it is beyond buggy.  Yes, it's still in Beta, but they haven't fixed the known issues and have released very few new features compared to what has been requested.

     I sent feedback to Ancestry.com in two ways: their feedback form and twitter.  I got a quick response from my twitter feedback that it was  known issue and to send an email to support@ancestry.com.  I would recommend others check their matches and send an email if they see the same issue.

     I hope that this issue is fixed soon, but given my experience with AncestryDNA so far, I'm not holding my breath.

07 May 2013

Civil War Profile: Nathan W Hyler

     The following is a profile of one of my Civil War ancestors. What was their life like before, during and after the war? Where did their sympathies lie? How did they feel about the war?


     In 1860
my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Nathan Washington Hyler, was living Dutch Fork, Lexington County, South Carolina.  He had married Elizabeth Meetze some five years prior and they had two sons: Rufus Barnett and Henry D.  In the 1860 Census, the family's surname was enumerated as "Hoyler."

     Nathan was a farmer, like his father before him.  According to the 1860 Agricultural Census, he had 90 acres of land valued at $1,000.  He had one horse and five pigs, valued at $100; he produced wheat, corn, cotton, peas, beans, potatoes and hay.  Nathan is enumerated directly before his father, Gabriel, whose farm was three times larger.  Gabriel had more livestock and grew more crops.  He was also a slave owner, as shown in the 1860 Slave Census, while Nathan did not appear to have owned slaves.  Gabriel owned five slaves: a female, aged 70; males aged 67, 48, 35 and 35.

       On 7 Apr 1862, Nathan enlisted as a private in Company C of South Carolina's 15th Infantry Regiment, shortly before that regiment was transferred into the Army of Northern Virginia.  Nathan was 26 years old and was joining the war almost a year after it had begun.  I imagine that he initially delayed joining because he had a family to support (which now included my Great-Great Grandfather, John Willis).  Once it became evident that the war wasn't going to be a quick skirmish, he probably joined due to a feeling of patriotic duty, societal pressure or for the money. 

     Nathan quickly felt the true impact of war: he was shot in the leg at Sharpsburg (aka Antietam), only five months after joining the army.  Due to his injury, he was placed in the Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond Virginia, then able to spend time at home with his family.  Nathan returned to his regiment in time to fight as part of Kershaw's Brigade at Gettysburg in July of 1863.  The Brigade soon found themselves in Georgia, fighting at Chickamauga, where Nathan was once again wounded.  This time his wounds must have been more severe.  He was initially sent home on wounded furlough, but "overstayed" his leave and, by February of 1864, he was in the hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.  He didn't leave the hospital until April. After leaving the hospital, he was "detached as a guard" to Greenville, South Carolina.  It's likely that he wasn't fit to rejoin the war - did he lose his leg?


     In 1870, Nathan was again enumerated in Dutch Fork, SC, with his family.  He then owned 50 acres, apparently having lost or sold 40 acres since the 1860 Census.  His land had also dropped dramatically in value and was worth only $175.  The farm was home to one mule, one cow, one "other cattle," and seven pigs.  The farm was producing wheat, corn,  cotton, wool, peas, potatoes, butter, hay, and molasses.   

     It doesn't seem that Nathan had been dramatically impacted after the war, until we see the 1880 Census.  The southern economy had gone through a downturn which apparently hurt the Hyler family.  From the 1880 Agricultural Census, we see that Nathan "rents for shares of products" on 22 acres.  He was no longer a land owner.  Nathan's farm was home to one cow and 11 pigs and he is growing corn, oats and wheat.  With less land, Nathan's farm was much less productive.

     In 1896 an article in The State gives a list of Civil War pension seekers.  Among them is Nathan Hyler.  In order to seek a pension, Nathan would have been indigent or disabled.  He was 61 years old.   Unfortunately, copies of these pension records are not available, so I don't have details on his situation.  

     Nathan died in 1903 and it does not appear that he ever owned land again.

03 May 2013

Family Tree DNA Pricing Updates

     Family Tree DNA has recently been offering sales prices for National DNA day, while at the same time indicating that they would be permanently lowering prices.  Now, ftDNA has announced some of those lowered prices, as well as information on temporary "price rollbacks."   Read about the updates bellow:
"With the end of the DNA Day promotion, we (Bennett and Max), considered how to continue offering the best prices, yet keep control in the lab to avoid delays from high volume. Since demand is directly related to prices, we decided to implement a temporary price rollback whenever lab capacity allows us to do so. 
Despite an extremely successful sale, we believe that with our increased lab capacity, we are able to continue offering reduced prices on several tests. While the prices are not as low as they were for the DNA Day promotion, you will notice that these temporary reductions are extremely attractive, and should be a real incentive to anyone that did not take advantage of the sale to order now, while the prices are reduced. With this system in place, prices may go up on different tests at any time based on lab volume. 
Additionally, on April 1st when we permanently reduced the price of the Y-DNA12 to $49, we mentioned that our R&D team was working towards a price reduction for the equivalent mtDNA basic test. Good news! Not only did we manage to achieve this goal, but we did it for the mtDNAPlus test that covers both HVR1 and HVR2. Therefore, we're discontinuing the HVR1-only test. Our basic mtDNA test will now be the mtDNAPlus (HVR1+2) at the $49 price point! We hope that with the basic Y-DNA and mtDNA tests very reasonably priced, a whole new group of people will be tempted to begin their own DNA experience and increase the size of your projects!"
     I'm excited to see lower prices from my favorite DNA testing company.

02 May 2013

Ancestry iPhone Update: Left-to-Right Pedigree

     Users of smartphones have all had this happen: your phone notifies you that one of your apps has a update available.  You go ahead and run the update, then open the app to find out that the "update" is more like a "downgrade."  It's now less user-friendly, missing a feature you loved or now full of bugs.

     This happened to me some time ago with the Ancestry.com app.  I really liked the app and would use it on my phone while at the Archive to quickly navigate my family tree.  But then they released an update.  For some reason, they seemed to think it was a good idea to eliminate the left-to-right pedigree and provide only a top-to-bottom pedigree.  I can't describe how frustrating I found this, so let me show you.  Ok, and tell you a little.

     Say I'm doing some research on my Great-Great Grandparents, William and Frances Barfield.  Then, I want to navigate to my Great-Grandmother, Ledora Barfield.  This is what I see on my iphone:

     I have to navigate over two screens to get to the descendent I want.  Not fun on a tiny little screen! Mainly this is because all of the relatives of each descendant are shown on the pedigree and there is no way to get rid of them.  Moving around the tree was suddenly much more time consuming.

     Thankfully, Ancestry released a new update on their iPhone app that fixed this problem.  Left-to-right pedigrees are back!  Take a look at this single screenshot and tell me it's not much better for navigation:


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