Monday, April 30, 2012

Eliminate to Isolate

Does this sound familiar? I have an ancestor, my great, great grandfather with a very common name, John Carney/Kearney, and I have found very few records that can link the right “John Carney/Kearney,” out of the many wrong ones, to me. The first record I have is my great grandmother’s, Mary Carney Kreis Lauer, second marriage license application, where she lists her father as “John Carney” and her mother as “Mary Duffy.” No other identifying facts are given such as his address, occupation, or birth date. However, in the 1900 Chicago US Census, Mary gives her parents’ birth places as Ireland.

The second, and last, record that I have is a baptism certificate for Patrick William Kearney from 1877, born to “John Kearney” and “Mary Duffy.” One clue is that Patrick was baptized in St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago. He died only two years later and was buried in Calvary Cemetery near Chicago.

For the past several months, I have been looking at addresses and occupations for “John Carneys”, using the Chicago city directories online and trying to match these to the 1870 and 1880 Chicago US census documents, using (fee-based) and (can be used for free at home through most local libraries.) My non-strategy or haphazard approach has been to take each case individually, record my findings on a separate sheet of paper and place the sheets in a file folder. In between, I work on other lines.

Just yesterday, I realized that I need to have one place (instead of a pile) to record my findings so that I can really “see” what I have. Strategy # 1 -- create a spreadsheet/chart. I started with the 1870 Chicago US Census. In the US census search window, when you search on a name in a particular state, a page comes up with all the appearances of that name in the different counties in the state. Here is what HeritageQuest shows for Cook County:

Because no addresses are given on the 1870 census, I decided to combine the census information with the city directory addresses – strategy # 2. Since “John Carney” is such a common name, there are six listed in the 1870 directory! I faced quite a hurdle. But I decided to look at the census page to check out if there were neighbors listed who had more unusual names. Then I might find their addresses to correlate with the “John Carney” on the same census page – strategy # 3. 

With this backdoor technique, I was only able to find one address for one “John Carney” in the 1870 census – Wallace St. Even though I found some very unusual names of neighbors of different “John Carneys”, these names didn’t appear in the directory.

Although I only had one address for the “John Carneys” under investigation, I could still use the 1870 census to differentiate among the seven listed. I used the variables of age, marriage partner and name of children as eliminators. I was looking for men who were old enough (and too old) to have fathered my great grandmother in 1876. I used age 20 - 40 as the age range, which gave a birth year of 1836-1856. Using this strategy, I eliminated 3 men, leaving me 4 possibilities, but I knew the address of only one of them – Wallace St. I needed to go forward to the next census in 1880 where addresses were given.

By 1880, there were many more “John Carneys” in Chicago, 26 to be exact, but only 9 were born in Ireland. And 12 “John Carneys” appeared in the 1880 city directory. By using the same variables that I used in the 1870 elimination process, I was able to come up with 4 candidates from the census. But only one of the four target addresses appeared in the 1880 city directory –3558 Wallace St. While I could eliminate 5 of the 11 remaining listings using the census records, I was left with six to add to my list of possibilities!

But I am undaunted. I know I am closer to identifying my John Carney than I was before. And that is worth the three days of work this project took.

Categories: census, genealogy professional, genealogy education, genealogy tools, research terms

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Revisit, Review, Rethink – the 3 R’s for all your genealogical research

Genealogy is an art and a science. You spend time searching out bits of information like a scientist. Then, like an artist, you arrange these bits together to tell the story of an ancestor.

If you are like me, you have many family files (electronic and paper) where you store documentation. You may also work on a couple of family lines at once (even though many genealogical gurus suggest concentrating on one line at a time). And if you have been interested in your family history for a while, your research been going on for several years.

 Over the years, we genealogists collect evidence about our ancestors’ lives, but this process often happens in dribs and drabs. We may find a birth record for someone one year and nothing else for two years. Then suddenly a death record for that person appears on a database. This is the time to revisit our family file. Take time to reread and review everything that we have found on this ancestor. We may see connections in view of the new information on the death record. As we rethink any conclusions, beliefs, theories that we have made before on this person’s life in view of this new information, several things may happen. We may discard part or all of a former belief or we may find new evidence that solidifies a theory we hoped was true.

So, the first reason for the 3 R’s is that genealogical research is an on-going process with new information showing up at anytime that is then added to the cumulative file.

The second reason to revisit, review and rethink our family information is a fact of the human brain. It seems that no matter how closely we study records that we find, we often miss some fact or another. And on the second, third or fourth reading (spread out over time), a piece of information will suddenly jump out at us that we have overlooked before. Or something we have read over and over will take on a new significance due to some new record we have found.
A big part of genealogical research is consulting online databases, such as and, to name two of the largest and most commonly used. These databases are not static; new additions are regularly being added to the collections. An example is the 1940 US Census that has just been released and will be added. This ever evolving nature of databases is the third reason for the 3 R’s – we need to revisit and review the genealogical record collections for each of our ancestral lines in order to be sure we don’t miss new information. We need to rethink our search parameters. Who knows what exciting family facts we can uncover. This is what happened to me recently.

I have searched for information on my paternal great, great grandfather, John Kreis several times over the years. I have searched under “John Kreis” and just “Kreis” in the general search window. I have located John in several census records and in a naturalization record. I learned that he was born in Switzerland but I have not yet found what village/town he was from.

 In my post of 2/1/2012 I discussed looking at old Swiss birth records in for men named “Johannes Ulrich Kreis” (which is my John’s original German name) and discovering that all of these men were born in the Thurgau District of Switzerland. This gave me the idea that my great, great grandfather was likely born there also. But I needed more documentation. What about military records?

In the past, I searched on Ancestry under military records and found a WWI draft registration card for John’s son, Henry Kreis, who was my great grandfather, but not a card for John Kreis. Here is where the rethinking comes in. Why not try a search for a WWI draft card under a different parameter? What about widening the search for any man with the last name of Kreis and the birth place of Switzerland? Maybe I could find a cousin/uncle of my John whose records might have more detail than John's. Maybe I could find the district or even village in Switzerland where the Kreises came from.

Back to On the search tab on the first screen, I moved my mouse to “search.” On the drop-down menu, I chose “military.” At the bottom of the next screen, I clicked on “US WWI Draft Registration Cards, 1917-18.”  When the search screen came up, I put only “Kreis” in the “Last Name” field and “Switzerland” in the “Birthplace” field.

 “George Kreis” appeared at the top of a long list. He was from “Hoboken, Hudson County, New Jersey.” Now this was interesting. My John Kreis had lived in Essex County, NJ which is adjacent to Hudson. When I clicked on the name “George Kreis”, his draft card came up. His place of birth was Switzerland with a district given! It was St. Gallen. A look at a Swiss map showed St. Gallen (SG) to be the district next to Thurgau (TG). 
Permission to copy granted under Free Software Foundation

I decided to do some more digging in the Ancestry Swiss databases.   This led me to the Swiss Overseas Emigration, 1910-1953 database and this is where I struck gold. I found the emigration card for George Kreis and on this document was written the Swiss village where he was born. It was Neukirch in the Thurgau District! His last place of residence before he emigrated was St. Gallen.

So now I had a person to research who shared a surname with my ancestor, who lived in the same area of NJ, and who was born in the area of Switzerland where I theorized my ancestor came from. This new and crucial information led to another discovery – a living Kreis who descended from George. I will discuss this outcome in a later post.

I had a whole new avenue to pursue because I followed the 3 R’s of genealogical research: revisit, review, and rethink. Try it and see the benefits for yourself.

Categories:  census, document types, genealogy professional