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Saving the Year’s Work

The Family Search website (www.familysearch.org) hosts the world’s largest shared family tree. They pledge to retain this information in perpetuity.

Any genealogist can add to the site by uploading a personal family tree created in one of the numerous genealogy software programs for home computers. Anyone can enter or change data in the existing online tree.

This provides an ideal venue for preserving one’s genealogical research. A world-wide tree means that anyone, now or in the future, can find the family information preserved there. For many of us, this means we no longer feel the need to spend the time and expense of writing genealogical histories of our families. Just gather the information, enter it in Family Search, and the family tree appears for all to see.

Several years ago, I chose these means for preserving my own research. If no one in my immediate family cares to carry on my work, I know they probably will discard the documentation I have collected. They will get rid of my genealogy library. Perhaps they will keep the ancestry charts and family photos. No one outside my own family will see any of it.

But if I post these things on Family Search, the information I have collected will live on in a useful format. I devote time in December to updating my family tree there.

This year, it has taken more time than usual. I found some tangled-up ancestors in the tree.

For example, my great-grandparents John and Olive Riddle raised one of their grandsons, Adin Riddle. I found his data mixed in with that of John and Olive’s youngest son, Seymour. It took me awhile to separate the two men and to attach Adin to his mother Tamson Riddle, not Olive.

Other relatives had two entries or incomplete information online. I merged those profiles and I filled them in with additional dates and places. Of course, this works both ways. Some other researchers had attached facts that I had not known previously. I followed up on these by searching some primary sources.

By the end of the month, I hope to have the Riddle family sorted out online. I will have done my part to preserve their history on a site I know will endure.

Old Land Records in the News

Land records can offer a valuable source of genealogical information. They provide evidence that the parties were in a specific time and place, they offer a window into their lives, and sometimes they included interesting genealogical information.

I have learned much about my great-grandmother Laura Riddle (1852-1933) by using land records. She had three different Nebraska homesteads in Red Willow, Hayes, and Dundy Counties.

Although I already had her homestead files from the federal government, I wanted to see what other transactions had been recorded against her land in these counties. To do that, I needed to visit the county courthouses to view the land records. I traveled there over the summer to do this.

At the Red Willow courthouse in McCook, I learned that Laura had made cash entry on her land, mortgaged it, and sold it to her brother-in-law in a short period of time. Who knew? I thought she had owned the land outright for several years.

In Dundy County, I found that she had sold her homestead many years earlier than I had thought. I also learned what a headache this transaction must have been for her. She gave a mortgage to the buyer only to have him default. She had to foreclose and look for another buyer.

The homestead files had disclosed none of these events. It took viewing the county land records to tease out these details. That meant traveling to the county courthouse, an expensive undertaking for an out-of-state genealogist.

Imagine my delight, then, to learn of the example being set in my neighboring county of Arapahoe in Colorado to enable online searches of their early land records. The county just announced an initiative to preserve historic land records from 1865-1900.

Arapahoe was Colorado’s first county and in the nineteenth century included Denver. Early land records were handwritten in iron gall ink made from iron salts and tannic acid derived from vegetable sources. The land books were on acid-bleached paper made from wood pulp and bound with glue in leather books. Now in extremely poor condition due to our arid climate, the ink on the pages is fading and the pages themselves are tearing and turning brown.

Arapahoe County has contracted with a preservation company, Kofile, to clean the pages of dust, sediment, stains, and contaminants. They will flatten, humidify, and deacidify the pages and then encapsulate them in Mylar protective sleeves. These will be placed in fire- and water-resistant binders.

During the process, they will scan and enhance each page. The records will be added to the County’s digital collection of public documents. Arapahoe will be the first county in Colorado to enable simple, online viewing of early land records.

I wonder if other counties across the United States will undertake similar projects to preserve their oldest records. The LDS church has filmed land records in some locations but not everywhere. These important relics across the nation should be preserved for future generations—title companies and genealogists alike.

 

 

Winter Cleanup

Every December, I assign myself the task of updating my family tree on Family Search with the new information I have discovered during the year. I began doing this several days ago.

I started with myself, the only living person I have posted on this tree. For privacy reasons, everyone else I have added over the years is deceased.

My information, my parents’ information, and my brother Jim’s looked good, so I went back another generation following my research line for the year. My paternal grandparents’ information looked good, too. I made sure the data on all six of their children includes birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial as applicable.

I moved back in time again to the family of my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle. I found her linked only to her daughter (my grandmother). Yet I know she also had three sons with George Edmonds. I located the four of them in the Family Search database and linked them to my family. I have incomplete biographical information on George, but at least he now has a place in the Family Search tree.

After that, I moved back another generation to my research subjects for the year, my great-great grandparents John Davis Riddle and Olive Hall Dunbar. They had eight children. Their offspring are linked to their parents in the database, but many details of some of their lives were incomplete. For others, I found links to sources I had not explored.

It will take some time to work through all eight of these siblings on the Family Search tree. I will add information to what others have posted, and I can follow up on sources they have suggested. I can even contact the people who have posted interesting information to see if they are actively researching this line. In the past, I have learned so much from distant cousins.

Unfortunately, no one has added any information on the birth and parents of John Davis Riddle. Everyone else who is interested in this line must be stuck in the same place I am. In 2018, I was able to push back a few years into his life, but I had no breakthrough that would lead me to a previous generation.

The Family Search tree provides a great way for me to preserve my research. If my descendants do not want the database I have built, the notebooks I have kept, or the documents I have collected, I have a place I can keep the family tree. Family Search has pledged that they will not toss it out.

Ethnic Holiday Celebrations

The Christmas season approaches, and it provides me with an opportunity to get in touch with the holiday traditions of my ancestors. We have three fun events coming up in December:

  1. Pikkujoulu. The Finns hold this “little party” in anticipation of Christmas. Holiday foods, including glögi or mulled wine, make their seasonal debut here. The Finlandia Foundation of Colorado will hold this event at the Sons of Norway lodge in Lakewood, CO on the traditional first Saturday of December. The evening will include socializing, shopping for Christmas gifts at the Sons of Norway boutique, and a potluck supper. Joulupukki, the Finnish Santa, will appear to distribute gifts to the children. In a tradition I recall from my own childhood, Joulupukki does not enter homes through the chimney after everyone is asleep. Instead, he politely rings the doorbell while everyone is still awake and then asks if there are any well-behaved children in the home before distributing his gifts. Unfortunately, I will miss Pikkujoulu this year because it conflicts with my husband/tech advisor’s office party.
  2. Bach Christmas Oratorio. The great German Lutheran composer’s works include the multi-part Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248. He created it in 1734 for performance in church during the Christmas season. My Bethany Lutheran Church choir performed Part I (the birth of Jesus) last year, and this year on December 9 we will do Part II (the annunciation to the shepherds). We have been practicing for weeks and will sing it in German.
  3. Lutefisk dinner. Our Sons of Norway lodge will host this annual Norwegian dinner in mid-December. The menu includes lutefisk, Scandinavian meatballs, pickled beets, lefse, and riskrem. Lutefisk, of course, is the much-reviled codfish soaked in lye. Lefse resembles a tortilla, but it is made from mashed potatoes and served with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Riskrem, or rice cream topped with raspberry or strawberry sauce, is a Christmas dessert. If the lefse and riskrem do not provide enough sweets for the guests, we also will serve baskets of assorted homemade cookies. I am on the hook to provide four dozen of these. Although this is a Norwegian event, I plan to sneak in some made from a Finnish recipe for Hannatädinkakut (aunt Hannah’s cookies) made from potato starch. Let the Christmas baking begin!

Census Work on the Riddle Family

The name of my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) does not appear on any index to the 1840 U.S. census. He would have been nineteen years old when it was taken.

That census was the last one where the government did not require an every-name enumeration. The heads of household are listed by name; everyone else is represented by a tick mark. The tick marks are categorized by sex and age. Beginning in 1850, the government changed the census format to include the name of every person in the household. Consequently, the early census records are much less useful than those taken later.

There are several reasons why John’s name would not have appeared in 1840. If he was not the head of a household, he would have been lumped, unnamed, with other males 15-20. If he did head a household, the enumerator may have missed his home. An census indexer may have inadvertently skipped him or been unable to read his name accurately due to poor legibility on the record.

So how do I find him? For many years, I did not even try because I had no idea of his whereabouts that year.

Recently, however, I found 1836-38 tax listings for a man who may have been him in Portage Township, then-Portage County, Ohio. In 1843, My John then married a woman who lived in nearby Stow, Ohio.

There is a good chance that when the census was taken in 1840, John lived in the same place where he had paid taxes in the 1830’s and would marry in 1843. I am in the process of doing an every-name search for him in the 1840 census record for Portage Township. Did any family have a Davis or Riddle surname? How many families included males 15-20?

Some pages are easier to read than others because they have darker ink or better handwriting. So far, I have carefully read two pages and found no familiar surname. Already twenty households include males the same age as John. In only one of these is the man aged 15-20 named as the head of household, so that must have been rare at the time.

If I do not locate his family in Portage Township, I may expand my search to the surrounding area. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires me to do an exhaustive search. That means I should look at Portage Township and any other townships that surround the town of Stow, the home of his John’s bride. This may take awhile.

 

No Easy Answers with J. D. Riddle

Years ago, my uncle Robert Reed sent me a document he had found among my grandmother’s belongings. I had asked him several times about the family history, so he thought to pass the item along to me when he came across it.

It is handwritten on large, heavy paper. It is in two parts, as if torn from a book. A Bible, perhaps, although the reverse sides are blank. It is titled Family Record. The sheets contain the names and birthdates of a set of my great-great grandparents, John Davis Riddle and Olive Dunbar, and their eight children. It also provides the names of the states where the parents were born, when they married, and when they died.

I do not know who might have written it. The beautifully-done cursive does not match that of my grandmother or her mother. The aunt who raised my grandmother was illiterate. The old, water-stained pages have no date, but the handwriting was done all at one time. Olive died in 1902, and since the papers include that event, the document must have been written after that but before I acquired it in 1978.

This gift told me for the first time the names of my great-great grandparents. From there, Olive’s lineage proved easy to trace. She came from Cape Cod, and her Dunbar family is well-documented in New England records.

John Davis Riddle, on the other hand, presents a difficult case. The document says he was born in Pennsylvania on May 21, 1821. Where in Pennsylvania, and to whom? This year I set out to answer this question.

As always, I tried to work backwards. This ancestor farmed in Michigan during the last half of the nineteenth century. Beginning with the 1850 U.S. census record, I found plenty of information on him, but nothing gave me a birthplace or the names of his parents. Pre-1850, we have no every-name census to use, and research becomes more difficult.

I turned to vital records, land records, and tax records, so now the question becomes whether the names I turned up belong to the same man:

  1. In 1849, J. D. Riddle first appears on the tax rolls for Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan. He lived there the rest of his life and was usually known by his initials, J. D. His gravestone there says he was born in 1821.
  2. On 9 September 1847, John D. Riddle and Olive, his wife, sold Summit County, Ohio land she had inherited. They conveyed it to my Olive Dunbar Riddle’s brother-in-law, George Tiffany.
  3. John Davis and Olla Dunbar were married in Summit County on 12 January 1843. The County marriage record says this John Davis was 31 years old. The family document deviates from this record in several ways. The county marriage record does not include the Riddle surname for this John. It says the couple married on the 12th, not the 13th of the month as my family document asserts, and it implies the groom’s birth year as 1811, not 1821. Still, what are the odds that another couple with such similar names would have married in the same county where my bride lived within a day a my couple’s marriage?
  4. John Riddle paid taxes in Portage (now Summit) County, Ohio in 1836-7 and again in 1838. Summit County was split off from Portage County after that. John the taxpayer lived in the Akron area that lies in the new Summit County. His land, 5-10 miles from where Olive’s family lived in Stow, Ohio, was close enough for them to meet. Yet my John Davis Riddle would have been just 16 years old when this John Riddle first appears on the tax list.

Are the 1849 Michigan taxpayer J. D. Riddle, the Summit County land grantor John D. Riddle, the Summit County groom John Davis, and the 1836-38 Portage County taxpayer John Riddle all the same man? As a hypothesis, I am assuming each of these records was created by my great-great grandfather. Unfortunately, none of them offer clues to his family or birthplace. I sure wish the scrivener of my family document had included a more precise birthplace.

I am running out of time this year to do any more research on this ancestor. In 2018, I have pushed back my his timeline by just 6-7 years. I have chased a lot of dead ends and come up with no DNA matches for this line. John Davis Riddle continues to hold his secrets for another day.

 

 

I Begin Wading in Tax Records

A couple of months ago I resolved to do some research in tax records for my Riddle ancestors. John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) was born in Pennsylvania, married in Summit County, Ohio in 1843, sold land there in 1847, and then relocated to St. Joseph County, Michigan.

I began my investigation by working backwards, as is usual in genealogy. Some of the Michigan tax records for St. Joseph County have been digitized, and I started there.

I found J. D. Riddle on the pages for Mendon Township for 1849. He paid $1.80 in tax that year on 80 acres in the N/2NE/4 of Section 12, T5S, R10W. The column heading above his name says Name of Owner or Occupant so I do not know whether or not he owned this land. If he did, I have not found a deed for it. I do have his deeds for other tracts in that section that he acquired in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Apparently, he always farmed Section 12, and then he later bought some land in the adjacent Section 13 as well.

This information jibes with other facts I have collected about his whereabouts during the pre-Civil War years. His eldest son, Isaac Newton Riddle (1849-1915) was born in Mendon Township. The family is listed on the U.S. census for St. Joseph County, Michigan in 1850. At this point, I have the Riddle family pretty well document from 1849 on.

My next step will be to see what I can find in the Ohio records for the 1840’s. I am still searching for a birth family for John Davis Riddle. I do not know how long he lived in Ohio. He turned 21 years old in 1842, so we have a 5-year stretch of time during which he was an adult and could have created records I can find.

When I get a chance, I will turn to Ancestry and Family Search to see what they have online. Tax records could hold some valuable clues.

You Cannot Hold Back the Holidays

I heard Christmas music playing in a store at the mall this week. The shopkeeper had the place festively decorated with trees, garland, and ornaments. I left because I could not stand the idea of beginning to celebrate Christmas when it is not yet Halloween. It seems way too early in the year.

Except that it is not. Although I am not yet ready for this, I must be mindful of the looming mega-holiday. Every year I compose an ancestor’s character sketch as a Christmas gift to distribute to relatives. I write and illustrate it in November, and November is just a week away.

This year’s chosen ancestor is my second great-grandfather John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). I must wrap up my research on him over the next week. I have spent the last ten months searching for information but still have not learned anything about his life prior to his 1843 marriage in Summit County, OH. My character sketch will have to begin there.

In my own way, then, I too am preparing for the holidays although it is still October. It takes time to draft the composition and plan the layout for my work. I need to decide which documents and photos to include. My husband/tech advisor needs time to get copies printed in color. I must schedule a visit to the post office to mail out the completed stories.

I may not feel ready for all the Christmas holiday turmoil, but Christmas gifts are a different matter. Some take time to plan and prepare.

I even yearn for a special Christmas gift, and I do not care if it arrives early. I would love to get a DNA match to a descendant of a sibling of John Davis Riddle so I can place him in his natal family. For that, I would even celebrate Christmas in July.

The Box

Beginning when I was a teenager, I have amassed a tremendous number of genealogy-related books and papers. My home office contains several file cabinets and bookcases filled with materials I use to pursue my research.

A lot of it I inherited a few years ago when my father’s 93-year-old cousin passed away. She, too, was an avid researcher. Her family did not want her library or her work, so I offered to give it a home.

After some time has passed, I have integrated much of our two collections. I am always amazed at what she discovered about our family in the years before the internet. She never used a computer, and all her work lies in paper folders and notebooks. I love digging into them to see what she already had collected when I begin investigating an ancestor.

One of her large boxes, however, remained untouched. Filled with miscellaneous papers, the contents do not fit easily into either of our filing systems. I have kept meaning to empty it one day, but the task seemed daunting. I continued to put it off.

Finally, I have become tired of looking at this box and receiving its silent rebuke. I can no longer procrastinate on the task of cleaning out this box.

I have decided that each evening I am home, I will take one item from the box. Each paper will go into a new or existing file, into the to-do tray, or into the trash. I began this week.

One of the first papers I removed turned out to be a little gem. It was a long-ago letter from a cousin. She was writing about our mutual great-grandfather, Samuel H. Reed (1845-1928), and his activities after his 1904 divorce.

She said he had acquired land in Sayre, Oklahoma that he thought had potential for oil. Fearing that a woman with whom he was involved would make a claim on it, he conveyed the property to some of his grandchildren. Unfortunately, my dad would not be born for another decade, so he missed out.

Following the clue in the letter, I learned that Sayre is in Beckham County, Oklahoma. Family Search has their deed index online. Sure enough, I found my great-grandfather’s name on the index, both when he received the property and when he passed it on to some of my father’s cousins. The public records verify the story told by a relative, and I can request copies of these deeds from the county.

Who knows what else the box contains? At the rate of a few papers a week, it will take me a long time to find out. I hope will find some more treasure in my cousin’s box. Now I have some motivation to clean it out.

What Was Their Status?

Many ancestors followed a typical life pattern of marrying and having a family. During harsher times, often one spouse died and the other then remarried. I can document most of my family lines along this predictable path.

An exception occurs with my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle, and her elder sister Tamson. Tracking them, particularly through the 1870’s and 80’s, has raised some unresolved questions about the status of their relationships.

 

Laura Riddle (1853-1933)

Laura had three sons with George Edmonds. Did she ever marry him? No record of a union has been found.

We have circumstantial evidence for a marriage. The 1877 birth record for the second son, Lewis, records his birth as legitimate. For all three sons, the mother’s name is recorded as Laura Edmonds. Laura was listed as the wife in the George Edmonds household on the 1880 U.S. census.

By 1884, however, George had gone on to marry a 16-year-old girl who lived across the state line, and Laura had resumed using her Riddle surname. Always after that, she described herself as single, not divorced.

Many women in these circumstances would have kept the same surname as the children. To save face, they often said they were widows. Not Laura. Why? Were George and Laura married or not?

Many years later, Laura lived in Nebraska and had a daughter with an unidentified man. We do not know her relationship to him, either. Was he a long-time acquaintance or a cowboy passing through the area? No records pertaining to this relationship have been found.

 

Tamson Riddle (1845-1922)

Tamson had an out-of-wedlock son named Aden in 1867. Her parents raised the boy as their own. Aden and Tamson appear in her parents’ household on the 1870 census, both with the Riddle surname. The identity of Aden’s father remains a mystery.

Tamson next appears to have had a relationship with a man named either Frank or John Blakesley or Blacksley. She had at least two children with him, Frank and Cora, during the 1870’s. Young Frank’s records give his father’s name as Frank Blakesley. Cora’s records say his name was John Blacksley.

No marriage record for Tamson and Blacksley has been found. He has not been located on any census or death record. Who was he, and what became of him?

Tamson finally married a man named John Williams in 1878, at the age of 32, and they had three children. The family did not enjoy a stable home for long. John Williams passed away in 1885.

By 1900, Tamson lived as a boarder in the home of Oliver Wilcox. She still lived there when the 1910 census was taken. Later that year, she married Wilcox. By 1920, they were living separately.

Tamson appears to have had relationships with 3 or 4 men or more. She married at least two of them, but what was her relationship to the others?

 

These sisters, Laura and Tamson, were the exceptions to the usual relationship patterns of the day. Five of their six siblings all followed the usual course with easy-to-find marriage records. The sixth sibling, Seymour, never married and had no family.

What led Laura and Tamson to stray from the common path? Their parents set a good example and had a long marriage. Their siblings did likewise.

Everyone who would have remembered these people and had knowledge of their circumstances is now gone. No one in my own household ever mentioned these matters. The secrets and explanations lie buried with Laura and Tamson.