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New Year, New Projects

As 2019 begins, I have my office all cleaned up and ready to go for the new year. Now I can begin work on fresh genealogy projects. I have several in mind:

  1. To get ready for a trip to Norway and the Baltic later this year, I will turn my attention to research on my family lines from those areas. I need to post and file all the Bentsen, Lampinen, and Mattila documents I have collected since I last worked on those ancestors.
  2. My husband/tech advisor teaches a Norwegian genealogy research class in connection with our Sons of Norway lodge. Beginning this Saturday, I will start attending those meetings. There I can get some expert help in using the database at the Norwegian national archives. I hope to extend my Bentsen line back in time from the mid-1800’s when my ancestors settled in Vesterålen in the northernmost part of Norway’s Nordland county. Before that, many of them may have lived in southwest Norway, near Bergen.
  3. For my Finnish line, I will continue corresponding with recently-discovered cousins in Finland. One of them has posted a tremendous amount of information for our common Lampinen line on WikiTree. I plan to explore the idea of joining that group.
  4. The Colorado Genealogical Society, to which I belong, sponsors a writing contest I hope to enter this year. They suggest a couple of themes including Black Sheep—The Skeleton in My Closet for submissions to the contest. I have several black sheep in my dad’s family. It will be fun to tell one of their stories.
  5. Another writing project I do every year involves collecting photos and writing a character sketch of an ancestor for distribution to relatives at Christmas. This year’s subject will be my Norwegian great-great grandparents, Karen and Nick Bentsen. They left Vesterålen and homesteaded in Montana in the early 1900’s.

Can I accomplish all this in a year? I do not know, but I am eager to get started. My Scandinavian families may offer an easier research path than I have pursued in recent years. My dad’s line has so many brick wall ancestors, and I have not made any significant breakthroughs there in a long time. Perhaps I can make quicker progress on my mom’s Nordic roots.

Genealogy for Christmas

Did you give or receive any genealogy-related gifts for Christmas? I did.

Every December I write a character sketch for one of my ancestors and distribute it to the family. Christmas provides a good opportunity for this because it falls at the end of my research year and provides a natural gift-giving opportunity. The relatives seem to enjoy learning about their forebears without having to do the research themselves.

Because genealogy is such a big part of my life, I also enjoy receiving any genealogy gifts that come my way.

This year, I received a great one. My husband/tech advisor gave me a reprint of the 1891 edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. I have long coveted one of these. Why?

This book will help me immensely with research on my colonial and nineteenth-century ancestors. Many came from England. They lived there and in the United States under what is known as the common law. The legal documents and court cases dating from this time were filled with now-archaic legal terms that are not included in modern legal dictionaries. So where does one turn to find definitions of these strange words?

Henry Campbell Black, a New York lawyer and legal scholar, published his first comprehensive law dictionary in 1891. The original edition did contain common law legal terms that have now become obsolete. Armed with a copy of Black’s 1891 dictionary, I will have a much easier time deciphering any legal documents I discover as I pursue my research.

I know I could get an electronic copy of the dictionary, but I really, really prefer printed books. I will set this one in a prominent place on my desk. I am sure I will use it regularly. The perfect gift for me.

Saving the Year’s Work

The Family Search website ( 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.