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In Need of a Local Map

This week I wanted a map of the Nebraska area where my great-grandparents lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They homesteaded northeast of Palisade in Hayes County. I needed something that would locate their farms and provide some surrounding context.

My road atlas provided a political map with towns, roads, and county boundaries, but I was hoping for even more information. I remembered that I had once attended a seminar on using maps for genealogical research. Perhaps the instructor had offered some suggestions on where to look for the type of map I envisioned.

I pulled out his handout from 2014 (yes, I saved it!). I saw that he had given us a list of major map websites.

After seven years, I wondered how many of these could still be viable. I did recognize a few such as the USGS topographic maps, the David Rumsey map collection, and the Library of Congress map collection. I decided against starting with these.

The topo maps on the USGS site show only topographic information. I find the Rumsey site and the LOC site cumbersome to use. It takes me a long time to find what I am looking for, and I have a hard time trying to print what I need. I wanted a faster result.

The seminar handout listed another site that I decided to try. I was delighted to find that it still exists. It is called the National Map (, and it is maintained by the United States Geological Survey. As a government service, it is free to use.

The home page has a link to the National Map viewer. You can zoom in to any location in the United States. The resulting map of the Palisade, Nebraska area was exactly what I sought.

My map includes so many things of interest:

  1. Political entities like the town of Palisade, its nearby highways, and the Burlington Northern railroad line,
  2. Land survey section lines and numbers for the surrounding area,
  3. Waterways like Frenchman Creek and the Culbertson Canal,
  4. Places like the local cemetery, a dam, and a gravel pit,
  5. Topography lines to help me understand the elevations of the land.

My map is wonderful, exactly what I needed. The National Map website is simple to navigate, and it is easy to print a map.

I plan to return to this site to find other locations from my family’s history. Maps provide a great way to visualize the places they lived.

Thanksgiving Plans Change

We thought this year would be different.

We have two grown sons and their families who live nearby, and we anticipated spending Thanksgiving with some of them.

Then a couple of people developed coughs earlier this week. Covid tests came back positive.

We are thankful that all the unwell seem to be recovering at home without complications.

But the Thanksgiving family gathering has had to be cancelled. Each nuclear family will eat the festive meal separately.

Those of us who can do so will meet for a Zoom call with the extended family in the afternoon. We did this last year when no one could meet in person. Now again this year it is the only option for the locals to visit one another.

Despite the change in plans, my husband/tech advisor and I will enjoy the holiday. Zooming with the relatives and eating a delicious turkey dinner together does not sound so bad.

At least I am not trying to fly anywhere.



Writing Again

The Christmas season approaches. Each year I write an ancestor’s biographical sketch to send around to family members. I get these ready every November. In prior years I have completed work on all the great-grandparents and second great-grandparents that I could identify.

This year I had intended to move back a generation and begin working on my third great grandparents. I spent about half the year researching one of them, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1851) of Chatham, MA.

Then a surprise DNA match arrived over the summer. Suddenly I knew the identity of a previously unknown great-grandfather. This man’s family branch had been a huge hole in my family tree. Now I had his name.

I dropped everything else to learn all I could about him. He became the focus of my biographical sketch for this year.

His death certificate and probate file arrived in the mail this month just in time for me to complete my 2021 project. I now have everything I need to tell his story.

Soon I will get it printed and send it around to the family in time for Christmas.

Veteran’s Day Ahead

This week we honor all the veterans of our armed forces. Coming from a family where many members have served, I like to take note of the day.

It will be a special one for me this time. In August, my application to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was approved. I was eligible by virtue of descent from a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

My ancestor was Gershom Hall (1760-1844), a Patriot from Massachusetts. He enlisted at Barnstable County on 1 Sep 1780. He then served as a Private under Captain Nathaniel Freeman in Lt. Col. Enoch Hallett’s regiment where he served 2 mos., 4 days, including 4 days (75 miles) travel home. The unit was stationed in Rhode Island to reinforce the Continental Army. Gershom Hall was discharged 31 Oct 1780.

As we honor him and others on Veteran’s Day this week, we have an additional reason to remember our former servicemen. In Colorado we will commemorate the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The DAR chapter in Aurora, CO will host a Veteran’s Day event at the Colorado Freedom Memorial. The ceremony will include the welcome of honored guests, a history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a wreath laying, and the National Salute.

Join us at 10:30.



A Week of Genealogy Webinars

They say things come in threes. This week brought me three interesting genealogy webinars on various topics.

An Overview of My Heritage by Del Ritchhart

During this presentation hosted by the Colorado Genealogical Society, local genealogist Del guided us through the powerful My Heritage website. We learned how to create a family tree and expand it using the genealogy discoveries that My Heritage finds and suggests. He explained how to upload DNA test results and make the most of all the matches we receive. He demonstrated the site’s photo colorization and animation feature. During the presentation, I created a To-Do list of features I want to try. First up, the consistency checker for family tree errors.

Building Family Trees for Your DNA Matches by Mary Eberle

Legacy Family Tree Webinars engaged the founder of the DNA Hunters consulting service to talk about a methodology for determining how an unknown DNA match may be related. I was happy to learn that I am doing something right. I use the same approach she suggests. I, too, work to build trees for unknown matches out to the great-great grandparents looking for a common ancestor. She also offered some helpful tips for identifying matches who use just initials or an alias or who have no tree posted on the testing site.

Basics of New England Research by Ann Lawthers

This webinar presented by American Ancestors and scheduled for later today anticipates the release of the sixth edition of Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research. The class promises to cover the historical context and organization of New England records. It will offer strategies for successful New England research. I have not worked with New England sources beyond town records and the American Ancestors website, so I am eager to learn more. I have numerous New England ancestors who lived in Massachusetts from 1620-1831 left on my research list.

Having these webinars available for free from home helps me stay up to date on my research skills. I learn something new each time. The only problem is deciding where to begin.

A Mysterious DNA Match

For a long time, I have spent about one morning a week analyzing my dad’s DNA matches. I am looking to break through some brick walls in our family tree. Sometimes I have success, as I did when a DNA match identified a great-grandfather earlier this summer. More often, though, it seems I have difficulty establishing the relationship.

My effort this week met with little success. I tried to determine how we are related to a California woman who is predicted to be my father’s third cousin.

Third cousins share second great-grandparents, so I needed those names (16 in all) for the woman’s family. One of them should be our most recent common ancestor.

The woman had no family tree posted on the testing site, so I Googled her unusual name. I found her father’s 2008 obituary including her as a survivor. This information implied her maiden name.

Next, I looked at her father’s FindAGrave memorial. This gave me more of his family information and linked to her mother’s memorial.

With this much information, I could locate the family on the Family Search family tree. There I found the names of 12 of the woman’s 16 second great-grandparents. Nothing looked familiar.

That leaves one set of the woman’s great-grandparents whose own parents are unidentified and for whom I have only the paternal surnames. This family lived in Wisconsin. If they are part of my family, I cannot see how they fit with ours.

I am looking for families for three of my ancestors, none of whom ever resided in Wisconsin:

  1. John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). He was born in Pennsylvania, lived as a young man in Ohio, and migrated to Michigan.
  2. Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-aft. 1863). He was born in New York and had arrived in Kentucky by 1821. He sold his land there in 1863 and disappeared from the record. His children were in Indiana and Illinois by 1870.
  3. Katherine Stillabower/Stilgenbauer (dates unknown). Her daughter (my great-grandmother) was born at Edinburgh, Indiana in 1865. We have no other information about Katherine. The greater Stillabower/Stilgenbauer family immigrated from Bavaria in the 1830’s and 1840’s and settled in Indiana.

The California DNA match does have ancestors in other lines who did live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, states where my brick wall ancestors also lived. Perhaps our connection lies in one of those branches, but she has no surnames in common with any of mine.

This DNA match will remain a mystery for now.

Genealogy Potpourri

Some weeks seem a little scattered in the home office. I engaged in several unrelated genealogy activities this week:

  1. My research papers on the Ryan family have taken on a life of their own. I spent my genealogy time yesterday sorting and organizing the mess. Now I am ready to move forward with some productive research.
  2. I have not attended the local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society in-person programs that began this fall. They record their programs so members can listen later if they miss a meeting. I donned my headphones to hear the September program and hope to listen to the October program tonight.
  3. The Colorado Genealogical Society hosts Zoom classes on specialized topics once a month. I registered for an upcoming session on using the My Heritage online website.
  4. As I read the most recent journal of the Palatines to America organization yesterday, I found the information for next spring’s conference in Denver. I invited my half-German husband/tech advisor to go. We made a hotel reservation this morning. We are already looking forward to an immersion in German food, genealogy, culture, and companionship.

As the weekend approaches, I have Ryan family papers to analyze, an interesting lecture to hear, and both a class and a conference to look forward to. Not bad for a disjointed week.

A Young Woman with Many Footprints

Common wisdom states that genealogical research comes more easily for male ancestors than for female ones. I often find the opposite to be true in my family.

One example is my Irish ancestral couple, Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) and Jane Lawless (abt. 1829-1853), who resided in Illinois. I have found much more information about her and her family than I have located for his. I believe other researchers have encountered the same difficulties with Daniel because online family trees commingle him with another Daniel who lived in New York.

Everyone seems to have difficulty with him, yet Jane has been easy to find. Although she lived a short life, I have several records for her:

  1. Arriving New York passenger list for the Home on 1 May 1849. Jane and her family travelled in steerage from Ireland.
  2. 1850 U. S. census for Peoria, Illinois. Jane resided in the Thomas Lawless household with perhaps 10 siblings. Two other Lawless families appeared on the same page.
  3. 1851 marriage record for Jane Lawless and Daniel Ryan in Peoria, Illinois. They married 15 June 1851 in the Catholic Church.
  4. 1852 baptism record for her son Richard in Kickapoo, Peoria County, Illinois.
  5. Death in 1853. I have not located a death or burial record for Jane, but an affidavit in a Civil War pension application file states that she died at Bloomington, Illinois in 1853.

These records will provide ample fodder to learn much more about Jane and her family. All her siblings would have left tracks in Illinois and elsewhere.

Once again, the female in my family becomes the easier one to document.

One Man or Two?

Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) is proving to be a difficult ancestor to trace. Most information I have collected about him indicates that he lived in various counties in Illinois. But there was a Daniel Ryan the same age who lived in Clinton County, New York. Many online trees have the IL and NY information compiled into a single profile.

Were they the same man? As I gather more information, I find that I doubt it.

I know this about my ancestor:

  1. He was born in Ireland in 1828 or 1829.
  2. He married Jane Lawless in Peoria, IL in 1851.
  3. He had a son Richard born in 1852.
  4. Jane died in 1853, and Daniel married Bridget Murphy in Springfield, IL in 1854.
  5. He had a son James born in 1855.
  6. He enlisted in the Union Army in Illinois in 1861.
  7. As a soldier, he died from disease at New Orleans in 1863.
  8. His widow Bridget collected a Civil War widow’s pension.

I have collected only a little information so far on the Daniel Ryan who lived in New York:

  1. In 1850 he lived with his parents in Au Sable, Clinton County, NY and worked in the coaling industry.
  2. In 1860 he was still living in New York, working as a miner, with a wife Margaret.

Merging these two men, as so many online trees have done, strains my credibility:

  1. Daniel would have needed to travel from Au Sable (near the Vermont/Canada border in NY) to Springfield and back more than once between 1850 and 1860. During this period, he would have married three times.
  2. My Daniel Ryan’s widow Bridget was married to him from 1854 until his death in 1863. She lived in Illinois. Unless he was a bigamist, the same man could not have been married to Margaret and living in New York in 1860.

So why is everyone pulling all this information into the life story of one man? I think I know. I have not found my Daniel Ryan on either the 1850 or the 1860 U. S. census. It would be easy to assume the New York man is him because that is the only record that emerges in a census search for Daniel Ryan in those years. But the facts do not support this conclusion.

The evidence seems to be pointing to separate identities for the Daniel Ryan who lived in Illinois and the one who lived in New York.





Genealogical Jackpot

Genealogists keep an ancestor’s age in mind when looking for records. A standard question is whether a man was eligible to have served in one of our nation’s wars. If so, did he apply for a pension?

Pension application files can be rich sources of genealogical information. People wanted those pensions. They provided every document they could to strengthen their case. The government saved it all.

I had never been lucky enough to find one of these for any of my family members, until now. Last week I located an application filed by Bridget Ryan, widow of my second great-grandfather Daniel Ryan (1829-1863).

Daniel enlisted for a three-year term of service in the Union Army from Illinois in 1861. He died in Louisiana two years later from disease.

The Fold 3 subscription database has digitized copies of Civil War pension applications, and I was able to find Bridget’s. It is 76 pages long, due to some controversy.

The packet is chock-full of interesting documents:

  1. Certificates for Daniel’s marriages to each of his two wives.
  2. Catholic priest affidavits attesting to the baptisms of Daniel’s sons with each of the wives.
  3. Verification of Daniel’s military service from the U. S. Adjutant General office.
  4. Verification of Daniel’s death from the U. S. Surgeon General office.
  5. Guardianship information for the first son.
  6. Paperwork from the first son contesting the right of the widow and second son to receive a pension.
  7. Place of residence for the widow and the first son.

It would have taken a long time to collect these documents individually. Finding all of them in one convenient place saved me a lot of time.

Daniel suffered an untimely death during the Civil War. He left behind a tangled family life. The pension application based on his service gave this descendant a means to begin unraveling it.