It’s Time to Go Back to (Genealogy) School!

It’s time to go back to school – GENEALOGY school, that is! No matter what your budget, there are multiple opportunities to enhance your genealogical research skills this fall.

If you aren’t a regular webinar attendee, you should be because there are innumerable topics presented every month and the price is perfect – FREE if you watch them live. (Handouts are usually only available to members, though.)

American Ancestors – The New England Historic Genealogical Society offers both paid and free webinars. It also maintains an archive available to the public for free.

Board for Certification of GenealogistsBCG offers free webinars which are produced by Legacy Family Tree Webinars. BCG webinars are geared towards improving methodology and research skills. While the intended audience are certified genealogists or those working towards certification, the lessons are excellent for everyone.

BYU Family History Library – offers weekly webinars across a number of categories:

DearMYRTLE – Pat Richley-Erickson, aka Myrtle, hosts hangouts –  Mondays with Myrt (news and various topics), Wacky Wednesday and various study groups. focused on Val Greenwood’s 4th Edition of The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. She also has a number of videos on YouTube.

Family History Fanatics – Andy and Devon Lee offer an ever-growing range of videos on YouTube on a variety of genealogy topics.

FamilySearchClasses and Webinars (go to Search and then Research Wiki. Then enter WEBINAR in the search box to get to the link. It’s buried!) FamilySearch archives its classes and webinars. Handouts are free, as are all of their online classes and webinars. FamilySearch even offers its mini-conferences online for free.

Florida State Genealogical Society – offers a monthly series called Poolside Chats.

Illinois State Genealogical Society – offers a monthly series called ISGS Webinars.

JewishGen Learning Center – has an archive of educational videos on YouTube. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the list and links.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars – This is the only company whose purpose is to host genealogically oriented webinars. MyHeritage bought the company several years ago. All of its webinars are free to the public when presented live. However, there are a couple of subscription options. The regular rate is $49.95, but they often have 40% or more off sales. They also often a terrific bargain – $9.95 for a one month subscription, giving unlimited access. You can binge watch genealogy webinars and access all the handouts. Legacy Family Tree Webinars also offers a bonus webinar each week, not presented live, only accessible by members.

Southern California Genealogical Society – offers two webinars per month

Wisconsin State Genealogical Society – offers monthly webinars

YouTube – There are literally thousands of hits for genealogy. Narrow your topic and you will be surprised at what’s available for free by well known speakers.

The Virtual Genealogical Association – If you are ready to go virtual and would like the friendship and virtual companionship of other genealogists, then VGA is for you. It is just a year old and hosts many activities. It’s like an in-person genealogy society (like Pima County Genealogy Society) except all activities are online. There is a Facebook group where announcements are made and news shared, along with an official website. It hosts monthly webinars for members. Membership is $20.00 per year.

For those who are looking for an online academic program, there are several options, which are tuition based. Details for each program can be reviewed below. :

Boston University Online Certificate in Genealogical Research

National Genealogical Society

BYU – Idaho Certificate in Family History Research

Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) Virtual Programs

Last, but certainly not least, check out this highly rated FREE 6-week course, which begins on 19 October 2020:
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Plat Maps & Genealogy: Uses and Totally Unexpected Finds!

Are you one of the not-very-many genealogy researchers who have used plat maps? If so, you already know what a treasure trove of information these maps might contain. For those who have never used them, plat maps are maps which are drawn to scale and show how local tracts of land are divided up.

Today, we’ll take a look at both formal plat maps and maps that show approximations of property owners in local neighborhoods. Both map sets are gold mines of family history information.

Let’s look first at the “less formal” plat maps, which are often hand drawn neighborhood illustrations. These maps became popular in the late 1800s, concurrent with the 1876 American Centennial celebration. Like county histories and locally published mug books (volumes in which submitters paid a fee to include biographical sketches), county atlases became the “in” thing for a while.

An excellent example of this type of publication is the Atlas of Washington County, Maine, Compiled drawn and Published from Official Plans and Actual Surveys by George N. Colby & Co., Houlton & Machias, ME, 1881. Back in the 1980s, I found a reprint of the original book and bought it.

Here is a portion of one of the map pages:

My 3X great grandfather, Thomas Coleman (purple arrow pointing to T. Coleman) lived in Red Beach, which today is part of Calais, Washington Maine. He died in 1888, so this map was created when he was an elderly man. However, his son, William, lived on the same land and this page (which I cropped) shows all the home owners all the way up into the city of Calais, where I had more family living.

As you can see, the properties are likely close to scale, but don’t have the precision of actual plat maps.

What genealogically related information can I learn from this map?

  1. I now know exactly where Thomas Coleman lived and can verify his land ownership by seeking out land deeds in Washington County, Maine.
  2. This map provides a list of many possible FAN club members – friends, associates and neighbors of Thomas Coleman.
  3. The geographic detail on this map, noting that Thomas lived very close to the road turnoff down to the St. Croix River and just south of land called Devens Head, allows me to use Google Earth to view the area today.
  4. This map also tells me that, although Thomas Coleman lived in Red Beach, he didn’t live in the village itself. He lived on the outskirts, in the northern most portion towards Calais, where he farmed.

Where can these maps be found?

I have found that WorldCat (free to use) is the most efficient tool to located these old atlases and map books, which were printed for many counties and states, not just Maine.  When you find one of interest, there will be a list of all the repositories known to have a copy. Be forewarned that, unless you live in the local area, the library might be quite far away. If I didn’t own a reprint of the Washington County book, the closest copy to me (I live in Tucson) is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, 580 miles away.

However, searching out these map books is well worth the time and energy because county books include every single city, along with each tiny town or village in the county. My book includes 45 towns, 26 villages, 9 plantations (names given to settlements before they became towns, NOT southern style plantations) along with 19 “Timber and Lot Plans.” It wouldn’t matter where in the county my family was living – there would be a map.

If you want to buy an atlas, I would suggest checking eBay. A quick look shows reprints for Hancock and Washington Counties, Maine available for $25. (A first edition of the Hancock County book was also listed for $3,525!)

There is one other map resource I’d like to mention. If you are lucky enough to be researching ancestors who lived in Augusta, Bedford, Botetourt, Fincastle, Franklin, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Wythe Counties, Virginia or in the town of Salem or in the Beverly Patent, which was located in parts of Augusta and Orange Counties or in the Borden Grant, in the 1700s and 1800s, then J.R. Hildebrand, a local cartographer (map maker) is a man about whom you want to know.

Mr. Hildebrand spent years wandering around Virginia, seeking out early landowners and created hand drawn maps showing where everyone lived. However, he only created these maps for Virginia and ONLY in the towns and counties I’ve listed.

In the 1990s, while I was trying to determine a possible father of Martin Miller, my husband’s 4X great grandfather, who married in Botetourt County, Virginia, I purchased Hildebrand’s map of that county.

Here is just a crop of a tiny portion to give you an idea about the detail in these maps:

Using this map, land deeds for Millers, DeedMapper to plot out lot lines and a USGS topographical map, I was able to separate out English and German Miller families and to differentiate between two Jacob Millers to find a likely father of Martin Miller. It was tedious work, but I was successful and later found a pension file and land deed in Franklin County, Tennessee that proved my sleuthing and theory were correct.

Today, I am not sure where to purchase these maps, but I would try the Roanoke Public Library (currently closed due to the pandemic) and the Historical Society of Western Virginia.Either of those repositories can probably tell you if they are still available and where to buy them. The maps probably show up from time to time on sale online, but I couldn’t find any at the moment.

Lastly, in the title of today’s post, I mentioned totally unexpected finds. If you are researching in Missouri, Missouri Digital Heritage has a collection of plat map atlases for most, if not all, of Missouri counties. The Stufflebeans have family ties to Sullivan County, Missouri so I decided to take a look.

I found An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Sullivan County, Missouri, published by the Edwards Brothers of Missouri in 1877, just four years before Colby published the one of Washington County, Maine.

As I browsed through the book, I was amazed by what I found! Yes, of course there were maps. By the way, because Missouri is a PLSS state with township, range and section divisions, this book contains accurate, precise plat maps, unlike the Maine and Virginia maps I’ve just discussed, above. There were also several portraits, which aren’t unheard of in these books, although they aren’t super common either. Portraits are much more likely to be in the county histories and biographies.

Let’s say I am researching Griffin P. Taylor, born c1816, Tennessee. He is found, with his family, in the 1870 census of Morris, Sullivan County, Missouri:

1870 Census, Source: Ancestry

A quick look at online info for him shows a marriage in Indiana to Carrie. That makes sense given that she and their oldest child give Indiana places of birth in this census record.

However, I want to know more about Griffin Taylor – exactly where in Tennessee was he born?

Imagine my surprise when I saw the List of Patrons of the Atlas of Sullivan County, MO. Living in Township 62 North, Range 19 West is my Griffin Taylor! Be sure to take a look at the additional information that patrons had published about them:

Their “Nativity” was included on the patron list! Griffin P. Taylor said he was born in Sullivan County, Eastern Tennessee! It also states that he settled in Sullivan County, Missouri in 1843!

There are no birth records to be found in eastern Tennessee in the early 1800s and Griffen was already living in Indiana by 1840, so he isn’t to be found in a Tennessee census record.

In addition, if the county atlas at which you are looking represents a burned county with land deeds among the lost records, this book also tells you when the family settled there!

Two totally unexpected pieces of important information that I wouldn’t expect to see in a book containing plat maps!

Plat map books, often marketed as county atlases, do take a bit of digging to uncover. Missouri has digitized theirs  and they can be viewed for free. For other states, I would again search in WorldCat. I’d also check state archives and historical society online collections.

FamilySearch also has a number of digitized atlases (sometimes called “atlas map”) that can be viewed online. A random search of Peoria County, Illinois brought up Atlas map of Peoria County, Illinois, published by A.T. Andreas in 1873. The Peoria tome followed the same pattern of information found in the Sullivan County book – including place of birth and year settled in the county!

It even included a few (very few) sketches of the home place of some of the residents. How would you like to be descended from Joseph Yates?

Residence and Farm Premises of Joseph Yates, Sec. 1, Radnor Twp.

I hope you’ll now go seeking out plat maps. Who knows what excellent new details you will learn about your ancestors’ lives?










How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide: Book Review

DISCLAIMER – I have received several complimentary items, including this book, to review. These perks do not influence my opinions of the publications in any way!

Having said that, I do believe that the Genealogical Publishing Company, which has been in business for many decades, has a long standing reputation for producing quality work.

How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide with Specific Resources for Major Christian Denominations before 1900, by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG, was published in 2019.

Morton’s and Henderson’s book title clearly lets the reader know what it is about – finding and using records of major Christian denominations from the 19th century and earlier times.

The Introduction also acknowledges the contributions of a number of religious historical librarians and other experts in the field.

The book is 134 pages, plus index, packed full of details about all the types of church records that might be found – everything from pew rentals to meeting minutes to those treasured records of baptisms, marriages and burials.



Part 1: Family History Research in Church Records

  1. What’s in Church Records
  2. How to Identify Your Ancestor’s Church
  3. How to Find and Order Church Records
  4. Tips for Working with Old Church Records
  5. More Records about Church Life

Part 2: The Denominations

6. Anglican/Episcopal
7. Baptist
8. Congregational
9. Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America
10. German Churches: Reformed and Sectarian
11. Latter-Day Saint (Mormon)
12. Lutheran
13. Mennonite and Amish
14. Methodist
15. Quaker (Religious Society of Friends)
16. Presbyterian
17. Roman Catholic

Chapter 1 gives an overview of the various kinds of records kept by church congregations, but with the caveat that some churches might have even richer records, while others might have far fewer.

Chapters 2-5 provide the foundation of basic knowledge needed to efficiently seek out church records pertaining to our ancestors.

Part 2, as you can seen gives detailed information about specific mainstream Christian religions in the United States.

Each of those chapters begins with “Quick Stats” – when the church first organized in America, areas of the country in which it is most predominant, the main ethnic origin and any affiliated faiths.

Each chapter is then formatted in the same way, discussing Background, “About” the Records, How to Access Membership Records, Other Records of Interest and concluding with Further Reading.

Given that many Americans have a family tree that is a melting pot of ethnicities and, therefore, religions, this book is a treasure trove of information for genealogists. For example, in my own family tree, I have ancestors who were members of the Congregational, Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches. Four of those five denominations are covered in this book and the fifth – the Greek Catholic Church – is very similar to Roman Catholicism.

I can say enough positive things about this book. Each chapter is an excellent synopsis of possible records and how to find them in each church repository.

With the exception of baptisms, marriages and burials, many genealogists don’t delve deeper into church holdings. There is so much more that might be found about the daily lives of our ancestors.

Every American family researcher should have Morton’s and Henderson’s book in his/her reference library.

How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide by Morton and Henderson can be ordered online ($29.95) from the Genealogical Publishing Company.