Category Archives: GeneaGems

New GeneaGem Discovered! BLM Website

I have discovered a new GeneaGem. Months back, I wrote about using DeedMapper to plot out metes and bounds land surveys. As Americans began the Westward Movement, the government began issuing land parcels using an organized planning system call the Public Land Survey System, often referred to as the Township, Range and Section system.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) General Land Office (GLO) has a Records Automation website that is both fabulous and free.

This site is very easy to use. Simply click on “Search Documents” at the top left corner.

A search box opens for you. The great thing about this site is that it can be used in several ways that are very helpful for genealogy research.

First, if your ancestor lived in a state that uses the PLSS for land parcels, but you don’t have the land description for the property that he/she owned, you can search by Location and Name.

I put in the surname “Sturgill” in Ohio and three hits came up, all for William Sturgill, one of my husband’s mystery ancestors:

All three listings are dated 1837 so I chose the first patent in the list because it has the lowest number. I then clicked on the live link under “Accessions.”

William Sturgill Land Patent Information

There are three categories of information. The first is Patent Details, which shows that the land was sold from the Chillicothe Land Office under an act of 1820 and there were no mineral reservations. William received 43.05 acres located in Township 5N, Range 17W and Section 10 in Lawrence County, Ohio.

If you click on the land description next to the box, it plots the land location for you:

Land Plotted on a Map

From the dotted lines representing the borders of Lawrence County, it is easy to see that the county was an odd shape, but it is also possible to see that William’s land was in the eastern portion of the county, not far from the Gallia County line.

A township normally was divided into 36 sections, so William’s land was in the north central area.

The best part comes next! Click on “Patent Image.”

The first page of William Sturgill’s land patent papers has been digitized and there is a Print Friendly button on the top right side of the screen. The downside is that most land patent files are more than one page long. If you would like the whole file, you will have to contact the BLM to order it.

Also, not all land patent files have the digitized first page available yet. I first tried this with “Stufflebean” in Oklahoma and the file that came up did not have the image in it yet.

The third tab is for Related Documents. It shows all the people who have some type of relationship to that piece of land.

The other tab on the home page is the Reference Center.  Click on that to see the various resources available on the website to help you understand the land records:

All in all, this is definitely a GeneaGem. In addition to accessing land records for ancestors, researchers can use the Related Documents section to look for the FAN (Family and Neighbors) Club. Instead of looking at the 1840 census and wondering how close someone lived to a person of interest, this database can show exactly how close together two people lived. In the case of William Sturgill, his neighbors consisted of current family members and future extended family through marriage.

This website deserves a definite thumbs up! Check it out for yourself.

Overlooked GeneaGem #4 – Ethnic Societies

America is called a melting pot for good reason. Most of us are descended from a mixture of ethnic and/or religious backgrounds. While my maternal grandfather’s family has proven to be solely colonial American and Canadian immigrants from Britain, one side of my maternal grandmother’s family is the same, the other side is Danish with a Swedish line added in. My paternal grandparents’ lines  are all Slovak with their ancestral villages being near Presov, Slovakia.

Why am I mentioning this? Because ethnic societies can often provide a huge amount of information on members of a community at any given time. We want our ancestors to become real people, who are more than just a birth, marriage and death date on a piece of paper. We want to know about their friends and neighbors, cultural traditions and jobs.

Ethnic societies can provide some of this information.

Cyndi’s List

Federation of Genealogical Societies – has many ethnic societies, but database is in ABC order so you will have to scroll.

I suspect that none of these lists is terribly complete because there are so many small organizations across the country in addition to some entities that are only websites.

Since I mentioned my Slovak heritage, I will share a website devoted to the Carpatho-Rusyns who emigrated from Slovakia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It includes a large amount of information on the people who emigrated from the villages of Udol and Ujak, which were the ancestral homes of my grandmother Julia’s family, to Passaic, New Jersey, the city where I was born and grew up.

The Carpathian Connection

The section on Passaic has historic photos of people and places, stories from descendants of those early Slovak immigrants, historical information on the churches, shops and neighborhoods where they lived. I recognize many of the family names as those of my grandmother’s friends.

Growing up, I knew that she had a lot of Slovak speaking friends from (today’s) Greek-Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, but I knew nothing of the mills where they all went to work, the cultural customs continued from the “old country” or that a huge percentage of those immigrants all migrated from Udol or Ujak, two small villages in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains near the Poprad River.

I tell people that if they look at a map of Poland and Slovakia, look due south from Cracow across the border. the mountain range at that border is the Tatras. Udol and Ujak in ancient times only had 500-800 inhabitants. The population was about the same in the 1800’s and remains that way today in spite of all the emigration.

I have learned so much about my grandmother’s way of life in the early 1900’s through information found on The Carpathian Connection. If you have a strong family connection to one or more ethnic groups, check out the directories in this post, but if you don’t find one fitting your heritage, do what we all do today – google it!

Overlooked GeneaGem#3 – State Genealogical Societies

The third of the overlooked gems is state genealogical societies. Yes, genealogical societies cost money to join, BUT some have free databases on line that can be accessed by anyone. My husband’s Williams family lived every place imaginable where the records burned from Virginia to Tennessee. Because they lived mostly in the South, birth and death records were rarely found until modern times.

Two of my favorite genealogical periodicals are those of the Tennessee Genealogical Society and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. 

Both societies have digitized images of their publications, Ansearchin’ News and Arkansas Family Historian, posted on their websites. The Arkansas Genealogical Society also has PDF images of Ancestry Charts and Family Group Sheets submitted by members over the years and a database of the Arkansas Ancestry Certificate Index, listing early Arkansas settlers for whom descendants have submitted documentation.

Here are a few examples of harder-to-find types of genealogical-related information that I randomly found in these journals:

From the July 1964 issue of Ansearchin’ News, p. 119 – “Early East Tennessee Land Surveys” of Anderson County. These surveys are great because they not only list the land owner, but often give neighbors’ names as they owned bordering properties and the “SCC” or “sworn chain carriers” were often friends or relatives.

Misc 1

In the October 1962 issue, also Ansearchin’ News, page 132,

“Spears-Gable Bible.” Note that the death entries even include cause of death in a time period where death records were not kept in Tennessee. (I did not include the birth and marriage records in case this is your family, but they are there.)

Misc 2

In the Arkansas Family Historian, June 1966, page 40 I found the descendants of Don Jose Vallure de Hautervive listed in an abstract of a White County, AR land deed dated 1841. Don Jose served as Captain of the Sixth Regiment of Louisiana under the Spanish government and received land grants in both Louisiana and Arkansas. He died in New Orleans in 1799 and the deed lists all of his descendants known over forty years later. (As with the Bible records above, I only clipped part of the entry.)

Misc 3

Last example: Arkansas Family Historian, Jan 1976, page 43 has family queries, which I absolutely love. I have found more missing twigs and branches of the family tree than I can count by perusing queries in genealogical publications. Yes, I know that I can look at family trees on line, and I do, but so many people don’t do their own research anymore. They just cut and paste and/or import data that is just as likely to be wrong as right. This query gives a lot of possible background for the Fowler/Oats family:

Misc 4

What else can be found in genealogical publications? Cemetery records! Why would you want to look at 50 or 60 year old magazines for cemetery records when we have, BillionGraves, etc.? First reason – many transcriptions in these journals are from abandoned cemeteries that still have readable stones or are from cemeteries in out of the way locations (like in a family’s backyard) and are not yet available on line. Second reason – because many of these published epitaphs are 50-60 years old, or even older, these stones might no longer be readable due to the ravages of time and weather or they may have sunk in the ground or been removed or destroyed. Therefore, they won’t ever appear, at least with a photo, on any cemetery website.

Besides cemetery listings, there are many transcribed tax lists (which, yes, can be viewed on microfilm, but many don’t ever look at this resource in a library), there are occasional family diary excerpts, there are old photographs and many other tidbits of information to help paint a picture of your ancestor’s life.

Here are a few sources with links to state genealogical societies:

Genealogical Societies

Ancestry’s List

Take a moment and check out a state where your family lived.