Google Your Ancestors

Google Your Ancestors

This may be the shortest blog you have read, but sometimes you get a lot of information just by googling your ancestors.  Of course, you can use Bing, DuckDuck Go, Yahoo, AOL, or any search engine you like.

Just putting my maiden name into my search engine gives me a Wikipedia article on Notable People with the same last name, a website showing the meaning of my surname, information on migration of the family, variations on spelling, early origins of the family, and the family crest, and many more results.

The reason I mention Google is because I have recently discovered some Google Books on my family.  This book, Mr. Fortner’s Marital Claims, was published in 1892.  I can read through it to see if I am related to this Mr. Fortner plus, I can add it to my library for further reference.  This book by Mona Forkner Paulas is not an ebook but I can see a snippet and I can see places where I can buy this book.  I also have the title and the author so I can see if this book is available at my local library.

Good luck with your search.

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All Rights Reserved with Full Rights Reserved for Original Contributor

Mississippi flag; photo by Richard Threlkeld on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / share alike).

Testing Your DNA

Testing Your DNA

I got my DNA tested at FamilyTreeDNA when it was on sale several years ago.  Look for sales all through the year and especially near a holiday. I took the autosomal DNA test.  The test was easy to take: it only requires a cheek swab. The instructions for taking the test were easy to follow and I got my results pretty quickly.  I was able to load my GEDcom to their website so that I could find matches.

There are 3 types of DNA tests:

  1. Autosomal dna looks at 22 chromosomes from each of your parents so it can be taken by either a man or a woman and can provide information about the families of both parents.
  2. The Y-DNA test can only be done by a male member of the family.  In addition to the 22 chromosomes we get from each of our parents, we also get a sex chromosome.  The Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son. Females do not have a Y-chromosome.
  3. The mtDNA test will give information about your mother’s side of the family.  This test can be taken by a male or female member of the family since mitochondrial DNA is passed down from a mother to all her children.

I don’t usually read the fine print but I think it is important to read through all the legal jargon before purchasing your DNA kit.  Questions you will want to answer are:

  1. Is my information private?
  2. Will my DNA be used to solve criminal cases without my knowledge or approval?
  3. What can I learn from this test?
  4. How accurate is the test?
  5. How long will it take to get my test results?
  6. What information will be shared with a third party?
  7. Does the company keep your DNA test, and if so, how, where, and how long is it kept?  If your results are kept online, is the information encrypted?

You may find that you have other questions too.

There are several places that will test your DNA.  These are listed in no particular order.

  1. FamilyTreeDNA
  2. Ancestry
  3. 23andMe
  4. CRIgenetics
  5. MyHeritage
  6. LivingDNA
  7. Vitagene
  8. Nebula
  9. GPS Origins

So, how do you connect with other family members once you get your results?

  1.  Register at GEDmatch and upload your GEDCOM and your test results to see matches.
  2. You can upload raw results to Gene Heritage from any major DNA testing company.
  3. FamilyTreeDNA
  4. Ancestry
  5. 23-and-Me
  6. MyHeritage

You may find others.

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All Rights Reserved with Full Rights Reserved for Original Contributor

Mississippi flag; photo by Richard Threlkeld on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / share alike).

Social Security Records

Social Security Records

The National Archives has a wealth of information you can use in researching your family.  One thing you can find there is Social Security Records.  There you will see social security applications and social security death files.  These documents are for the years 1936-2007 and for people who have a verified death date or who would be 110 years old by December 31, 2007.

Click on the search button for the group that contains your last name. You do not have to fill out all the spaces on this form.  In fact, it may be good to leave a few blank, i.e., my mother always told me she was born in Stuttgart, but her social security application says she was born in Almyra.  If your search turns up a record, you can see their social security number, citizenship, full name, date of birth, race, ethnicity, sex, mother’s full name, father’s full name, city of birth, for women you can see if they received a duplicate card due to a marriage and the previous marriage name.

Scroll down to the death files and look for your ancestor there.  You can find their social security number, full name, date of birth, date of death, sex, and zip code of residence.

Another good resource for searching the Social Security Death Index is the website of Stephen P. Morse.  These are records between 1936 and February 28, 2014.  His article “Decoding Social Security Numbers” can be a good resource for clues about your ancestors.

You can also find the Social Security Death Index at FamilySearch.  You will need to set up a free account if you don’t already have one.

In addition, you can search at any of the paid subscription websites, i.e., Ancestry or MyHeritage.

Good luck in your research.

Searching Land Records

Searching Land Records

There are several good websites for finding early land records.  The Bureau of Land Management website is a great resource for Land Patents, Surveys Plats and Field Notes, Land Status Records (LSR), Control Document Index (CDI), Tract Books, and Land Catalog.  

For today, we will be talking about Land Patents.  Click on “Search Documents” and this is where you will enter the state you are interested in searching.  You do not have to fill in all the information. You can also select the county, township, range, median, and section number.  You can fill in the Last Name, First Name, and Middle Name.

For example, I am looking for land owned by my ancestor, Nathan Fortner.  I have found him in the 1830 St. Clair, Alabama census.

I click on “Search Patents” and this is the result.

Now that I see Nathan Fortner, I can click on “image” on the left of his name.  

This patent was issued to Nathan Fortner of Marengo County, Alabama.  This patent can be downloaded or printed by hovering over the black area at the top.  You can also order a certified copy.

You can click on “Related Documents” to see other documents related to this one.  This list will be documents that match the land description in the patent.

Click on “Patent Details” and you will see “Map” in the lower left hand corner of the screen.

Click the box next to map and you can see where this land is on the map of Alabama.

You can zoom in or zoom out depending on what your needs are.

Sometimes you will find interesting details in the land patent.

This patent shows that Nancy Fortner is the widow of Nathan Fortner.  It also shows that Nathan served as a private in Captain Craig’s Company, 2nd Regiment, Tennessee Militia, War of 1812.  One word of caution, and this applies to whatever records you are looking at, make sure that this is your relative. For example, my ancestor, Nathan Fortner lived in South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi.  All the Tennessee Militia in the War of 1812 were from counties in Tennessee. Since my ancestor did not live in Tennessee, he cannot be the Nathan Fortner that received a land patent for his service in the War of 1812.

Not every state will be on this website, but they have a list of resources for other states.

Another really good site for land records is  There you can find The First Landowners Project and The Antique Map Collection.  For this site, you will need a subscription. Click here for for subscription options.  

I really like their map view because you can see your relative and all the neighbors.

Click on the map pin on the left side of the screen and you get a pop-up menu showing the parcel details.

The two options at the bottom of this pop-up menu take you to the Bureau of Land Management website.  You can also view this on Google Maps. The U. S. Boundary History is a good feature.

Here you can see that this area belonged to the Native Americans in 1790, 1800, and 1810.  Alabama became a state in 1819, so for 1820 until today it is part of Jefferson County, Alabama.

You can also save to “My people”.

You can use the search box at the top of the page to find every place in the United States where someone with your surname was a first landowner.

Each circle contains a number that lets you know how many people with your surname are there.

To get the most out of this website, I suggest that you watch the how-to-videos found in the Support section.  There are many more things you can do at the website, for example, read their blog, look at antique maps, or chart your ancestors migration.  




Cemeteries are a great place to find those missing birth dates and death dates and to verify that the dates you have are correct. Remember to take a photo of the headstone as your source.

A trip to the cemetery will probably give you the chance to get dates for more than one relative since family members are usually buried in the same cemetery.

Watson family buried in Marks Cemetery

In addition, it gives you a chance to confirm or find marriages and children.  Husbands and wives may have a double headstone with the marriage date on their headstone.  (In this case, the date on the headstone is wrong. It should be 21 July 1951. Scroll down to “gravesite details”.)

Photo of double headstone showing date of marriage

I have seen headstones that say Mother and Father.  Some of the headstones of the parents will have the names of their children.  

Headstone showing names of children

Obituaries are another good way of finding birth and death dates.  In addition, the obituary usually has the name of the spouse, children, siblings,  parents, occupation, military service. Some memorials on have obituaries.

Memorial at Find a Grave with an obituary

Some memorials will have a picture.

Memorial at with a picture

As you can see from this memorial, sometimes all the family members are linked together.

In addition to, Billion Graves is another good website for looking up cemetery information.

Cemetery search at Billion Graves

You can also search the Billion Graves index at Family  If you don’t already have a free account, sign up for one at

Billion Graves Index at Family Search has some transcribed cemeteries that are free to search. has a very nice cemetery database.  Check out this website because they have a lot of information to share.

If you have information to share, consider volunteering your time and information to one of these sites.

Contribute to Find a Grave

Become a BillionGraves Volunteer

Submit a Transcription to Internment.Net


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All Rights Reserved with Full Rights Reserved for Original Contributor

Census Records — Part 2

Census Records — Part 2

The 1880 census has a lot of information.  The headings are name of street and house number if living in the city, name, color, sex, age, if born within year give the month, relationship to head of family, single, married, widowed, divorced, married during the year, occupation, number of months unemployed.  On the second page are questions about Health that include sick or temporarily disabled on the day of the enumerators visit, blind, deaf and dumb, idiotic, insane, maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled. Three questions are about Education: attended school within the year, cannot read, cannot write.  The last three questions deal with Nativity: place of birth for this person, place of birth for father, place of birth of mother. 1880 also has an Industrial and Mechanical Schedule, an Agricultural Schedule, and a Mortality Schedule.

There are several other schedules in the 1880 census.  Schedule #2 deals with the insane.  Schedule #3 has information on idiots.  There is a definition of the word idiot:  “The word “idiot” has a special meaning which it is essential for every enumerator to know. An idiot is a person the development of whose mental facilities was arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the stupidity which results from idiocy and that which is due to the loss or deterioration of mental power in consequence of insanity. The latter is not true idiocy, but dementia or imbecility.”  Schedule #4 is for deaf-mutes.  Schedule #5 is for the blind.  Schedule #6 is for homeless children.  Schedule #7 gives information about prisoners.  Schedule #7a is for paupers and the indigent. 

Much of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. The only records available for the 1890 census are part of Perry County, Alabama; part of the District of Columbia; Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia; Mound Township, McDonough County, Illinois; Rockford, Wright County, Minnesota; Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey; part of Westchester and Suffolk County, New York; part of Gaston and Cleveland counties in North Carolina; Cincinnati, Hamilton County and part of Clinton County, Ohio; Jefferson Township, Union County, South Dakota; and part of Ellis, Hood, Rusk, Trinity, and Kaufman counties in Texas.  1890 has a Veterans Schedule.

The 1900 census has a lot of information that can be gleaned.  Columns are headed: street, house number, dwelling number, family number, name, relation to head of family, color, sex, month of birth, year of birth, age, single, married, widowed, or divorced, number of years married, mother of how many children, number of these children living, place of birth, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother, year of immigration, attended school (months), can read, can write, can speak English, home owned or rented, home owned free or mortgaged, farm or house.  1900 also has a Special Inquiries Relating to Indians.

The 1910 census is two pages.  The headings are street name, house number, visitation number, family number, name, relation to head of house, sex, race, age, single, married, widowed, or divorced, number of years present marriage, number of children born to this mother, number of these children living, place of birth of this person, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother.  Page two has name, year of immigration, naturalized or alien, native language, trade or profession, nature of business, employer, employee or self-employed, weeks out of work in 1900, able to read, able to write, attended school since September 1, 1900, home owned or rented, home owned free or mortgaged, farm or house, number of farm schedule, union or confederate veteran, blind, deaf and dumb.  1910 also has a Special Inquiries Relating to Indians.

The 1920 census is another gold mine of information in it’s two pages.  Headings for the first page are street or avenue, house number or farm, number of dwelling house, number of family, name, relationship to head of household, home owned or rented, if owned free or mortgaged, sex, color or race, single, married, widowed, death, year of immigration to the U.S., naturalized or alien, if naturalized–year of naturalization, attended school anytime since September 1, 1919, able to read, able to write.  The second page has name, place of birth, mother tongue, place of birth and mother tongue of father, place of birth and mother tongue of mother, able to speak English, trade or profession, industry, business or establishment in which at work, employer, salary or wage worker or working on own account, number of farm schedule.

The 1930 census has some interesting questions.  Headings include house number, number of dwelling, number of family, name, relationship to head of family, home owned or rented, value of home if owned or monthly rental if rented, radio set, does this family live on a farm, sex, color, age at last birthday, marital condition, age at first marriage, attended school or college at any time since September 1, 1929, whether able to read or write, place of birth of this person, place of birth of father.  Questions continue on page 2 and include name, place of birth of mother, language spoken in home before coming to United States, code, year of immigration to the United States, naturalization, whether able to speak English, occupation, industry, code, class or worker, whether actually at work yesterday or the last regular working day, if not at work–line number on unemployment schedule, veteran of U.S. Military or naval forces, number of farm schedule.

The farm schedules and unemployment schedules mentioned in the census cannot be located except for the farm schedules for Alaska, Guam, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico.  These are in the process of being microfilmed. The Supplemental Indian Schedules were destroyed. The codes mentioned in the census were for internal use and were used to create statistics.  They do not provide any additional information.

The 1940 census is the last census we have available.  The census records are released every 72 years, so it will be April 2022 before the 1950 census will be released.  Page 1 of this census shows house number, number of household in order of visitation, home owned or rented, value of home or monthly rent if rented, farm (yes or no), name, relationship to head of household, code, sex, color or race, age at last birthday, marital status, attended school or college at any time since March 1, 1940, highest grade of school completed, code, place of birth, code, citizenship, residence on April 1, 1935.  The bottom half of this page has 14 questions on the employment status of persons 14 years of age and over. Page 2 has place of birth for father and mother, code, mother tongue, code, 4 questions are for veterans, 3 questions on social security for persons 14 years of age and over, occupation, industry, usual class of worker, code, and the last 3 questions are for women. For an explanation of the codes used in this census check out the work of Stephen P. Morse, PhD and Joel D. Weintraub, PhD.

Just a word about searching through the census online–use various spellings of your name.  My maiden name is Fortner but the name has been spelled Falkner, Faulkner, or Forkner by other relatives.  In census records the name can be spelled Falkenor, Falckner, Falconer, Falkiner. My pioneer ancestor is Nathan Fortner.  He is found in the 1830 census under the name Authan Fertner. Soundex indexes came into use because of the widespread misspelling of names.  Your library should have a Soundex index. For instructions on how to use the Soundex, check out this article by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright.

Come back next week when we will delve further into ways to research your family.  If you should have questions, just ask or you can leave a comment.

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All Rights Reserved for Original Contributor