52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 16 Recap

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52ancestors-week16Ok, now that you’ve had a chance to come down from the sugar rush from all of those Peeps and chocolate bunnies, take some time to read some great genealogy.

Marian Burk Wood tells about her ancestor Minnie Farkas tossing her engagement ring. Lizf shares a story of her great-aunt, a college student and money manager! Jenna shares stories of her bachelor uncle Paul and why she thinks it’s important to remember the relatives who never had children.

I have to bring to your attention “Remembering Grandpa” by Brian Zalewski. It’s not a 52 Ancestors post, but it beautifully describes why so many of us do what we do.

My contribution this week was about my 4th-great-grandfather John Hibbs of present-day Monongalia County, West Virginia — an ancestor I don’t know as well as I thought I did.

I Don’t Really Know You: John Hibbs of West Virginia (52 Ancestors #16)

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question-markGenealogy is journey and an evolution. The further we go along the path of discovering our ancestors, the better our skills become. (Hopefully!) We learn about more types of sources and we evaluate better. Unfortunately, it seems that we apply our new-found skills to the ancestors we are currently working on. How often do we go back and look at the ancestors we researched in the “early days” of climbing the family tree?

That’s what I just did with my 4th-great-grandfather John Hibbs. Ouch. Turns out that most of the facts I “know” about him come from a county history biography of his son Elmus, a handful of handwritten census abstracts, and a photocopy of a marriage record. Not exactly the stuff of thorough research.

What I Think I Know About John Hibbs (Subject to Revision)

  • Born 17 Aug 1805
  • Married Jane Amos, daughter of Stephen Amos, deceased, 31 March 1825 in Monongalia County, Virginia
  • Married Mrs. Rebecca (Brumage) Ice
  • Married Margaret, daughter of Oliver Nay
  • Lived in Marion County, West Virginia in 1870 and 1880
  • Died 5 June 1886
  • Was the father of Martha, wife of Philip Mason


  • Photocopy of the marriage bond of John Hibbs and Jacob Hibbs, Jr. for John’s marriage to Jane Amos, 25 March 1825. Source unknown. (Judging from the way it was folded, I think I got this in the mail. Yeah, that’s a great source.)
  • Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Monongalia, Marion and Taylor Counties, West Virginia (Philadelphia: Rush, West, & Co., 1895), p. 204.
  • Handwritten abstract of 1870 census for John Hibbs household, Paw Paw District, Marion County, West Virginia, dwelling 212, family 213.
  • Printed abstract of 1880 census for E. H. Hibbs household, Pawpaw, Marion County, West Virginia. John Hibbs listed as “other” relation. [For you old-timers out there, this was a printout from the old FamilySearch 1880 CDs. Remember those?!]
  • Random family group sheets from Thomas Hess, dated 1993.


I really need to revisit John Hibbs.

Is It Time To Drop Your Society?

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On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

The Ohio Historical Society has announced that as of 24 May 2014, it will change its name to “Ohio History Connection.” Why? According to Executive Director Burt Logan, “There’s a disconnect between the quality of services we’re providing and the image, hinging on the name.” (Columbus Dispatch, 21 April 2014.) The name “Ohio Historical Society” is seen by the public as stodgy and antiquated.

I am a long-time member of and researcher at the Ohio Historical Society. I cut my research teeth at OHS. I researched a huge chunk of my senior thesis there. I did an internship there when I was an undergrad. It is a facility that is near and dear to my heart. So it took me awhile to muse about this name change. After mulling it over, I have to say that I agree with their decision.

What’s In a Name?

If you’re trying to reach a younger crowd and tap into new audiences (those who don’t self-identify as “historians” or “history buffs”), you’re not going to get very far if you first have to overcome the hurdle of a stodgy name. Though it is cliché, you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s hard to have the opportunity to show someone — let alone convince them — that you’re relevant to their interests if they can’t get past your name.

There’s another problem with having a name that’s off-putting. People don’t want to be associated with a group whose name they have issues with. I’ve experienced this myself. I love science and there’s a page on Facebook that shares awesome photos and fun science facts. But I’m not going to “like” the page because of its name: “I F***ing Love Science.” (Yes, replace the asterisks with the appropriate letters and you have the name of the page.) I can’t see myself sharing their photos and have it say, “Amy shared I F***ing Love Science’s photo.”

Though it isn’t as extreme, it isn’t hard to imagine people who would say, “Historical society? I don’t want to be a part of an old fogies’ group like that.”

hurdlesA Hurdle to Clear

Let’s think of this in terms of genealogy. I remember a few years ago talking to someone about attending the Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference. I was going on and on about some of the speakers I was looking forward to hearing and some of the vendors I wanted to buy from. She said, “Oh, that sounds great! Too bad I can’t go since I’m not a member.” I had to explain to her that the conference was open to anyone who paid the registration fee.

She saw “society” and thought “members-only.” The name “Ohio Genealogical Society” was a hurdle she had to clear in order to even consider trying to access it.

How many people see the word “society” in the name of your favorite genealogy organization and think that it’s stodgy or that there’s nothing for them since they aren’t a member?

Walk the Walk

Dropping the word “society” from your name isn’t going to automatically bring in tons of new, young members. It isn’t going to bring in groups that don’t instantly identify with genealogy. Having an accessible name is just part of talking the talk. You also have to walk the walk.

Maybe the group really is stodgy. Maybe it really doesn’t offer anything to non-members. Maybe it hasn’t embraced technology and how it can further the group’s mission. If so, no name change is going to overcome that.

You can take an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group and wrap it in a new name — but you’ll still have an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group. Conversely, you can have a group that is doing amazing things, but with the wrong name, it could be creating unnecessary hurdles for people to get to know them.

I know that genealogy societies can be awesome, and you (hopefully) know that genealogy societies can be awesome. But does the person who isn’t completely obsessed with family history know that? Could the name itself be part of the problem for reaching new people and new audiences?

I don’t think a name change alone will cure all of the ills facing so many of our societies today. But I do think that it warrants taking a look at. How about you? What’s your experience?

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 15 Recap

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52ancestors-week15I wondered if the number of posts would slow down once we got into warmer weather. Then it dawned on me — that might not be an issue! In my neck of the woods, it was 78 degrees on Sunday… and today we had almost an inch of snow.

This week, Nellie has some wonderful photos of her 4th-great grandmother Mabel Dodson Cortright Ramsey Ransom. (Nellie — I agree that her name is fun to say!) Nervous about cold-calling a potential relative? So was thegenealogygirl. She overcame her shyness and learned a bit more about her great-grand-uncle. Vera Marie Badertscher outlines what she knows about the mysterious disappearance of her ancestor’s second wife. After reading Ian Hadden’s account of Helen Shand Gammie, you’ll see why a descendant called her “the strongest woman I ever saw.”

My ancestor this week was William H. Skinner, my 3rd-great-grandfather who had the decency to die in a timely manner.

Decent Enough to Die in a Timely Manner: William H. Skinner (52 Ancestors #15)

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If there is a genealogical corollary to Murphy’s Law, it might be that the ancestor you’re looking for died one year before that state started keeping death records. (Raise your hand if that’s happened to you!) It happens so often, that I’d like to give a special “Thank you” to my 3rd-great-grandfather William H. Skinner for dying at the right time.

William was a farmer in Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. He was born in 1809 in either Ohio or Pennsylvania (depending on which record you want to believe). He died in Reading Township 3 May 1850.

Ohio didn’t start keeping civil death records until 1867, so why am I thankful that William died in May 1850? It’s because of a wonderful “other” part of the federal census called a mortality schedule. In the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, there was another schedule taken at the same time that was record the deaths of those who had died in the previous 12 months. The 1850 was “officially” taken on  1 June, so the mortality schedule was supposed to include those who died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850. William squeaked in by dying on 3 May.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

The mortality schedule tells us that he was a farmer, age 40, born in Ohio, and died in May of “liver complaint,” which he had for 11 days. (Just think — if he had lived for another month, we likely wouldn’t know what he died from. Though come to think of it, “liver complaint” is a rather catch-all term…  But at least we know it was medical and not like he was run over by a runaway horse or something. With this family, I’ll take what I can get.)

William’s widow Matilda and seven of their children (including my great-great-grandfather George and 11-month-old Marion) were enumerated in Reading Township later that summer.

William is buried in Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery in Reading Township.


  • William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio, page 925.
  • William Skinner tombstone, Hopewell Baptist Cemetery, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. Visited the cemetery several years ago. At that time, William’s tombstone was broken and lying on the ground. It has since been restored, as seen in the photo on FindAGrave.
  • Matilda Skinner household, 1850 federal census (population schedule), page 353a, household 456, family 456.
  • Stephen Skinner Family Bible, The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, (Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., no date). Owned in 1983 by Bertha Stalbaum, Valparaiso, Indiana; present location unknown. Photocopy at the Ohio Genealogical Society, Bellville, Ohio.

Of Genealogy and UFOs. (It’s Not What You Think)

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Harold Henderson has me thinking again. If you’re not familiar with Harold and his blog “Midwestern Microhistory,” I highly suggest you add it to your “must read” list. He is always digging up neat resources and giving his views on a variety of genealogy and history-related topics.

His post “Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000” got me thinking about a couple of things. First, there was the reminder that I really do need to do something with the piles and files that have overtaken my office. I like his 10-minutes-at-a-time approach, though it is going to take me lots of “10 minutes” to make meaningful progress. But it’s his last sentence that really got me thinking:

“If it’s not worth writing up, it’s not worth researching in the first place.”

I wanted to agree. It seems like such a good rallying cry, especially to someone like me who encourages others to write down their stories and their research. But after mulling it over, grabbing another cup of coffee, and mulling it over some more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t agree.


A current UFO.

Part of my beading tray with a current UFO.

In the craft world, a UFO is an UnFinished Object. (Believe me, it’s a concept I’m well acquainted with!) It’s that scarf that you never finished knitting or the bracelet you never finished beading. It’s the necklace that you still need to put the clasp on.

UFOs are annoying. They take up space. They taunt us with their unfinished-ness.

And I don’t regret any of mine.

This little bit of beading shown in the picture is one of my current UFOs. (Yes, I have more than one. I told you it’s a concept I’m well-acquainted with!) Honestly, it’s probably going to stay a UFO. I’m not happy with the tension I used, nor am I particularly pleased with how the brown and gold beads look together.

Genealogical UFOs and Their Value

Research that you haven’t written is a genealogical UFO. You’ve done a lot of work with that research, but you haven’t completed the final step: writing it down.

Even though I’m not going to complete that brown and gold bracelet, I learned a lot while working on it. I learned that I need to keep my tension a bit tighter while doing that particular stitch. I learned that I don’t like those two beads together. I learned that if I do this again, I need a way to attach a clasp that isn’t going to be all lopsided. I also relaxed while I was working on it, which was probably good for my health.

It’s the same with the research that I’ve done but haven’t written. I learned a lot while doing it. I learned about different records and resources and how they fit together. I learned how to read documents and what certain words and phrases meant. And I relaxed while I was working on it, which was also probably good for my health :)

Some of my genealogical UFOs also led to other research. Some of that, I have written about. (One even turned into my senior honors thesis in college.)

Let’s Be Clear

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t write about our research. I think everyone should! Write about it how ever you want to — an article, a blog, a book, a series of photos on Flickr or Instagram, a PowerPoint, an iMovie. (You get the idea.) I firmly and passionately believe that turning your research into something more than your notes is the best way to preserve it for future generations.

I’m just not willing to say that research that you don’t write isn’t worth starting. There’s too much to be gained by those genealogical UFOs.

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 14 Recap

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52ancestors-week14Week 14 — we’re now in the 2nd quarter of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Congratulations!

I’m a bit late in posting this. This week’s recap, although posted on Thursday, April 10, kept the “normal” cutoff of Tuesday, April 8. So, if you posted on Wednesday and don’t see your post, don’t worry, it will be on next week’s recap. (Which I hope will be on time!)

Cheryl Biermann Hartley shares her story of how she discovered that she descends from Martin Luther. (“Yes, THAT Martin Luther.”) What I like about her post is how reading a particular book became a ritual when visiting her grandparents’ house. Myra Vanderpool Gormley shared a beautiful memory of wearing roses on Mother’s Day. Need inspiration for your next post? Patricia Rohn found inspiration in Game of Thrones.

My contribution was about my 3rd-great grandfather John Johnson. Yes, really.

John Johnson. Yes, really. (52 Ancestors #14)

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canada-flagJohn Johnson. Yes, my 3rd-great grandfather’s name was John Johnson.

A few facts about John:

  • Born circa 1794 in Upper Canada
  • Arrived in Buffalo, New York in 1817
  • Declared his declaration to be naturalized in Morgan County, Ohio in June 1837
  • Naturalized in Morgan County, Ohio in October 1840
  • Lived in Bloom Township, Morgan County, Ohio in 1850
  • Died 16 February 1851 and is buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Bristol Township, Morgan County

I wonder if John appreciated how common his name was. His children were Juliett, Uthama, Enoch, Elizabeth, Ezra, Eber, Eliza, John, Margaret, Jeremiah, and Sarah Ann. (Frankly, I’m thankful that I descend from Eber. It’s easier to research Eber Johnson than John or Sarah!)


  • Genealogical Extracts from Naturalization Records of Morgan County, Ohio, (n.p.: Morgan County Genealogical Society, 1981), p. 23.
  • John Johnson household, 1850 federal census (population), Bloom Township, Morgan County, Ohio, page 102B.
  • John Johnson tombstone, Mt. Zion Cemetery, Bristol Township, Morgan County, Ohio.

52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 13 Recap

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52ancestors-week13Week 13! You know what this means…  We’re 1/4 of the way there!!

I’m almost afraid to ask, but which does it feel like to you: “We’re 1/4 done already?!” or “We’re only 1/4 done?” :)

Passage to the Past has the incredible story of Charles Billings, “the Mayor of Framingham.” Wally Huskonen describes how he’s related to his wife (hint: it’s more than just being spouses). Dave Lucey highlighted not only his War of 1812 ancestor, Rodolphus Stanhope, but also the Preserve the Pensions project, which is working to digitize those valuable pension files.

My contribution this week was how I pieced together a theory of why James R. Steele, my 3rd-great-grandfather, left Washington, DC for Ohio.

Without further ado, here are this week’s posts:

Fleeing the War? James R. Steele, 1827-1902 (52 Ancestors #13)

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We usually can’t know with certainty what our ancestors’ motivations were for some of their actions. The best we can do is examine the facts and come up with a theory that fits. That is what I have with James R. Steele, my 3rd-great grandfather.

James was born in 1827 in Maryland or the District of Columbia, depending on which census you read. He married Mary E. Belt on 19 July 1849. They lived in Washington, DC in 1850 and 1860. It was in DC that their first five children were born, including my great-great grandmother Ella Steele. James was a carpenter.

By 1862, the family had moved from Washington to Ohio and by 1870 were living in Lawrence Township, Washington County, Ohio. What would make a journeyman carpenter pack up his family and move away from an urban area where he almost certainly had business contacts and settle in a small town two states away?

In a word: War.

If you lived in Washington, DC in 1860, there is no way you could avoid knowing what was happening. Talk of secession and war had been circulating for months. Lincoln’s election fueled the flames of rhetoric. South Carolina seceded 20 December; five more states seceded in January 1861. Rhetoric and politics turned to action on 12 April 1861 with the firing upon of Fort Sumter.

When Virginia seceded in April 1861, the District of Columbia was in a rather precarious position. Suddenly, the capital of the United States was bordered by a state that had just seceded. To make matters worse, although Maryland remained part of the Union, its southern sympathies were strong.

We will likely never know for sure why James and his family moved from Washington, DC to Ohio. But it isn’t hard to imagine that he saw the situation and decided that the risk of Washington becoming a battleground was too great.

Washington, D.C., 1862. Park of artillery (Excelsior Brigade) at Washington Arsenal. Photo by Mathew Brady. Downloaded from the Library of Congress; no known restrictions on publication.

Washington, D.C., 1862. Park of artillery (Excelsior Brigade) at Washington Arsenal. Photo by Mathew Brady. Downloaded from the Library of Congress; no known restrictions on publication.

James apparently stayed out of the Civil War. There is no listing for him in the 1890 veterans schedule in Ohio or Virginia (where he and Mary moved by 1900). There is no mention of service in his obituary. No listing for him or Mary has been found in the Civil War pension index. (Admittedly, he could have served without later applying for a pension.) But this also makes sense if he left DC to try to keep his family safe. If you’re trying to flee the war, you probably wouldn’t enlist in it.

Another avenue to pursue is James’ religion. He and Mary were married by a Rev. Mr. Evans. If that is Rev. French S. Evans, he appears to be associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. James is buried in Timber Ridge Primitive Baptist Cemetery in Frederick County, Virginia. But even if James was a pacifist, I don’t believe that would have required him to leave Washington, DC.

James R. Steele died in Whitacre, Frederick County, Virginia on 4 April 1902.


  • James Steele household, 1850 Federal census (population schedule), 4th Ward, Washington City, District of Columbia, p. 304a, household 1104, family 1141.
  • James Steele household, 1860 Federal census (population schedule), Washington, District of Columbia, page 204 (written), household 1346, family 1408.
  • James R. Steele household, 1870 Federal census (population schedule), Lawrence Township, Washington County, Ohio, page 44 (written), household 316, family 318. [Note: Son Harvey, age 8, is the first child listed as being born in Ohio. This would place the family's move between 1860 and 1862.]
  • Jas. R. Steele FindAGrave memorial. Photo of his tombstone is on Ancestry.com.
  • National Genealogical Society, “The National Intelligencer, 1800-1850″ online database. [Cites marriage of James R. Steele and Mary E. Belt married 19 July 1849; 21 July 1849 issue.]