Sunday, January 01, 2017

Hail and Farewell

Dear Reader,
As you know, I haven't been writing much here in recent months. It's not that I've lost interest in genealogy — far from it! But I need to put my efforts into creating narratives for family members — pieces that are longer and more detailed than what works within the confines of this fomat.

So, this is a farewell to the Family Lines blog. If anyone is interested in communicating with me about subjects or family names* I've written about in the past, I can still be reached at

It was always my intention not only to share personal research discoveries but also to offer a few tips that might help readers in their efforts. Here are some of them again:

1. In genealogical research, the first rule is to work back in time from the present. But don't stop there. Move laterally to include spouses (and their parents), siblings, and children of your ancestors' siblings. Sometimes their stories are the most interesting of all, and in any case, their lives will often give clues to help you trace your direct line.

2. Remember the public libraries in your areas of interest. Many of them have online catalogs these days and may hold unique items such as local newspapers, indexes, photographs and other genealogical treasures. I have found their reference staffs unfailingly helpful.

3. Look for genealogical and/or historical societies in those locales. Join up and submit queries to their newsletters. Membership lists will often include surnames being searched. They, too, are often repositories of special material you may not be able to find anywhere else.

4. Don't set unrealistic goals that can just discourage and overwhelm you. Choose a line to work on, and then a single generation of that line. Break it down further — say, all the folks who lived in one county, or the young men of an age to have served in the Civil War.

5. Never, ever, expect your family's history to be "done." You may choose to wind up a particular project at some point, but there will always be more for someone else to work on. On the other hand, don't let its open-ended nature keep you from writing about it. Go with what you have — you, or somone else, can always add more later.

6. Remember that showing where you got your information is absolutely vital. If Grandma said it was so and that's all you know, put that down (with Grandma's full name). If you read it in a book, list the book's title, author, publisher and date of publication. If your source is a copy of a copy of a pirated family tree (you know who you are) list as much as you can about the tree's authorship, and where it is posted. Then the next person to pick the threads will know where she or he stands.  Treat ALL undocumented statements as clues, not fact, and try to confirm them.

Those are some tenets I try to follow. I hope they help you. 

So long.

*My lines, briefly, are:

Cain, descending from Thomas Cain (d 1795), mostly in Delaware and Indiana. From there the family spread out to various parts: New Jersey, Tennessee, Kentucky and California.

Howard, descending from Frederick Howard (1795-1853) who apparently was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, but moved first to Kentucky and then settled in Indiana.

Tanner/Blount/Waldron with roots in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Never perfect, but good enough

Such a long time since I’ve added a post! Bear with me -- there is much to report. Besides working on a narrative about my Cain ancestors, I’ve spent a week in Salt Lake City, done some traveling, and dealt with various at-home projects that just don’t seem to end. In other words, life intervened.

The Cain story is ready for the printer, if I don’t find one more minute piece of information to add, or notice another comma out of place. What do they say? “Perfection is the enemy of good.” Just as no family history is ever complete, this small sliver of mine is only tentatively “done”  (and I can never claim perfection). But at this point I really need to say “enough” because there are other lines I’d really like to return to!

What have I learned from doing this? For one thing, trying to write something down as a story instead of just a string of charts and notes really makes me look much more carefully at what I’ve gathered. New information comes online every day, and some of my earliest research was done well before the existence of FindaGrave, Ancestry, or that online treasure, FamilySearch. New sources for obituaries, in particular, have provided a wealth of fascinating data. And I learned a particular lesson: if, for whatever reason, you cannot find an obit for a particular individual, try to find one for a spouse, child, or sibling.

Another lesson: when one puts something iike this together, patterns emerge that may have been hidden before. Looking at a person singly, or just with his/her immediate family, is what I often do when entering new data. But writing about that same person as part of an extended group makes certain information stand out. Sisters who married men sharing occupation, siblings who left home and ended up in the same place elsewhere, relatives who died within days or weeks of one another -- that sort of thing invites further examination.

It’s been a rewarding effort, and one I hope to reprise with other ancestral lines in due time.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why I love Laura

When I read to my young children many years ago, our favorite books included the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for its gently fictionalized depiction of the author’s pioneer life. On a cross-country road trip we even visited DeSmet, South Dakota, where there is a Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. 

This was long before genealogy grabbed me by the throat, mind you.

As you may recall, Laura’s family, Pa and Ma, Carrie, Mary, and Laura herself, lived in Wisconsin, Kansas and Minnesota in the post-Civil War period. Their tales of log-cabin living, threats from wild creatures, and plagues of grasshoppers, were counterbalanced by accounts of Pa’s fiddling and singing, the girls’ playthings, and the descriptions of the endless prairies, ice-bound lakes and dark woods where they made their home at various times.

To me it was simply a delightful set of stories from a far-off time and place, with no particular relation to my own experience. So when “Pioneer Girl: the Annotated Autobiography, Laura Ingalls Wilder” came out recently, it caught my interest just for that reason.

However, it turns out the scholarly notes that accompany the text are enough to make the genealogist’s heart sing.  Not only do the editors pay homage to census and vital records for research, but the work also includes period photos, maps and references to such sources at the Bureau of Land Management, and it is rich with historical details about the realities of living on the land in that time and those places.

But there is a more personal reason I find the book of particular interest. From 1877-1879, Laura’s family lived in southwestern Minnesota’s Redwood County. And I have a letter from my grandmother’s sister, written in 1885, when she was in adjoining Murray County. Lizzie Records and her husband Josiah moved there from Indiana in the 1860s, so would have been in the region at the same time as the Ingalls family. Now, to me, that is an interesting coincidence! And it tells me what living conditions might have been like for my own kin. 

Lizzie was writing to my grandmother, who had evidently asked for some family information. She said: “Well, for a history of my life in the last twenty years, we came to this far off western country twenty two years ago, the same fall your Ma died. … It seems but a day since I left my motherland and yet it seems like ages to think of the changes that has taken place.” They had five children, more or less contemporaries of the Ingalls offspring.

That letter is a treasure to me, and its significance is enlarged now by the knowledge that she and her family lived so near Laura and her family, and probably shared similar experiences.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Who ARE they?

Annabelle Cain
Genealogy is all about tracking down relatives, living and dead, though mostly dead. We all know that. But then there are the ones who perch out on the edges of our family tree --  clinging there by reason of a previous marriage, informal adoption, or some other situation. And while they may not be the main focus of our research, they ARE there … sometimes just pleading for recognition.  

A couple of my puzzles were not really on the margins, but did remain elusive for a long time. Franklin Lee Parkison, my grandmother’s cousin, was one of what I call the 
“lost boys,” single, with no fixed address. His widowed mother remarried and it appears they barely kept in touch.  I finally found him through a death certificate which had mispelled his surname.

Another was Albert Kelsey Thompson, also a cousin, also single and also on the move. I THINK I’ve found him, in the potter’s field section of a Sacramento, California, cemetery.

Then there are the youngsters taken in by families, for whatever reason. Often they are given their adopting/fostering family’s surname and their own biological past is virtually erased. While I am not so concerned about delving into that past, I am quite interested in learning what became of them in later life.

Recently I rediscovered a girl named Jessie in our Indiana Cain clan, one of at least three children who had been adopted, informally or otherwise, by Sarah Cain and her husband, Orlando Hamilton. Although obviously quite young in an 1886 family photo, she was identified as the wife of another adoptee in the same family.  Though my proof is not rock-solid, I now feel sure she not only  grew up in the same household as this fellow adoptee, but later did become his second wife. Of course I’ll keep checking for any new evidence that might prove (or disprove) the matter.

But now I’m turning my attention to another young woman, Annabelle, who was found in the 1900 census for Middlesex County, New Jersey, as part of the Albert Cain family. That record states she was an adopted daughter, born January 1886 in England. After that -- nothing.  Family members I queried long ago (all gone now) remember nothing more of her, but I can’t let it go.  Is she the Annabel, also spelled “Anna B.” who is shown as the wife of Jack/John Coffey in subsequent NJ census records? The birth year is close, the birthplace is England, the year of immigration close enough.  This Annabelle is buried in Groveville Cemetery, according to FindaGrave, with a stone that simply shows her years of birth and death.  Without a more specific date I cannot get a death certificate, and searches for obituaries have so far come up empty. No NJ marriage records online -- as far as I can tell, and no children’s birth records which might show the mother’s pre-marriage name.

Well, it is a work in progress. 

Who are you looking for these days?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Five Generations, Sixty-Five Years, Twenty-Six Hundred Miles

Browsing through old family pictures  -- and discovering ones that haven’t been scanned yet --  I came up with some pretty interesting juxtapositions.

To the left, below, are Dr. Cornelius Cain, my great-grandfather, Rev. John Wesley Cain, his son, and Howard Hamilton Cain, his grandson (and my father). This was taken in Clarksburg, Indiana, in about 1899.

 The next shot is of of Howard holding his son, Thomas Hayden Cain, in 1943, in Riverside, California.

The color photo, taken about 1966, shows Thomas again, and Jonathan Minton, my son, in San Mateo County, California. Not satisfied with just a beard, or a mustache, like his two forebears, Tom is sporting both.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Census Taker is Your Friend

Plowing through various census records to help me locate ever more relatives, I am reminded once again of how useful they can be.

But reading the column designations at the top of the page, even on a large computer screen, can be difficult, and it is easy to forget that certain questions were asked at different times.

The 1850 census stands out, of course, because it was the first one to list the name of every person in the household. It gives age, sex, color, birthplace, occupation, and more.  It does NOT, however, show relationships, so we cannot simply assume the oldest male and female were husband and wife.

In fact it was not until the 1880 census that relationships were listed, so always look there for confirmation. This census also showed, for the first time, the birthplaces of everyone’s parents (as reported by someone in the household).

As a beginner, I didn’t pay much attention to the other questions that were asked at various times. But when I got stuck trying to find descendants of a particular cousin, I realized the 1900 and 1910 census listed how many children the married females had, and how many were still living at the time.  

Both these years had other nuggets of information as well. In 1900, the exact month and year of birth was asked for each person. If married, the number of years married was listed. In 1910 and again in 1930 and 1930, the males were asked whether they were veterans. Also in 1930, age at first marriage is recorded, rather than number of years married. Be sure to get that right!

Immigration year and naturalization are noted from 1900 to 1930.

Everyone was pretty excited when the 1940 census came out, and it does have a lot of information, such as each individual’s residence in 1935.  But, with the exception of the two persons singled out on each page to provide more detail, birthplaces of parents are omitted.

And don’t give up on the pre-1850 censuses just because they offer so much less information.  Heads of household are listed by name, with age ranges and gender given for others.  From the broadest categories in 1790 (two ages ranges for males, none for females), to the decade-specific ranges for both sexes in 1840, there are clues to be derived. Also, in 1840, there is a separate listing for Revolutionary War pensioners.

The subject of census records for genealogists could fill a book, and in fact it has. The one I use is The Census Book : a Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes, written by William Dollarhide. Published by Heritage Quest in 1999, It does not, of course, have a rundown on the 1940 census, which was just released for public use in 2012,  but there are plenty of online sources for that data.

For a complete rundown on the contents of each census year’s questionnaire, go to and enter “US census” in the search box.  Look on Cyndi’s List ( for downloadable forms.

A whole lot of clues here, but we have to remember, the veracity of the answers depends on both the skill (and penmanship!) of the census taker and the knowledge/truthfulness of the informant (marked with an x in 1940, but not indicated in earlier records).

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hidden Names

Don’t you wish our ancestors made more generous use of their middle names? I have at least three men whose full given names elude me, though there is plenty of room for speculation.  Deeds, probate papers, marriage records (these are before birth records and no baptismal records have come to light) -- all carry very specific, but unrevealing, middle initials. And these names might lead to more family history, if I knew them.

Here is one:
John M. Cain (pictured at right), was born in Kent County, Delaware in 1810, the son of John Cain and Elizabeth Morgan. So what are the odds that his middle name is Morgan? He is not their first son (that was Cornelius, my gr-grandfather), so naming patterns don’t seem to be in play.  However, this is the only of John and Elizabeth’s seven sons to even have a recorded middle initial.

Another later example: Daniel M. Howard, my grandmother’s half-brother. who died in the Civil War. His father was likely named for a circuit-riding Methodist preacher by the name of Samuel Parker. Daniel’s younger brother was Jasper Newton Howard -- there were many Jasper Newtons born around the same time, possibly named for a pair of then-popular Revolutionary War heroes. So, in this family at least, so-called naming patterns are completely out the window.

The third puzzler is Thomas E. Sherwood (b ca 1795, KY), my great-great grandfather. His daughter, Nancy Jane Sherwood, named her first two children William Enoch (b 1850) and John Edwin (b1853).  The family, so far as I have been able learn about it, had no males with names which had “E” initials. The boys’ father, David Hammond, did have a half-brother named Edwin. Does that leave Enoch as Thomas’s middle name?

So, tantalizing clues, but no definite answers. So far.