Monday, June 27, 2011

He said what? My favorite occupation listing in the U.S. Census of 1880

Click on above image to view.
Census listings and humor…

If you look at census records, like I do, every day, off and on, you get accustomed to seeing certain occupations listed over and over.  ”Farmer” and “laborer” are commonly listed, and women are often “dressmakers”   or “keeping house.” There are a few teachers and preachers, but there aren’t  many truly unusual occupations. When I come across them I enjoy them so much, especially if I have the feeling that I am getting to know someone from the past. The one I like the best is the one given by Harrison White in Visalia, Tulare County, California in 1880. Harrison had once been the census-taker for his region, so he probably came up with the idea to give a less than usual response. While his wife Hattie, a distant relative of mine, says that she is “keeping house," he says he is “doing nothing.” I just love it!  What  occupations listed in the census have you noticed as unusual and entertaining to read about?

Census image from U.S. 1880  census for Harrison White in Visalia, California, scan from

Thursday, June 9, 2011

You can find ancestors through DNA testing?

DNA testing for family history research--go for it! 
It used to be the case that men could have some fun tracing their y-dna lines back to a progenitor who would be their father’s father’s father’s father’s father and on and on. The line goes back pretty far in time, and at some point the mutation that became their line appears. With diligent work, it might even be possible to see where that line connects with related paternal lines. Sometimes the surname will be the same all the way back, and sometimes there are interesting, and often unexplained changes. Someone testing as “Jones” might match best to men with the surname “Dexter.” The change could point to an adoption, or to a “non-paternal event.”  
Then along came mtdna, and women could trace the mother of their mother, and so on back in time. Sometimes there will be a perfect match in the mtdna with another person testing, and the match may reveal something about the common ancestry. At the very least it will indicate some common names or geography.
Those tests are interesting, and fun to work with, but much more interactive fun can be had in family history research with testing autosomal DNA. When you test your autosomal DNA, you are provided with matches whose ancestry will match yours in some way within about ten generations. The level of matching is usually predicted, and is generally accurate. If the testing company predicts that a match is your fourth cousin, it is likely that they are a fourth to a sixth cousin. Because the results tend not to show anything beyond ten generations, it is not necessary to look way back into the 1600’s to find the common ancestor. That said, finding the common ancestor can be pretty tricky! Matches correspond and try to narrow down the possibilities. Looking at common segments in the chromosomes can be helpful too.  DNA testing won’t pick up all the possible matches since it only tests parts of chromosomes, and since what each person inherits from the previous generation is only part of that previous generation’s genetic make-up.
New matches are added to the database constantly, so the opportunity to correspond and to develop more information about the potential ancestors you may share increases.
But it doesn’t end there. There are more fun things to do with the results, all very interesting and addictive, and so far, at no cost.
Some of the great sites to play around with matches and the matches of matches, and DNA segment comparison are and HIRsearch. Both sites are easy to navigate.
To check out what research has been done on your specific traits, you can run results through Promethease. The research on human DNA is relatively new, so results at Promethease are updated often. You can see whether you might have increased risks for certain conditions, or reduced risks, and you can check interesting little traits like detecting bitter tastes, eye color, curliness of hair, and so on. The results are based on studies to date, and do not ever define your genetics definitively. The results are just interesting to see and think about.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A letter from 1874 is just the beginning...

A soft, yellowed, old letter is a wonderful beginning for a genealogical journey. There will be some knowns, and some mysteries. There will be clues in the return address (generally not a street address in the old days), the stamp, the references to family and friends, and the activities mentioned. The salutation can bear clues too.
I was given an old letter that had been in our family, and it was a delight to puzzle over. The salutation was “Dear Niece.” Well, that was a clue, since it was addressed to my great-grandmother. But she had many aunts. This one was writing from Kinsley, Kansas, and she signed her name “Emma L. H.” I didn’t know of any relatives in Kansas, and I wasn’t aware of any Emmas. I had to work with the clues I had at hand. I thought if I could narrow down the year of the writing, that would be helpful somehow. It turned out that I was able to narrow down to the exact year due to a reference in the letter. Emma spoke of having been given some pigweed, for which she was very grateful. She said that after living on what the grasshoppers had left, pigweed was very welcome. I wondered if the grasshopper infestation had been a newsworthy event that might show up in an internet search. It turned out that there was a major infestation for which the county commissioners had sought relief, in 1874. So the year of writing had to be 1874.
The next step after a search for anecdotes is to check the census for that  time period. I searched the 1880 census for “Emma,” left the last name blank, and entered information in the geographical fields for the state of Kansas and the town of Kinsley. There were a number of Emmas, so I looked for one who was married to the man named Charles, whom she had mentioned in her letter, and I looked for someone whose last name I could recognize as a relative I had heard about. I found that person. She was Emma L. Hubbs, married to Charles. Further deductions led me to realize that her maiden name was Leavitt, and that she was a maternal aunt to my great-grandmother. I was delighted to identify her, and became fondly interested in her family story. Her husband Charles, I found, by further reading on the internet, was one of the county commissioners who had requested relief from the grasshopper infestation. He was involved in political life, and seemed like a pillar of society. I later found a letter he had written to my great-grandmother describing the importance of patriotism in the Civil War. Charles and Emma had six children, all born between 1865 and 1876.
I traced the family’s migration to Minnesota, and imagined them all living there.
I left the research on the Hubbs family for a long time, years in fact. I returned to it one day, thinking I might learn something new with updated resources on the internet, and having improved my own research skills in the meantime as well. I was in for an unexpected story!
Kind of like Paul Harvey would say…the REST of the story.
It turns out that the marriage between Emma and Charles didn’t last. I suppose I could have seen that if I had really looked through all the years in the census. Of course, as a woman of her times, she listed her marital status as “widowed.”
Little did I know he had remarried, well, several times, and that he had a relatively famous son, a marine biologist and naturalist. Hubbs Hall at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego was named in honor of his achievements, and he had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
By using search engines, I found the biography of Carl Leavitt Hubbs, written by Carl’s son Daniel. The biography clearly identifies Carl as the son of Charles, and gives the date (1843) and place of birth (Pamelia, Four Corners, Jefferson County, New York) of Charles L. Hubbs. Carl is the son of Charles, but not of Emma. The biography tells the reader that Charles married and fathered six children in Minnesota (well, this writer knows that while they did live in Minnesota,  they were born in other States). With his second wife and their son, Charles moved to Arizona. There Carl Leavitt Hubbs was born to Charles Hubbs and Elizabeth (Goss) Hubbs. According to the description in the biography, Carl had travelled towards California ahead of his pregnant wife, and she had to give birth and find her way to shelter in Santa Fe on her own in the desert. They did find each other again in California, and lived in La Jolla, where young Carl was introduced to sea creatures, and became fascinated with them.
Elizabeth divorced Charles in 1907.
He remarried for a third, and a fourth time.
I am sure there is much, much more to the story, and perhaps more interesting details will come to light. I wonder how Emma managed. And how Charles could leave such a large family behind?
Is family history research always this interesting?
Yes, it actually is. From holding a tattered letter to poring over census records, it is a rich and interesting experience. And half the fun is in finding clue after clue to the rest of the story.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Looking for Records in Virginia and North Carolina

Looking for genealogical clues in Virgina and North Carolina records can be very challenging. There just aren't that many that are available. There are a couple of websites which I found very helpful while looking for vital records. One of these is "New York and Virginia Genealogy" (yes, it also has a few North Carolina records, too) which has transcriptions of many vital records online, and the other website that has really been a boon in research is There are new records there for marriages and deaths which I had not found anywhere else, and the documentation is excellent.