Monday, December 16, 2013

Why I'm Not a Lyricist

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Twelve Records I’m Missing

Eleven Wills I’m Needing

Ten Deeds I’m Wanting

Nine Siblings Who’re Hiding

Eight Leads I’m Chasing

Seven Generations I’m Lacking

Six Directory Listings

Five Proofs of Birth

Four DNA Matches

Three Online Searches

Two Census Names

and a David Murray in My Family Tree

Sunday, December 15, 2013

You Can't Get There From Here

I've encountered lots of speed bumps on the Murray family journey. But I'm afraid I've encountered something that may end my search--not a brick wall, more like a traffic circle I can't escape from.

I'm stuck at my 3rd great-grandfather, James. I have two clues from census data: that he was born between 1776 and 1794 in Connecticut. I strongly suspect he is the son of David Murray. He was a witness on a deed for a sale of some of David's land and they were both subscribers to North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY in 1810.

I have been trying to locate David in 1790. He begins to appear in Cayuga County records around 1800. There are a few Davids in 1790 and I have eliminated those in the South. I'm left with one in Maine and one in Hebron, NY. The David in Maine is still there in the 1800 census, so I'm left with David of Hebron in Washington County. It's likely this is my guy, but there's also a possibility this isn't my David who could be living elsewhere, but not as head of household.

I've been trying to uncover any bits from Washington County that could help, but have turned up absolutely nothing. I've been trying to see if I could uncover anything in Connecticut, but also nothing. There are plenty of Murrays in Connecticut, but no leads on David.

This is where I want you to think of entering a traffic circle and where one of the road options takes me to Connecticut and there are unmarked branches shooting off the circle that go who knows where.

In an attempt to augment traditional research, I asked a male relative if he would do DNA testing. I thought if we could connect to one of the Connecticut lines, I might be able to target my research better. We got the results this week.

There are no matches for Murrays that might have come from the Connecticut line, but I can't write that off just yet, because the DNA testing pool is still relatively small. The closest matches were not Murrays at all. They were McMurrays.

The loss of the Mc is not particularly shocking (well, maybe just a little), but the big problem is that I don't know when it was dropped--if it was dropped by David or 10 generations before David. The DNA matches aren't close enough to tell me that information.

So, do I need to go to Murray, Connecticut directly or do I need to go to Murray, NY and then McMurray, CT or is there some other combination that leads me down the correct road?

It reminds me of the first time I drove in England. I entered a roundabout and went around about five times before I found my way out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the analogy holds because I finally got to where I wanted to go.

Monday, November 4, 2013

From a distance of nearly 200 years

Even from the distance of five generations, it was surprisingly sad when I discovered this brief obituary for my 3x great-grandfather in the June 12, 1822 Cayuga Republican:

Based on 1880 census information for his daughters, he was born in Connecticut and based on his own enumeration in the 1820 census, he was born between 1776 and 1794. He was a witness on a Brutus, NY 1810 deed of sale between David Murray and Francis Hall (so there's a chance David was his father or other family member). He married a widow, my 3x great-grandmother Ruth Snow Stanford, around 1811. In addition to his wife, he left behind five children: stepson David Stanford, age 12, Erastus (my gg grandfather), age 10, Jane, age 8, Lydia Ann, age 7, and Lucetta, age 1.

That's it. That's all I know. It may be all I'll ever know. I'm guessing part of the reason we knew so little about this line of my family was because of the stigma of mental illness. Just another family secret kept like the secrets of so many families throughout history.

Friday, October 18, 2013

American Revolution-Amazing early photographs

Nearly all my posts are about my personal family research, but every so often I see something that I think will be of interest to the general genealogical community and I can't help but share. This is one of those times.

American Revolution-Amazing early photographs

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


As I've said before, I'm researching my direct lines, but of course researching in a family more broadly can help uncover clues to overcome brick walls. Through that, I've found a few who really intrigue me. I end up pursuing them because I want to understand their story better, regardless of whether it helps my with my primary goal.

Hopkins Murray, a great-granduncle, is one of those. The family story was that he committed suicide. Dumped into an orphanage with his siblings at age eight, he had a tough start. My research uncovered him working in Auburn, NY 1871-1872 and then in mental institutions in censuses for 1880, 1900 and 1905 , along with an 1879 newspaper article stating he was being sent to the state insane asylum. He would have been 27 at that point. I've felt sad about the trajectory his life took.

I recently requested some research from the Cayuga County Historian's office and, although they didn't uncover the items I'd hoped for, they found a second 1879 newspaper article about Hopkins. (scan looks like 1870, but it's definitely 1879)

My first reaction was "Poor Hopkins. Institutionalized nearly his whole life, including at a prison in Michigan."

From what I've read, the prison in Jackson was modeled after the state-of-the art prison in his hometwon of Auburn, NY and where his father had been a prison guard 15 years earlier. Of course, state-of-the-art is relative and in the mid-1800s conditions were pretty hideous.

From Michigan's Dept. of Corrections website:

Rules for punishment were brutal and in 1855 whipping was allowed by regulation as were use of the ball and chain, shackles and the iron cap. The iron cap was an instrument made of strips of iron fastened over the convict's head. They remained in place day and night until the period of punishment was over.

I'm hoping I'll be able to find out more from the Michigan Archive and corrections records. Maybe I can locate the town where his crime occurred and uncover more details there.

10/10/2013 Update:

I received the records. Hopkins was sentenced to four years June 26, 1875 for "burglary in the daytime" in Ingham County. He was discharged early on Jan. 9, 1879. He was 5' 10-1/2" and 134 lbs.

A more detailed personal description was included:

Sandy complexion--Light hair--Grey eyes--High full forehead--Long strait [sic] nose--Small mouth--Full lips--Long chin with dimple--Scars on inside of right hand between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd fingers--Large scar on front of right leg half way between knee and hip.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sanborn Maps

The Cameron County (PA) Historical Society posted a link to online map of Emporium, PA on their Facebook page. It is part of the Sanborn Fire Insurance map series at Penn State's Digital Map Drawer. 

So, first, I was excited to discover my Gaskills were apparently partners with the Whittemores in a lumber mill there. It must have been my great-grandfather, Everett, who moved to Emporium from Tioga County NY at the same time as family friend, Norman Whittemore. I'd never known about the lumber mill, so that was pretty interesting.

Second, a commenter posted that the Sanborn maps exist for most towns and cities in the US and Canada. So I found the Wiki entry and in the external links section is a listing by state. Can't wait to explore these.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


When I started my family research in 2010, the information I had from my grandmother indicated my GG grandfather's name was Albert Murray and his wife was Mary. I bumbled through free sources for awhile and, using censuses, eventually uncovered that their names were actually (probably) Erastus and Christina.

I felt quite excited to have uncovered this information and spent some time wondering how my great-grandfather ( his name actually was Albert) had forgotten his parents' names. He'd been sent to an orphange at a young age, but there werre hints he had stayed in touch with older siblings, so it seemed curious. As much as I wanted to figure it out, I finally came to terms with the fact that I'd never know.

Sometimes making assumptions is just what you need to do in order to have that breakthrough that leads you to the information you seek. But sometimes--okay, most of the time--it pays to follow good research practices first.

You see, I assumed my grandmother got the names from either her husband or her mother-in-law and that the only way they'd have the names is if my great-grandfather had told them. That is, I assumed the error was my great-grandfather's.

Just recently, because of a decision to apply to a lineage society, I began the process of collecting all the vital records needed. I "knew" when my great-grandfather, Albert, died--I had family records and I had his obituary. But, nevertheless, I requested a death certificate from the state. I wanted as many official records as possible because one of the weak links in this line is proof that Albert's parents were Erastus and Christina. (I have a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, but I'm not certain what will be accepted.)

Albert's death certificate arrived today.  Clearly as can be, it says his father was Erastus Murray.  So, apparently at the time of his death, he and his wife knew who his father was--the information was garbled by someone else at a later date.  I could look at this pessimistically and say I would have saved myself a lot of time by requesting it two years ago. On the other hand, because I didn't have this proof, I undertook a lot of research I might have otherwise skipped. I have a more thorough picture of this family because of the research.

Of course, there's still one problem. His mother's name on the death certificate. Not very clear, but when I enlarged it to post here, I saw the faintest trace of a C before the stroke of an h...I do think it says Christina. [Updated:  After comparing other letters of known words on the document, I now think it is Marieta.]

What do you think?

UPDATED 4/21/14 has added Pennsylvania death certificates and I was able to get a much better copy.

The name Martha seemed pulled out of thin air. It took me a few days to figure out where the name came from. I finally connected the dots. It was his foster mother's name!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Where Neuroscience Meets Genealogy

I love science and I'm obsessed with my family research, so I was really fascinated by this article--thinking about how the experiences of my ancestors may affect me today. 

From the May 2013 issue of Discover Magazine

Your ancestors' lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.

Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes

Monday, May 20, 2013

Geography- A Piece of the Puzzle

I've been spending a significant amount of time researching land records for Cayuga County, NY, hoping I could uncover even the tiniest bit of new information. I have a few hypotheses on my Snow and Murray lines, and to try make a break-through, today I was marking up a copy of an old map of Aurelius, NY to show which lots where bought and sold by David Snow (suspected GGGG-grandfather) and David Murray (possible relative of GGGG-grandfather, James Murray).

As I suspected from previous census research, the deeds for lots purchased by David Snow and David Murray show they were neighbors. I also noted that a later purchase by David Snow referenced both the town of Aurelius and the village of Auburn. I wasn't quite sure how boundaries had changed over the years, so as I looked at the old map, I began to focus on Owasco Lake and rivers and streams, thinking maybe I could find the locations on a current map. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the farmland of my ancestors is in the heart of Auburn, NY. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, I realized a flaw in my previous geographic tracking. I'd followed Ruth in the census from Brutus, NY to Aurelius, NY, to Auburn, NY, the whole time imagining actual moves from town to town. What if Ruth hadn't really moved at all? What if boundaries of jurisdictions changed and Auburn grew up around her?

I went back to my city directory research to get the actual addresses where Ruth lived in the mid-1800s.  I plugged the address into Google Maps. I'm still shaking my head in amazement. Although, admittedly, I still need to research more to confirm the details, on the surface it looks like Ruth's residence in her later years was on the land her father purchased when the family first moved to this part of NY in the late 1790s. 

I'm excited by today's discovery and was pleasantly surprised to uncover AUBURN HISTORIC PROPERTIES very quickly this afternoon. I am looking forward to exploring this site and maybe Ruth's home will be on it someday.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


So, you know how research on siblings of the direct ancestor can be useful because their records could have information missing from the direct ancestor's records? So, you know how vital records are important primary sources?

What do you do when the death record has information that might not be correct? Is it better to have no information than bad information? (Ask yourself how you feel about online family trees.) Yikes.

This is about Lucetta Murray, my great-grandaunt. The first record I have for her is at age 2 in the 1850 US Census with two adults, Erastus and Christina, and two other children. Then, in the1855 NY State Census, she was enumerated with four children, the same adults, and her relationship to the head of household, Erastus, was “child”. One year later, Christina died and her gravestone was engraved “Wife of Erastus”.  That’s the closest I have to proof of parentage, but I think it’s likely. Erastus had a sister named Lucetta, providing some additional circumstantial evidence of a familial connection.

She appears again with Erastus in the 1860 census, but this time there appears to be a stepmother. In addition to previously enumerated siblings, this census includes a younger brother, born shortly before her mother’s death, and another brother, possibly a half- or stepbrother. But, by 1861, the family fell apart for reasons unknown. I don’t know what happened to Lucetta and her older sister at that point, but her younger full brothers all went to an orphanage.

I was able to pick up the trail by 1870 and follow Lucetta through census records from Auburn, NY to Syracuse, where she died. I found her obituary so I had her date of death. Because she died in 1917, I knew NY State probably had a death certificate on file.

The collapse of the family resulted in a lot of inaccuracy in the family history. The information passed down by my great-grandfather consisted of partial truths, intentional or not, I can’t say. I found a third cousin not too long ago and the information from that line fared no better.

So, in a bold stroke of wishful thinking, I submitted a request for Lucetts's death certificate. It arrived today.

Her father is listed as Augustus Murray. Her mother is listed as Jane Stanford.
Augustus, Erastus, not so unreasonable. But Jane Stanford? You’d think I’d be ecstatic to have a name to pursue. You know, maybe she got the first name wrong, but what if she had the maiden name right? Wouldn’t this be a break-through?

Well, the twists and turns of this family are sometimes confusing. If I go back just one generation, she had an aunt also named Lucetta and there was another aunt, Jane. And a half-uncle, David Stanford.  (Before her grandmother married a Murray, she was married to a Stanford.)

Lucetta was only eight when her mother died and thirteen when the rest of her immediate family got pulled apart. Is it plausible she would get the names mixed up? Absolutely. BUT, is it also plausible she got them right?


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Happenstance, a Mistake, and a Whim

I’ve been plodding through the land records for Cayuga County, NY, in search of any clues on my paternal Murray and Snow lines. I decided to hand off the effort to a local researcher because I felt the online searching had a tunnel vision effect—I might be missing things that could be found if only there was the larger perspective that comes with seeing a record book in its entirety.

Having uncovered some interesting things through the NY land records, I thought I’d revisit some maternal lines in NY, with the hope I could learn more about the Browns (first mentioned here). My approach was to search Tioga County for the line I already knew a lot about, Gaskill. I was certain I'd find something.

I was pleased to uncover a few records, including one for James and Elizabeth (Brown) Gaskill selling to a Solomon Brown. It was a small clue (father, brother, uncle, cousin, who knows?), but a clue nonetheless. I read through the recorded sale and as I finished, I saw that the very next deed was a transaction between Solomon Brown and John Brown. My immediate reaction was to think of my mom’s story of a family connection to John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame. I’d already discounted that specific connection, but thought there was a possibility the name itself was accurate. I popped over to to find three John Browns as a possible father to Elizabeth in the right place, right time with a female of the right age. Time for some probate record searching.

However, before I moved on to probate, I thought I’d take a look at land records in Tompkins County, NY, looking for my Hinds line. Based on 1820 census records and other info, I had hypothesized that Joseph Hinds moved from New Jersey to Tompkins County and that his son, Solomon, moved from there to Tioga a few decades later. My first foray into Tompkins County records found nothing. Then, by accident, I selected Tioga County for second search, thinking I was still searching Tompkins. I found some records for Joseph Hinds and then was shocked to realize it was in Tioga County and for a time period before the census records in Tompkins County. He was selling land in 1818 and my first census record for him is 2 years later in Tompkins County. It now looks like he went first to Tioga, then to Tompkins before his son went back to Tioga. I have a whole new angle to try for uncovering more about the years between 1790 and 1820.

Finally, on a whim, I decided to check for George Ditmars in the Tioga County land records. (George’s daughter married Solomon Hinds, Joseph’s son.) I had a similar hypothesis for the Ditmars as I had for the Hinds family—New Jersey to Tompkins County. It was really unexpected when I found him in Tioga County in an 1837 record because he was in Tompkins County in 1840. It’s looking like the pattern was like the Hinds pattern—just not the one I hypothesized!

These are all very promising clues and I’m really looking forward to making some progress on these family lines. And I'll continue to hope for more happenstance, mistakes and whims to add to the adventure.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Say it ain't so

I was startled to find the probate records and will for Isaac Snow of Rochester, MA indicating he died in 1789. I had him in my database as dying in August 19, 1812 at about 93 years old. I clicked my source footnote only to discover the DAR ancestor database was the source. I checked to see if their listing had any caveats posted, but there weren't any. The birthdate, wife's name and two child names were the same. A quick check at found one public trees with the 1812 date, but most of the records pointed to the 1789 death. I popped over to find-a-grave and found a photo of a tombstone in Rochester, MA for an Isaac Snow who died August 19, 1812. The catch? The tombstone was inscribed with his age of 23. 

In my opinion, that's a pretty bad mistake. I admit I have the advantage of the internet to help me find strong sources, but I thought the whole point of the application process for lineage societies was to screen for things like this. I mean really, I'm just an amateur and not trying to apply for any lineage societies (yet). Now I wonder what the point would be.

Alas, is there no one I can trust? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Millions and Millions

I almost missed the NY land records on Family Search. I've looked at the NY listings there so many times over the few years, I can't believe I just discovered these records just a few days ago. I guess I wasn't quite ready to look at deeds. I know part of it is that Family Search hasn't indexed them yet, so seeing "Browse through 8,129,310 images" seemed daunting. However, as I discovered, when you know the county and you click through, you can see they've imaged old index books. Still, more work than a search engine, but the results are already exciting enough to energize me.

Here's part of a deed with my 4x great-grandparents, David and Phebe Snow as the sellers:

I've found David Snow indexed several more times so far. I think it's going to narrow down the time period when I search for his probate record. And I've found a lot of Murrays indexed, so maybe I'll finally find the link back to Connecticut I've been looking for.

But first, I have to create a spreadsheet that will help me keep track of this research. Now that I've found these records, I don't want to get so excited that I ignore a proper researching process. Because I don't want to have to do this twice!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Year Two and Still Going

On the second anniversary of my blog, I'm doing the grinding work of paging through Auburn, NY 1870 census records in an attempt to find my great-great-grandfather, Albert Murray, his sister Mary, and brother, Hopkins. It's possible Albert was elswhere in Cayuga County and that Hopkins was institutionalized during that census, but very unlikely that Mary was anywhere else. She was in Auburn for all other census years and her future husband is in Auburn in 1870. I'm assuming at this point that they weren't enumerated or their names are not indexed correctly. The latter is what has driven me to drudgery. But that's how I found Albert in 1865 under his adopted name.

So after two years, I still love unpuzzling the puzzle. And I'm still amazed by the fact that my blog is read--especially by so many people in Russia. What's that all about? I have no Russian heritage at all and Russia is second only to the US in traffic sources. If you're reading this in Russia, let me know, okay?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Liebster Award

Kathryn at Kathryn's Quest has been reading my blog since it began in 2010 and has kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thanks, Kathryn!

Liebster is a German word that means friend, dearest, adored, beloved, chosen one. The Liebster Award is given to bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers, to encourage them and to spread the word about interesting blogs to a new audience.

The rules for the award vary, but I’m following mostly in Kathryn’s footsteps. This is all optional of course and just for fun.

•   Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
•   List 11 random facts about yourself/your blog.  (I’m only listing 5)
•   Nominate five blogs with less than 200 followers. (I’m only picking 3)
•   Let the nominees know by leaving a comment at their sites.
•   Add the award image to your site (optional). 

1. Other than the US, highest traffic is from Russia and I have no genealogical connection there. (Seems sketchy to me)
2. Search keywords with highest frequency:  Cayuga Asylum for Destitute Children
3. Most unusual, but oddly frequent, keyword search:  Spiders Ceiling Flooding (Not as odd as you might think)
4. Google is how most people find my blog. (Or so Google tells me)
5. Still can’t figure out how my blog manages to average 250+ views per month.

Here are my nominees for the Liebster Award: