Search This Blog

Where Did That Census Come From?

I Started
Henry and Amanda (Castleberry) Miller
ca. 1940

Because my grandmother's death triggered my desire for finding my family, I was naturally drawn to her side of the family. Her mother, Amanda Castleberry Miller, was a large part of the stories told by her and by my father. So I started my search for Amanda's family, the Castleberrys.

My mother had a copy of Castleberry and Allied Families, by Jesse Castleberry, 1967, Jesse Castleberry, publisher, Florida. All I had to do was follow the information in the book.

I Got Lucky!

I learned from my mother that census records were available where I could find my ancestors. So I went to my local public library, where it turned out, they had quite a nice genealogy section, complete with census microfilms. (Remember, this is pre-computer, pre-internet, the "dark ages.")

I was lucky! They had films from Coosa Co, Alabama where my grandmother was born. Since my grandmother was born in 1893 and I wanted to find her mother, Amanda, before she married, I looked for the 1890 census. I found out it doesn't exist. So I looked for 1880. That was available. I quickly found the Castleberry name and started recording what I found. There was my gr-grandmother with her siblings and parents and close to them was an E.J. Castleberry, who turned out to be Amanda's uncle, brother to her father, Jeremiah. A Jane Castleberry was nearby.

I Made Notes

I dutifully recorded my notes in my spiral notebook, (Take Notes on Loose, Archival Quality Paper). Here is one page of my notes on that day of research. Notice what is missing.

I didn't, until much later.

If this was all you found of my notes from that day, how could you verify my notes? How would you find what I found? Without a source and a location where I found my information, you cannot find where Jane Castleberry was nor how she might fit into my Castleberry line. And just searching for Jane could result in a lot of work, because there were a number of Jane Castleberrys. Oh! And by the way, what census year was this anyway?

I Should Have Known Better

I had a great junior English teacher when I was in high school. Mrs. Matherly was tough and demanding. She taught us all those "English" things--how to diagram sentences, the correct tense, parts of speech, all of that stuff. But the thing I remembered her for most was the lessons on how to write a research paper. It was invaluable when I got to college and had to write all those research papers (2-4 every semester) that many professors demand.

What Mrs. Matherly taught us was how to take good notes with proper references so we could cite our sources with footnotes and create a bibliography to give proper credit to the authors and publishers whose works we used to gather our data. Sound familiar?

When I was taking those notes, I forgot all that Mrs. Matherly taught me and all that I had practiced for those years in college, including the year I got my master's degree, where I had to write a research paper for every class I took.

I'll even confess that as a high school political science teacher, I made my students write a research paper, because I knew that it would help them in college. I taught them Mrs. Matherly's method.

Why Did I Forget All This Training?

I got excited.
This was my family! They were actually on paper (at least a microfilm image of the page.) It made them REAL. It was almost like reaching back through time and touching them. At least that was the feeling for me.

I had taken a number of pages of notes.
The previous pages of notes that I took that day do not necessarily reflect stellar documentation. A future researcher would not know when I collected this information, nor would they know where I found my information--was it from the microfilm; was it an extraction from a book? They would not know what library or archive I visited. But there was enough information that at least they could find the documents.

But the page with notes for Jane had NOTHING! Not the county and state where I was searching. I did not even record the census year I was looking at. As long as this page stayed with the other pages there was a chance I or another researcher would be able to make the proper connection. But as I discussed in Take Notes on Loose, Archival Quality Paper, I separated all those spirals and Jane's page went into a different file folder from Jeremiah's.

I had recorded the same information on each page before this one. Since I was using a spiral it was obvious that this page belonged with the others. Or at least so it seemed at the time.

Years later when I began to enter this data into my family tree program, I realized how lax I had been. Now I had to find this record again and get the proper documentation.

What I Learned

I learned to stop and breathe when I find something exciting. Well, at least after I have danced around a bit.

I learned to write my documentation on every page of the notes I make.

I learned to write my documentation on the back of documents I collect. I do not write on the face of the document.

I learned to photocopy or photograph the title page and copyright page of books I use, when I make copies of pages in the book.

I learned to copy the film number image and title page image of any microfilm I use.

I learned to record all my documentation information in my research log: the date of research, what facility I am at, and all the correct source information (author, title, copyright date, publisher and publication date and place), as well as the page or image numbers.

I learned to number my notes and documents and record this information on my research log as well.

I learned that by collecting all of this information and recording it on my research log, I can find my information again and other researchers can track my research.

I learned that when I document completely and properly, my research is credible and therefore believed by other researchers.

I learned that just as I want credit for what I research and write, I must give credit to those whose research and writings I use.

Want to know more about how to properly document your research? Check out my tutorial "Proper Documentation."

Add your comments below on what else you think I might have missed in recording the information from the census.


What Are CMSRs?

My husband and I recently attended a local parade, for the "Cowboy Culture Celebration" in our local community. One of the groups on parade was the Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896,. I was reminded as I watched this group that many Confederate veterans came to Texas during the 50 years after the Civil War.
The Family Stories
One of those veterans was my 2nd gr-grandfather, Jeremiah Castleberry.
I remember when I first learned that he had served in the Civil War. My grandmother's cousin had this ambrotype of him. She also had an ambrotype of my 2nd gr-grandmother, Jeremiah's wife Martha Jane Lewis. Martha would have had Jeremiah's picture and he would have carried hers.

It seemed all so romantic. I wanted to know more.

I asked my father what he knew about his gr-grandfather. He told me that his gr-grandfather hated being in "The War" [for those of you who are not Southerners, "The War" is the Civil War] and that Jeremiah was conscripted to serve by the slave owners. He also said that the Castleberrys didn't own slaves and so Jeremiah resented having to support that institution. He also told me that Jeremiah and his brother were marching along a road when Jeremiah's brother was shot. Jeremiah stopped to render aid but the commanding officer made him leave his brother on the road and keep marching. Jeremiah's brother died that day and Jeremiah resented the officer.
The Romance Began to Fade....

Compiled Military Service Records
This was back in 1981, so I had to order his records. Unlike Union soldiers, there are few confederate records. Fortunately for me, Alabama has quite a collection. This was my first introduction to Compiled Military Service Records.
Brigadier General Fred C. Ainsworth, head of the Record and Pension Office in the War Department [now the Department of Defense], directed that the Civil War Records and Documents be organized to obtain as complete a record on each soldier as was possible. This project began in 1903 and a card was completed for each time a soldier's name appeared in a record.
These cards come from documents such as muster rolls, hospital records, enlistment papers, officers' reports and notes, etc. In some instances, there may be original documents included in this file. All of the cards and any documents specific to that soldier were placed in jacket envelopes.

 Copies of Jeremiah's records cost me $5 back in the 1980s. The clerks in the National Archives chose which documents they would include in your package. Sometimes you got the whole file and sometimes you did not. In the late 1990s, my sister ordered Jeremiah's records from the NationalPark Service . She got more than I had gotten, but it cost her $50.

 Two years ago when I became a member of Footnote I looked for Jeremiah's records. Now I have 31 images of his service in the Confederate Army.
Make a Chronology 

Jeremiah's CMSR (Compiled Military Service Record) provides these facts:

 Served as a private in Co. F of the 2nd Battalion known as Hilliard's Legion, which later became Co. C of the 59th Alabama Regiment.
26 March 1862: enlisted at Rockford, Coosa Co, Alabama.
  • 1 June 1862: present [Muster rolls included the lists of soldiers in a company. The notes indicated whether they were "present", sick, wounded, captured, deserted, etc.
  • 1 Sept 1862: present
  • 31 January 1863: present "joined from desertion."
  • July/August 1863: present
  • 20 September 1863: reported sick to the hospital. The same day his brother Joseph was killed at Chickamauga. One can only believe that he said he was ill so he could check on his brother, who had been shot.
  • 12 May 1864: wounded; "shell wound slightly above the left knee."
  • 25 May 1864: returned to duty
  • 17 June 1864: captured at Petersburg, VA
  • 24 June 1864: arrived at City Point, VA
  • 27 July 1864: transferred to Elmira Prison in New York. He spent most of the rest of the war at Elmira Prison in New York. Elmira was the Union equivalent of Andersonville in the South.
  • 14 Mar 1865: released in a prisoner exchange
  • 25 Mar 1865: furloughed from General Hospital, Howard's Grove, Richmond, VA.
There were 6 cards in this file that belong to a Jerry M. Castleberry, Pvt. Co B, 30th Regiment, AL Inf, who died at Camp Douglas, Illinois while a prisoner. This is not my Jeremiah, since he lived to come home and father my gr-grandmother in 1868.
Facts Generate Questions
Jeremiah's CMSR generated more questions for me:
Why did he desert?
Why did he return to his unit?
What was time spent in Elmira prison really like?
Did his experiences during the Civil War, such as battles like Chickamauga where Texas brigades fought or imprisonment at Elmira where he would have met Texans, influence his decision to move to Texas?
What was life like for his family in Alabama while he was away at war?
Did his two other brothers and his brothers-in-law serve in the Civil War?
From these questions, I can look for more documents to help me understand Jeremiah's experience and his family's experience during the Civil War.
For each question I can make a research plan to help me focus on the records and strategies most likely to answer that question.
What I Learned 
  • I learned that family stories frequently have a kernel of truth in them.
  • I learned that the records can give meaning to seemingly inexplicable actions.
  • I learned that there may be more than one soldier with the same name and cards for both may be filed together.
  • I learned that by knowing the facts found on the cards and using Civil War books and websites, I can trace the movements of my Civil War ancestor.
  •  I learned that if I create a chronology of the facts found on the cards, I have a better picture of what Jeremiah's experience was in the war and where I can find answers to my questions.
  •  I learned that in spite of being Southern and an avid fan of Gone With the Wind, the Civil War was a dark period in the history of our country. It was in no way romantic.
If you want to find the CMSRs for your Civil War ancestor, check out Footnote. The searches are free. You can purchase a subscription or pay a fee for each individual page you want. I recommend the subscription. There were 31 images for Jeremiah. Had I paid the single image fee, it would have cost me over $65 for just his file. By paying $15 more for an annual subscription, I have access to the records of my other Civil War ancestors and my Revolutionary War ancestors and several get the picture.

Claiming Your Family in the Census

What I Was Looking For

I was excited when the 1930 census was made available to the public. I would be able to see my father as a 2 year old in the census and my mother as a 1 year old. So I began my searches.

I searched for my mother in the county and state where I knew I would find her with her parents. She was the oldest so she would be the only child in the household. According to the family stories, they lived in Sweetwater, Nolan Co, Texas. Family stories said that my grandparents and my mother moved to Sweetwater between the birth of my mother and her sister. My mother was born in September 1928 in Big Spring, Howard Co, Texas and her sister was born in May 1931 in Sweetwater, Nolan Co, Texas. I believed that my mother was under a year old when they moved.

I knew they lived in town, because my grandfather was a civil engineer and didn't own a farm. I also knew that they lived next door to my grandfather's cousin, Charles Ross. So I searched for William R. Couch in the 1930 Nolan Co, Texas census.

The Family I Found

The 1930 census for Nolan Co, TX, lists:

William R. Couch as a Civil Engineer, the same as my grandfather's occupation. His birthplace and the birthplaces of his parents match what I already knew about my grandfather's family.

Flora Couch's birthplace and parents' birthplaces also matched what I knew about my grandmother's family.

Vera Couch, aged 1 1/2 years, was the right age to be my mother.

1930 US Federal Census, Nolan Co, Texas, Sheet # 25B, 17 April 1930. Note: You can also view this census on Ancestry. Both Footnote & Ancestry are subscription sites. Searches on Footnote are free, but require a membership to view documents.

I found several other families who could be mine, including, Charles Ross. Charlie Ross was my grandfather's cousin who had supposedly lived to next door to my grandparents. But this family lived a couple of blocks away. This did not discourage me, since I know that family stories frequently are a mix of fact and misinformation.

How I Claimed My Family

While I was confident I had found the correct family in the census, I still would have to be able to prove it with supporting documentation. A lineage society or professional genealogical publication for instance, would not accept a census record as the only proof of the relationship.

Since I want my research to be viewed as credible, I would need other evidence.

I remembered the picture in my grandparents' photo album.

The one of my mother as a toddler,
...on the sidewalk in front of the house,
...with the house number on it.

William and Flora Couch Album, 1926-1937.

I knew my grandmother had written the street and town name on that page of photos of my mother playing in the snow. It could be used as one piece of evidence.

I looked at the album page and sure enough it was exactly as I had remembered it and there was the address:

406 East Ave. C,
Sweetwater, Texas. Mother was 14 1/2 months old.

Since my mother was born mid-September 1928, this photo was taken in late January or early February 1930. The census was enumerated for April 1st that year. Also, there are subsequent pictures of my mother and her siblings at this same house, so I know they didn't move for several years.

All of this affirmed for me that the stories were correct: they lived in Sweetwater in 1930.

Since I had an exact address and I knew that the 1930 census listed the house number for families living in town, I checked the census for William R. Couch's house number and street name. His house number was 406 and the street name was Ave C. [Check out the instructions for census takers.]

By the way, this is what the house looks like now [2011] via Google Maps

It was nice to know that I remembered my facts correctly, but since my mother's name is not on the photo, I will need additional evidence. The photo album has this inscription inside : 

William and Flora Couch Album, 1926-1937
 This along with other photos in the album provide evidence that this album belonged to my grandparents and along with other photos provide evidence supporting the photo identification as that of my mother, Vera when she was 14 1/2 months old. My mother also told me that the photos in the album were of her as a little girl.

Other documents that I have to support my analysis include: 

  • Delayed birth certificate for Vera Couch, with affidavit by her mother, Flora Couch
  • Birth certificate for my birth, listing Vera as my mother
  • Marriage license for my grandparents
  • Marriage license for my parents
These documents support the lineage of the individuals in the census and their connection to me.
Supporting Documentation

This may all seem silly and unnecessary since I have the census and the photos and I knew all of these people. I also have my own knowledge and experience as part of my "proof."

Documenting your research is time consuming but well worth the effort. It has many benefits for you and your readers. Click here to learn more about documentation.

But I won't be alive forever and I would hope that future researchers would be able to use my research to help them. It can only be helpful if it is accurate and well documented.

What I Learned

I have learned to use census records appropriately. The families listed on the census mean that all of those people lived in that house. It does not mean that they were a family. Not all censuses indicate relationships to the head of the household and even when they do, it does not establish the relationships of other members of the household to each other. For instance, the wife of the head of the household is not necessarily the mother of the children in the house.

I have learned that I need to find additional records that establish those relationships.

I have learned that I need documentation that ties my ancestors to me.

Only by finding supporting and clarifying documents and then by tying them to myself through further documents, can I claim a family found in the census as mine.

Click here for more on tips for using census records.

Genealogy Tutorial

Go to School

Why I Went to School

As an educator, I know the value of learning. Teachers try to instill in their students a love of learning, because they know that learning is a part of our lives. This is just as true for genealogy research as it is for students in school and employees in the workplace.

When I began my genealogical quest, I hardly knew what I was doing. There was no internet then and no computers for individuals to use. [No, I do not miss those days. I LOVE my techo toys!!]

What "Schools" Do I Choose?

My first school was through the local community college, known as a "junior college" back then. They offered a series of community service classes, so I checked out the spring schedule. There was a listing for a beginning genealogy class. I signed up. Sylvia was our instructor and she made the class fun and informative. She covered the "basics."

Once a year, the local genealogy society would offer a day long conference with 20+ classes on a variety of genealogical topics. I would sign up for several classes. This conference was not very expensive, generally around $20. I still use the handouts I received as reference material. Find the one in your area using a Google search.

I also attended the annual conferences that the local Family History Center held. This were similar to the genealogical society conferences. There were many choices of topics to choose from. The conference was free. For $5 you could purchase a set of the handouts from every session. I have one for every conference I attended. I still use them as reference materials.

My sister-in-law and I decided we would meet once a week to study specific topics. We made a year long schedule and took turns preparing materials from the internet and books we purchased or checked out from the library to use for learning and discussion. We studied every topic we could think of, so we could learn how to be effective and successful in our research.

With the advent of the internet, not only do I now have access to a huge amount of information on how to research, but also access to the great variety of subjects that are relevant to genealogy--history, geography, sociology, economic patterns and events and so on.

I use the lessons and e-zine articles online to further my knowledge on research techniques, records that are available and what is new online.

Going to School Can Produce Big Aha Moments

A few years ago, I had a chance to attend one of the National Genealogical Society's conferences. I highly recommend them to anyone who has a chance to attend. Since I am from Texas, most of my ancestors were Southerners and this conference had a strand that focused on researching in Southern states. I attended sessions on Maryland, Virginia and Tennessee/North Carolina. I also attended a session on The Master Genealogist software.

The best session I attended was the one on Tennessee/North Carolina, by an instructor and professional genealogist from Tennessee, J. Mark Lowe. Maybe you remember Mark from the Lionel Ritchie episode on Who Do You Think You Are?

I learned from Mark's class that not only did our ancestors cross county lines to record deeds and get married, but they also crossed state lines. They went to whatever courthouse was close and convenient.

As a political science major, I knew that the boundaries between counties, states and countries were not drawn on the ground, only on maps.

Who knew that could apply to my genealogy research?

I call it an "aha moment", some might call it "Duh!"

What I Learned

I learned so much from that beginning genealogy class that I still use today.

I learned how to complete ancestor charts and family group sheets.

I learned that birth and death certificates were not required before the early 1910s in most states. Neither were marriage licenses.

I learned how to write a letter requesting information from county record offices and to write letters requesting information from individuals. [Yes, we had to write letters and mail them by 'snail mail.'] And you will do some letter writing yourself.

I learned how to approach the county clerk and what types of records I could expect to find in the county courthouse.

I also learned that not all first-born babies are born 9 months or more after the marriage and that we all have skeletons in our family closet. Note: if you are afraid of those skeletons, this is NOT the hobby for you. I am fascinated by them.

I learned what information I should collect to be able to properly document the sources of the information I collected. Interestingly enough, it was the same information I had to collect for all those research papers I did in college, a skill that has come in handy in my genealogy research.

I learned that not everyone provides you with accurate information and that even official government records can and will contain errors.

I have taken several local classes since then and in the last ten years have taught many classes for local genealogy groups. Whether I am the student or the instructor, I always learn something new.

My sister-in-law and I learned that you have to document everything and believe no one's research until you have verified their research.

Mark Lowe, during his session on Tennessee and North Carolina research, gave us a tip on how to discover the migration trails of our ancestors. He suggested that we get a tourist brochure that shows the historical sites and "connect the dots." The places that our ancestors left for us to visit help us cross the country to see the paths that they chose to travel.

From this tip I was inspired to study migration patterns to discover what paths our ancestors used. I learned that they did not travel in a straight line from point A to point B. And I learned that where they went they frequently left records.

Why Going to School is Important

The more I "go to school", the more successful I become in finding the answers to my genealogical questions, but more importantly, the more I can understand why my ancestors made the life decisions that they did.

By continuing to search for new information, which is what schooling is all about, I am able to learn what new documents are available online, what new software is available, what new records have been "discovered" and to always review things I have forgotten.

Whether you are new to genealogy or experienced, check out these tutorials.


Take Notes on Loose, Archival Quality Paper

How I Got Started

Lela Virgie Miller Shoup 1893-1980

My grandmother died on 1 August 1980. As my parents, my sister & I sat around after the funeral, we did what all families do on these occasions--we began to share family stories and memories. As we sat there, I realized that I was losing my family's past. All my great-grandparents were gone and with the passing of my father's mother, I only had my mother's mother left, as both of my grandfathers had passed many years before. For years I had listened to their stories--where they came from, what their parents were like, how they had lived their lives.

I wanted to capture what I could before my memories became too faint. So I began my genealogical quest. My mother had begun several years before, so I had access to her notes and research.  But I wanted to ask my own questions and take my own notes. 

I bought a 4 subject spiral notebook. It seemed a logical choice. I could use the separate sections to divide the four ancestral lines I had chosen to research. The dividers had pockets to hold loose papers. I had visions of taking all my notes in a very logical, organized way, much like I had in all my college classes. I numbered all the pages for each section. I was excited that I could carry all my research everywhere I went, making all my information readily available.

Mistakes I Made

I look back now and laugh at my simplistic vision of genealogy research. I quickly ran through one section of the spiral working on one ancestral line, while the other three sections were virtually empty. So I bought another spiral, now I had to carry two spirals (4 sections each. I was determined to continue with my chosen strategy.) After a few months, it became apparent that the spirals were a bad idea. While they kept everything together, I was carrying far more weight (two 4-subject spirals) than I had expected and I continually had to search through the pages of my notes for information I had collected.

I also discovered that as I collected information and added more surnames, I could not separate my notes for those names. Now I had multiple surnames on the same page of notes. So my Roberson notes were mixed in with my Shoup notes and my Miller notes.

It was also hard to keep track of what I knew about each individual and family group. I recorded my information on pedigree charts and family group sheets, but they did not provide places for all the details on each individual, nor for the larger family stories (no computers or software back then.)

I made file folders for each individual, but because my notes were mixed together, I had to make multiple photocopies of note pages so I could file the correct notes with each individual.

And then there was the problem of which notebook I needed to look at to find the note I was looking for. I would sometimes have to look through 50 or more pages of notes to find the exact information that I needed.

Twenty years later, I discovered that my original note pages had begun to yellow and the ink was faded on some pages.

What seemed like a good idea was not.

I have taken those notebooks apart since then and now am scanning all those notes, so they will not be lost forever. With the genealogy software programs that are now available, I am able to capture every tidbit of information and associate it with all the individuals each note references.

What I Learned

I learned that when I need to take notes on paper I use 8 1/2" x 11" paper, so all notes are the same size.

I learned to use loose (unbound) paper so that I can easily file my notes and documents.

I learned that by using archival quality paper and archival ink pens, my notes will not yellow and they will be readable in 20 years.

I learned to take notes for each ancestor on a separate page, so I can place my notes in the proper individual file.

I learned to keep a research log, so I can track what I have done.

I learned to make an index of what documents I have for each ancestor.

I learned that I needed a filing system that maintained only one copy of each document or page of notes.

We live in a digital age. I am embracing it. When I take notes now, I use my laptop and my digital camera. As soon as I get home from researching, I link the images to my research log and my genealogy software. I record the information collected in my genealogy software program.

I learned that digitizing my family history requires time and effort, but the products produced are easy to share with other family members.

I still like spiral notebooks, but not for my genealogy research.

Check out my tips on how to get started with your research.

Genealogy Tutorial