Document everything

Document everything in your genealogy researchReason number 33,662 that you should document everything in your genealogy research: You can’t rely on your memory.

Today, I was trying to verify which ancestor of mine had fought in the Civil War as a substitute. I remember finding his records on and seeing the document that designated him as a substitute for an individual of means who could afford to pay my ancestor to fight in his place. I thought it was Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great-great grandfather. But when I looked at his record in my software, I found no notation whatsoever about that.

At least I remembered having found a substitute soldier, even if I couldn’t remember who it was. So I looked through the records in Reunion of all my male ancestors who were born at a time where they might have served. Nothing. I tried searching on Reunion but got nowhere. So I finally walked across the room and pulled out B.F. Igleheart’s paper file. There it was: all the info that I had printed out, but not otherwise documented. Bad researcher!

If I had finished going through the paper files of the Adams ancestors, I would have found this info and documented it. But that process probably won’t be finished for quite some time.

I’m so glad I have committed to documenting everything by entering information into my software, with source citation, and creating electronic files of the digital images of the documents. I am conforming to my file naming convention and I’m tagging the digital files so I don’t have to have my papers file to find something.

I used to believe that I would never forget certain facts I’ve learned through my genealogy research. As those facts add up (and my research grows), I know that’s just simply the case. Now all I have to remember is to enter everything into my Reunion software and tag and properly file all my electronic files.

Questioning my assumptions

I wrote last year about the importance of keeping a research log and my intention to keep one. I still think it’s important. Despite that, I’m still not really keeping one.

Oh, but I wish I were. My grandfather’s grandfather was George Washington Adams. I had accumulated a certain amount of information about him–and I’d recorded sources for everything. But now as I revisit him, I’m starting to doubt whether the military sources I found are necessarily for the right guy. And I think if I’d been keeping a good research log, I’d have perhaps written down why I was so certain that the George W. Adams from Company A, 35th Kentucky Infantry (Union), who ended up in the National Soldier’s Home for awhile in the 1920s and 1930s was my great great great grandfather. But looking at it now, I’m not so sure.

So I’m going to go back to all the data I’ve gathered for him and cast a critical eye on what I’ve found and make sure that I’ve got the right guy. And I’m going to carefully record my efforts and my reasoning for every fact. I’m not pledging to start keeping a research log for every bit of research I do (though I hope to at some point). I’m just pledging to do it for this one ancestor.

Once I figure out if I have the right guy, I’ll write here and let you know!

Reminder to myself: Follow up!

geowadamssoldiershomecroppedOn January 3, I wrote to the Vermilion, Illinois, County Clerk’s office, requesting a death certificate for George Washington Adams (my paternal grandfather’s grandfather), who I believe died at the National Home for Disabled Volunteers Soldier in Danville, Illinois. I had located a George Washington Adams of the right age at the home on the 1930 census and found a listing for a George Washington Adams in the Illinois Death Certificates Database . (“George Washington Adams” is an amazingly common name, by the way.)

Anyway, I wrote away for the death certificate, noted that the $12 check had been cashed, and never received acknowledgment. I figured it meant that no death certificate was available. Today,  four months later, I finally got around to calling the County Clerk’s office and inquiring. It turns out those efficient people had mailed the death certificate to me on January 8. I just never received it.

So I’m sending another check and they’re sending me another death certificate. I’m considerably cheered by the prospect that I’ll be able (I hope) to verify that this is indeed my George Washington Adams and that I’ll be able to glean some more information about him from it. Then I can go to Fold3 and start gathering information on his Civil War service.

The moral of the story: Next time I write for some information that I don’t receive, I’ll pick up the phone and inquire, rather than assuming the information wasn’t available!

Civil War recordkeeping

Laban Taylor Rasco Civil War documentToday I had the good fortune to find the Civil War records for my great-great-grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather), Laban Taylor Rasco. I initially found him listed in Alabama, Census of Confederate Soldiers, a document I found on That listed his company and regiment (he fought for the Confederate Army), which allowed me to easily find a lot of documents at

He’s not the first Civil War ancestor for whom I’ve found documents, but he is the first on the Confederate side. Through the documents, I learned that he was injured in the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgie in September 1863 and that he was a held as a prisoner of war in a Union prison camp in Talladega, Alabama, and paroled on June 3, 1865, after the war had ended.

Of course, I’m dazzled and amazed that in a matter of a few minutes I can uncover and read these documents via the miracles of scanning and the internet.

But I’m also really amazed by the recordkeeping that took place in this war. When you consider that most forms were filled out by hand and that thousands upon thousands of soldiers fought, it’s remarkable. My great great grandfather was a mere private and today I saw 10 different documents.

I saw the movie Lincoln this weekend (and heartily recommend it) and it brought to life the absence of technology of that era. I am so impressed with the organizational skills that allowed these records to be kept and retained. And, of course, it’s very impressive that they continue to be well organized and accessible.