Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Expectations and Surprises of a Beginning Family History Researcher

"Really?" was one of those words that was often on my lips when I first began family history research.  At the time I knew little about my family or my ancestors and even less about family history research.  I expected that certain things would be true:  names, ages, locations, etc.  At first I was confounded by research results (Is this my ancestor or not?) and then I was surprised.  Below are some of my expectations and the surprises I found.

Expectation #1
  • Surnames will be spelled the same on all documents.  Our family's names are spelled D-o-y-l-e, M-e-i-n-z-e-n, and G-e-r-n-e-r, etc.  If a name is spelled some other way it's not my family. 
The Surprise
  • What's this:  D-o-y-l, M-i-n-s-e-n, and G-u-r-n-e-r?  Can these be my people when the spelling of surnames changes from one document to the next, from one year to the next?  I deliberated whether a family who looked like it could be my family in a census (same first names and ages, location correct) was really mine because the spelling of the surname was wrong.  I saved the document as a possible match and searched for the family in another census -- and found another spelling variation.  Hmmm. 
And Now I anticipate surname variations and sometimes keep a list of possible spellings at hand.  Occasionally I purposely search the variations.  I take them as clues to how names may have been pronounced.

Expectation #2
  • Ages will be the same in documents from the same year and increase the exact number of years from the date of one document to the next. 
The Surprise
  • How can he be 52 in the 1880 census when he was 40 in 1870, and the censuses are only 10 years apart?  This probably isn't my person.  
And Now I know that ages can vary by at least several years across all documents with ages on them.  I generally search birth dates within a range.  Ages in census records can be different because census dates vary.  Perhaps people didn't keep track of their ages or perhaps ages were less important a hundred or more years ago.  Sometimes it's possible to narrow down a birth month if one knows the census dates.

The Expectation #3
  • Given names will remain the same, will be spelled the same, and if there are given and middle names, they will remain in the same order. 
The Surprise
  • Is it Tressa Rose or Rose Tressa?  Is her name Belle, Isabelle, Isabella, or Belletta?  Did people change their names on a whim?
And Now I have no expectation that given names will have exact consistency over time, though I hope for only small/few variations in spelling and order. 

Expectation #4
  • Well of course my ancestors could read and write.  That's a given for an educated person.  I'm sure all my ancestors had good educations.
The Surprise
  • She's listed as unable to read and write.  Really?!  And so are plenty of others among my ancestors.
And Now I'm surprised when I learn that ancestors could read and write.  My ancestors learned in many different ways and may have known much more than I do about a great variety of things.  Being able to read was less important when not everyone owned books.  Being illiterate does not mean a person was/is unintelligent. 

Expectation #5
  • Skeletons in my family's closet?  Surely not!  My ancestors were fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizens who were normal in every way.
The Surprise
  • He committed suicide?!  He was killed in an accident?  Why didn't I ever hear about this when I was a kid?  (Of course I wouldn't have heard because I came from a family of non-storytellers.)
And Now I think how sad that an ancestor found himself/herself in a such a situation, but I can't change the past.  Dramatic, traumatic, and horrific events are recorded in newspapers (though not always accurately) which means it's sometimes easier to find the ancestors who were "different" in some way or other.

Expectation #6
  • When family "records" tell me that he immigrated with his family in 1869, that's what I expect to find.
The Surprise
  • Immigration records show that he came in 1868 and his family came in 1869.  Are those my people?
And Now I don't accept family "records" as gospel.  I think of them as hints and then search for documents to support, correct, and/or clarify the family "records."

Expectation #7
  • Finding children will be as easy as looking at a census record.
The Surprise
  • There's no "one" list?  One census lists eight children, another says the mother had 12 children with 9 living, and the father's will lists five children. 
And Now I realize there might always be another child and be aware of documents that may reveal them.  If there's a 1910 census I use that as a basis to begin (because it asks how many children the mother had and how many were living at the time).  And just because the census states that she was the mother of 10 children I know her current husband may or may not be the father of all of them. 

Expectation #8
  • His wife's name is Sarah.  I'm sure there's a marriage record.
The Surprise
  • This marriage records her name as Mary, not Sarah!
And now I wonder if either Mary or Sarah are middle names.  And I'm aware that an individual may have married more than once so I search for marriage records for both Mary and Sarah and/or other documents that indicate they were the same person.

Expectation #9
  • Children always know their father's and mother's names.
The Surprise
  • Her death certificate says "doesn't know" for name of mother/father.  How can that be?  How could she not know her own parent's name?
And Now I know that the informant listed on the death certificate may be the one who didn't know the parent's name, not the deceased.  I'm also aware that if a parent died when a child was very young he may not know anything about his birth parent, including name, especially if the surviving parent remarried.  And sometimes, people just didn't keep track of that information, especially a mother's maiden name.

These are a few of the expectations I remember having as a beginner.  Those early years of research were interesting with their misunderstandings and uncertainties but I eventually found and sorted out the ancestors of those early searches.

What were some of your expectations when you first began family history research?  What surprises did you find? 


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Alternate Spelling Finder -Tuesday's Tip

In my early days as a family historian I expected that each family surname would be spelled exactly the same way on every document.  And then I learned about spelling variations.  Lots and lots of variations.  Still, some ancestors elude me.  Maybe there's another spelling variation I should try.

Datayze's Alternate Spelling Finder to the rescue.  Or, at least, maybe it will help.

This tool gives a broad range of variations, some of which may be more useful than others.  some strange variations but it's also given me some that hadn't occurred to me.

Type in the surname (or any word, for that matter) and press enter on your keyboard.  Voilà.  More variations than you might have known were possible.  Of course, some are more likely to have occurred in records than others.

These are variations for some of my surnames.






Maybe it will be a helpful resource.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Wishing You a Glorious Fourth.

May we ever remember the courage of those who gathered to propose independence for the American colonies and those who fought to make a free nation. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Seeing Steubenville, c. 1880, through City Council Proceedings

Have I mentioned how much I love reading/searching through the Steubenville City Council Proceedings on FamilySearch?  I perused the Council Proceedings, Jan. 4, 1876 to March 31, 1882, beginning around 1879 through March 21, 1882.  It was like stepping back 135 years into a Steubenville that I can only imagine.  These records gave me a flavor of what it might have been like to live in the city at that time.

Below are a select few excerpts of interest that may have impacted the lives of my Steubenville and Jefferson County ancestors during the late 1870s and early 1880s:  petitions read, ordinances adopted, improvements, etc.  Dates are council meeting dates; numbers in parentheses are image numbers of the record at FamilySearch.

February 11
  • A petition was read regarding the appointing of a board of health and a city physician to furnish medicines and medical attendance to the worthy poor of the City.  (229)
  • The establishment and building of a workhouse was proposed.  The Finance Committee was instructed to "consider and report the best measures to be adopted to secure the speedy erection and use of such work house in the City, and also to ascertain and report where and at what price suitable land can be purchased for and the probable cost of erecting such work house." (229-230)
February 25
  • The city engineer was to be instructed to make a plat of all water drains belonging to the city.  (233)
 February 27
  • The city engineer was directed to remove the Market House.
May 13 
  • Pay for the person who lit public lamps was to be $25.00/month.  (250)
  • Removal of the hay scales in Market Square was a topic of discussion.  (250)
  • Regulating the price of gas and rent of meters was discussed.  (250)
  • The janitor was to provide ice water for members of city council.  (256)

May 2
  • Oil lamps were to be replaced with gas lamps at the cost of $15.00/post.
August 3
  • The street commissioner was charged with notifying residents to "pluck up and remove all grass and weeds that may be growing upon the sidewalks or in the gutters in front of their respective properties."  Refusal was to result in the city doing it and charging the cost of it to the property owner on his tax bill.  (348-349)
  • The Market Committee was to make arrangements to have coal weighed at the upper end of town.  (357)
  • It was proposed that "stone crossings be laid on Logan Street across the alleys between 5th and 6th Streets both sides of the street, and two on Ross Street, one between 4th and 5th Sts. and one between 5th and 6th Sts."  (357)
November 9
  • "An ordinance to prevent smoking and other disorderly conduct in public halls passed a first reading."  (367)
  • A Telephone Exchange was about to be established in the City and it was moved that the line be run to the Mayor's office.  Poles for the line were referred to the Street Committee and Engineer.  (368)
  • The cost of slagging Market street 18" deep and 20' wide was discussed.  (369)
  • An example of "patent asphalt pavement" was presented to city council.  (371)

March 1
  • Telegraph poles were to be erected.  (386)
  • A telephone line was to go into City Council Member Brashear's to be used for fire alarm purposes (387)
April 12
  • These are the city offices mentioned in this entry:  Weighmaster, Wharfmaster, Fire Wardens (for the wards of the city), Water Works Trustees, Police, Building Commission, Board of Measures, Civil Engineers.  (393)  (Steubenville's location on the Ohio River necessitated the Wharfmaster.  In other entries there were references to ferry licenses, wharf fees , and the waiving of wharf fees.)
April 26
  • Committees included Finance, Claims, Markets, Ordinances, Lights, Police, Fire Department, and Street.  (397)
  • The "filthy conditions" of the city prison were brought up with the note that it was not a fit place to confine human beings.  (393)
May 10
  • More about the city jail:  Iron gratings were to be installed in cells for better ventilation.  The City Marshall was to have it white-washed every 15 days and disinfected with sulfur twice a week.  (400)
  • An ordinance was suggested to prevent people taking flowers and vines from public areas and from dogs running loose without collars, names, and owners' names on them.  (401)
  • There was discussion about bonds in the amount of $50,000 to build a market house and city hall.  This discussion recurred several times over the next meetings.  (402)
November 25
  • The salary of the telephone operator was discussed.  (446)
December 18
  • At a special meeting a communication from the mayor announced:  "Smallpox is now in our midst."  A "fresh house" was suggested.  All cases were to be reported to the mayor.  A card with "small pox" and a yellow flag was to be placed on houses where smallpox was known to exist.  The City Physician was to vaccinate all who requested it at the expense of the city and report their names to the City Council.  That was changed to include vaccinations for all persons in the city.  (450-451)

January 31
  • Frank Markle asked that the small-pox wagon be removed to some other place.  It was to be removed to the river side park; motion that it be fastened to one of the posts to prevent it from being thrown into the river.  (458)
February 28
  • A sewer pipe was to be run from the Court House through jail alley, along Washington Street, to the river.  (461)
  • The City Clerk was to advertise in the daily newspapers of the city for the sale of bonds to the amount of $50,000, the proceeds to the cred of the fund for a building for a "Market House City Hall and such other purposes as City Council determine."  City Solicitor was to have printed bonds to the amount of $50,000 by the day of the sale.  (462)
March 14
  • The City Clerk was to advertise for 10 days in one of the daily newspapers for the sale of $50,000 bonds, proceeds to credit of the fund for the "Market House City Hall."  (464)
March 28
  • An ordinance passed to provide for letting a contract for the city building.  (466)
  • The bid of Spitzer Wiedman & Co. of Toledo for $50,000 for City hall and Market was read and passed.  Details about the transaction of papers and was recorded.  (467)

Notes and Comments

The late 1870s and early 1880s were a time of growth for the City of Steubenville.  I omitted many entries on the ongoing improvements to streets included slagging, grading, and/or curbing various streets; the cost of brick for streets, culverts, curbs, and gutters is recorded; laying stone crossings at intersections;  "improved boulder pavement;" and at one point, the investigation of "improved macadamized pavement 20' wide" is mentioned.  Boardwalks and sidewalks were built.   Public lamps and installing sewer drains were discussed, as well as their specific locations.  Sidewalk improvement was also a consideration.  Clearly, a city map would add to the benefit of this research.

I also omitted references to the cases brought against the city as the result of people falling into open holes, pits, and trenches.  In addition to my g-g-grandfather Abel Armitage's claim there were at least four or five others during the years 1879-1882. 

I've written about these records before:  twice to report the results of my great-great-grandfather's suit against the city and once to introduce city council proceedings as a resource for family historians.  I know much of the information in these records was published in the local newspapers but one practically has to read the newspapers to find it.  In these council proceedings everything the city leaders were discussing and doing to improve the city is contained on the pages of these journals.

If you want to discover more about the environment in which an ancestor lived, I highly recommend a search for similar records in the city where your ancestors lived.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Never Done: A History of American Housework

I anticipated that Never Done, by Susan Strasser, would be a book about the ways my foremothers kept house, from cleaning walls, windows, floors, and everything in between, to cooking meals and baking bread, cakes, and pies; from sorting, washing, drying, and ironing laundry to all the other tasks that were involved in housework and homekeeping -- and the ways and times they performed those tasks.  Instead, I learned primarily about the history and development of modern conveniences (water  and electricity delivered to homes) which lightened the labor of housework, ways housewives earned money, and contemporary views on housewives.  There was limited information about how housework was done in past generations.

Strasser pointed out that in Colonial times the household was the center of activity.  It was the home; the place where items were manufactured; and the place where children were taught.  Items were produced and used by those living in the home.  Families were both producers and consumers.  Most family members worked at a variety of activities witout pay.  That which was excess was bartered with others for needs within the family.  Over time production moved from home to factories; fewer people produced, many people consumed.  As people began to be employed outside the home and receive wages for their labor, the work of housewives, who earn no wages, was considered of little value. 

The author cautioned readers not to assume that ideas and suggestions for home care and housework that were published in contemporary books, magazines, newspapers, and cookbooks were adopted by most women.  As in today's world, published recipes may or may not be used by a majority of readers; likewise ideas of fashion, home decoration, etc., may or may not be adopted by readers in our times.

I found part of the chapter about water particularly interesting.  Before indoor plumbing was available, women carried every ounce of water from a distant source -- spring, well, river, or public faucet -- into their homes, including water for bathing, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, laundry, and then carried it back out again.  If a source of water were 60 yards away and water had to be carried into the home six or eight times a day, during the course of a year a housewife would have walked 148 miles lugging water from its source to her home.  I recently read a comment on a Facebook genealogy group.  The writer said she'd once asked her grandmother which modern convenience she was most grateful for.  The grandmother replied that it was running water.  After reading the chapter on water I can understand why.

Another topic of discussion in the book was the isolation that housewives encountered after water and electric services became available in the home.  In previous times when women carried water from a public source, hung laundry, gardened, or participated in other outdoor activities, other women were often outside doing the same things and they interacted.  That changed with indoor plumbing, when products were manufactured and purchased at stores, and when women used washers and dryers for their laundry, etc.

Chapter titles include:
  • Daily Bread
  • Out of the Frying Pan
  • Home Fires
  • At the Flick of a Switch
  • Fetch a Pail of Water
  • Blue Monday
  • A Stitch in Time
  • The Boarder
  • Mistress and Maid
  • Redeeming Woman's Profession
  • The Business of Housekeeping
  • When the Bough Breaks
  • Selling Mrs. Consumer
  • Quick and Easy
  • You Deserve a Break
  • Life on the Market

You can probably guess from the titles what most of the chapters are about.  If you're interested in women's history, in understanding more about your foremothers' situations, or in history in general, you may appreciate reading all or some of the chapters of this book.  Whatever else you read, be sure to read the prologue.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Banner Week at Doyle's Berry Farm:  June 13, 1908

That banner week that ended Saturday, June 13, 1908, 600 bushels of strawberries were harvested at Doyle's Strawberry Farm in Stoneboro, Pa.  At that time the owner of the farm was William Doyle, my great-grandfather, known to family as Pap. 

Gust, my paternal grandfather and William's son, is the young man standing third from the right in the above photo.  The lady standing to the right of Gust (from our view) looks like his mother, Tressa (Froman) Doyle.  I believe William (short with a big mustache) is the man standing fifth from the left with the dark hat.  The man wearing a suit, white shirt, and bow tie was the "berry man," the one who made arrangements for transportation of the berries.

If you look closely you can see several carrier baskets with quarts of strawberries.  The man at right is sitting on what appears to be a nearly empty crate of quart strawberry baskets.  Another crate is beside it and empty crates are piled on the far left of the photo.

I've known for years that Dad's family had a strawberry "patch" but only upon finding this postcard did I realize what a misnomer the word "patch" is.  Strawberry farm is more accurate. 

The berries were recorded in bushels but were clearly neither collected nor transported in bushel baskets.  I try to imagine 600 bushels of strawberries, but can't quite.  Research tells me that one bushel of strawberries equals 32 quarts and 48 pounds.  Calculated further, 600 bushels of strawberries equals 19,200 quarts or 28,800 pounds.  Research did not help me find how many acres might have been needed to produce 600 pounds in one week.  My father's half-sister wrote that during Gust's stewardship of the farm there were two acres devoted to berries.  Could two acres produce 600 bushels of strawberries in one week?  Or were more acres planted with berries when William was the farm's owner?

It's hard to know how much income the berries brought to the Doyle family.  A great-aunt recalled payment of 1¢ per quart (worth about 27¢ now) for picking berries at about the time of these photographs.  Another aunt recorded that during her father Gust's time as the primary farmer, 25 years after this photo, berry pickers were also paid 1¢ per quart.   

After picking, the berries were transported by horse-pulled wagons to the train depot.  This photo shows "Berries arriving Stoneboro Depot, from Doyle's Farm."  Imagine transporting strawberries in June, 1908, at the slow speed of a train and without refrigeration.  How fresh could they have been upon arrival, even to Franklin, less than 20 miles away?

I gleaned a little more information about the farm from an article in a Stoneboro Anniversary pamphlet my mother saved.  The article was published in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, in 1962, but I don't have any publication information.

Strawberry Time In Stoneboro -- Remember?
     In days of yore Strawberry Time was a big event in the Stoneboro community.  Doyle's Berry Farm, located on the Fredonia Road on the outskirts of town was well-known throughout the area as the strawberry "patch."  The late William Doyle, a native of Cambois Colliery near Blythe, Northumberland, England, was owner of the farm, which employed many local citizens during berry picking time in late June and early July.  Many residents will recall picking berries for Mr. Doyle.
     The top picture, with a scene from the farm, notes the banner week of June 23 [sic], 1908, as producing 600 bushels.  Many local people are pictured, including Mr. Doyle and members of his family.  The man in the suit, white shirt, bow tie and hat is the "berry man" who came to the farm and made arrangements for shipping the berries.
     The bottom picture shows the produce arriving at the Stoneboro Railroad Station, in horse-drawn wagons, ready for shipments on trains to various points.  One of the destinations was Franklin [a distance of about 17 miles using today's roads], where a hotel maintained a standing order for the large "William-Belt" berries which were of such size that 18 filled a quart berry basket.  Among the men pictured at the station are the late George Proud, John Gustafson, John Berrisford, and Gust Doyle, son of William Doyle, the farm owner....

Both sepia photographs in this post were published by Bob Cowan on facebook in a collection of "38 Stoneboro photographs" with the note, "Photos scanned from my friend Lyda for your use and enjoyment."  (Click right and left arrows on facebook screen to see all Stoneboro photos.)  Lyda and I are cousins:  her grandmother, Liz Jane Doyle, and my great-grandfather, William Doyle, are siblings.  Thank you, Bob Cowan, for scanning and sharing Lyda's photos.

Strawberry season is nearly at its end in Ohio this season and I haven't picked a single berry.  I think I'll forego the picking and just eat them this year.  Whenever I eat strawberries I always think of my ancestors' Doyle Strawberry Farm.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. 
All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Recent Ancestors' Photographs I Don't Have - SNGF

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, suggested by Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings, is this:
Recent Ancestor Photographs

1)  Do you have photos of all of your ancestors back to the 1850 time frame?  Which recent ancestors do you not have a photograph of? 

2)  Review your files, and list the ancestors for whom you want and/or need to find a photograph.  Also list where they resided and where they died.  Where would you look to find a photograph of them?

3)  Share your answers on your own blog post (and leave a comment here with a link), or on Facebook or other social media.

These are the photos I have:
  • Lee and Audrey (Meinzen) Doyle, my parents
  • Gust and Beulah Mae (Gerner) Doyle, my paternal grandparents
  • W. C. Robert and Emma Virginia (Bickerstaff) Meinzen, my maternal grandparents
  • William and Tressa Rose (Froman) Doyle, paternal great-grandparents
  • Fredrick and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, paternal great-grandparents
  • Henry Carl and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen, maternal great-grandparents
  • Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff, maternal great-grandparents
  • Andrew and Elizabeth Jane (Laws) Doyle, paternal 2rd great-grandparents (from a small group photo)
  • Dixon Bartley, paternal 2nd great-grandfather

I don't have photos of these 2nd great-grandparents:
  • John Froman, ~1841-~1871, died Mercer County, Pennsylvania
  • Catherine (Saylor) Froman, 1844-1928, died Mercer County, Pennsylvania 
  • Christian Gerner, ~1820-1899, Butler County, Pennsylvania
  • Mary/Elizbeth (Stahl) Gerner, ~1824-after 1880, of Butler County, Pennsylvania
  • Rebecca (Smith) Bartley, 1820-1899, Butler County, Pennsylvania
  • Carl Meinzen, no known dates, born Germany
  • Abel Armitage, 1821- after 1880, Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Eliza (Hartley) Armitage, ~1813 - btw. 1852-1858, West Riding Yorkshire, England
  • Ellis H. Bickerstaff, 1840-1907, Steubenville, Ohio, and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
  • Emma V. (Nelson) Bickerstaff, ~1845-1878, Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • John Thomas Thompson, ~1850-1923, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Lydia (Bell) Thompson, 1851-1930, Jefferson County, Ohio, and Wellsburg, Brooke County, West Virginia

I don't have photos of these known 3rd great-grandparents who died after about 1850:
  • Robert Laws, 1810-1881, Northumberland County, England
  • Elizabeth (Thompson) Laws, 1817-1886, Northumberland County, England
  • Jacob Saylor, ~1812-1870, Mercer County, Pennsylvania
  • William Bickerstaff, 1807-1893, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Susan/Susannah (Holmes) Bickerstaff, 1830-1894, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Robert Nelson, 1800-1875, Montgomery County, Illinois
  • Catherine (Watson) Nelson, 1806-1876, Montgomery County, Illinois
  • Jacob Thompson, 1820- after 1870, probably Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Mary (Richardson) Thompson, 1822- after 1880, probably Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Jacob Bell, 1824-1915, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • Lydia (Fithen) Bell, ~1826- after 1880, probably died Jefferson County, Ohio

Places to look for photographs (in no particular order):
> Find-a-Grave.  I've seen photos there before but not many earlier photographs.
> Family Old Photos.  Owner submitted photos; most require permission to copy and use
> Dead Fred.
> Mutual descendants (if they can be found)
> Google image search (or general search:  not everyone identifies photos with alt text)
> FamilySearch Family Tree (click Memory tab, then choose Gallery)
> local, county, and state genealogical societies where ancestors lived
> image collections at local libraries (such as vertical files)
> compiled family histories submitted by other genealogists to family history libraries
> newspaper searches (beginning about 1900) if ancestor was well-known in the community, or famous/infamous for some activity/action

Now I have even more searching to do for the 23 direct-line ancestors who could have been photographed during their lifetimes.  Thanks for the fun, Randy. 


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Thank You to Our Fallen Heroes

On this Memorial Day, the day when we honor and remember those who died in service to our country while in the armed forces, my heart is full.

I hope the angel ears of our fallen heroes can hear my quiet thank you and know my heart's deep gratitude.  Their ultimate sacrifice blesses so many of us in so many ways.

Thank you.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Using City Council Records in Your Family History Research

Searching city council records for an ancestor may be like searching for a needle in a haystack:  the volumes are generally unindexed and are handwritten.  But if you know an event date in which your ancestor was involved with the city, these records can offer additional details.  My ancestor filed a suit against the city and I was able to learn more about the outcome of that suit in the city council journals than through other records.  I also discovered that another ancestor and his business partner were hired to build a bridge for the city.  For me it was worth the search.

About these records
City council records are/may be available at FamilySearch among court records of the county where the city was located.  I checked two other county record collections at FamilySearch and didn't find any but FamilySearch continues add records to their online collection.  City council records may also be available at the physical county courthouse, city hall, or a historical society.  Some cities may be putting their own council records online.

Among other things, these records were created to detail the decisions the city council made concerning the operation and improvement of the city as well as about the handling of problems (such as suits filed against the city), and requests by citizens. 

These records were handwritten by the city clerk.  Some clerks' handwriting was easier to read than others' but since each clerk remained in office for a year or more you become familiar with the handwriting and it becomes easier to read after a few entries.

Using these records will feel like going back in time to when one read and searched pages of microfilm, or even further back in time to when one turned the physical pages of the county record books.  But you know how much easier it is to see a name on a written page when your eye is attuned to that one name?  It's that way with these records, so in some ways one can glance through the pages and the name will pop out.  Other times you may choose a serious perusal of the pages.  And sometimes, for me at least, it was just plain interesting to see what was happening in the city.

What you will definitely find
  • who the president and members of city council were
  • which committees were created by the council (e.g., finance, claims, markets, streets, etc.) and who was on each
  • city offices (weighmaster, city wardens, police, civil engineer, etc.)
  • who received money from the city and the amount, though not necessarily the purpose
  • who held government offices in the city

What you may find
  • who filed lawsuits against the city
  • when the city installed street lights and or changed from oil to gas
  • when bridges were built, who built them, and the cost
  • when roads and sidewalks were built and/or improved and with what material
  • which public buildings were torn down, which were built/rebuilt
  • when public water pipes were installed
  • when telephones were first installed in the city 

Reasons to read city council records
If you are interested in learning about the environment in which one of your ancestors, or a family of ancestors, lived, learned, and worked, I can't think of a better source of information.  City council records provide a history of a city in a way no other source can.  Combine them with a city map, a city directory, and old photographs or postcards for a more complete understanding of your ancestors' environment. 

Have you used city council records before?  Did you learn more about an ancestor?  Did you find them interesting?


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Searching for Abel Armitage in City Council Proceedings

Did Abel Armitage win his suit against the City of Steubenville or not?  He filed a case against the city because one night he fell into a trench that had been dug for water pipes.  The suit went to the Court of Common Pleas in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio.  Joyce Jonard Humphrey, another Armitage descendant, found several entries in the Court of Common Pleas journals but they left uncertainty in my mind as to the outcome of the results in court.

When I discovered that FamilySearch has published Council Proceedings of the City of Steubenville, I wondered if Abel's case might be mentioned in those records.  I decided to search these unindexed records one page at a time, beginning with the journal that covers the dates January, 1876 through March, 1882.  In them I finally found Abel and discovered the outcome of his hearing.

From the entry for March 16, 1880, journal page 314

     The solicitor presented a communication in regard to
the case of Able [sic] Armitage asgainst [sic] the city
asking for instructions as to taking the case to
the district court and recommending that the bill
of W. F. Campbell for reporting and transcribing
the testimony in the case be paid.  Mr. Garrett
moved the report be received and the recomend-
ations [sic] be adopted.  Carried.
     A petition from four witnesses in the Armit-
age case asking council to pay their fees was
read.  Mr. Garrett moved the amount be placed
on the appropriation ordinance.  Carried.

Notes and Comments
  • Where might W. F. Campbell's transcriptions be found?  They do not appear in images of the City Council proceedings.  Might they have been kept elsewhere and, if so, where might that be?  I'm sure they would be enlightening to read.
  • Wm. F. Campbell was listed in the next appropriation ordinance with the amount of $15.00.
  • Who were the four witnesses who petitioned the Council pay their fees?  In the next appropriation ordnance there are three individuals who were paid $ .75 each but it does not tell what the payment was for.  They are J. S. Smith, Lewis A. Veite, and James McKay.  What fees did the witnesses want paid?

From the entry for April 26, 1881, journal page 399

     The case of Able [sic] Armitage against
the City for $207.84 was on motion referred to
the committee on Claims.

From the journal entry for May 10, 1881, journal page 403 and 404

     An ordinance making appropriation passed
a first ready [reading] as follows  Be it ordained
by the counsel of the City of Steubenville That
there be and hereby is appropriate [sic] out of the monies
in the Treasury not otherwise approrpiate [sic] the
following Sums of money to the following [?]
herein after named namely . . .
               Abel Armitage        207.84
     [Not on image above.] It was moved and seconded that the ruls [sic] be
Suspended and the ordinance placed on its
final passage.  Ayes.... 12  nays none.
The rules being declared Suspend[ed] the ordinance
was placed on its final passage and adopted
as follows  Ayes .... 12  Nays none. 

Notes and Comments 
  • In the newspaper's first note about Abel's court case it reported that he requested $2,500.00 for damages.  If that's accurate, receiving less than 10% of that amount must have been disappointing.  The Inflation Calculator tells me the $207.84 that he received in 1881 would have equaled $5,243.72 in 2016.  Not a tiny sum, and yet $2,500.00 would have been equal to $63,073.93 in 2016.
  • From the time Abel filed the case in February, 1879, until its resolution in May, 1881, more than two years had passed.  Even with the settlement by the City Council on record there's no telling exactly when he received his money.
  • It's interesting to note that in the 1880 U.S. Census Abel was recorded as disabled. 
  • These records have not yet helped me learn Abel's death date but at least now I know he was still alive in May, 1881.

I will continue reading these records:  it seems that Abel's wife, Ann, may have also filed against the city, also for a fall, in November, 1881 with the case continuing until 1883.


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