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  • Gray Land Records in Noble County, Indiana

    Posted on November 17th, 2013 admin No comments

    One reason I enjoy doing genealogy is that I enjoy solving puzzles.

    In 1989, some of our family put together a collection of family writings and memoirs called Ancestor Pioneers.  In that booklet was a hand-drawn map of Noble County Indiana which showed land holdings of various ancestors in 1856.   The map showed section numbers but unfortunately did not include pertinent information such as the township name or the meridian.   Copies of the original land records had not been among the records I got from my parents.   I had never quite gotten around to tracking down whatever cousin had made the map to see if she had them,  nor had I yet begun searching online for these land records.

    A few days ago, I got a letter from another cousin (Thanks, Jenny!) who happened to include a sheet from Ancestry.com showing a parcel of land purchased in 1837 by a many-greats grandfather. Since I happened to have my copy of  Ancestor Pioneers open on the desk, I checked — yes, it was one of the parcels on the hand-drawn map.

    The hand-drawn map of Gray Land Holdings in Noble County, IN

    Never mind what I wrote last week about focus!  Here is a wonderful distraction!  I needed a break from the JK Gray biography anyway (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

    With Jenny’s lead about where to look, I dug into ancestry.com’s databases and found not only the other parcels on the hand-drawn map, but others in a township to the north.  Cross-checking against census records to confirm that these were likely our people, I pushed further into the land records,  and have so far located a baker’s dozen of parcels in York and Noble Townships, Noble County, IN owned by our kinfolk.  I’ll continue looking this afternoon and expect to find even more.  With the legal land descriptions, I may be able to dig even deeper and find who got them after the family sold out (or who inherited them).

    So I have a satisfactory outcome, having solved a minor puzzle,  found a lot of new information, made a note of clues for future research, and taken a break from a long-term project.  A pleasant way to spend a couple of cold winter days

  • A Single Family History Focus

    Posted on November 10th, 2013 admin 1 comment

    One tip that has been given in a couple of genalogy seminars I’ve attended:  Focus.

    “When you first start doing  family history, everything is new and exciting,” said the presenter, forensic genealogist Lyn Meehan.   “It can help if you learn to focus on one thing at a time.  It helps keep you from being distracted.  The focus might be on one specific ancestor or one particular geographic area.  Then, when you hit a ‘brick wall’ — which you inevitably will — you can start to find a way around it by looking at collateral branches and other techniques.”

    John Kepford and Phoebe Ellen Gray, c. 1910

    I had already decided to work on the life and times of my great-grandfather, John Kepford Gray, so I was pleased to hear Lynn’s advice.  It meant that I was on the right track.

    We have an amazing amount of material on this man, once I started to put it all together.  Mom and Dad had started with some of the physical records, gathering his letters and papers, looking up some census records (back when there was no Internet).  His grandchildren, my dad included, had recorded stories and anecdotes.  There were clues in the letters and other family documents that opened fascinating stories, such as

    • His treatment for alcoholism in the Keeley Institute in Kansas City Missouri in 1893
    • A letter from the probate court in the administration of his father’s estate, referring to a smallpox outbreak and the local pest house
    • References to family squabbles, misfortunes and trials
    • References to friends, relations, get-togethers, church events
    • His participation in buffalo hunts, including the last great hunt of 1878 that drove the southern herd to extinction

    “Genealogy is not just names and places and dates,” said Meehan. “It’s the story of people, who they were and how they lived and why they moved around.”

    And once you start to focus, you see that.  Great-grandpa, a man I never new, is becoming real to me in a way that would never have happened without an interest in family history.

  • Genealogy scam, bam, thank you ma’am

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments

    Clicked on an ad today for archives.com.   Got to a page that offered me various vital statistics certificates “complete with government stamp”.   I thought it looked pretty scammy.  But of course, now that I want to include the URL, I can’t find it…

    Just for a trial, I clicked “Birth Certificate” and entered information about a specific relative.  I quit when I got to where it wanted my credit card because it wouldn’t tell me the cost before I entered the credit card info.  I’m going to give you my card number and I don’t even know what it costs?  Yeah, Right.

    Hm.  I can just see it coming.   A pretty certificate nicely done up in MS Word using exactly the information I’ve just put in, with a nice gold seal affixed, maybe embossed with the words “US Government”, for $39.95.  About as authentic as a $3 bill.   Total cost to make up?  Maybe a buck or so.  Total cost to mail?  Maybe a buck or so.   Total profit?  Marvelous!  It’s almost a license to print money.

    Okay, so maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe they’re totally legit.  They claim to have 2.6 billion records and to be the lowest-cost site for family research.   They’re owned by ancestry.com, which probably means that anything archives.com has you can also find at ancestry.com, but not vice versa.   Yes, ancestry.com is many times the cost  (if you don’t access it for free through your local library or LDS Family History Center), but maybe you get what you pay for?

    I did a quick Google search for “archives.com scam” and the result is an eye opener.   Randy Seaver at Genea-musings didn’t seem to impressed.   Joan Miller at Luxgen gave it a fairly positive review then got slammed in the comments with people complaining about

    • bait-and-switch,
    • being charged even though they cancelled within the “free trial” period
    • results being found only in sites such as Find a Grave that are free anyway
    • not being able to find anything not readily available elsewhere

    Found numerous complaints at various scam sites such as sitejabber.com, ripoffreport.com or scambook.com.  Scary.

    Many people mention that the bait (enter the name of a relative) always indicates that  information is available, but that after you pay, a search for the same relative produces no hits.  This is almost classic bait and switch.  One commenter said, “…Just try typing in fictional names, cartoon names etc. They will always show matches.”

    The company itself has a page arguing that they’re NOT a scam.  Methinks they doth protest too much.

    I didn’t even sign up for the seven day free trial.

  • Name That Baby!

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments


    Baby Thomas

    Baby Thomas Albert, circa 1922

    It was apparently a tradition in the family of Leonard and Enola Gray to have each baby photographed.  These baby photos are probably scattered throughout the family.

    There are currently photos available of six of the WL offspring. Please help us to complete the set and  identify the infants in the photos so we can put them in the proper spot in the Gray Family Tree.  Go to the web site Grays Going Back, click the Photos tab at the top of the page, then in the Albums menu at left, click Gray Babies.

    They look like they’re wearing Christening gowns, but Thomas Albert Gray recalls that none of the kids were baptized.  “The old man (William Leonard Gray) didn’t believe in that, no way.”  It would seem that babies were simply dressed in gowns in those days, which was probably an advantage for changing diapers.  It was a time, I guess, when babies wore “baby clothes” rather than miniature versions of adult clothing.

    If you know one of the photos,  click on the baby’s face.  If you’re a member of the site, you can type in the name.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Organizing the Family History Stuff

    Posted on October 22nd, 2013 admin No comments

    In the late sixties when we first started out, our family history research was stored in a cardboard box.  A few things were in binders.  A few more things were in file folders.

    When personal computers came along, I purchased Broderbund’s Family Tree Maker to help sort things out.  It came with forms for pedigree charts, family group charts, and so on…all of which went into the box.   Changes in our family moved the history hobby into the background, and the box went somewhere into my parents’ basement.

    When I started up again forty years later, about three years back, I could see a need for better organization.  My cousin, who’s been doing family history for decades, had her stuff in plastic boxes and seemed to be able to put her hands on whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.  Hmm…

    I contacted the local genealogy club, whose president recommended Mary Hill’s color-coded filing system.  I purchased the recommended materials, took everything out of the cardboard box, and sorted it as required.

    My color-coded file case

    It was a good first step.  It got various bits of paper and handwritten notes grouped together.  It showed me where my parents and I had concentrated our early research, and showed where there were big gaps.  It helped me to understand my parents’ research focus (direct paternal ancestry line and immediate family) and set the other lines aside.   The box is now overflowing and ready to expand.

    But more and more, I was finding online records.   The MyHeritage software (Family Tree Builder) helped display photos and images of historical records, but I was basically just dumping everything into the MyHeritage folder on the hard drive.  I had them sorted by topic — photos, census records, obituaries, marriage records etc. — but basically they were all in the same folder.

    Nobody’s fault but mine.  At a workshop last weekend, Lyn Meehan, the professional genealogist who presented an “Introduction to Genealogy”, mentioned almost in passing how she organizes her computer files.  It was parallel to how I had organized my physical files, with a folder for each individual ancestor.  A “eureka” moment (“Doh!”).

    Took an afternoon to get it set up (it’s not complete yet) and move files into the proper computer folders.   Now all of great grandpa’s stuff is in one place.  Birth documents, census records, marriage license, land holdings, anecdotes, family stories, anything that concerns him is in his folder.  Does it ever make things easier!

    Pays to listen to the pros.

  • Family History, Forty Years Later

    Posted on October 21st, 2013 admin 1 comment

    When my mom and dad first started doing family history research in the late sixties, they kept everything in a cardboard box.  I typed up some notes (on a portable manual typewriter) and started a binder with some of the finished stuff, with photos in glossy plastic page protectors that cost $1.39 each at the time.    Mom’s declining health put an end to family research on their part, while my marriage and three kids turned my attention elsewhere.  When mom died, I inherited the box along with two trunks full of stuff.   Busy and frankly not too interested at the time, I stowed the lot under the basement stairs and forgot about them.

    When we sold acreage, and moved to Leduc, we moved the trunks…to be stowed under the stairs and forgotten in the new house.The Family

    Four years later, in 2009,  we moved to a smaller house, and put all the stuff into the larger and more sturdy of the two trunks.  While the trunk  is still under the stairs, some of the contents — including the box of family history materials — found their way upstairs.  Going through the box, I got interested again in the family tree.

    How things have changed!

    Today, I work on a laptop, attached to a printer/scanner/copier/fax.  I can now buy a box of 100 acid-free protectors for under $10!  Records that Mom and Dad drove to Kansas to find are now available online, either free or at a modest cost.  For a few dollars a month, I can access census records, vital statistics, cemetery indexes, newspaper archives, and more.  The Internet has become a treasure trove in which I dig daily to find new gems.

    Unfortunately, most of my best sources — my aunts and uncles and older cousins — are now gone, a richness of history forever lost to me.


  • AGS Cemetery Database Beta Released

    Posted on October 18th, 2013 admin 1 comment

    The  Alberta Genealogical Society cemetery DB was recently opened to AGS member review.   The databse, reported to contain over 724,000 records, has been tested by the Master Surname Database committee (MSD) and was released Sept. 13, 2013 in its beta version.

    I got to take a test drive yesterday and this morning, and I’m impressed — this is already a useful resource for family historians researching Alberta deaths and burials.

    AGS Cemetery Database

    The beta search screen at the AGS Cemetery Database

    The full beta draft was released to AGS members.  Although public access is planned for the final release, only restricted information will be returned to the general public. The extra information, combined with all the other benefits of joining AGS, makes the $50 membership well worthwhile.

    AGS Cemetery DB public record

    Single record as seen by general public

    In my trial run, I was able to find twenty or so pertinent records for my family tree quickly and easily.  I found that the AGS Cemetery Database

    1. Was relatively easy to use, even in its present form
    2. Has a surprisingly fast search engine, even for vague searches such as a surname that returned 32,000 hits
    3. Returned large pages of fifty results per page; this made it easy to scroll and skim, or to use Find, to locate a record on the page.

    One pleasant surprise showed up.  I had been looking for a particular relative, Robert Monson Gray, on the recently-released 1921 Canadian census, and was puzzled that he and his family were not in the Lakesend area– with his father and siblings–where various local histories and family tradition had placed him.  I knew that he had moved to Oregon, as the 1930 US census places him there, but I hadn’t found any burial record in Oregon.

    AGS Cemetery DB

    Same record as seen by a member, showing additional information

    The AGS database found his grave (and his wife’s)  in Innisfail.  So I know that he moved back to Canada at some time, and I now have a hint to search the Innisfail area in the 1921 census.

    Future work, according to the member release from AGS president Les Campbell, will include database cleanup and additional options and features.

    Looking forward to it.

  • RV Bits & Pieces

    Posted on October 11th, 2013 admin No comments

    RV Windows Series

    If you’ve got leaky windows in the body of the rig, my post on RV Replacement Windows or one of the articles below might help.  Doesn’t apply to windows in the driving cab — for that, get thee to an automotive window place.

    Handle Repairs on Hybrid Bunk Doors

    The handles were getting loose on the bunk doors of our old Cub F-16 hybrid because the thin plywood in which they were mounted was bending.   Here’s how I fixed them:


    Thoughts on RV Tires

    A while ago there was some flap about defective RV Tires from China.  That, and a lot of news stories about defective products from China over the past few years, make people especially suspicious of Chinese RVs.

    Bid you know that tires from even top brands like Michelin are made in China?    So when I put new tires on my truck, did I check to see where they came from?   Um, no.

  • Family Reunion Proceeds Donated

    Posted on September 9th, 2013 admin No comments

    My cousin Judy reports on the financial outcome of our Gray family reunion held in August 2013:

    Well, Jo-Ann, Lynda and I finally got together and sorted out the final details from the reunion.  As promised, here is what we decided to do with the excess funds.

    There was very close to $1000.00 surplus so we just added the wee bit to make it an even thousand.

    We purchased 10 roses for the memorial rose garden and the names will be added in the spring.  The first of the list will be “John & Phoebe Gray” followed by the 9 names of their children.

    We also purchased a May Day tree that will be planted in the Leonard Gray park and have a plaque that says “Donated In Honour of the Descendants of John Kepford Gray and Phoebe Ellen Ellis.”

    Also, the final $400.00 went to the museum as a donation.

  • What’s in a Name? Robert Monson Gray

    Posted on August 15th, 2013 admin 2 comments

    Robert M. Gray was the fourth child of John Kepford Gray, an early settler to Millet, Alberta.  One local history book, Lockard’s The History of the Early Settlement of Norton County, Kansas (1894), p. 197, lists among the children of John K. and Phoebe Ellen Gray, “Robert Morrison, March 9,1884″.  In a way, this makes sense; his aunt Alice Lucinda Gray married Riley Delbert Morrison in 1884, and it is possible that Robert was named Morrison after his uncle Del.

    Despite this, within the family, his name has always been taken as Robert Munson Gray, and it is possible that he is recorded under this name in one family Bible or another.  He is thought to have been named after his grandfather, Nathan Munson Gray.   I’ve never been able to find much about any Munson family from which this might have come.

    Perhaps because the name wasn’t Munson….

    In Robert’s homestead application, in the Millet area in 1908, his name is clearly written on the first line as “I, Robert Munson Gray”  However, on the same page, his  signature appears to read Monson.

    “Monson” would be pronounced “Munson”; the former appears to be a common Scottish  form, the latter more common in America.  An official, asking “What’s your full name?” would hear “Munson” and fill in the line accordingly.

    Typed name Robert Monson Gray

    Typed name on border document, 1942

    In a support document dated 3rd March 1913, “A statement of Robert Monson Gray” the reply to question 1 (“What is your name in full, age, occupation and post office address?”) is Robert Monson Gray, 28, Farmer, Lakes End.  He signs this form Robert Monson Gray.

    The final clue is a border crossing manifest from Eastport, Idaho dated Jun 10, 1942.  His name is clearly typed as GRAY, Robert Monson, and his signature again is Robert Monson Gray.

    The signature clearly reads "Monson"

    It will be hard to convince the family that the name was Monson, not Munson.   Not that anybody really cares.

    Except for the odd family historian.  Comments and further evidence, pro and con, are encouraged.

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