The BIG Lesson: Loss of Records is not Loss of Ancestry

The Irish Holocaust of Records in 1922 is a BIG Lesson for us all. Records are created at all levels of jurisdiction–public and private. The same facts are recorded over and over again, duplicated, shared, reviewed, summarized, extracted, revised, corrected, printed, typewritten, hand-copied; and today, scanned, photocopied, emailed, microfilmed, photographed–on and on.

The past several days I have been organizing the results of research on a very difficult lineage–over 15 years of searching by two professional genealogists and four members of the family. Earlier family members before and after 1900 have also worked on the problem. And some sources are represented in these files in 5-6 different formats, with the same information duplicated more than 10 times from 10 different versions of the record.

The Bad News: So, when I tell you that the Irish Holocaust continued in the principal areas of the U.S. where the Irish and Scots-Irish settled, you will not be surprised. It won ‘t surprise you either that the Southern States have had more than 350 courthouse fires, floods, and willful destruction of records by armies and convicted local citizens out for revenge. In these states, as in Ireland, finding ancestors is a creative process.

What is a genealogist to do in such circumstances?

The Good News: The surviving records are so voluminous that it may take you more than one lifetime to search them all!

Do as Harry Hollingsworth did–Determine what records were kept in the first place? And what information did these records supply? And what sources are most likely to give us that same information? And who copied the data before the original records were destroyed? And where are these substitutes stored today? And did anyone index the originals before they were lost? Or, did someone index the substitute sources still available?

First, the indexes to the Irish records and copied documents described by Harry Hollingsworth (see my Genealogy News Sheet posted 6 Nov 2006 for description of records):

Index to 1841 and 1851 Census Schedules in the Old Age Pension Claims, 1908-1922. 39,000 records in 2 parts. Comp. Janice B. Brooks, 1994. Available from author, P.O. Box 1584, Dubbo NSW 2830, Australia. Every-name index to 6 microfilm reels of surviving census data submitted as proof for claims.

Index to Irish Films at the Family History Library. 2 vols. Comp. Joyce Parsons and Jeanne Jensen, 1996. Available from the authors, 1533 W. 4470 S. Murray UT 84123. Every-name index to 206 reels of microfilmed wills, land and court documents, genealogies, pedigrees, and special collections.

Consolidated Index to Records in the Genealogical Office, Dublin, Ireland. 4 vols. Comp. Virginia Wade McAnlis, 1994-97. Available from author, 21617 SE 34th Place, Issaquah WA 98029. Every-name index to 65 reels of microfilm.

Card Index of Names, 1990 (microfilm edition). Northern Ireland, Public Record Office. Index to personal names in original documents on deposit. (Hollingsworth references this office as PRONI.) 53 microfilm reels available through the Family History Library, can be borrowed at your nearest branch Family History Center.
Copies of these indexes and the reels of microfilm indexed are available at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City UT. Other indexes are being compiled as this is written. Searching the surviving records will be easier in the 21st century than it ever was before the Holocaust occurred, because the sources will be indexed and we can see quickly where our ancestors are recorded.

Second, let’s consider some of the duplicates and surviving records to help us in The South where the Irish and the Scots-Irish settled. In 1890, The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded. To help their members qualify an ancestor, they copied millions of pages of records at all levels of government. They hunted down samplers and family Bibles, recording the genealogy facts for the generations to come. They walked local cemeteries transcribing the tombstone inscriptions–saving this extraordinary information for us, from the ravages of Nature. We truly owe them a debt of gratitude–especially for what they saved from loss in the South.

For example, in Tennessee, Penelope Johnson Allen, State Genealogical Chairman of the TN DAR, and her local members partnered with the Works Progress Administration–one of the government offices created to put people back to work during the Depression (1930’s). Together, they prepared more than 1,500 volumes of record extracts, with every-name indexes for sources which were never originally indexed. They wrote genealogy columns for local newspapers, publishing their findings and preparing actual family trees on individual families in many local communities. And adding their wondrous output of information to the DAR records.

Across the U.S., the DAR prepared more than 17,000 volumes of records from 1913 on. And their work still continues today. Only one state DAR collection is fully indexed–that of South Carolina. Volunteers prepared an every-name, every-frame index to 31 reels of microfilm. That index is available on 102 microfiche #6052835 through the Family History Library and its branches.

Have you searched the DAR collections for your ancestors? These volumes are called “secondary sources” by many genealogists–and they are copies, sometimes badly typed. Yet, they preserve for us the very information we need to track the Irish and the Scots-Irish (and the Germans and the Italians and the Native Americans merged into the population at large). And these volumes may represent all there is.

Add to your reading list for November: Donna Potter Phillips, “Revolutionary War Lineage Societies,” Everton’s Genealogical Helper, November/December 2006, pp. 81-86. The author describes the DAR, SAR, and other lineage societies and their records; and Charlotte Hughes Brown, “Tips on Filling Out Patriotic Lineage Papers,” Virginia Tidewater Genealogy, 21 (June 1990): 65-72.

Another extremely important source for the South are the tax rolls that usually survive when other records are lost. For Kentucky, every single county in the state has surviving tax rolls. Even Woodford County, whose courthouse burned in the latter 1960’s. The tax rolls also burned–but the LDS microfilmers had already been to that county and the tax rolls are available on microfilm though your nearest branch of the Family History Library.

Be sure to read tax rolls year-by-year. They do make a great census substitute. And if you only search the year of the census, you will miss the real value of these records!

Add to your November reading list: Arlene H. Eakle, Tax Records: A Common Source with An Uncommon Value. Available by returning to my home page, and clicking on “Books.” This little volume shows you how to prove family relationships using tax rolls.

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

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One Response to The BIG Lesson: Loss of Records is not Loss of Ancestry

  1. DearMYRTLE says:

    THANK-YOU, Arlene, for these last two thought-provoking articles. Beginning genealogists give up too quickly and do not consider alternative source documents. The same is true when one follows a migration pattern back in time to a different locality. If records aren’t kept in the older area in the same format or similar jurisdictional archive, the fledgling assumes there are no records. Indeed, when encountering ancestors in ANY locality, one must do a thorough inventory to answer “Determine what records were kept..”

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