One of the principal ways 21st century genealogy differs from the preceding centuries is the warp speed all around us. Across the table from me at the Family History Library last Thursday, sat a pretty young college girl and her father. The grandmother had given them a list of sources to check. The father had brought his digital press camera. And when they found an entry, he photographed it. After 30 minutes, the girl said, “How long do we have to do this? I’d rather go to the movies. I can’t believe that Gran expects us to read all these books.”
How long is your genealogy attention span?
When I get to the Family History Library, I could stay all day and all night, surfacing only to get a quick bite of food and then back to the records I go. My genealogy attention span was captured when I was a teenager. And it just kept expanding and expanding.
In 1975, Nancy Poelman my first genealogy business partner, and I went to Pennsylvania to attend the Annual Meeting of the Society of Archivists. I was asked to present Photograph Analysis, with an emphasis on preserving photographic knowledge within the family.
We were also tracing a Pennsylvania German family in Lancaster County and as we looked at the topographical map, we could see where Chickies Creek emptied into the Susquehanna River. And it seemed to me, that the distinct terrain would be easy to find. Not too far from the river was an old cemetery. And we believed it was on Snyder/Schneider land.
So after the meeting was over, we drove out along the river to locate the cemetery. WOW! What an adventure we had. First, we found the land and the cemetery without difficulty. On one side of the land was an ancient, but well-kept white house, story-and-a-half. It appeared to be eighteenth century. Just as it was getting dusk, we drove up to the house. And as we were signalling to turn into the driveway, a station wagon pulled out in the opposite direction, in a tearing hurry.
Well, there goes that I thought. Then I noticed someone moving around inside the kitchen window. So I approached the door and knocked. A woman, in her early thirties, with an apron over an obviously expensive pantsuit, opened the door. She looked at me, short and nondescript, and then at Nancy, tall and slender and drop-dead gorgeous. We both had skirts and jackets on–and she thought we were Jehovah Witnesses come to testify to her.
“We have reason to believe that this home was built by our ancestor, Phillip Schneider before the American Revolution–we have his name year after year from the tax rolls–and we wondered if you would allow us to see the home,” I blurted out in one breath. And I watched her face closely to gauge her reaction.
She was alone and preparing dinner. Her husband had gone into town to pick up their son from football practice. If we weren’t Witnesses, then we had to be with the Lancaster County Board, she thought. And I said the one thing that would get her to delay dinner and show us around: Phillip Schneider.
Seems that she was an active member of the Chickies Creek Home Owners Association formed to protect this home and several nearby residences from eminent domain peril.
Well, we were not the County Board, just genealogists seeking local details that would tie our George Schneider to Phillip as son to father.
When her husband returned, can you imagine his shock to see two strange women pawing through his treasure box, with all of his priceless documents laid out on the kitchen table and dinner nowhere in sight.
She thought she was descended from Phillip Schneider. And this property had been in her family more than three generations. When they married, they wanted to give their children a stable, consistent lifestyle–living in the same house from birth to marriage and coming home to that house for celebrations throughout their lives. They didn’t want to sell it, regardless of how much money the County would pay. Neither one had had a stable upbringing. They moved from pillar to post and back again, over and over. And they wanted more for their children.
This beautiful colonial home, and its neighboring inn on the crossroads corner, were to be included on the Home Show later in October. So they had traced the history of the houses and lands, but when they got to Civil War times, the title was clouded. Even the local abstract office could not track the property back.
When we left Pennsylvania, Nancy and I were going to Buffalo NY to research the Holland Land Company. As we left our new found friends, we promised to trace the title once we got back to Salt Lake City–using the collections for Lancaster County on film at the Family History Library. You see, we had already searched the colonial Schneider/Snyder family and I was sure that with the information we had photocopied at the Lancaster County Courthouse and in the possession of the Lancaster County Historical Society, that we could connect the Schneider title to her family.
How we did it:
- We had already copied the Warrantee Tract Maps for this whole section at the Lancaster County Historical Society. They showed each land owner by name, the name of the land tract, the number of acres, dates of warrant, survey, and patent along with location references in the patent books.
- At the Buffalo and Erie Historical Society, we found an enormous map among the Holland Land Company Papers which had to be copied in more than 25 sections to get it all. This map showed the major land tracts along Chickies Creek and how they had changed over time. This was a surprise–we did not know that the Holland Land Company had lands this far from the New York line.
- At the Family History Library, we copied the rest of the Schneirder/Snyder deeds for that area and matched them to the tax rolls.
- Then we laid all the documents out on the floor and fit them together as we would a jigsaw puzzle.
What we discovered was a shock–the home on Chickies Creek was his ancestral home before his relatives, in a very complicated land distribution, had sold it to her family . And both of them were descendants of Phillip Schneider–they were cousins.
Today, you can access many of these same documents wherever you live–without having to travel to Pennsylvania. (Of sources, you will miss out on meeting some wonderful people.)
Early Landowners of Pennsylvania: http://www.ancestortracks.com
Ancestor Tracks is creating landowner atlases from the Pennsylvania warrantee maps county-by-county. You can choose book or CD (.pdf) format, or both. Each atlas has an everyname index. And numerous other details have been added as footnotes from county and local histories. Counties currently available include Berks, Fayette, Greene, and Washington. These counties also have scans of the warrantee maps. Other counties are in preparation.
Also available are three CD’s: colonial and state warrant registers, 1682-1940 and patent registers 1684-1959 from the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, with everyname indexes, and separate indexes to tract names, 1684-1811. From their website:
Our goal is to help you track your early ancestors who moved through Pennsylvania through their land tracts! As a companion to the county atlases containing the earliest landowners as shown on the Township Warrantee Maps on file at the Pennsylvania Archives in Harrisburg, we also publish CDs that contain scans of the large Township Warrantee Map. With our resources, you can:
- Pin your families down to exact locations prior to the 1790 census
- Reveal family relationships or clues to possible relationships since relatives usually congregated near one another
- Trace the progression of sets of families and neighbors as they moved in groups
- Identify migration trails of your families as they moved west across the colony and state of Pennsylvania
- Locate family wills, church records, deeds and orphans court records by knowing where they lived
- Plan a trip to the land of your ancestors, walk where they walked and feel your roots
- Give flesh to your ancestors by being able to find real historical events, both exciting and mundane, in county histories where they lived
- Uncover the history of modern land tracts
The Early Landowners of Pennsylvania series of county atlases and CDs are a must for every serious researcher of the pioneers who passed through or stayed in Pennsylvania.
While you await the specific county where your ancestors settled, remember that some of these records may be scanned on the Pennsylvania State Archives site, and they are all available on microfilm through your local LDS Family History Center. You can also order the CD’s from Ancestor Tracks to access the indexes for the whole state.
What we used to do manually, at great cost in time and considerable cost in travel, we now can do speedily with the new resources created just to feed our short genealogy attention spans. Even my span has to be short–I am working on lots of pedigree lines–the hard ones!
Your genealogy expert of choice, Arlene Eakle.