Bones Collector

Thank you for visiting our latest innovative genealogy tool that will keep you up-to-date on all the happenings in the genealogy world both locally and elsewhere. As your guide and 'Head Bones Collector' for this blog, the primary goal is to provide information that can be referred to over and over again. We're very glad you stopped by! Visit us in person on 3rd floor of the Main Library in the Heritage Room!

Georgia's Virtual Vault

This is GREAT for Georgia records!


Here's a listing of the collections the archives is working on right now...

  • Virtual Vault Collections
  • Chatham County Deed Books
  • Colonial Will Books
  • Colonial Wills
  • Confederate Enlistment Oaths and Discharges
  • Confederate Pension Applications
  • County Records from Microfilm
  • Georgia Power Photograph Collection
  • Headright and Bounty Plats
  • Historic Postcard Collection
  • Leo Frank Clemency Application

This is a work in progress for the state of Georgia, so check periodically to see what's new on the site.

Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 10

Townships and Ranges

With the expansion of the country westward after the Louisiana Purchase, exploration began of the frontier to learn more about the recent land acquisition. As the federal government became more organized, it was decided to open these lands to the general population. The plan was two-fold. First, offer plots to soldiers for their military service and secondly, to sell off as much of the remaining land as possible to raise money for the young republic. To provide for the fairest distribution of the still mostly unmapped and very diverse two and a quarter million square miles, the government divided up the land into squares.



When surveying began in the new land area, the responsibility fell under the jurisdiction of The General Land Office (which we know today as the Bureau of Land Management). They established 34 sets of what became known as survey meridians and base lines which were the starting points for each region of Meridian.


Just to touch very briefly on the system, a township is both a square six miles long on each side as well as the method to locate the north-south (horizontal) row from the base line where the township lies. Ranges are rows of townships east or west of the meridian (vertical).


Each 36 square mile township is divided up into 36 single-square-mile "sections." These sections are numbered sequentially from the northeast corner to the southeast corner. The 640 acre sections can be divided even further. When you have even smaller portions of a section it becomes a bit more complicated. For instance, the statement "The southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of section 22, etc." this quarter of a quarter section is a 40 acre parcel. Furthermore, one could identify a ten-acre parcel by adding another quarter to the description (a quarter of a quarter of a quarter of a section).


The United States Public Lands Survey is what is termed a cadastral survey. Cadastral surveys are those which establish boundaries for land ownership. Since the primary purpose of the USPLS was to sell land, it was important for defining land boundaries.


It’s also interesting to note that all townships aren’t exactly square in shape. This can be attributed to the curve of the earth, so, every few rows of townships there is a slight shift in the meridians to compensate. There are also portions of the survey where land was already owned and surveyed by different methods. California's Spanish land grants are an excellent example. The grants were based on naturally occurring features such as streams so they are irregularly shaped islands among the squares of the survey.


Today in much of the South and West, it’s not uncommon at all to find roads one mile apart and running in straight lines for dozens of miles. We can thank the USPLS for the "checkerboard" pattern which stands out on maps of the U.S. today.


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Genealogy Workshop


Fact: Terms used in the Township and Range System




Basic unit of the system, a square tract of line one mile by one mile containing 640 acres.




36 sections arranged in a 6 by 6 array, measuring 6 miles by 6 miles. Sections are numbered beginning with the northeast-most section, proceeding west to 6, then south along the west edge of the township and to the east.




Assigned to a township by measuring east or west of a Principal Meridian


Range Lines


North to south lines which mark township boundaries


Township Lines


East to west lines which mark township boundaries


Principal Meridian


Reference or beginning point for measuring east or west ranges.


Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server.


Base line


Reference or beginning point for measuring north or south townships.


Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server .


Tip: An excellent governmental resource for detailed information on townships and ranges can be found at…


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Genealogy News


This month’s news involves a ‘double dose’ of happenings that are being offered by the staff of the Heritage Room.


The first major announcement is that we now have our genealogy blog up and running! Just point your browser to …


The blog will not only now house ALL issues of the ‘Ancestor Searching’ email newsletters but will also be a source of NEW genealogical material not covered in the newsletter. You’ll want to make sure to bookmark the blog and check back frequently for updates!!


Our second big announcement is that on January 19th, the Heritage Room will be hosting the third in a series of our Sitting Up with the Dead programs. The theme for this upcoming evening is HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LITTLE RICKY!! *


* (“I Love Lucy Show”, January 19, 1953)


The cost is still only $20 and birthday cake and other refreshments will be available. For further information, to sign up or questions, please feel free to call us at 532-5969.


Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 9

Getting Past 'Brick Walls'

A 'Brick Wall' in genealogy is a dead-end that you have reached in your research. It may be a small problem or a much larger one. You may have exhausted every avenue of research and are totally frustrated and at a loss.



Before starting with the steps and suggestions that follow, create a timeline for the ancestor where your brick wall begins. List on this timeline every known fact from birth to death. Then decide what you want to find out that's missing from the timeline.



The first piece of advice in dealing with a 'brick wall' is to go back and double-check what you have already found in your research. If you are truly stuck, this first approach could yield amazing results. It's a great way of refreshing your memory on research and sources you've already worked with in the past. You may just discover other unexplored avenues of research from this procedure.


Make certain you have checked every available record source for the information you require. As you work through these resources, keep a detailed record of the source you used and what results you had so as not to waste time and effort re-checking the same material several times.


Be very FLEXIBLE with dates. Always search for several years either side of a supposed date. Ages and dates are not always reported accurately. Go back and make sure that you have allowed some flexibility in your research - perhaps you haven't searched far enough back, or too far back.


Another approach to solving these dead-ends is to work with collateral branches. If you know other sibling names, check for their records as if they were ancestors in your direct line. No siblings... cousins can offer the next-best clues. The paper trail could still lead back to the answers you seek. Many even follow what Emily Croom, author of Unpuzzling Your Past, calls "cluster genealogy". It's not just immediate or extended family.


In-laws and neighbors pursued the same paths. Look into those family records.


An excellent resource on 'brick walls' can be found in the Heritage Room Collection. 500 Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems contains a multitude of true cases where the application of sound research techniques was applied to solve seemingly dead-end situations.


Whenever you have the opportunity, show your research to another person - even a person not skilled in genealogy. That person may see something in your research that you have missed or overlooked.


Are there others researching the same line? Tap into this resource - contact others researching your line whether it's by phone, regular mail or email.


Find out if they have already done this particular area of research. BEWARE, however, of possible errors by others. Ask what sources they checked to try to be sure that they have done a thorough job in their research.


Above all, maintain an open mind and NEVER GIVE UP!


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Genealogy Workshop


Fact: Most brick walls usually occur around the mid/late 1700's period of time where everything record -wise sometimes becomes more vague and online/hardcopy data is minimal.


Tip: Sometimes it is useful to help work on the brick wall puzzles of others and see what we can learn to make us sharper genealogical detectives. Also, place online NEW well written, short, but sufficiently detailed queries specifying exactly what you seek on several sites. Repeat this procedure every few weeks to the same message boards and also try posting to new and different boards to reach a wider audience.


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Genealogy News


Do you have an ancestor who was in the group of original Englishmen to settle Jamestown Virginia? Archaeologists in 2004 have unearthed human remains on the bank of the James River. You'll definitely want to read Part I of a series of online articles about the effort that has gone into the handling of the dig at the original fort site. The link to begin reading is at...


<> and Part II can be reached by clicking on the link at the bottom of the first article. Just in case Part II is at...


<> and Part III at...




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Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season as this is the last issue to come out before year's end.


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EDITOR'S NOTE: The November issue of this newsletter was erroneously labeled as #7 when in fact it was #8 in this volume.


Changing email addresses? Don't forget to let us know.


Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 8

Census Research

The most basic of research tools that genealogists use are the Federal and state census records that have been taken since 1790.

George Washington signed the original legislative act that was responsible for creating the Federal census. A major purpose for the young republic was to ascertain just how many men were eligible for military service should it be necessary. Since then, the census has become an important tool for measuring and tracking many more aspects of the population. An excellent source of information can be found on the National Archives site at…


…, also, US Census Records, 1790—1930 at…


… the USGenWeb’s Census Project at…


… and, an excellent detailed narrative at…


Even though much of the 1790 census was burned by the British during the War of 1812, there are, in many cases, ’substitute’ census records that have been created from tax records. Don’t lose hope just because you discover no Federal census is available for the state you need. Look for a re-created work! Along a similar line of thought, most of the 1890 census was also destroyed by a fire in the Commerce Building.


There are, as in many aspects of genealogy research, problems that will arise with trying to work with census records. One such problem could be the census takers themselves. While all were able to read and write, the level of enthusiasm varied. There were those who made a diligent effort to record accurate information and others who were simply working for the money and exerted little effort for exactness.


Remember, too, more recent census returns may be more likely to have recorded family names under a standard spelling format. The further back one does research in census records the more likely will be the chances of finding ancestors under variation spellings. Even though the census takers were literate, many times names were written based on how they sounded to the writer than how we as researchers will expect to find them enumerated.


Another issue is the fact that if a family was not a home for some reason, they probably weren’t counted unless perhaps a nearby neighbor offered information on the family to the census taker.


Erroneous information would be another factor. If there was a misunderstanding of the question(s) asked or poor memory recollection, then faulty reported answers will result in misleading and conflicting research leads.


Even the number of questions asked in each particular census year can cause frustration. There were only 7 questions asked in the first census and ALL given names for everyone in the household were not enumerated until the 1850 census.


NEVER overlook the state censuses that are available. They were taking between Federal census years mainly for tax purposes but can provide valuable clues.


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Genealogy Workshop


Fact: The Soundex system was begun while Franklin Roosevelt was President. The work fell under the jurisdiction of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). For more details, go to…


Tip: Be sure to check at least the previous ten households before your ancestor listing as well as the following ten (or more) households when viewing census records. In many cases, your efforts will be rewarded with information on other related family members.


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Starting with this issue will now be a new section in the newsletter entitled Genealogy News that will contain information on current happenings in the genealogy world.


From Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy...


A new web site has appeared: I suspect this is going to become one of the major sources of information about ancestors who traveled from UK ports to various cities around the world. The site will eventually list 30 million passengers who sailed on ships that departed from Southampton, Glasgow, Queenstown (Cobh of Cork), and other ports.


This site greatly complements the Ellis Island web site and even exceeds it in many ways. The new will list detailed information about travelers to many North American cities, not just New York. Yes, it even includes information about many who went to Canada. In fact, this new online resource includes passenger lists for many voyages to Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. You will also find some passenger lists for voyages to South America, the Caribbean, West Africa, and all parts of Asia. Many of these passengers were never documented upon arrival in their newly-adopted countries.


For more on the subject, click thru to...


Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 7

BREAKING NEWS and Cemetery Researching

Many of you have been anxiously awaiting another chance for a special night of researching along the lines of our ‘Sitting Up with the Dead’ night that we hosted back on June 2nd. Well....

Your wait is over !

Our ‘Sitting Up with the Dead II: The Night of the Missing Dead’ program is set to take place Friday, October 27th and will run from 6 PM to Midnight. Snacks and drinks ONLY will be provided this time. The cost per person is $20 and a deadline for registration is Wednesday, October 25th. Proceeds will go to benefit the Heritage Room Collection. Once again, the number of participants is limited. If you have any other questions concerning the evening, call us at 532-5969 and we’ll be glad to provide answers.

You don’t want to miss it !



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Cemetery Research


Have you ever noticed when visiting a cemetery how peaceful and serene the surroundings can be? Not only does it allow time spent remembering a loved one, or just reflecting on life in general, but to genealogists it can also mean a wonderful opportunity to track down more answers to unsolved and vital family history clues.


One thing to remember going in when locating places of internment for ancestors is that in terms of research, tombstone information is always going to be considered secondary source information. ’Why?’ you may ask. There are several reasons that such a conclusion can be reached.


First of all is the matter of incorrect names and dates. Depending on the information (or lack of) and who the informant was, can result in erroneous information being created on markers. What’s even more interesting is that many deceased individuals who have withheld their true age during their lifetime, have tombstones with these same wrong dates engraved on them!


Another issue is when the marker was actually placed. In many instances, it may have been many months or years later. Again, this would lead to incorrect information being given, particularly dates, when memory could have become more uncertain with the passage of time. A prime example is during the Great Depression. With little or no money, many families could not place markers until their financial situation was adequately improved and they could afford to spend the necessary amount for a tombstone.


Thirdly, in some cases the place of actual interment may be found to be elsewhere other than where the tombstone is located. If an obituary is available, it’s always wise to make a note of the interment location when given.


And finally, with the increased interest in transcribing tombstone information, it is very possible that there will be errors made either performing the transcription or in printing the results in a published work.


Bottom line… other sources will need to be utilized to confirm, if possible, the information found on cemetery markers.


A final comment to tombstone markers is that they CAN give us new directions to move in for researching family members. Church, military and organization membership records are just some of the other sources that markers can point to for yet more clues and answers.


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Genealogy Workshop


Fact: The term Sexton refers to the maintenance staff person (caretaker) who oversees the burials and serves as groundskeeper for a cemetery.


Tip: Since tombstones, in some cases and locations, may not always be permanently viewable due to natural, accidental or malicious occurrences, it’s always an excellent idea to not only photograph the markers but to write out a complete and full record of every detail on them!


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Join Us !


This Sunday, October 8th at 2 P. M. will be the official opening of the Jane Knight Lowe Gallery on 3rd floor of the Main Library. Included in the exhibit will be samples of Indian artifacts of Madison County found on the shores of the Tennessee River along with a display of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia. Also, photographs relating to the Huntsville Female College for the years 1851 through 1895 as well as a collection of local period scenes drawn from the library’s vast archives depicting what we’re calling ‘Squatters and Squires Come to Big Spring’. The event is FREE and refreshments will be available.


Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 6

Land and Property

According to E. Wade Hone in his book Land & Property Research, there are 3 important reasons for land records.

First, land records are available much further back in time than any other record. This allows researchers the ability to place individuals and families as residents of a particular area in a specific time period.

Secondly, more people have had ties to land and property records. By the middle of the 19th century indications are that almost 90% of adult white males owned property in the country. This fact makes county deed indexes an extremely valuable source for locating residency in a county, even more so than census records where individuals or families may not have been enumerated.


Third, land and property records have suffered the least number of losses than any other type record. Sale records of public lands by the U.S. government are almost 100% intact from 1787 through the present. Even in counties where records have been burned, land records have been re-constructed either in part or in whole. In many cases, deeds have been re-recorded after courthouse damage from water, fires or other random acts of nature such as lightning, tornados and hurricanes.



A prime example of the importance of land records can be seen in the earliest English tax records (circa 1066 to 1096 A.D.) which are contained in a volume known as the ‘Domesday Book’. These date back to the time period of the Norman Conquest and are a valuable resource when tracing ancestors who lived during that time period in England. For more information, there are several web sites that give excellent historical background on the subject. If you would like to search a listing of close to 200 of the landowners, go to...


This is by no means a complete list of all of the property owners. More information on the book and property owners for those who are interested can be found at


The Dower Rights system was an English common law practice which made its appearance during the time of William the Conqueror. It provided for widows to receive 1/3 of the deceased husband’s estate. The same practice was used by the colonists and on into the 19th century. Often, the widow’s given name is recorded in deeds making them potentially an important source of information for maiden names. Even though wives weren’t allowed to own land in their own name, they were allowed "veto power" over land sales due to the dower and/or community property rights. Along a similar line of interest, land records may also hold the key to finding out a wife’s maiden name when she’s inherited property from her deceased father. However, any land bequeathed through family estate settlements was awarded to the husband as owner. In the way of a side note, under Spanish law, the wife was entitled to ½ of the estate.


Public land records under the jurisdiction of the federal government will usually contain such information as cash and credit sales, land donations and homesteads. An excellent resource online for these federal records is the Bureau of Land Management at


Another valuable source of information is the National Archives page at


And be sure to check out these sites concerning legal land descriptions…


It’s interesting to note that even with the abundance of land and property records available, they are the least utilized. The biggest reasons are 1) many researchers don’t understand the various records and how they’re organized and 2) not having taken time to really learn about all of the types of records available.


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Genealogy Workshop


Fact: Following land records, the next most recorded available records are the marriage records.


Tip: When researching deeds in courthouse records, be sure to utilize both the Grantor as well as the Grantee indexes. Many researchers may surmise that since there is no record of land being bought that there will be no record of land being sold by an individual. Not so. The original ownership of a tract of land could initially be due to its being a grant or patent from a state or the federal government. It could also have been inherited from a family member, overlooked during indexing of the records, or simply never recorded as an acquisition. Look in BOTH indexes to be sure!


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