Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interesting Clippings #9: Jimmy Logue - Infamous Thief and a Murder Mystery

Read the rest of the
Paterson Daily Press
article from Oct 19, 1893 at
Google News Archives
Jimmy Logue was born around 1837 in Philadelphia and began stealing when he was only 17. In his own words, thievery was "born in him" and he "couldn't help it." It's believed that over the course of his criminal career, he stole an accumulative of over $300,000. He began by sneaking into homes where he found himself adapt at finding the owner's most valuable possessions quickly, and eventually graduated to bank robberies. He spent time in and out of jail but got away with many of his robberies.

In 1860, Jimmy married a widow with a son by the name of Alphonso Cutaiar, though he had never formally divorced from his first wife, Mary Jane Andrews (I guess bigamy is no worse than theft). After the death of his second wife, he married her sister, Joanna (her maiden name is cited by different sources as Gantz, and Gahan so it's unclear which is accurate), in 1871 and thus making him both Alphonso's stepfather and uncle. Alphonso was a barber and Jimmy had set him up with a barber shop and with Jimmy as the legal owner, it provided a partial cover for his stolen income, though it was obvious he spent above what the shop made. Immediately after marrying Joanna, Jimmy was tried for one of his burglary jobs and sent to jail. Released in 1877, he could finally be with his bride.

Read the rest of the
Baltimore American
article from Apr 29, 1895 at
Google News Archive
Only a couple years later in 1879, Joanna disappeared. 14 years go by and in this time, Jimmy became so distraught over her disappearance that he eventually left their home at 1250 N 11th Street and gave it to Alphonso. Alphonso wound up selling the place and when the new owners were having some floor boards fixed in 1893, a skeleton was found. It was confirmed to be Joanna by the personal artifacts left with the body, particularly her wedding ring with a specific inscription.

At first, Jimmy was the prime suspect, his motive being to steal Joanna's diamonds. But these were diamonds he bought her himself and when he turned himself in, his alibi was proved, in a bizarre twist, that he had actually been involved in a burglary at the time of Joanna's disappearance. Suspicion turned to Alphonso. Initially denying it, Alphonso was faced with the fact that he was the only one with access to the house at the time and he began to confess - multiple times. Multiple stories. Most were spun to make Joanna's death look like an accident and his improper disposal of her body done out of fear but Joanna's missing jewelry and bonds were likely his motive. And so the mystery was finally mostly solved.

Alphonso went to jail in the Eastern State Penitentiary and in 1904, a pardon for him was attempted but thankfully denied. The judge who denied it said that Alphonso should be considered lucky to have not received the death plenty. (The Philadelphia Record, Jan 7, 1904 - Google News Archives). In 1910, he can be found on the census still in prison but by 1920, he had apparently been released and living with his family again. He eventually died in 1940 at the ripe old age of about 80 (Find A Grave).

Read the rest of the
Philadelphia Record
article from Oct 5, 1899 at
Google News Archive
Jimmy had lost his appetite for stealing and died penniless in an almshouse on Oct 4, 1899 after repenting his sins. He seems to have genuinely loved Joanna and grieved her disappearance and death greatly. He held onto his anger for his stepson/nephew and never believed it to be an accident.

One article, which is not available for free, suggested that Jimmy's real name was William Casey. This would explain why Jimmy seemingly can't be found on any census record, even prior to his criminal carrier, under the name Jimmy or James Logue.

For more details on this story, check out the clippings and links. The articles were too big to clip fully and there were too many to clip all of them but you can read the articles in their entirety for free if you follow all the URLs. I was so intrigued by this story that I even created a Wikipedia page for it. Maybe others will continue to add more details.

Many years later, in 1951, a paper in Milwaukee picked up the Logue story as one of their weekly "mystery" true stories. It's the longest article but therefore included the most details, however embellished they might be (some of the information conflicts with the other articles). It was printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on April 1, though it's no April Fool's joke. Below is a clipping but if this story interests you, definitely click through the link to read the full article. It is broken up over a few pages so I will link to each one, just in case:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interesting Clippings #8: Temporary Insanity as a defense has a long history

Ambler Gazette, April 25, 1895, Page 2
My morbid side is coming out. I love a good historical mystery novel so it's not surprising that I go looking for true crime in history. I came across this 1895 clipping to the right from the Ambler Gazette (Ambler, PA) about a professor who murdered his wife in Media, PA. It appears he was deemed insane and put in a mental hospital but the article is discussing his release.

NY Times, Oct 11, 1900
Wanting to know more about this, I went Googling and found his full name was Professor Swithin C. Shortlidge and that he had founded the Media Academy for Young Men. He murdered his second wife on Dec 31, 1893 and interestingly, some time after his release from the hospital, began pursuing insurance money on his wife, as detailed in an article from the New York Times, Oct 11, 1900  (left). 

I also found an earlier article at the time of the murder (below, right) which claims Shortlidge's was suffering from "the grip", which supposedly caused his insanity. The grip is an old term for the flu but as we know today, influenza does not last as long as what this article from the New York Times is claiming. Supposedly, he'd been suffering from it before his wedding in November and then killed his wife the night of December 31. The flu can cause pneumonia which may extend the illness but someone suffering that long from pneumonia would not have the strength to be walking about and murdering someone. Furthermore, neither influenza or pneumonia are not known to cause insanity as far as I'm aware!

NY Times, Jan 1, 1894
If he was suffering from a physical illness that caused a mental illness, and not just using it as a get out of jail free card (the family of Shortlidge's wife contested that there were any signs of insanity), it was likely something else, though I don't know of anything that conveniently presents itself during the murder of your wife and then goes away for the next 30+ years (Shortlidge apparently died in 1931). It's not like treatment of mental illness was very advanced during this time period so it seems unlikely that he was "cured," as was claimed by Dr. Richardson, detailed in the Reading Eagle article below.

Reading Eagle May 6, 1895, Page 1
Shortlidge had been treated at the Norristown insane asylum and released in early May of 1895. What is interesting about this article is that is mentions Shortlidge's brother is mayor of Wilmington, DE. I wonder if any political strings were pulled to both keep Shortlidge out of jail and get him released from an insane asylum having been "cured" only two years later. Though Shortlidge was ordered to pay the mother and brother of his victim $5,000 to "keep the peace", they strongly objected to Shortlidge's release regardless. They claimed their own lives to be in danger but obviously the court didn't buy it and indeed, there is no record of harm falling to them after his release.

Only weeks after his release, Shortlidge applied for a passport. Though he remained a resident of Pennsylvania for some years, he eventually moved to England for some time (he can found on the 1911 Census) with his son, who was married there in 1906. Shortlidge left England and returned to New York in 1914, where he was also living by 1930.

A very interesting case that might warrant further investigation for those interested in the history of mental illness and/or crime.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Interesting Clippings #7: Christmas Feast 100 Years Ago (er, that'll be 205 years ago then)

In this San Francisco newspaper clipping from 1907 is an article about the Christmas feast and what it entailed 100 year ago (meaning we're talking about 1807). It is interesting to see how history, especially human and societal history, has always intrigued the public. Not to mention, you might get a few good recipe ideas for Christmas dinner!

Source: The Library of Congress, The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, December 22, 1907, Page 2, Image 2

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Family Tree Data Analysis with FTM 2012 and Spreadsheets

One of the things that so interests me about genealogy and history is statistics that help show us how people live their lives. At what age did they typically marry and start having kids? At what age did they have their last child? How many children did they have in total? If you want to exam the answers to these questions within your own tree and look at the data without having to go through your tree manually, you can do so with software like Family Tree Maker. Other brands may have support for this too but since I only have FTM 2012, that's what I use to show you. This should work for some earlier versions of FTM as well though.

Selecting a custom report. Click to enlarge.
Step 1: You start by going to the "Publish" tab - I find this a rather misleading term to describe reports and charts so I'll start with this step.

Step 2: Make sure that the small pedigree chart at the top showing you which individual from your tree is selected is on yourself or the "home" individual.

Step 3: You should find a list of different types of reports and charts available on the left. Select "Person Reports", then "Custom Report". To the above right is a screen shot showing you these steps - don't mind the black boxes over the pedigree chart, that's just to protect the privacy of living individuals.

Items to include icon.
So with the Custom Report open, we have to customize the custom report. Step 4: Click the icon for "Items to include" - this is the first icon in the little row of them under where it says "Custom Report Options".

This will bring up a list of facts with the option to add or remove them, plus some flexibility in what to include with/of each of those facts. On the right are some general options that will apply to all facts and under the list of facts it will have a button saying "Name Options" (Name being the first fact highlighted, click on other facts to get the same option for them) and within this you can customize each fact.

Adding facts to include.
But first - Step 5: Click the plus icon and in the new window select "Age at birth of first child" and "Age at birth of second child". If you'd like, you can also scroll down and select "No. of children".

Next, I went into the birth, marriage, and death fact options and made sure "Description" and "Include 'in' before place" were deselected (they might already be deselected by default, I can't remember since I have long since played with the settings). This is a personal preference, you don't have to do this, I just found it unnecessary data for this purpose and therefore it was cluttering. I've included a screen shot of this below even though it's not a necessary step. Feel free to customize any other settings - notice that in step 5 (above) I've also deselected options like "Include person notes".

Minimizing "clutter" by removing irrelevant data is optional
Again, I just find this kind of thing unnecessary clutter but some people may rather have every piece of information available, even if it's not relevant to this specific report. You could even go as far as removing the birth, marriage, and death facts altogether but I prefer to have some reference for the time frame in which the individuals lived so I keep them in.

So we've added the facts we want included, now we have to customize the individuals from our tree we want included. This is done under the right panel in "Custom Report Options" (shown below).

This is also personal preference; you can choose "All individuals" or "Selected individuals" ("Immediate family" is an option as well but probably too restrictive for this purpose). If you choose all individuals, you can skip step 6 but while we're here, also note that you can change the title of your report, which I have (shown right).

Step 6: When you choose "Selected individuals", a new window should pop up (if not, just click "Individuals To Include"). Click "Ancestors" (shown below) - this will include all your direct ancestors (making sure you indicate a sufficient amount of generations to include everyone - to be safe, I make sure it says 999) and, if you choose, also include other descendants of those ancestors and how many generations you want to go down. I usually stick to one generation but keep in mind this will include individuals who don't necessarily have children.


We're now done customizing the report - if it doesn't generate automatically, just click "generate report", a button at the bottom of the Custom Report Options. At this point, you could stop and just save and use the report as it appears in FTM. You can print it or save it as a PDF. However, depending on the size of your tree, you may find the file is 50+ pages long! How do you sort through all this data to learn from it? This is where spreadsheets are beneficial and the next part of this will explain how to export the data to a spreadsheet and use it effectively. Unfortunately, I don't have Microsoft Office at the moment so I will be using an Open Office spreadsheet instead of Microsoft Excel but whatever you're using, it should work similarly.

Step 1: In the top right corner of FTM, there is a button that says "Share". Click this and select "Export to CSV" (not to be confused with the American drug store CVS). A window will pop up asking you to choose whether to export the data as columns or rows. Pick columns.

Step 2: You'll then get the save window where you can choose where to save the file on your computer and what to name the file. This is all up to you.

Step 3: Once you've saved it, you'll get another pop up window asking you if you want to open the file - click yes and it should open in your default spreadsheet program. If you don't have one, you can download Open Office (it's free and safe) or you can upload to Google Drive/Docs.

Step 4 (shown right): Now, I can't say what happens in Excel but in Open Office, I get a Text Import window in which it's really important that under the section that says "Separated by", you make sure "Space" is unticked and "Comma" is ticked. If you don't, the data will be all over the cells and a big mess.

Step 5: You may find you have a lot of data for people who don't even have any children, which is kind of pointless for this task, if you mainly want to see the age of every individual at first and last birth. If you're happy with the information remaining, there is no need to do this. But as I've mentioned before, I hate clutter. So if you're like me, what you need to do is highlight the column for number of children and sort by descending. In the pop up window, choose "Extend Selection". This all shown below:

Now you can scroll down, highlight the rows for each individual who have 0 children and delete! Once your data is "clean", you can play around with sorting by age at first or last birth too and you can add up all the ages or numbers of children to get an average. If you're writing a family history, you can incorporate this information into it. I find it fascinating to see who and at what age the youngest and oldest person in my tree had children and what the average number of children was in my tree and how it compares to national stats from the times. Granted, you have to keep in mind that probably some of the families in your tree may not be complete and therefore you may have some people listed as only having one child when they actually had more that you haven't discovered yet. That will skew your averages - but it's better than nothing and you can always update it as you learn more.

This is just one example of how you can use these tools to manage and analyze your genealogy - you can apply these same methods to nearly any type of data within your tree. It really illustrates the kind of advanced management and analysis tools which are available with genealogy software in comparison with a simplified online tree. I often see people asking what the difference is and whether it's worth the money to buy software - this is a great example of why it is.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Using Documents to Understand the Time Period

If you've gotten to a point with your research where finding new records is few and far between and you're looking to get more out of the records you already have, sometimes you can get an understanding of the time period just by carefully examining a document and browsing other records in the same collection. I will use the 1855 marriage license of my third great grandparents, William Henry Mills and Emma Elizabeth Sherwood, to illustrate.

Wyandot County, Ohio Marriage Applications and Licenses 1845 - 1858, vol 1, page 196

What is interesting about this is that it attests to the fact that William is "over twenty-one years of age". This suggests that in 1855 Ohio, a man had to be 21 or older to be married. Meanwhile, it confirms that Emma is over eighteen, which means women only had to be at least 18 to be married, but notice how there is a big gap in the document after that statement? That gap is to allow a hand written addendum, probably something along the lines of explaining that the bride is not 18 but her parents/guardians give approval to marry.

If this is true then I should be able to find an example of it on another record in the same collection - the Ohio County Marriages, 1789 - 1994 on And indeed, it only took a few moments to find one of the many examples confirming this. In fact, you can see here that the bride is as young as 15 but that's okay because her father consents to it:

Wyandot County, Ohio Marriage Applications and Licenses 1845 - 1858, vol 1, Page 186

In my browsing, I didn't find a bride under fifteen so probably, that was the minimum age for a girl to marry with parental consent. But what about the men? You might think 21 seems rather high for a minimum age requirement of marriage, especially in history when we tend to assume that people married younger; but remember that men were expected to financially support their whole future family so they were encouraged to wait longer before marrying, until they had sufficient income. However, apparently exceptions could be made for men too. In the below example, the groom was only twenty but his legal guardian gives consent (though the guardian has the same surname, it does not specify it's the groom's father so it could have been a brother or uncle):

Wyandot County, Ohio Marriage Applications and Licenses 1845 - 1858, vol 1, page 192

I don't know why there is no gap in the document to allow for amendments regarding the groom's age as well. As you can see, it had to be squeezed in between lines. I suppose that means there weren't very many men marrying under the age of 21.

You'll notice how the default legal guardian is the father and only if the father is dead is someone else listed. If the father is deceased, typically the guardianship goes to the mother, as seen below in yet another example where the mother is described as the only surviving parent:

Wyandot County, Ohio Marriage Applications and Licenses 1845 - 1858, vol 1, page 191

What is the point of all this? Well, it tells me a lot about marriage laws, guardianship, and customs in Ohio in the mid 19th century without necessarily having to read a book on it. I now know that the minimum age for a bride was 18 but it was 21 for a groom, unless they had consent of a guardian to marry younger. I would have to look at more records to confirm 15 and 20 as the minimum ages with the consent of a guardian but this gives me an approximate idea for now. It also tells me that, not surprisingly, girls were more likely to marry under the age of 18 than boys were to marry under 21 (that is not to say girls were more likely to marry under 18 altogether though - in the majority of records, they were over 18). It also reminds me that the father was the only legal guardian who needed to give consent if the bride or groom was underage, which means the mother legally had no say. Only in the case of a deceased father did the mother become the legal guardian (though this may have changed if she remarried). And probably, if both parents were deceased, the legal guardian was a godparent. A little bit of browsing has given me a lot of information about this time period and location which I can add to my written family histories.

Going back to my ancestor's record, what is most interesting is that it says Emma is over 18 but according to my records, she was only 17 at the time! This could lend itself to speculation that perhaps she married without the approval of her parents and lied about her age. I am not going to make assumptions but it's something to keep in mind and make note of it. So definitely give your records a good analysis and do a bit of browsing in the collection - you never know what you might find!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Elusive Nathaniel Mills

Elusive Nathaniel Mills,
born circa 1800 in New York,
nothing more is known
about him.
This is how I refer to my 4th great grandfather, Nathaniel Mills, because despite having a large oil painting of him (left), I have yet to find any records of him. I only know his name because this is who my grandmother said he was. I have no BMD (birth, marriage death) dates and zero records. All I know of him is what I know of his son, William Henry Mills. He was born in 1832 in New Jersey so that would put Nathaniel's birth somewhere around 1800, give or take ten to fifteen years. It would also mean he probably lived in New Jersey in the 1830's. According to census records of William, his father was born in New York but of course, I have to take this with a grain of salt since census records are notorious for inaccuracies.

What's especially strange about this is that I have yet to find a census record of William in 1850. He would have been 18 and may have still been living with his parents, assuming they were still alive. I don't even know Nathaniel's wife/William's mother's name but you'd think that knowing William and Nathaniel's names I would be able to find the family quite easily, especially with a simple name like Mills, which would be unlikely to be recorded incorrectly. According to my grandmother, William had two sisters named Belinda and and Mary so theoretically, this should make the family even easier to find. So why I can't I find them on the 1850 census?

There's a few possibilities. One is that my grandmother got their names wrong, perhaps his name isn't even Nathaniel. Alternatively, he could have died before 1850 and/or William might have been living with another family. I considered that he could have been apprenticing but he later became a Railroad Agent and I'm not sure that is something you apprentice for, since it's not really a "trade". His sisters could have been older than him and already married. My grandmother's information says Mary married a man with the last name of Morton and Belinda married Beals. But again, I can find no conclusive records, especially considering I don't have defined birth years for them, don't know the first names of their husbands, and have no idea where they lived.

This brings me to the point that William moved around a LOT as an adult. The first record I have for him is his marriage in 1855 in Ohio (no parents names listed). So already he'd gone from where he was born in New Jersey to Ohio at some point before he was 23. Within only five years, he shows up on the 1860 census with his young new family in Illinois. By 1870, it's back to Ohio but a different county this time. 1880? Still in Ohio but yet another different county. By 1900, they're in Kentucky and by 1910, William is an old man living with one of his daughter's and son-in-law in Tennessee. He finally moved with them to Alabama, which is where he died in 1919. I have his death record and there are no parents names listed.

So knowing that he moved around a lot - even before he turned 23 he had migrated at least once across a few states - that could place him virtually anywhere in 1850. And who knows where his potentially already married sisters could be. This makes it really difficult to narrow things down. It's even possible the family was simply unrecorded because they were literally on the move when the census was taken which means I'm wasting my time looking for the 1850 census.

This has been my most difficult brick wall, I have gotten literally nowhere with it since the start of my genealogy research. At the moment, my only hope is of finding a birth record for William but not knowing where in New Jersey he was born (and being born in 1832, before state issued birth certificates) makes that almost impossible to track down.

So I'm putting this out there in hopes someone else is searching for the elusive Nathaniel Mills or one of his family members and can help me out. Or if you just have any tips at all, I would be grateful!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Interesting Clippings #6

I noticed that all my interesting clippings so far have been advertisements and while historical ads can be fascinating, I didn't want this feature to go that direction entirely so I'll do my best to be sure the next few installments will not be ads. Just keep in mind that these are meant to be interesting tidbits and there is usually much more to read on the subject matters (and I do try to provide links to additional reading) since I am, by no means, an expert on these topics!

click to
An article (left) from the Ambler Gazette in 1895 (page 4) relays the story told at a Women's Suffrage meeting in Des Moines, Iowa of a woman who had to buy her own beloved set of silver spoons three times in order to keep it as her own since a woman's property became her husband's once she married. It's probably not an entirely true story but the purpose of it will have been to highlight the plausibility of it.

The date of the article illustrates how far back the Women's Suffrage Movement began. In fact, it actually began decades earlier in the mid 19th century (though the Ambler Gazette only goes back to 1894), as evident with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, but I think when most of us think of the movement, we think of it's peak in the early 20th century and perhaps forget that it took nearly a century of pushing for women's rights to finally obtain the vote in 1920 in the United States.

click to
It's also important to note that at the time of this article, some U.S. states did indeed have laws protecting the property rights of married women but I guess Iowa was not one of them. Apparently neither was Pennsylvania, based on the article to the right dated two years later (Ambler Gazette, Feb 25, 1897, Page 3) which reports how the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage association presented a bill which aimed "to place men and women on a perfect equality in regard to individual property when either a husband or wife die without making a will." It mentions an act of 1848 and 1873 but I believe these are laws from other states or nations; New York had a Married Women's Property Act of 1848 and both Ontario and the UK enacted property or real estate laws regarding married women in 1873.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Interesting Clippings #4

Ambler Gazette
August 24, 1916 - Page 8
Snellenburg's, once the largest clothing manufacturer in the world, was a wholesale clothing manufacturer and later, a middle class department store based in Philadelphia. The company was founded in 1869 on South Street until it moved to Market Street, the shopping hub, in 1889 and developed into a true department store. It eventually closed in 1962. I'd never heard of it until I spotted the ad in the Ambler Gazette to the right; having been born in the early 1980s myself, why would I have heard of it? But it saddens me to think the next generations will equally never have heard of Strawbridge's (below), another long running Philadelphia based department store. Founded in the 1860's as a dry goods store, it closed only 6 years ago in 2006. I was personally very disappointed as Strawbridge's was one of my favorite department stores. So let's not forget Snellenburg's either.

The buildings that had been Snellenburg's factory and warehouse in Philly are now on the National Register of Historic Places but the flagship store building had since been torn down. Snellenburg's suburban locations were sold to Lit Brothers, yet another Philly department store which was founded a little later in 1893 and closed in 1977.

Ambler Gazette
May 14, 1896
Page 2
Also noteworthy is Wanamaker's (left), the very first department store in Philadelphia and one of the earliest in the United States. It originally opened as a men's clothing store in 1876 in time for Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition, the first world fair in America. However, in 1877, it was expanded to include additional departments, making it the first true "modern-day" department store in Philadelphia and possibly America, though the term "department store" did not come into use until the mid-1880's. Wanamaker's ambition was to create a "Grand Depot" similar to London's Royal Exchange. It was eventually taken over by Hecht's, now Macy's, in 1995. The building was the former Pennsylvania Railroad Station and is still in use today as Macy's so if you'd like to see a little piece of history, just go for a bit of shopping! 

Department stores fascinate me from a historical point of view, since many of those still in business today were founded in the mid to late 19th century. It's a shame to see such long running businesses close down. 

For more information on the history of department stores, particularly in Philadelphia, check out this excellent and much more detailed article from Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. I mostly just wanted to share these clippings, the second of which is particularly interesting because of how large and detailed it is.

It's interesting to note that the BBC are currently running a historical drama called "The Paradise", which is centered on a fictional early department store in northern England, in an undisclosed fictional town, though it's filmed at Lambton Castle. For those interested in the development of the department store, this is definitely a fun show to watch, though I don't know if it's being aired in the US yet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Interesting Clipping #3

Having trouble deciding what to get people for Christmas? Here's some ideas - if you lived in 1914, of course:

How much things have changed. "Rubbers" now mean something entirely different and I had to Google "gum boots" (rain boots, better known in England as "Wellies"). I assume "arctics" are like snow boots.

Note: It's purely coincidental the last two posts have been about shoes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Interesting Clipping #2

I know throughout various periods of history, the high heel has not been foreign to men's fashion. But I would have thought that heels were well out of fashion for men by the early 20th century so this ad from the Ambler Gazette June 6, 1912, page 5 surprised me:

It seems a bit high for the 20th century. It does say "A 'vanity' style for young men who delight in wearing 'something different'." Hmm, maybe a little too different! Or was this a subtle way of marketing to short men? Anyone know more about this topic?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Interesting Clipping #1

I spend a lot of time browsing the Ambler Gazette, a weekly newspaper for an area of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, for any mention of or relation to some of my ancestors who are indeed frequently mentioned in it. In the process of this, I also wind up coming across interesting articles and ads that I feel like sharing, even though they have nothing to do with my ancestors, so I decided to start posting them here.

Here's an ad from January 21, 1904, page 6:

"Every woman should have a Savings Account. Many women need a Checking Account. Special attention to the comfort and convenience of women here.
The Albertson Trust and Safe Deposit Co. Norristown, PA."
This certainly reflects the first-wave feminism that was occurring around this time, in the push for woman's rights, particularly the right to vote. It's fascinating to see a contemporary example of the growing shift in society's attitude towards women.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Norwegian Ancestry Online

A typical parish record from the Norwegian Digital Archives
Anyone with Norwegian ancestry should be aware of the biggest free Norwegian online database of records: The Digital Archives. Here you will find a wealth of information: censuses, parish records, property and tax lists, etc. The trick is finding the ones specific to your ancestors, which can be difficult because many of the records aren't indexed so you may have to manually go browsing through the scanned images. There are some ways to avoid this though.

But the easiest starting point is with the Norwegian National Censuses, since several of them are indeed indexed. You'll notice that they only have indexed censuses for 1801, 1865, 1875, 1900, and 1910. And given that most Norwegian immigration to the US occurred pre 20th century, you'll be lucky if you can make use of three of them. For me personally, all my Norwegian ancestors had left or died by 1865 so I can only benefit from the 1801 census. There are digitized records for earlier censuses but since the latest one is 1701, your research may not reach back that far just yet. There are also more censuses for local areas, which I'll cover below.

The other tricky thing about searching Norwegian records is their names. As I have described before, Norwegians were big on patronymic surnames for each generation, which meant that each individual had a different surname from their parents. For example, Ole Tronsen is the son of Tron Gundersen and his father was Gunder Leegsen. Not always knowing what an individual's parent's surnames were makes searching difficult sometimes but keep in mind that namesakes within families were popular. Also be aware that it was not an uncommon practice to name a child after their deceased sibling. This may seem insensitive, as though merely trying to replace a deceased child with another, but in the past, it was probably viewed as honoring and remembering the deceased. Lastly, some Scandinavian given names can be difficult to read, because they are unfamiliar to the rest of the world. Often, they do not appear on my given names reference source,, so a good reference for this can be found from's wiki: Scandinavian Given Names.

After you have found census records, the parish records will probably be your next and biggest source. Be aware that some of them are indexed over on another free source, I believe these are the same records which have been indexed by volunteers in what's called The Digital Inn which can also be searched on the Digital Archives website here. Though I find FamilySearch much easier to use, they only have the BMD parish records, whereas the Digital Inn has all kinds of other documents including local censuses, another source not to miss.

With both FamilySearch and The Digital Inn, it's important to try alternate spellings. For example, one of my branches called Narum was alternately spelled Nærum and Norum. This brings me to another point about the Norwegian alphabet having extra letters: æ, ø, å - so that's another thing to watch out for.

One thing to know about parish records is that an individual was often identified by the farm name they lived on. This often makes up for the lack of a consistent surname but of course individuals would move around, especially from generation to generation. But if you know a family lived on the farm named "Fladen", you can often more easily find siblings of ancestor by looking for the farm name.

But once you know what name, parish and date you're looking for, you can usually find the original document pretty easily. Keep in mind, of course, varying spellings can mean you might miss some indexes and sometimes it's good to browse through the images to see what you can find. This is not easy since they are hand written and in Norwegian. That's why I like to keep a "cheat sheet" of regularly used words in documents. Here's a few:
  • Fødte og døpte - Born and baptized 
  • Konfirmerte - Confirmations
  • Ekteviede - Wedded
  • Døde og begravede - Dead and buried
  • Trolovede - Betrothed 
  • Introduserte kvinner - Introduced women
  • tittel- og registersider m.m. - title and index pages etc
  • Kronologisk liste - Chronological list
  • Vaksinerte - Vaccinated
  • Enkemand - Widower
  • Ungkarl - Bachelor
  • Vigd - Marriage/wedding
  • Forl/Forlove - Engagement
  • år - years
  • måneder - months
  • uker - weeks
  • dager - days
  • alder / alderen - age / aged
If you need more translations, I always use Google Translate. Be aware that spellings have changed since some of these records were written and sometimes, abbreviations were used. Occasionally, I find that the translate app offers a slightly different spelling or that the original spelling is has other origins, like Danish.

Once you've got your census and BMD parish records, and therefore adequate vital data of your ancestors going back as far as possible, see if you can find any other records such as lax lists, land property documents, emigration parish records, etc.

I find the Digital Archives website is not super easy to navigate, in part because the English version doesn't always seem to "stick" when searching the indexes. This combined with the fact that many of the records aren't indexed at all, I think a lot of people don't use the website to it's full potential. Hopefully, this will help point you in the right direction but if not, just ask in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer.