Saturday, July 22, 2017

Many Pennsylvania Deed Books Now Online

Last fall I blogged about deed books finally being available online at I had learned that the books with camera icons were available online. At that time I could find only indexes for some of the county books I needed. Looking the other day I found all of the books, not just the indexes, are now available for many Pennsylvania counties.

Counties such as Chester, Lancaster, Philadelphia in the east have all of their old microfilmed deed books online. In western Pennsylvania the counties of Greene, and Washington also have all of their old microfilmed books digitized and online. These are just a few of the counties which have deeds and other land records now online at Most are searchable from home, unlike Virginia. Looking at Virginia deeds online generally requires that you use the computers at the Family History Centers or Libraries.

When I blogged about the deeds last year I shared the fact I found an interesting deed in the Chester County Deeds index. I'm not good with the key indexes so I used the Chester County government affiliated index online. This is what I posted then:

"I found an "et al deed" on the Chester County index which appears to be children selling parents property? It's a Jacob Urmy ux Susanna et al deed. Sadly this isn't in a book that is online at Family Search. The coverage of deeds is spotty. You have to scroll down to see which books are still only on microfilm and those that are online."  November 2016

This book is now online. I have confirmed that it is a deed regarding the sale of Christian Brower and his wife Eve's land by their children. Christian Brower's will didn't include the names of his under aged children. My ancestor Susanna was not included in that will. Thankfully she is included in this deed along with her husband. By the time her mother Eve died she was married.

Susanna is correctly identified as the wife of Jacob Urmy in the 1806 deed.

Here we see all of Christian and Eve Brower's children identified, and Christian and Eve named as their parents. We even see a reference to the couple who originally sold the land to the Browers along with the date of purchase.

There are also digitized deeds available online elsewhere. This is a great post about other sites with these records at ThoughtCo. by Kimberly Powell

I've found gold in the deeds many times. This is just one example of how deeds can verify relationships.  They are an important source for family history research.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Virginia Land Survey Books: Finding Invisible People

I've been sorting through the ever increasing number of digitized records now available at (all of the records with a camera by them are digitized). I recently discovered the Survey Books, sometimes referred to as Plat Maps Books. When I saw the catalog reference I initially thought "well I'll take a look", but I don't think it will tell me anything. These books aren't plat map books showing neighbors property. These show individual surveys for land grants. I was wanting to see the names of property line neighbors, so wasn't that excited about these books.

I could not view these Virginia survey books at home; some digitized films are viewable from anywhere and some not. Most of the Virginia records are not viewable everywhere, but only at an LDS Family History Center or Library. These survey books are only viewable at a Family History Center or Library. I found these in the catalog on a Saturday when my local FHC was closed. I headed over there Monday to take a look.

I checked Virginia Land Survey books associated with the counties my ancestors lived in. Two of the books were indexed, making my search easier. One book wasn't. My initial index search turned up nothing for my surnames. I then noticed that there were more books attached to each film digitized. Looking at the additional books I had a big breakthrough!  I found a John McPike had a land survey dated 1755. I have been researching that exact area for around 18 years and never saw a John McPike on any records. Actually I've been searching the area for Wrays and Thurmans, ancestors of my great-grandfather William Forgey. I had no idea until very recently that my great-grandmother, Isis Browning, also had ancestors who once lived in the same area, namely Bedford County, Virginia (now Franklin County, VA). I had found a land grant for Isis Browning's great-grandparents, William and Obedience McPike, fairly recently, putting them in that area in 1780. The 1780 grant was for the same land described in John McPike's survey, 304 acres in Bedford County, Virginia on both sides of the Blackwater river. Since we assume William McPike was born about 1750 John McPike may have been his father? Now I have a new person to trace, and a much earlier timeframe for the McPikes in America. We had thought they had come to America around 1770 from Northern Ireland. Now we know they were here in 1755.

John McPike 1755 Land Survey Bedford County, Virginia (Now Franklin), both sides of the Blackwater River
The John McPike survey also clears something up. I was surprised that William McPike, who was living in Tennessee in 1779, would leave Tennessee then head to Virginia and buy a 304 acre land grant in 1780, soon after returning to Tennessee? I'm now thinking he returned and filed for the grant after the death of John. The land was probably pretty much played out by that time, so William returned to Tennessee.

I actually found a land survey for William McPike dated April 1778. He transferred this land, apparently soon after the survey, to Alexander Ferguson. He then appears to migrate to Tennessee where he files for a land grant in 1779.

William McPike 1778 Bedford County, Virginia
Now I know the importance of these survey books. They tell us who lived in an area, and give us an idea of where the land was located. They may be the only surviving record of a person. I know my family filed surveys which they never proceeded to get a grant for. Looking through the surveys you may find more people with the same surname that you never knew about. You may also find your ancestors in a county you never knew they were in. These surveys go back to colonial days, making them, sometimes, the only record source in some areas early on. The earliest survey books I've run across so far go back to 1729 in Caroline County, Virginia. I'm sure some books have been lost to fire etc., but many have survived giving us a better picture of who was living in an area in colonial and early American times, and information on migrations.
I've learned you never know what you might find in a record, never prejudge.
Head over to your nearest LDS Family History Center and take a look, if you haven't already? You can check their catalog for online offerings, before your trip over there, here:


Enter your county name, but don't include "county" in the search

Search these family history centers: Select Online from this menu

Thursday, July 13, 2017

French Canadian Marriage Contracts

I received two microfilms for French Canadian notarial records from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, which fill in some gaps in the Catholic Church marriage records. Fr. Tanguay had not consulted these records. Without seeing a marriage contract for one of my ancestral couples he made a wrong inference regarding Michel Lambert's parents. The Catholic Church marriage record, dated 29 Nov 1708 Lotbiniere, Quebec, Canada, left out the names of the parents of Michel Lambert and Catherine Louise Grenier. The marriage contract does contain the names of Michel's parents. His parents are named as Aubin Lambert and Elizabeth Aubert. The contract is dated before the marriage on 24 Nov 1708 the marriage.
Wrong parents for Michel Lambert recorded in the Tanguay

Michel Lambert had contracted a previous marriage. That contract had been nullified.

Correct parents for Michel Lambert appear on the marriage contract

I found a French Canadian marriage contract description written by Suzanne Bolvin Sommerville, FCHSM member. The Contract would be based on the "Custom of Paris"

The points she makes are as follows:
  1. Marriage contracts were generally legal contracts drawn up by notaries. They were drawn up by them because there weren't any lawyers in Quebec.
  2. Contracts in rural areas without notaries could be drawn up by priests or military officials.
  3. The signing was part of a celebration by those in attendance.
  4. The first part of the contract generally contained the names and ages of the couple marrying, parishes, and places of origin, current residence and professions. Parents names also appear on the contract above.
  5. Next would be lists of names of those in attendance. The relationships of those in attendance would be given, which is very helpful information. Those in attendance were witnesses and counselors to the couple.
  6. The future couple then promised to solemnize their marriage in the "Holy Mother Church."
  7. They then outlined what part of the "Custom of Paris" they wanted included in the contract. This would outline how property would be owned by the couple, such as which property would be held in common.
My ancestors' marriage contract is difficult to read, and badly faded in sections. I can read the important relationship information however. Some contracts are more legible than others.

Here we see an example of how property of parents is being settled in this contract. It states what would happen after the death of parents with the inheritance.

The notarial records contain many types of legal documents, not just marriage contracts. If you know who the notary is in a particular area at a particular time you can search these records for your ancestors. The Family History Library microfilms are cataloged by the name of the notary. You can search for the name  of the notary by keyword. Unfortunately the best way to search these records is to order these records on microfilm at your local LDS Family History Center. This won't be possible after August 2017 when microfilm rental will no long be available from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You can visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, after the rental program ends, and see these microfilms.

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is digitizing their microfilm collection and making these records available online. It will be a few years before this process is complete. I'm hoping the notarial record microfilms end up online eventually. I don't expect to see them online anytime soon since they aren't a commonly used sources. If and when they are available online I believe they will be easier to read. It will be easier to adjust the size of the print and lighten and darken the digital copy.

If you have details for a particular record you can request it by contacting the National Archives of Quebec. I received this contact information when I asked about possibly getting a copy through the Archives:
Frédéric Giuliano
Direction des services aux usagers et aux partenaires
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My First Visit Ellis Island

Me standing on the pedestal of the Statue Of Liberty on a hot humid day. Really increased my tan.

Last Saturday I arrived in New York City for the first time. On Monday I ferried over to Liberty Island to view the Statue of Liberty, and then on to Ellis Island. This was a highlight of my life. I had a euphoric feeling on the cruise out. Seeing the Statue of Liberty as my Great-Grandparents would have seen it was an extremely moving experience. I'll outline some of what I learned about the experience of immigrants processing through Ellis Island. Sadly, I don't have any stories regarding my ancestors trips through Ellis Island.

First of all here are a few pics I took going out:

Liberty Island is beautiful! Great views of Manhattan too.

My great-great grandfather Christian Koppel and his son Franz were my first ancestors who came through Ellis Island. They originally came in 1895. Franz Koppel returned to Inzenhof at some point, and returned again to America on the same ship as his future wife Maria Kurta in 1898. Christian also returned to Inzenhof.  Returning for another trip to Pennsylvania 1899.

The original wooden building on Ellis Island burned down in 1897. When Christian and Franz Koppel arrived in 1895 they were processed there. When Maria and Franz came over in 1898 they actually processed at the temporary barge building in Battery Park, as was Christian in 1899. 

If you traveled first or second class you did not have to pass through Ellis Island

In February 1900 Maria Kurta-Kappel's father, Johann Kurta, visited the family. The new brick building was not open yet, so he also was processed at Battery Park. It was not until December of that year that the new building was completed for processing. Apparently Johann Kurta and his daughter Maria (my great-grandmother) returned to Inzenhof together. She returned to her home, and husband, in Pennsylvania in 1901. She was not yet a citizen, and traveled steerage. She would have come again through Ellis Island, this time through the current building  .

When Maria Kurta-Kappel's husband relocated to Pittsburgh she again returned to Inzenhof. In 1905 she still isn't a citizen and again travels steerage, again she would process through Ellis island, and at that point joins her husband in Pittsburgh. This time she travels with her young daughter also named Maria.
The strings of numbers I highlighted represent later document checks, such as when Maria became a citizen in 1939. Lookups were also performed for two children in the 1940's.
When Frank Kappel relocates for work to Chicago Maria takes all but one child back to Inzenhof for a final time. My grandfather Rudolph Kapple was born during this visit.

I'm not sure whether my Irish Grandmother Helen Mullen-Mason came through Ellis Island? I have not been able to find a passenger list for her anywhere. It's likely she did come through there. The 1897 fire destroyed many passenger lists, and the temporary location created problems with the records too. Her sister Bridget Mullen appears on a 1907 passenger list for the port of New York.

They would have disembarked from a ferry taking them to the island at the same place I disembarked.

To get to Ellis Island and America immigrants would have to buy a ticket from a shipping agent. My ancestors would have had to also buy a train ticket from the Austro-Hungarian border area to either ports in Germany or Belgium.

The ship tickets were generally on large sheets of paper. I was thinking they are so much larger than the tickets printed at the airport, but if you print your ticket at home it is on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper. Many of the ship tickets were much larger than 8 1/2 by 11 however. They were sometimes huge certificates. Not so easy to lose. The passengers had to pay for a round trip ticket in case they didn't pass the inspection at Ellis Island. Steerage tickets were inexpensive, the average cost of a ticket was $30.

Immigrants would walk into the processing building loaded down with their belongings. They would receive a numbered tag for processing.

Ship ticket. It's really large

The first room the immigrants arrived in was the baggage room. They could check their bags, but many didn't because luggage was often lost or stolen. Sometimes immigrants had to pay unscrupulous private contractors large sums of money to get their luggage back.

The immigrants would have to climb stairs to enter the registry room where their processing would take place.

Registry Room were the procession was conducted. This room still contains some original benches.

The physical inspection would begin at the upstairs landing. The medical inspectors were waiting at the top. They would take note of anyone who had difficulty climbing the stairs. A more extensive physical examination would take place including an exam for the eye disease trachoma. A button hook was used to lift the eyelids for this exam. I would hate that. Hate anyone touching my eyes. An excellent hospital was built on the island in 1902. If someone had a curable disease they were treated at this hospital, and often admitted to the country after recovery. Hundreds of babies were born on the island, and 3000 people died there.

Hospital equipment

Uniformed inspectors would interview the immigrants regarding their plans, and means of support. Uniformed officials were intimidating to many immigrants who were escaping military service or had been subjected to government oppression in their homeland.

Most immigrants were admitted to the country. Those singled out for further questioning and, or,  inspection would have an X mark or SI noted by the number on the passenger list. SI meant they were held for a special inquiry hearing. Other letter marks signified suspected illnesses, such as H for heart etc.. Most of these immigrants were eventually admitted.
Whole group of people held. One had a special inquiry hearing as noted by SI

At one point IQ tests began to be administered. These tests involved piecing together a puzzle. Most immigrants passed. They were given several opportunities to pass.

Translators at Ellis Island were often either immigrants, or from immigrant families. These translators sometimes assisted the immigrants by giving them the right answers to the inspection questions.

The inspectors kept office hours. If you arrived late in the day and couldn't complete inspection you would spend the night in dormitories located above the registry room.

Typical stay on Ellis Island was round 3 hours, although you could be there much longer depending on the number of immigrants, and your particular situation as far as detention. None of my family members were detained.

Men's dormitory bunks for overnight stays

Men's bunks

Only one toilet for many people

Balcony with doors leading to dorms. Women's dorms right men left.

Women's dorm room

After completing processing you would be directed to the separation staircase, which contained 3 aisles. One aisle lead to the New York City ferry, another lead to the train station for those heading away from New York City. Those who were detained or marked B to be sent back were sent down the center aisle of this staircase. Many being sent back or detained didn't know the significance of the separate aisles. They were marked with chalked marks on their clothing. Some immigrants were wise to these marks. Those marked for detainment or return sometimes wiped the chalk mark off and joined the crowds leaving the island. Not sure how many managed to subvert the process and make it to freedom?

Three aisle separation staircase

My ancestors didn't stay in New York and therefore headed for the train station in New Jersey by ferry. The station, built in 1889, still stands but is abandoned. About 10.5 million immigrants entered the country through this station. Interesting there is a street named Houston in New York. This caused confusion with some immigrants wanting to go to this street being sent instead to trains heading for Houston, Texas.

Railway station my ancestors would have left from in New Jersey
I saw some railroad tables for the trains my ancestors would have taken on display at Ellis Island. They would have taken the Lehigh Valley train to the Allentown area. Bridget Mullen and Maria Kappel would have taken the train to Chicago also.

Train time table Lehigh Valley

Railroad table Chicago
I loved my trip to Ellis Island. I could feel the presence of my ancestors like never before. I highly recommend visiting there.

Of  course you don't have to go to Ellis Island to search the passenger lists in the room pictured below. You can search the Ellis Island passenger search on their website.

The Freedom Tower elevator had a great video presentation on the way to the top. If you stop this video around the year your ancestor came you can see the New York they saw when they arrived in America.