Part II, An example of a Chancery Court Suit.

These chaps could have been researching in Chancery Court records if they weren’t busy doing other things.


So, yesterday we talked about what a Chancery Court is – a court of Equality.   And we know that many courthouse employees may not know what a Chancery Court is because they have other things to worry about.

The example that I pulled up is a partition of sale brought in Marion County, Ohio’s Chancery Court by one Ruel Skinner, of Wood County, Ohio, who is married to Mariah (Sometimes Maria, Mary) Skinner, nee Fickle, in 1846.

Why is this case so important?  It shows us both how a Chancery Court was used at the time, and how it provides clear evidence of Isaac Fickle’s children from two marriages.

In 1838, one Isaac Fickle of Marion County, Ohio died intestate, meaning no will was filed, meaning in those days nothing was really entered into the courts.  At the time he died, he left behind a wife and young children.  This was Isaac’s second wife, the first having died after the birth of their second child.  So we have children from two different mothers, and there is an age gap.  The eldest child, Mariah was born in 1817, her brother Stewart was born in 1818 in Fairfield County, Ohio.

In 1821, Marion County, Ohio, was erected from Delaware County, Ohio.  Isaac received a land grant and moved from east central Ohio to north central Ohio – a distance today of about 2 hours by car.   The land grant gave him the land, free and clear, with no encumbrances.

Following the death of the first wife, Isaac Fickle married again, in 1825 to Eliza Tipton, and had six more children.  The eldest was Mary, born in 1825, and the youngest was either a daughter named Cordelia, or a son named Elliot.  We know that Cordelia was born in 1837, because we have her death record.  But with Elliot, all we have is his tombstone stating his death date.

Because Eliza was a widow with minor children, she was allowed to live on the land, which was free an clear, and benefit from its farming income until such time as her youngest child reach majority, or she died.  If she died leaving minor children, then the proceeds from the sale of the land would go in equal shares to all of Isaac Fickle’s children.

Seems fair enough.

But Eliza died, and we have no record or burial location for her.  There is a dressed stone next to Isaac’s grave marker, but no stone for Eliza.  And because she didn’t leave an estate when she died, and there is no will, there is no probate record on file.

Dead end, right?


We have the suit in the Chancery Court records!

And in the suit brought by Ruel Skinner, on behalf of his wife, he was suing his wife’s half siblings for the land.  Why?  Because evidently, no one thought to tell the half siblings about Eliza’s death.  Stewart Fickle had pushed onto Indiana, and Mariah married Ruel Skinner and they were living in Wood County to the north.  Given that this was Ohio, in 1836, news didn’t travel fast, and neither did people.

By 1838, Mary Fickle, the eldest, had married one William Franklin Harvey, and William was farming not only his land next to the Fickle land, but he was also providing his wife’s sisters and brother with shelter.

So to get his wife’s fair share for her, under Ohio law, the land needs to be partitioned and placed for sale.

So from this Chancery Court case, what we found proof of was:

  1. Isaac Fickle died intestate.
  2. That Eliza Fickle died “in or about 1846”
  3. That children of Isaac Fickle were Mariah, Stewart, Mary, Margaret Ann, Louisa, Sarah, Elliot and Cordelia.
  4. That each child was entitled to one eighth of proceeds.
  5. That Mariah had to sue all of her siblings for partition, including the “infant” (under the age majority) siblings of Elliot and Cordelia.
  6. The proceeds of the sale of 87 acres of land (more or less) netted each heir $133.87, a princely sum in 1838, considering you could actually buy something of value for a couple pennies.

The extra nugget that we get is that Mariah was married to Ruel Skinner, that Mary was married to William Harvey, that Margaret was unmarried and that Louisa was married to Hezekiah Johnson.  And because we cannot find Louisa’s death date we know that she was alive when the partition was filed.

Now the outcome of all of this is that William Harvey, Mary’s husband, bought the land outright in partnership with his brother David Henderson Harvey.

So what this partition action, in the Chancery Court tells us is who is related to whom, what the relationships were, and it ties these children to their birth mothers, and gives a date of death for Eliza Fickle.  At the same time, it tells us that Louisa Johnson, nee Fickle was alive at partition.

Chancery records – worth looking into .



What were Chancery Courts in Ohio? And why should I care?

another story
No, really.  This is good stuff to know!


If you have researched in a courthouse in Ohio, and have ever come across something called “Chancery Court Records”, and have asked a county clerk’s assistant “what are these?”, the response is “I have no idea.”  Or they will say “They’re really old.”

Seriously?  Oh, yeah.  Many County Clerk employees are simply too busy to browse through old indexes and languidly peruse old case files.  You they simply don’t bother knowing anything about Chancery Courts.

Between the 1850s and 1968, Ohio counties had two very distinct court channels, Probate Court, and the Court of Common Pleas.  Following an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 1968, the states eighty-eight Probate Court’s became a division of their county’s Court of Common Pleas.   To do this, the State Constitution was amended by the “Modern Courts” amendment.   Now Common Pleas has a general division, a juvenile division, a probate division.

BUT PRIOR to the early 1850’s, there were such things as Chancery Court’s in each of the counties.

Simply put, a Chancery Court in Ohio was a court of equality, a place where non-criminal cases were heard where both parties on each side of a case were more or less equal before the eyes of the law.

In Chancery Court records we see suits where one party sues another party over something.  This includes:

  • Siblings who sue one and other for land partition.
  • Gentleman A buys a horse from Gentleman B and discovers that the horse has non-disclosed issues (health, inability to do work that the seller claimed said horse performed for the seller, etc.)
  • Failure to pay a dowry after the wedding.
  • Failure to return a dowry after said daughter leaves her newlywed husband who is “unable or unwilling to perform the duties of a husband, aside from providing food, shelter and normal commercial provisions of life and livelihood.”  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
  • Barking dogs.  (No.  seriously – people complained about barking dogs in the 1830’s.)   And the like.

What we find in Chancery Court suits are some pretty good stuff that didn’t qualify for criminal action, or the immediate settlement of the an estate.

So why should you care?

Well, considering that Ohio did not mandate birth or death records prior to 1867, a Chancery court can prove relationships.

Chancery Courts were pretty much the “People’s Court” of their era.  Chancery Courts can tell you who sued who (over a chicken, or over acreage), why they were suing, and in some cases let me repeat, the actions can document and prove relationships.

But wouldn’t a will do that?  What if the person you are looking for died without a will prior to 1850?  Then you go to the Chancery Court Records.

See?  A-ha!

Tomorrow we’ll take a quick look at such a case between siblings needed to resolve a closed estate.

RootsTech Update: Making the FHL work for you

Two weeks ago I discussed the things you need to consider if you plan on attending RootsTech for the first time.

Today, we tackle the preparation for the Family History Library, which I will abbreviate as FHL.   And accessing the FHL and its vast collection of records, films and knowledges is one of the great side benefits of going to RootsTech!

They even have neato bazeato technology on the first floor!

The FHL is an outgrowth of one of the tenants of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which encourages its membership to undertake genealogy as way of honoring their ancestors and ensuring their inclusion in the eternal afterlife.  But genealogy is also way that Mormons help to build community.  It’s a commonality that is shared amongst its believers.

Good thing for all of us, because LDS Church has been a tireless collector of records and promoters of genealogy as a vocation and an advocation.

If you show up at the FHL with no game plan, frankly, you are going to get lost in your thoughts and overwhelmed. So, these are my hints for preparing for your visit are, in a nutshell to get organized, focus on records you cannot easily access in person or online, keep a record of the documents you are seeking, write out the brick walls you need to break down, understand how the FHL works and pay attention to sources during online searches:

  1. Get organized. For left brain people, this is easy.  For right brain people, not so much. Over the next eleven months, create a big picture for your research.  What do you want to get done, what do you need to get done and what haven’t you been able to get done.  Brick walls?  Add that to your list.
  2. Focus on records from places not easily accessed online, or in person.  Identify the areas of the nation, or the world,  where you just can’t get.  Try not to direct your time at the FHL on locally available records to where you live.  So, if you live in St. Louis, Missouri, and the historical society there has a set of records that may meet your needs, do that research in St. Louis.  If, you live in St. Louis and you are looking for New Mexico records that are not available online, shift that search to the FHL.  OR if you live in a place, and the local archives or library only has a poor quality copy, then shift that to the FHL.
  3. In addition to keeping a research log (which may seem like a pain if you are not a professional genealogist), add in a “Documents Sought” log.  This log should include any information that you find online that is in a transcript form when you need a copy of the actual original.
  4. Keep a log of “Brick Walls”.  We all “know” where we get stuck, but writing down a fact sheet for each brick wall, and all of the sources you have checked and not found what you are looking for will help you rethink the problem in a clearer fashion.  In other words, get the Brick Wall out of your head and onto paper.
  5. Read up on how the Family History Library works, how it is organized, what they keep on site, and what will need to be “paged” to the library floor from the LDS storage at Granite Mountain.  Depending on how that record is managed within the storage facility, that could impact how many days it takes to get to the FHL for your use.
  6. When you use online research sites, when an index comes up, or a transcription, look at the source information. The use FamilySearch’s website to see if the records are available through the library.

And remember, you can’t get everything done at once.  When you are planning your time at the library, remember to have fun, visit the first floor display, there is a vend-o-cafe in the building for breaks.   Right now, the key to getting the most out of the visit is to plan, prioritize and print (as in writing it down) out as much prep work as possible.

Below are a number of links, in one place, that I have collected to help you get the most out of your stay.  Don’t wait until the last minute, plan now and succeed next February!

Video on what Granite Mountain is, and the purpose it serves.

Family Search Wiki – numerous helpful topics, including information on the FHL.

FamilySearch’s broad overview of tips for how to get the most out of the library.

Of Graveyards and Things (Blog) tips.  More in depth, and other ideas that I haven’t covered.

See you Monday Morning!

Tons of pictures to scan? Here is your easy way out!



Lets be upfront for a second.  I am not online to sell you anything. My goal is to enlighten, and hopefully give you some insight and advice on how to become better at genealogy than you are.  Therefore, the following review is NOT a paid placement.  I do not make a penny off of anything sold by any manufacturer.  I do not sell this product.  I have no interest in any merchant that does sell it.  Are we good?  Good, read on, because this is really cool.

But we are going to look at a product in today’s post, and it may or may not be an answer for what you need to accomplish.

If it isn’t, just read it anyway – maybe you know someone who has cartons of pictures that they have said “Oh, I just need to get those scanned when I have a few moments.”  Who are they kidding, right.  Those pictures are going stay in those boxes until the cows come home, so open up the barn door for “Maudine” and lets wait to see if she moo’s at sunset, right?

But if you are the person who has lots of “snapshots” from the 1960s through the 1990s that do need to be digitized, the Epson FF-640 may be your best bet.  Not only does it scan snap shots in batches, it scans the backs and the fronts of at the same time, creating two different files for each.

Now, I had been looking at these types of scanners for some time.  In fact, I already owned a NEAT scanner, but I found that it’s interface was clunky, and it only works on it’s own interface, so didn’t do what I needed it to do.  NOW I understand that NEAT no longer supports the desktop interface and it wants everything to go to the “Cloud”.

THAT was an expensive purchase because it never got used.  And good luck trying to sell that donkey on Nextdoor.

Here’s why I personally like the Epson ff-640: Because it works.

If you already have an Epson scanner – and I have used nothing but Epson scanners since the early 2000’s, you know that their interface is simple, dovetails nicely with other imaging programs.

The interface, EpsonScan allows you set the “dpi” (Dots per Inch), select the file format, allows you to control where the scans are stored and how they are named.  The software will also give you access to a subprogram that will correct color imbalances that are usual and common.

Epson bills this scanner as the “World’s Fastest” scanner, with a speed up to an image a second for 300dpi *.jpg images.  It takes less than half a minute to scan a snapshot at 600dpi and save it as a *.tif file.   And this scanner scans at a 1:1 ration.  So a 3×5″ goes in, and 3×5″ scan is created.  You still need to use a desktop scanner for enlarging, etc.  But even at the 1:1 that this scanner does, a 600 dpi tif scan can be enlarged a bit without loss of sharpness.

Now to give you an idea how fast that is, I have an Epson Perfection 4990 is that is, by computer standards, ancient.  However it still does beautiful work.  You lift the lid, place the image, launch the interface and can make all sorts of corrections, you can scan nine sides at once, 8″x10″ copy negatives, etc. But on a recent project for a civic group, I averaged twenty documents an hour.  Partly because the documents were very fragile, bit was time consuming.  And I still use this scanner for all of the heavy stock photos, cardboard backed photos, portraits, tin types and CDV and cabinet cards. I also use it for Polaroids because despite their speediness, Polaroids are fragile images.   I ALSO use the desktop scanner for old “brownie” era snap shots, because their paper is fragile and often times, curled.

So with the 4990, I average 20 scans an hour, making corrections before the scan.

With the Epson FF-640, I am scanning a whopping 144 snapshot images at 600dpi in under 15 minutes.

Now there are three drawbacks to the FF-640.  The first is that, as the nature of the beast, you need to sort your images by a) size and b) orientation:

a) The scanner only works well if every batch is uniform in size.  You can feed picture through one at a time, its slower, but you can.  But for “batches” of up to ten at a time, the sizes have to be uniform.  This means you have to prepare to get the best efficiency.

b) You have to maintain the scanner.  That means you have to open it up periodically – and the software will tell you when its time – and carefully clean the feed-path, the rollers and above all the glass scanning lenses. You may also have to have the rollers changed out. The online manual has all that detailed, and it isn’t hard to do.


c) The cost.  Take a deep breath because this scanner will, at list price, set you back as of today, Wednesday March 8, 2017, $649 and change. BUT when I bought mine, I shopped around and got it through Micro Center on sale online for $599 in February.  That may seem like a lot, but the scanner also functions as a batch document scanner and can turn paper documents into Adobe PDF files.

Some critics have said that scanner renders images that are not as crisp as the could be.  That’s a legitimate thing to look into, but if its true, it is infinitesimal.   I have been scanning in *.tif mode and I have seen anything wonky.

My take on this?  This scanner is light years ahead of where we were just a couple years ago.  I also think that this is far superior to the NEAT scanner, and Epson engineering and manufacturing standards are very high.

Having hand scanned over 20,000 on the old 4990 – and that includes images for five Arcadia books, numerous genealogy’s and for organizations that I volunteer with, and after working with it myself, this Epson ff-640 is amazing.

Now, have you started breathing, again?

Good.  Now imagine you get the pictures all scanned.  They are organized, and they are in a box.  And you can share them.  The more people who have your pictures, the better you are prepared to get moving on something else.

Again, I get nothing in the world or universe from Epson.  They are not paying for me to share this, but from my experience, this is an amazing piece of technology that going forward will give you years of service as long as you read the manual, use it as directed, clean it as directed and don’t abuse it.

I am posting this video review of the scanner just to give you idea of the speed.  The person making the video likes the scanner as well (but she should have read the manual to find which box she needed to check to scan the back of the images).


As with anything you see recommended online, remember to comparison shop for the best price and availability.  Read reviews from well regarded sources, and if you can, buy locally, because returns are easier.  If you do buy online, buy from a well known site, look for sales, and buy with your head, not with your heart.  Being an informed consumer is the number one weapon in your arsenal to making good choices, and not being taken to the cleaners.

Why multiple DNA tests make the difference with Jewish genealogy

Gladys Kravitz – very funny.

One of the things that I discovered at this year’s RootsTech is that AncestryDNA was having one heck of a deal.  Their autosomal DNA tests were half (HALF!) price, limit five per person.

Normally these tests run $99, plus shipping and handling, but for $49 each, you could afford to stock up, and we did.  We ended bringing seven home (I bought five, my husband bought two) in a great big bag, causing our Delta airline attendant, who was in a very pissy mood to have this exchange:

He: What are all of those?

Me: DNA tests for genealogy.

He: Your family?

Me: No, my neighbors.

He: Well I guess that makes you Gladys Kravitz. (sneer)

Me: Whatever, Derwood. (sneer returned)

I have no idea what crawled up into his baggage compartment.  Afterall, he was one snooping in the bag.

ANYWAY, one of the reason why we bought the tests is because on my own, I have hundreds of fourth – sixth cousins on AncestryDNA. My mother converted to Judiasm when she married, and those lines are easily peasy to link up.  What I don’t have is much of a way to connect the people on my father’s lines.

My father’s people were from (meaning before they got on the boat) in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia) which was under the control of the Russian Empire.  My grandfather was born there, my grandmother was born in or around what is now Rokiškis, Lithuania, but raised in Dvinsk.  At the time, this was all Imperial Russia, and the Russians were really on concernedwith Jews for one reason – Jewish males were almost always being drafted into the Russian army, and then sent to the front lines of any confrontation becuase they were expendible. Injury, maiming, anti Semitism and/or death was almost always the result.

What this means is that records for the Jewish people in that part of the world were not standardized, except for what was called a “Revision List”, which were survey Censuses. This helped the Czar’s bureaucrats keep an eye on which men were going to be of age for drafting into the army and for taxation purposes.   Births, deaths and marriages, especially in rural areas were really loosey goosey as far as the government was concerned, but the rabbi’s kept the records.

Well, when you factor in one World War, the establishment of Baltic States, the mess that arose in Germany, Hitler’s insane hatred of anything Jewish, the concentration camps, anti Jewish sentiments and a second World War and the rise of Communist states, and the depopulation of the region’s post war Jewish population, and combine that with Jews who left this region for better lives in Palestine, Israel, the United States, South Africa, et. al. it becomes very hard to trace lines from these areas because towns were wiped out, the records destroyed, graveyards bombed and fought over.  The “stuff” of life simply ceased to exist.

If you are lucky, you find a name on a revision list, you can talk to someone who asked their parents or grandparents. If you are unlucky, it can be daunting.

But because so many of our grandparents and great grandparents wanted to forget about their lives in the old country because the memories are so painful, a lot of people only have an idea of where their families are from, or what the original spellings were of last names, if they are known at all.

So DNA becomes a way to take “a” person’s test results and start looking for the people you share a match with.  By itself, my test tells me that there are roughly 600 people on Ancestry that are 4-6th cousins on my fathers side.  A guesstimate, based on last name matches and places means one third of the matches on my mother’s side, and the rest are on my father’s side.  And on the matches to my father’s lines, many of these people have no names of ancestors beyond their grandparents.

So the extra tests given to various paternal family members will help me:

  1. Half brother’s test – Will confirm which matches are from our shared father, and will help him and I determine which matches belong to his mother, and which matches belong to my mother.
  2. Second cousin – This cousin’s grandfather and my paternal grandfather were brothers.  So this will help us separate out which matches are on OUR grandfather’s lines, and the ones that don’t match are most likely my paternal grandmothers matches.
  3. The “rumored cousin” – For years we have had a rumored relationship with the “Greiff” family of Bellingham, Washington.  Evidently a Grieff married a “Bun”, and my grandmother was a “Bun” (pronounced Boon).  So I found a Grieff who is allegedly the cousin of my grandmother and she has agreed to be tested.  This should confirm that the Bun and Grieff families were related.  If does, then it should validate the the matches excluded from the comparison of my dna aganst my second cousin’s test.
  4. My other half brother’s daughter has tested and she is showing up as a match on Ancestry, so she is a good control for all of this.

All of this will hopefully help us prove or exclude relationships.

What of the other tests?  Well, two went to friends who are seeking. One is like me, the product of a mixed marriage and wants to know more.  And the other is the old neighbor and friend who’s wife had tested, and he’s curious about his own make up.

So my message is that if you have tested, and its just not gotten you anywhere, find a cousin, or a distant cousin and test again.  Use the joint matches to help separate out one line from another line.   And remember, if you can use exclusion theory to help you separate out your shared matches from your unshared ones.  Think of it as sorting.

Good luck.

Coming up on Wednesday, we take a look at a nifty high-speed scanner that just might be worth it’s weight in gold.

Picture this: Subtle ways racism creeps in, even to genealogy

Think about it: two people are researching their family lines, one light skinned, the other dark skinned.   When looking at family color photos taken before 1970, the two will see different things.

If they are color (Ektachrome images – everything turns pink with age – excepted) the white researcher’s people in the pictures will look defined.

But family members of the dark skinned people will be less defined.

It not just a matter of lighting.  And it didn’t get fixed because dark skinned people mattered.


Today is Friday, and the Friday I had hoped to run the piece on how to prepare for RootsTech 2018 and the Family Research Library.  However a prolonged power outage on Wednesday night, plus some other issues last night have pushed this back to next Friday.

My apologies, but sometimes we are powerless to get done the stuff we need done when we need to do it.  This is one of those times.