Sites like Ancestry.com have made genealogy research so much easier that we sometimes forget they don’t contain all the available information. Even when they do provide access to a given set of records, those records may not be accessible via a search engine. It helps to be reminded of this sometimes, and I was reminded more than once this past week.
I knew one of my ancestors had applied for a pension for his Civil War service while living in Mississippi, but the only pension applications that came up in my Ancestry.com search were those he made while living in Tennessee. On a hunch, I decided to search record sets instead of individuals. After a bit of digging, I found the application that Joseph Walker Douglas had filed in Mississippi! The entire application was available for printing and downloading.
What was the reason it didn’t appear as a search result under his name? The records are not indexed! They are semi-browsable but only by last name groupings. That was actually a good thing. At least I could select a group of names. Imagine if I had had to browse from record to record from A through D! It did take me several steps to locate his application, but it was worth the effort.
There are many paths to a given record, but here is the one I took to find Joseph’s Mississippi pension application. I hope it will help you find a missing record for your ancestor. Select the Search tab at the top of the Home page on Ancestry.com. From the drop-down list, select Card Catalog. On the next screen, in the Filter by Collection list on the left, select Military. Under Military in the Filter by Location list, select USA. Under USA in the new Filter by Location list, select Mississippi. Under Mississippi in the new Filter by Collection list, select Pension Records. I could have further filtered by date, but there were only twenty-one records, and I saw the one I needed: Mississippi, Confederate Veterans and Widows Pension Applications,1900-1974. When I selected this record, I discovered I would have to select and browse the records by last name groupings. I selected Dotson-Drye from the list on the right of the page. This took me to the microfilm copies of the records.
At this point, I could have hidden the filmstrip and browsed page to page or page number to page number. However, as the first page of each application was distinctive, browsing the filmstrip proved to be quicker. Even so, alphabetizing wasn’t always perfect, and spellings were often different. Fortunately, I didn’t give up when I failed to find J. W. (Joseph W.) in the Douglas section. I kept browsing until I found him in the Douglass section but before I. W. (widow Irene W.) instead of after. Once again, persistence had paid off!
Another reminder came when I went to a county website on Rootsweb.com. Some county genealogy websites are searchable. This one was not. If I had been visiting a library, I would have pulled books from the shelf and scanned contents and index pages. So I decided to click and scroll around the site for a bit. I found where several early newspaper sections had been transcribed. The dates included 1905, the year one of my more elusive ancestors was supposed to have died in that county. Why not, I thought. I went to the page, did a word search for Bennett, and found an entry for William Lee’s death! It wasn’t an obituary, so I didn’t learn any new names or dates, but it did confirm that he had died in that county. I plan to go back to the site and search every page available for any of my ancestors who lived there!
These two incidents reminded me of another find in my early years of researching. I had been in a local library’s genealogy room for several hours searching book after book after book and coming up empty handed. I was tired, and I needed to leave. I told myself I would look through one more book before I left. I did. And lo and behold, if I didn’t find an entry for the marriage record for two of my great-great-grandparents, Lemuel D. Simmons and Julia A. Baker! Up until that point, I had nothing on either of them except their names. Now I not only know they did indeed marry but they married on my birthday eighty years before I was born!
Genealogy research can be frustrating online, in the stacks, and wherever else we search, but oh, the thrill when we discover something new! Do you have such a thrilling moment? What led you to your discovery?