Genealogy Posts

Old Place at Penn Farm
Old Place at Penn Farm built in the 1860s.  Many Penn Farm buildings are restored and on display at Cedar Hill State Park
Posts of genealogy articles to help you with your family research.  Use the tags above to find locate articles of interest.  If you would like to add or comment about an article, please leave a comment.  Use the “Contact Us” page to email suggestions for new articles, improve post ones or to contribute and post, yourself.  

Why Some Gravestones Are Shaped Like Tree Stumps


When nature and secret societies get together.


JULY 17, 2018

Tree Stumps 1

Woodmen of the World stone in Harnett County, North CarolinaEnter a caption



IN THE BRIGHT LIGHT OF a summer afternoon, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is filled with a quiet life. Dark birds flitter and squawk among blocks of granite, black-eyed Susans burst into flower beside catacombs, and fresh-cut grass scents the air. Most of the stately gravestones are shaped into obelisks or headless angels or urns draped with stone cloth. Among these classic markers of memory, though, are surprises—grave markers that simulate the natural world that surrounds them. They are shaped like tree stumps.

Some of Green-Wood’s tree-stump markers take the shape of a cross. Others are simpler, four or five feet tall, with their branch shorn off. One is a short, cleanly cut stump, like one a hiker might rest on during a long walk through the woods. It marks the grave of Alfred Vanderwerken Jr., who died in 1906. “He loved nature,” the marker says.

Tree-stump tombstones like these can be found in graveyards across the country. They tend to surprise people who come across them, since they’re not quite what we expect to see at the head of a grave. They date mostly to 1880s to 1920s, when funerary art in the United States was moving away from the grand mausoleums and obelisks found elsewhere in Green-Wood. The tree-stump stones were part of a movement to turn the focus of death back to life, and they’re a unique form connected with the secret societies of the time. “They qualify as folk art,” writes Susanne Ridlen, in her 1999 book Tree-Stump Tombstones.

Tree Stumps 2
Tree-shaped tombstones in Miami City Cemetery.  SAMIR S. PATELEnter a caption

Ridlen documents more than 2,400 tree-stump tombstones in Indiana alone. They came at what she calls a transitional period in American funerary art, when cemeteries were emphasizing nature and markers grew more modest. The customs around death were starting to focus more on the deceased’s life and the people left behind, and a tree proved a powerful symbol of both eternity and humanity, recalling the Bible’s tree of life and tree of knowledge.

Ridlen identified many variations: the vertical stump, the double vertical stump, the horizontal stump, the ledger tree stump, the tree-stump bench, the tree-stump chair, the tree-stump cross, the simple tree-stump base. They could be decorated with birds, books, firearms, flowers, plants, anchors, or animals, along with the signs of fraternal orders, from unions to the Elks to the Freemasons.

One organization in particular became associated with tree-stump tombstones, the Woodmen of the World. Formed in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1890, the group served as a life-insurance company at a time when there was little financial security if a family’s breadwinner died. Fraternal societies had started banding together to provide members’ families with a source of income after the death of a member. The Woodmen recruited rural men and prioritized hard work, selflessness, and other values. Its members had axes, and conducted drills with them in uniform, but their “woodcraft” was mostly symbolic, inspired by the image of pioneers clearing out forests to provide for their families.

Tree Stumps 4
A Woodmen of the World tree-stump marker in Seattle. JOE MABEL/CC BY-SA 3.0

Initially, the perks of becoming a Woodman included a free tombstone. The Woodmen headquarters created standard designs that it sent to local stonecutters. The tree wasn’t the only option, but given the organization’s name and traditions, it was a very popular choice. Later, the organization changed its policy so that it would only contribute $100 towards a tombstone, and only if it had the Woodmen of the World logo on it.

But Ridlen found the emblems and insignia of many other fraternal organizations on the tree-stump tombstones she examined. At the time, it was also simply a popular design that reflected contemporary attitudes about death and a desire to rejoin nature. Today’s tombstones tend to be modest, and a stone tree stump might seem ornate. In the 21st century, our ideas about joining nature after death have gone a step further. In addition to cremation with scattered ashes, some people choose to be buried without a headstone at all, or with a living tree to mark their final resting place.

Reprinted from

Thanks to Pat Miller for forwarding the link it to webmaster.

Thinking About Hiring a Professional Genealogist?

I am occasionally asked what it costs to hire a professional genealogist.  The answer: it depends.  What do you want done?

A Person to Look Up Local and Courthouse Records — obituaries, birth, marriage, death, land and probate.  Lookups at a distant location will cost $15 to $25 per hour, plus the cost of copies.  The cost of a courthouse copy varies by locality and is not cheap—$10 plus or minus.  You may be able to have your record searcher send you a photo or extract of the record and save the cost of a copy.  You can find record searchers at local genealogy society websites.  Click on “about us” or “lookups.”

Click on CONTACT US at the top of this page to have a Cedar Hill Genealogy Society volunteer do local look ups for you.  See fees on ABOUT US

This might sound expensive, but $100 for four hours of lookups in Lubbock, for example, saves you the five-hour drive each way and the expense of staying overnight.  The local searcher is familiar with how and where the records are stored and accessed.  He probably has a good working relationship with people in the courthouse—a valuable advantage.  She will get more results in less time than you can in unfamiliar territory.

Also, don’t pay your lookup person to do work you can do yourself.  Include as much information about the person as you can.  Give her as good an estimate as you can about the birth, marriage, death and land sale dates.  Provide enough information about the person’s family so your looker-upper can tell if he found the right person.  See Be Aware of Alternate Spellings of Your Surname in our Blog page

A Professional Genealogist to Research Your Family History — a person to “find your family tree.”  This is going to take some serious research.  A professional will charge $50 to $100 per hour with a ten or twenty hour minimum.  She will spend an hour reviewing with you, what you know—all the bits of data, notes, documents, keepsakes, stories and what you want done.  He will then take that information home and spend an hour or two developing a research plan and a proposed research agreement.  The agreement will include a letter describing the work to be done and in what form it will be.  If you accept her proposal, the time spent reviewing your data and forming a plan will be charged as part of the first hours of research.  If you choose not to work with the professional, there is no charge.

It should go without saying that you don’t want to pay someone to do what you have already done or can do for yourself.  You probably know all there is to know about your siblings, parents and grandparents.  You probably already have or can easily get the documentation for their birth, death and marriages.  Be sure to provide copies of those documents during the initial meeting.  No professional worth his fee is going base his research on unsupported data.  She will search for the documentation herself if you don’t provide it.  And, you’ll be paying him $100 an hour to do that.

An ethical professional will not make guarantees and will not refund charges for time spent.  Successful or not.  Professionals are not fortune tellers.  Be wary of those who guarantee results or that they can get you into a lineage society.

You are not going to get a family history book in ten or twenty hours of professional research!  A well-researched family history will have the names and dates of your ancestors—the begats.  It will also include pedigree charts and family group sheets, validating and fleshing out of family stories, and placing your family’s history in historical context.

To Break Through A Brick Wall or Research Overseas.  He, too, will want to see the documentation starting with you and going back to where you got stuck.  Again, give her copies of the supporting documents, or you’ll be paying him $100 an hour to find those documents.  Before she even starts on your task.

The best way to find a professional is word of mouth.  Ask fellow members of your genealogy society if they have hired someone.  Or, ask at the research desk of the genealogy section of your library.  At the Dallas Public Library, the folks at the desk in the eighth-floor genealogy section are familiar with professionals—they see them all the time researching in the library—they know who the good researchers are.  Larger genealogy societies may have members who are professional genealogists.  Check their websites.  Click this link for information about hiring a professional.

Thanks to Geri for the original research for this post and to the “retired professional” (you know who you are) for your firsthand information.

Dave Klauck, June 2018

Be Aware of Alternate Spellings of Your Surname

“Our family has always spelled our name that way.”  This is a common refrain from those new to family history research.  Indeed, your family may have always used the same spelling of your surname.  That doesn’t mean the people recording your name in documents heard and spelled it that way. 

If you are using a genealogy search engine—Ancestry and Family Search are the most common—the documents have been indexed by volunteers trying to decipher American English longhand.  The census and other historic documents are usually filled out by hand in the longhand or cursive writing of the day.  The census, immigration and courthouse records from the second half of the 1800s still contain the lowercase “s” that looks to us moderns as a lowercase longhand “f”.  People of that era usually had very legible penmanship, but they often wrote capital letters with a flourish that is difficult to read today.  All of this is made harder to read correctly by the sometimes poor condition of the documents.  The result can be an indexed name that doesn’t even start with the correct letter.

Some lowercase longhand letters are more subject to misinterpretation than others.  The “u” in my last name is often read as “ee” or “n”.   Both change the spelling enough to keep the name from showing up in the first few pages of search results.  The name is there, alright, just 100 pages of so into the results, instead of right up front where it ought to be.  The lowercase “k” frequently appears as “h”.  That seems to be close enough to not confuse the search service.  Usually.

Perhaps the worst trouble comes when the census or document scribe is a native-born English speaker trying to understand the broken and heavily accented English of his subject.  Below is a listing from the NARA Soundex Index System of letters that can sound the same when spoken by the foreign born.

B, F, P, V

C, G, J, K, Q, S, X, Z

D, T


M, N


I have personal experience with the above.  My ancestors are from Germany.  They lived in US in communities of German speakers for many generations and grew up speaking German at home as a first language.  They arrived in the ‘States in the 1840s and 1850s and yet, my parents spoke German at home growing up.   World War II put and end to that, but all spoke fluent English with varying degrees of a German Accent. 

The Germans pronounce the “B” so that it can sound like a “P”.  A 3rd great-grandfather’s last name is spelled Backes [pronounced PBack-us].  I could not locate him in the 1850 census until I cranked through the census microfilm for where I knew he lived.  I found him as “Packus”.  I only found him because I knew who was in the family from Catholic church records—written in Latin, no less—so I knew the names of all in the household.  USGLO records told me where he lived and who his neighbors were.

A local example is the Rape family.  They were Cedar Hill pioneers and still have descendants living in the area.  They came by their unfortunate surname because of their German heritage.  Their name was originally spelled “Raabe”.  Pronounced “Rapbe – eh”.  Fellow pioneers heard it pronounced it what sounded like “rape.”  Since then, some descendants changed their name to Reye and Rope.

The takeaway from all of this is.  Be aware of how your ancestors spoke their native language and how their accented English sounded to the native English speakers who recorded their names on documents.  Be aware of pronunciations common to their native tongue.  My Germans pronounced “th” as “t”, “w” as “v”, “v” as “f”, and “j” as a “y”.  And, of course, the “B” often sounds like a “P’.  A distant cousin named Veronica showed up on a census as Fronica.

Every language has its own unique pronunciation rules.  When researching you need to know how your surname was “butchered”.  I keep a list of misspellings I’ve encountered and of other possible misspellings.  And, it gets longer the longer I research.





Finding Your Roots—The Basics of Family History Research

Presented by Dave & Geri Klauck, April 2018

It Begins with You

  • Start with yourself and work from there
  • Ask family for information, artifacts, stories…
  • Identify your immediate family members—mother, father, siblings and grandparents
  • Record full names, nick names and the names before marriage of the women
  • Record the date and place of birth, death and marriage—BDM data
  • Include the name(s) of spouse(s)

About Online Family Trees

  • They are useful for clues to ancestors
  • Most lack source citations
  • Data without sources are not facts, they’re just stories
  • Check carefully against your family data
  • They are notorious for bad data
  • Their sources are NOT your sources—check their sources for validity
  • ALWAYS look a gift horse in the mouth

Sources other than what you know

Vital Records

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Death certificates
  • Look first for copies in your family’s keepsakes
  • Available at county records offices—the courthouse
  • Often available as church records on microfilm and from

Cemetery Transcriptions

  • Cemetery transcriptions are often the only record a person existed
  • Volunteers around the world transcribed the inscriptions on grave markers
  • Visit the Cemetery: observe those buried nearby
  • Information is good, but not always error free
  • Transcriptions available in libraries & online
  • Also available on

Census Records

  • The censuses are a genealogist’s go-to family finding tool
  • But, you need to identify your family back to 1940—the latest census available
  • Find your family in every census starting with the 1940 census and work back
  • Look at the actual image, not just the extract.
  • While there, look at entries listed before and after your family.

Social Security Records

  • Available on many free and fee search sites
  • Death index names person, date and state of issue, date of death, destination of last check
  • Applications name the place and date of birth, AKAs, parents, citizenship, ethnicity, race
  • Extracts available online from Ancestry
  • Photo copies available from the Social Security Administration for about $28


  • Newspapers—obituaries, news stories, public notices, personals
  • City/County Directories and Plat Books
  • Address, occupation, employer
  • Published annually or semi-annually
  • School Yearbooks
  • Available online and local libraries & historical societies

Land & Tax Records

  • Bounty grants, homestead grants & patents, purchase and sale deeds
  • Deeds describe the land—where and acreage—when purchased/sold, price
  • Who sold/purchased
  • The owner or heirs
  • Can identify married name of daughters
  • Hint at death dates of sons & daughters
  • Tax records include real and personal property
  • Online at

Probate Records

  • They are an underutilized family history tool
  • Usually have a copy of the deceased’s will
  • Can identify married daughters and “missing” children
  • Provide clues to financial status, family skeletons and much more
  • Dallas County probate records are available at the Dallas Public Library &

A Little About DNA

  • Genealogy DNA testing offered by many vendors for about $90
  • Test results include ethnic mix and possible matches to relatives
  • Can only match your DNA with DNA of those already in their database
  • Best results if you post your family tree with vendor

Record Your Data & Sources in a Family Group Sheet

  • Create a family group sheet for each ancestor
  • It describes a family in a way that it cannot be confused with any other family
  • It is how you know a “John Doe” is your “John Doe” and not some stranger with the same name
  • It also connects this family to your other families
  • It contains all vital data for the family
  • It uniquely distinguishes your ancestor from strangers having the same name
  • Links three generations in one document
  • Then, illustrate your data on a ancestral chart

Please join us the second Thursday the month for our meetings.  We meet in the Zuala B Wylie Library, 225 Cedar Street, Cedar Hill, TX.  Our meetings begin at 6:30 PM with an “eat and greet” half-hour with snacks.  Our program about some aspect of family history research starts at 7:00 PM. Guests are always welcome and admission always free.




Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

Dick Eastman · October 26, 2017

NOTE: This is a slightly updated version of an article I published about a year ago. A newsletter reader sent a message to me recently expressing dissatisfaction with records that once were available online but recently have disappeared. I am offering this republished article as an explanation about why we should not be surprised when that happens. I believe that every genealogist should understand why this happens so this article bears repeating every year or two. Please feel free to republish this article in newsletters, message boards, or forward it in email messages as you see fit.

 I will also offer a suggestion as to making sure you keep your own copies of online records that are valuable to you.

A newsletter reader sent an email message to me recently expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from one of the very popular genealogy sites. Indeed, removal of any online records of genealogical value is sad, but not unusual. Changes such as these are quite common on FamilySearch, MyHeritage,, Fold3, FindMyPast, and many other genealogy sites that provide digital images of old records online. Removal of datasets has occurred dozens of times in the past, and I suspect such things will continue to happen in the future. I thought I would write a brief explanation.

In almost all cases, information of genealogical value obtained from government agencies, religious groups, museums, genealogy societies, and other organizations is provided under contractual agreements. The contracts specify what information is to provided, how it is to be made available, and what price the web site has to pay to the provider for the records. All contracts also have a defined expiration date, typically 2 years or 3 years or perhaps 5 years after the contract is signed.

When a contract nears expiration, the two parties usually attempt to renegotiate the contract. Sometimes renewal is automatic, but more often it is not. Maybe the information provider (the government agency, religious group, museum, genealogy society, and other organization) decides they want more money, or maybe they decide they no longer want to supply the data to the online genealogy service. For instance, in the time the information has been available online, the information provider may have learned just how valuable the information really is. The information provider may decide to ask for more money or may even refuse to provide the information any more since the provider may have a NEW plan to create their own web site and offer the same information online on their own, new web site for a fee.

Sure, that stinks for those of us who would like to have the information everywhere; but, it makes sense to most everyone else. I am sure the budget officer at most any state or local government archive thinks it makes sense.

Every contract renegotiation is different, but it is not unusual to agree to disagree. The contract ends, and the web site provider legally MUST remove the information from their web site. The same thing frequently happens to all the other online sites that provide old records online.

Moral of this story: If you find a record online that is valuable to you, SAVE IT NOW! Save it to your hard drive and make a backup copy someplace else as well. If there is no option to save, make a screen shot and save it on your hard drive or some other place where it will last for many years. Just because you can see the record online today does not mean that it will be available tomorrow.

Dick_Eastman_small_pic_NEWDick Eastman has been writing this genealogy newsletter for 21 years.

He has been involved in genealogy for more than 35 years. He has worked in the computer industry for more than 40 years in hardware, software, and managerial positions. By the early 1970s, Dick was already using a mainframe computer to enter his family data on punch cards. He built his first home computer in 1980.

The Cedar Hill Genealogy Society Needs Volunteers

The Cedar Hill Genealogy Society is seeking volunteers to serve as officers and other needs of the society.

Officers to Run in our February Election:

President:  The president presides over all society meetings, makes recommendations, prepares agendas for the board of directors meetings, and appoints/approves all non-elected directors or chairs.  The president is the spokesperson of the society.

Vice-President: Is the Director of the Programs.  Assists the president in carrying out the duties of that office.  Presides at meetings in the president’s absence.  Succeeds the president if the president cannot continue in office.

Secretary:  Records the minutes of all society meetings.  Distributes the minutes to the board of directors before the next meeting.  Keeps a copy of all society meeting minutes in a notebook in the library.  Produces a newsletter and sends it and meeting notices of regular meetings to all members

Treasurer:  The treasurer has custody of the society’s funds.  Deposit all receipts in the bank or credit union.  Presents a current financial report at the board of directors meetings.  Pays the society’s bills and files tax documents as needed.

The Cedar Hill Genealogy Society is always seeking volunteers to assist with publicity, hospitality, membership, special projects and other needs.

All those wishing to help their society are urged to contact the president or any officer in person or by email at  Or, you can use the CONTACT US feature on our website at

Chasing Chiltons

David B. Appleton — My Favorite Ancestor 8 June 2017 CHGS Meeting

 James Chilton, at age 63, was the oldest passenger on the ship Mayflower in 1620, and he and his wife both died during that first hard winter for the Pilgrims, leaving their youngest daughter Mary, my 10th great-grandmother, an orphan in wild and unsettled New England.

James Chilton and his family had lived in and around Canterbury, and later Sandwich, in the County of Kent, England, for some years in the late 16th and very early 17th Centuries before they moved to Leiden in The Netherlands and then in 1620 boarded the Mayflower to voyage to New England.

 The earliest record I have found so far which names James Chilton is a reference to “Chylton, James, tailor” who was made a Freeman by Gift of the City of Canterbury in 1583.

With that as background on James Chilton, my wife and I took an opportunity in 2014 to spend a full day in Kent, England, “chasing Chiltons,” where we visited the three parish churches, two in Canterbury and one in Sandwich, where we know James Chilton and his family spent time: St. Paul’s Without the Walls, Canterbury; St. Martin’s, Canterbury; and St. Peter’s, Sandwich.


St. Paul’s Without the Walls, Canterbury, Kent

We find several parish record entries of James Chilton’s children being baptized at St. Paul’s:

Isabella, the daughter of James Chilton, baptized 15 Jan 1586/87

Jane, the daughter of James Chilton, baptized 08 Jun 1589

Ingle, the daughter of James Chilton, baptized 29 Apr 1599

Chiltons Fig 1.1

St. Paul’s Without the Walls (that is, outside the walled city of Canterbury) is believed to have been built as a chapel by the nearby St. Augustine’s Abbey for local people and overseen by the monks of the Abbey as a place of worship and instruction.

In the late 13th century the church was enlarged eastwards creating the space now occupied by the organ (built in 1901).

Chiltons Fig 1.2

The church has been enlarged again, southward in 1320, and further extended and refurbished in the mid-19th century when the tower was rebuilt and a third aisle created southward, but certainly the oldest portions of the church we see today would have been familiar to James Chilton and his wife.

There are two other entries in the parish records which may relate to the family of James Chilton:

Richard Chilton, baptized 27 Jan 1582/83

Joel Chilton, baptized 16 Aug 1584

These baptisms were performed in years when such entries did not include the father’s name. The parish records around these years is inconsistent: in some years, the father’s name is included; in other years, it is not, apparently at the whim of the recorder.

St. Martin’s, Canterbury, Kent

The following entries are found in the parish records for children of James Chilton:

Joel, the son of James Chilton, buried 02 Nov 1593

Mary, the daughter of James Chilton, buried 23 Nov 1593

Elizabeth, the daughter of James Chilton, baptized 14 Jul 1594

James, the son of James Chilton, baptized 22 Aug 1596

 The sign near the entrance to the grounds of St. Martin’s Church (named for St. Martin of Tours) states it is the oldest church in continuous use in England, and notes the days and times when services are still held there. It goes on to tell us that about the year 580 King Æthelberht of Kent gave his Christian bride, Bertha, the daughter of Charbert, King of the Franks, and a Christian, a place for worship. It was originally a building of Roman origin, and the remains of the older Roman building can still be seen in the walls of the chancel.

 In 597, Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine and forty monks to lead a Christian mission in England. Ethelbert allowed them to worship here, and they extended the chapel to include the great west wall. “Here they first began to assemble, to sing the psalms, to pray, to celebrate mass, to preach and to baptize, until the king was converted to the faith and gave them greater freedom to preach and to build and restore churches everywhere.” (Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, 731 A.D.). Eventually Æthelberht was baptized, and Augustine went on to build the Abbey and Cathedral and to become Canterbury’s first Archbishop. At that time, St. Martin’s lost its prestige but retains its historical primacy.

Chiltons Fig 2.1

The great west wall and the roof of the nave dates to the 14th Century, though some of the roof beams have had to be replaced since then.

Chiltons Fig 2.2

 Of the baptismal font in the church, the base is newer (it probably dates to the 19th Century), but the two lower tiers and the rim are believed to be of Saxon origin, and the higher tier of arches, Norman (since the Normans required higher fonts in their churches). This is the font where James Chilton and his wife stood when their children Elizabeth and James were baptized.

Chiltons Fig 2.3

St. Peter’s, Sandwich, Kent

The following entries are found in the parish records for children of James Chilton:

Christian, daughter of James Chilton, baptized 26 Jul 1601

James, son of James Chilton, baptized 11 Sep 1603

Mary, daughter of James Chilton, and my 10th great grandmother, baptized 31 May 1607

There has been a church on the site of St. Peter’s in Sandwich since about 1100. That early Norman church was probably destroyed in 1216, when Sandwich was attacked by the French during the First Barons’ War (1215-1217), when a group of rebellious major landowners (barons), supported by a French army under the future Louis VIII, made war on King John of England for his refusal to abide by the Magna Carta.

Chiltons Fig 3.1

The church was rebuilt a little later in the 13th century, when it consisted of a central nave with north and south aisles, a tower, and a chancel. In the 14th century the north aisle was widened and raised in height, and a chantry chapel was built at the east end of the south aisle. Much of the church today thus dates to the 13th and 14th centuries.


There remains on display in the church a 17th century sounding board, a wooden canopy which hung horizontally over the pulpit to direct the words of the officiating priest out to the congregation in these days before electrical amplification. Without a more specific date, I cannot say if this sounding board was installed at the time the Chiltons attended the parish, or if it is a replacement for the one that was in use when they were there.

Chiltons Fig 3.3

 It was a fun and informative journey, following the moves of James Chilton and his family through three parishes in two cities in Kent, England. The opportunity to visit these places, to “walk in their footsteps” and to learn first-hand a little bit about the lives of this – my – Pilgrim family, has heightened the emotional connection to these places where they lived and worked, and where some of their children were born and buried.

 And yet, the history of these places both precedes and succeeds the Chiltons’ time there, with connections as distant as St. Augustine and more recently, to a descendant from across the ocean “chasing Chiltons.”

by David B. Appleton

Genealogy Detectives Track Down Cedar Hill Tornado Details

Thank you to the Dallas Morning News and Loyd for allowing us to post this on our site

A Historical marker sits at the site believed to be the final resting place for some of the nine victims of a tornado that struck Cedar Hill in 1856


Dallas Morning News Staff Writer

Published: 04 March 2016 04:14 PM

Updated: 04 March 2016 04:26 PM

The tornado of 1856 still holds Cedar Hill in its grip. Perhaps not much is known about it outside the city limits, but it continues to come up in regular conversations with anyone who has lived in Cedar Hill for a decent length of time.

In its May 10, 1856 issue, the Dallas Herald “received minute particulars of the frightful tornado that recently carried desolation and death to the village of Cedar Hill, and neighborhood.”

The delivery of the news wasn’t instantaneous back then, so Herald readers were just finding out about the twister, which destroyed Cedar Hill on April 29, 1856.

Newspaper details of the time are sketchy and leave out major details that a modern-day reporter wouldn’t dare miss. Very few first names of victims are given. Reports state that only one building was left standing, but no information is provided about how many buildings were there to begin with.

And in comparing the Cedar Hill tornado with others like it, the Herald likens it to “The tornado at Natchez many years ago, and that which visited Vicksburg some eight or ten years since, …”

No journalist today would get away with saying “some eight or ten years since” or “many years ago” when giving a date.

These missing details have vexed residents, and Dave and Geri Klauck of the Cedar Hill Genealogical Society were enlisted to find out more about the particulars of that April afternoon in which nine people were killed and 12 wounded in the 10-year-old town of about 400 residents.

The two will present their findings in a 7 p.m. meeting March 14 sponsored by the Cedar Hill Museum of History.

“All that was known was the first name of one person,” Dave Klauck said. He and his wife have written a book, Gone with the Wind, the 1856 Cedar Hill Tornado, in which many of the details have been fleshed out.

A team of six genealogists did the research, each assigned to track down a victim.

“Geri loves a puzzle,” Dave said. “If you don’t want to be found, don’t get her on your case.”

The team dug into its resources, and Dave is thankful for the abundance of tools the group found online to help them:; the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Dallas County tax rolls, Dallas Public Library archives and – yes – Google.

“The babies’ names are still unknown, unless we come across church records, baptismal records or birth certificates,” Dave said.

But the group managed to find complete names for all the adults except one – a victim of a repugnant period of U.S. history. One “Negro woman” found among the dead likely was one of tornado fatality James L. Berry’s slaves, according to the team’s findings.

Some of the dead are believed to be buried in what is known as Crawford’s Tornado Graveyard, which was granted a Texas Historical Marker in 2012.

Dave also puts the number of buildings in the town back then at about a dozen. A map that he recreated showing the path of the tornado and the probable location of Cedar Hill’s buildings is in the Zula B. Wylie Library, he said.

The team’s research also uncovered details about a scandalous event after the tornado that is rendered in the sketchiest of details in the Herald.

The newspaper states that, “reports are in circulation, implicating the conduct of a prominent individual near Cedar Hill, in inhumane disrespect for the dead, and a refusal of that hospitality to the distressed that would spring spontaneously from every generous heart. We have suppressed the facts, as given us by a correspondent, and the name of the individual implicated, because it is an exhibition of human nature in a form so debased and ignoble that we are unwilling to believe it without further evidence. We wish to give him an opportunity of clearing himself of the imputation.”

Near as he can figure it, Dave Klauck believes this refers to Robert Crawford, a citizen of some renown who apparently turned back some people who wanted to store some of the bodies in his home to clean them up for burial.

“Crawford turned them away because he had some company and a lot of injured people already at his home,” Dave said. “He may not have made many friends on his way out of town.”

Be that as it may, the cemetery bears his name, probably because he deeded the land for it.


Genealogy Basics

It Begins with You

  • Start with yourself and work back in time
  • Ask family members for information, artifacts and family stories
  • Identify your immediate family members—mother, father, siblings and grandparents
  • Record full names, nick names and the maiden names of the women
  • Record the date and place of birth, death and marriage
  • Include the name(s) of spouse(s)
  • Record Your Data and Sources

Record Your Data

  • Record the data you collect on a Family Group Sheet
  • Use international style for dates—13 Aug 2016
  • First, the Wife & Her Partents
  • Next, the Husband & His Parents
  • Then, the Kids
  • Site your Sources


A Family Group Sheet Uniquely Identifies  a Family as Yours


 Tree Style Ancestral Chart


 Ancestral Chart – Vertical


Resources Other Than Your Family

  • Birth, marriage, death & cemetery records
  • Census records
  • Social Security records
  • Newspapers & city directories
  • Land records
  • Tax records
  • Probate records

Online Family Trees

  • They are good for finding clues, not data
  • Are notorious for not citing sources
  • Data without sources are not facts, they’re just stories
  • Check carefully against your family group data
  • They are notorious for bad research
  • Their sources are NOT your sources—check their sources for validity
  • ALWAYS look a gift horse in the mouth

Save Your Data on Your Computer

  • Family Search—Free online Family Tree
  • Family Tree Maker—About $40 from Amazon
  • Ancestry—By subscription

Join a Genealogical Society

  • Learn more about genealogy at every meeting
  • Personalized help from fellow members
  • Great conversations!
  • The Cedar Hill Genealogical Society
    • Always free admission
    • Meets the second Thursday of each month
    • 7:00pm; 6:30pm to socialize and snack
    • At the Zula B Wylie Library in Cedar Hill

from the Researching Your Family History on the Internet computer class

Can A Genealogist Accept As Face Value Copies Of Original Records?

Can a digitized or microfilmed copy of an original record be accepted as same as the original record?  Some may say “yes” and others may say “no.”

Locating original records is the aim in researching family ancestors, and certainly digitizing or microfilming the original records can make them available to a lot more people through the internet.

However, eliminating context, may affect the correctness of the information that the original images contain.

Genealogists need to be careful of possible errors and omissions in record images, and should analyze their format and source before accepting it as face value.  Further, it is very important to locate more than one source of information.  An excellent genealogist always secures at least two if not three sources on a particular fact.  Records are not always what they appear.  It is worth the effort and time to dig deeper to either confirm or disapprove the item.

Take the time to research the place and time.  Study the records in historical context. This procedure often uncovers information that helps in understanding the records even if those sources do not include a family’s name.

By Wes Quandt, Cedar Hill Genealogical Society