Updated: AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search, version 1.1

This is an update to my original post, "Does this Google Custom Search help find records about your ancestors?"

You may recall that I built the AncestorSearch form as a timesaver for my own genealogical web searches, and I decided to share it on my website in case others find it useful too.  (As a reminder, the AncestorSearch form performs a Google search that is optimized for finding web pages mentioning ancestors by making use of  Google search techniques including quoted phrases, checking both firstname lastname, and lastname firstname order, placing the "OR" statements and parenthesis in the right places, and so on.)
I appreciate all the feedback I've received on the usefulness of my search form from many users!  (And in fact, in the last few weeks, I've extended two more branches of my family tree back into the 1700s using my search form.  I found web pages with historical references to my ancestors that evidently had been hidden in heaps of irrelevant standard Google search results).

Anyway, based on feedback from users, I've made a couple of enhancements

Does this Google Custom Search help find records about your ancestors?

[I've added an update to this original post here:]

I hesitate posting this prematurely, but I welcome some initial feedback from the genealogy community on a search form that I've built.

I've built an "AncestorSearch" Google Custom Search form on my blog that I've been using to find records on my own ancestors, and it's worked pretty well for me so far over the last several weeks.  I'm choosing to share it now in case others find it useful as well.  Basically, this AncestorSearch search form attempts to filter through much of the irrelevant noise on the web and return a much more focused set of results which are more likely to be about the ancestors you are looking for.

For example, I was searching for my 3rd great grandparents’ marriage using Google, and entered the search term as follows:
Mary Diamond OR Dimond Peter Connor OR Conner New Orleans 1850 marriage
The search returned 21,300 results, none of which were relevant to my ancestors in page after page of search results.

I then entered the same search terms into the boxes in my AncestorSearch search form, and the search returned 4 results, with the 1st result being the marriage record I was looking for!  (Now it returns 5 results, as the AncestorSearch page itself has been indexed by Google)

Now, to be clear, there's no magic here.  All I've done with the search form is use some Google operators and search techniques such as "OR"/"|", quoted phrases, checking both orders of first name and last name, etc.  You can do the same thing yourself by entering the following into the standard Google search box, but it's a bit more cumbersome:
(("Mary Diamond"|"Diamond, Mary")|("Mary Dimond"|"Dimond, Mary")) (("Peter Connor"|"Connor, Peter")|("Peter Conner"|"Conner, Peter")) "New Orleans" (marriage|married|marriages) (1849|1850|1851)

If you're interested, give it a shot and see if this AncestorSearch Google Custom Search form is useful for you for finding a more focused set of results for some of your ancestors:

I welcome any feedback.

[I've added an update to this original post here:]

First day of 23andMe test results, and already a breakthrough!

I've been a FamilyTreeDNA customer for a couple of years, and I've had great success with using DNA testing combined with traditional genealogical research to break through one brick wall so far (see here

I recently became a 23andMe customer as well...their holiday special was just too good to pass up!

Well, I started receiving my test results a couple of days ago for the Health Edition, and yesterday for the Ancestry Edition of 23andMe.  I'm excited to say that I already have lots of matches to explore, and have already received about a half dozen requests to make contact, and I've sent about a similar amount to other people!  A quick summary of the 23andMe Relative Finder shows that I have the following matches with other 23andMe customers:

  • 4 second cousins (all with no name or personal details in their profiles though...bummer.  Hopefully some of them will respond to my contact requests)
  • 1 third cousin
  • 68 fourth cousins
  • 386 fifth cousins

Here's what's most exciting:  The very first person that tried contacting me through 23andMe is already a match and a bit of a breakthrough!  (And she was in the "fifth cousins" list)

Out of respect for her privacy, I'll not mention her name, but here's how the process has gone thus far.  Again, this was all in just the first day after receiving my test results!

  1. I received a notification e-mail from 23andMe that a potential 5th Cousin would like to make contact
  2. I clicked on the link in the email and viewed her 23andMe profile, in which she listed her family surnames 
  3. Her profile mentioned a few names that I thought were worth exploring since they match names in my tree:  Fuller, Pierce, Pugh, and Warren, and "possible names" (her words) Hart and Shofner.  So I accepted her invitation to connect and asked her what else she could tell me about those particular family lines.
  4. She replied in an e-mail that included high-level details on these matching family surnames, including names, locations, and dates.  Out of all the names, only one was worth exploring ...but it appears to be a breakthrough and solve a mystery for her in her tree!  Here's what she said in the latest e-mail:

"Henry Shofner 1755-1847 & Chloe Hart b.abt 1765 from Green CO KY may be my 4th gr-grandparents.  My gr-gr-grandfather Wm. Pringle appears to be their daughter's child.  Is this the same family as yours?  [She then goes on to list details about the 5 other matching surnames]  Anything ring a bell?  Of course, I'm hoping that the Hart/Shofner does.  That could answer one mystery in my tree."

Well, we found a match in a speculative branch of her tree, since Henry Shofner and Chloe Hart are my 6th great grandparents!  I've shared this information with her, and have offered to give her access to my private family tree on so we can compare more details, confirm facts, share photos and more!

All in all, a very productive first day of results on 23andMe!

President Lincoln writes a letter of thanks for "a pair of socks so fine"

On 4 Dec 1861, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to my 5th great grandmother, Susannah Crume Weathers, thanking her for a letter and gift she had recently sent him:  "a pair of socks so fine".  It seems quite funny and odd on the surface of it, and yet how quaint, charming, and even noble it is.  The letter is inspirational to me, as it exemplifies President Lincoln's unpretentious and accessible character.

Below is the letter as reproduced in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5 (Wildside Press, 2008).  How I'd love to see the original letter Abraham Lincoln had received from Susannah on 26 Nov 1861, and to see this original handwritten letter from Abraham Lincoln back to her.

It's even more astonishing that Abraham Lincoln wrote such a letter considering that this was in the middle of the Civil War, and knowing that he had untold pressing issues to attend to.  According to The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5, Abraham Lincoln wrote six other correspondences on the same day (4 Dec 1861):  two to Simon Cameron, two to the House of Representatives, one to George B. McClellan, and one to William H. Seward.

[As an aside, on my Crume/Weathers family line, Abraham Lincoln does not appear to be a direct blood relation to me.  Instead, he is the nephew of the wife of my 6th great grandfather.]

Coming Soon: No more heads peeking over the fence on! (Full faces soon to return!)

I have good news for anyone else that has been as annoyed as I have been about the photo display problems in the Pedigree view of the new Tree Viewer on (The same issue existed both in a beta they ran of a Tree Viewer a year or more ago, as well as in the more recent "preview" and recently released Tree Viewer.)

The issue is that the bottom of people's faces are cut off in the Pedigree view, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Now, skeptics may opine that this must be a problem with my photos. Not so :) The bug appears to be unique to the Pedigree view: the pop-up that appears when you hover over a person in Pedigree view, as well as the Person Profile page -- which all use the same photo -- all display as they should as you can see in the screenshots below.

So anyway, the good news is that I received an e-mail reply a couple of days ago from Jen Hodnett, the product manager for the Tree Viewer, who stated
"you’ll be happy to know that we’re in the process of fixing this. Look for the update in the next week or so."

Yeah! Soon, we won't have our ancestors peering over the fence at us!

Unexpected Name-Change Brick Wall Busted!

The man who wasn’t 
John Charles Brown?

Secrecy, Genealogical Research, Hunches, and DNA Testing Lead to Answers

For 130 years – from 1880 to 2010 – John Charles Brown’s past was hidden in veils of secrecy.  John’s children and grandchildren didn’t know who his parents or siblings were.  It was the proverbial genealogical brick wall.  Therefore, since this was one of my most difficult family lines I could research, I researched it.


For many years, the first confirmed record found of John Charles Brown was of his marriage to Catherine Connors on 13 April 1887 in Idaho, when he would have been 27 years old.  This was followed by the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Census records, which all list him as being born in Illinois and both of his parents as being born in Pennsylvania.

John Charles Brown's death certificate indicates that he was born in Ottawa, Illinois, on 24 December 1858, and lists his father as Michael Brown from Pennsylvania.  So far, these particulars are in agreement with the above Census records.  However, on the death certificate, John’s mother’s name is in error.  The witness, Charlie Brown (John’s son), accidentally records his own mother (John’s wife), Catherine Connors, as John’s mother.  Based on what I know now, I wonder if this really was an accident.

So we know all about John Charles Brown from age 28 onward, but where in the world was John from his birth in December 1858 through his marriage in April 1887…his first 28 years of life?


As I mentioned, John’s children and grandchildren knew very little about whom John’s parents or siblings were, but there were a few clues.  Cathryn Bilyeu Jensen, granddaughter of John Charles Brown, shared her memories of John with me in a phone conversation in December 2008.  She was always told by John and his children that:
•           John’s father was a tailor; John could remember his father sewing at the table
•           John was from Illinois
•           John ran away when he was 12 years old

Given the second-hand facts and stories shown above, for the last couple of years I have searched for more information on a John Charles Brown from Illinois, with a father named Michael from Pennsylvania, and a mother also from Pennsylvania.  I searched Census records with endless alternate spellings and misspellings and possible nicknames; I searched for tailors; and I searched for church records from Ottawa, IL.  [Because John Charles Brown was born in 1858, before birth certificates were recorded in Illinois, alternate birth records such as church records had to be relied upon].  Over those years, I did these and literally hundreds of other searches exhaustively to no avail.


As I learn of new databases from Illinois or Idaho, I often run searches for John Charles Brown in the event that I might get lucky.  Finally, on 9 August 2010, I ran a search on the FamilySearch website in a newly digitized database entitled "Idaho Marriages, 1878-1898; 1903-1942" for a John Brown with a spouse’s maiden name of Connors.  A record appeared that shows John Charles Brown's and Catherine Connors marriage as expected on 13 April 1887 (confirmed by other marriage records). 

Most surprisingly, for the first time ever, this record includes the names of John Charles Brown’s parents:  Michael Brown and Lucille Faust.  See record image below.  
Click to Enlarge

After this discovery, I ordered the microfilm of the record to confirm that the names had been properly transcribed, and to see if there were other clues.  There were no other clues.  [As an unrelated aside, the bride’s mother’s maiden name is actually Diamond per many other records, even though this record shows Drummond.]  See image of microfilm below.
                                                                                                                                            Groom’s Parents:
Click to Enlarge

          Bride’s Parents:           Witnesses:


Given the above information, over the next few days, I proceeded to search for John Charles Brown’s newly discovered parents:  Michael Brown and Lucille Faust Brown.  I looked for them living in Illinois in 1860, both born in Pennsylvania, occupation listed as tailor, and who had a 2 year old boy named John Charles Brown born in Illinois.  Even with many different attempts at alternate spellings and such, they simply could not be found in Illinois, Pennsylvania, or apparently anywhere else on the planet.  Even with the new information, it was déjà vu.


After searching based on many other variations of the above apparent facts, I then proceeded to perform more obscure searches.  On a hunch, I dropped the surname from the search and searched just for first names Michael and Luc* (a wildcard search since I didn’t know if she would be listed as Lucille or perhaps Lucy), living in or near Ottawa, Illinois in 1860, occupation tailor, who were both born in Pennsylvania, and who had a two year old boy named John Charles born in Illinois.  There was only one match: a Michael Baumgardner, married to a Lucinda, occupation tailor, both born in Pennsylvania, and having a two year old boy named Charles who was born in Illinois.  See this 1860 Census record below.
Click to Enlarge

This 1860 census record has ample near-matches to what we know of John Charles Brown from the facts and stories gathered over the years:
  • The family in this 1860 census record is living in Ottawa, Illinois -- John Charles Brown’s apparent birth place per his death certificate.  Incidentally, Ottawa is a town with a population of only 18,000 people in the year 2000…it was much smaller in 1860.
  • In this 1860 census record, there’s a two year old boy named Charles in the household who is listed as born in Illinois; census and death records for John Charles Brown state that he was born in 1858 in Illinois, so this fits.
  • The parents’ first names on this 1860 census record are Michael and Lucinda [later found to be named Lucetta]; this is a very close match to the parent’s names listed on John Charles Brown’s marriage certificate:  Michael and Lucille.
  • Both Michael and Lucinda in this 1860 census record are listed as being born in Pennsylvania (in about 1821 and 1824, respectively), matching what John Charles Brown had always stated as his parents’ birthplace.
  • And to put a cherry on top, the father in the 1860 census record, Michael Baumgardner, is shown with an occupation of “tailor”.


With this fantastic – and surprising – Baumgardner find, I felt I was beginning to form a decent circumstantial hypothesis that this Charles Baumgardner is the boy that later became John Charles Brown.  I needed to work on substantiating or refuting this, so I began by looking for other family trees online for a Michael Baumgardner who married a Luc* Faust.  I found a tree on entitled “Godfrey/Fry/Baumgartner/Miller” by a Chuck Godfrey which shows a Michael Baumgartner, born 1821 in Pennsylvania married to a Lucetta Faust; he shows this family living in Ottawa, Illinois in 1860.  No parents, children, or siblings are listed for Michael Baumgartner and Lucetta Faust in Chuck’s tree, so no more can be ascertained.  I sent an e-mail to Chuck to find out where he received the information on the Ottawa Baumgardners; the information was from a Walker Baumgardner of Gainesville, Georgia, who had in turn received the information from a cousin in Ohio.  Based on that information, it is believed that Walker’s great great Grandfather, John Baumgardner, is an older brother of Michael Baumgardner.  This Baumgardner family came from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, which was later confirmed as Michael Baumgardner’s birthplace per his Civil War Pension file.

So, I had some corroborating information from Chuck and Walker regarding Michael Brown and Lucetta Faust, but they didn’t have further information on their son Charles Baumgardner.  I needed to find more historical records on Charles to see whether or not they supported my hypothesis, so I began by searching across multiple Census records, which ultimately included the 1850 Federal, 1860 Federal, 1865 Illinois State, 1870 Federal, 1875 Kansas State, 1880 Federal, 1885 Kansas State, 1900 Federal, and 1910 Federal Censuses.  The son Charles Baumgardner was living with the Michael and Lucetta Baumgardner family in all the right places at the right times, until 1880, where he was no longer listed with the his parents (his parents were living in Reno County, Kansas in 1875 through at least 1885).  Instead, in 1880, Charles Baumgardner is found living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, age 22, unmarried, occupation farmer, stating that both of his parents were born in Pennsylvania.  In that record, he is living with 35 and 31 year old farmers named Robinson, one unmarried and one married male, both from Canada.  I later determined that the 31-year old J.C. Robinson was the husband of Charles Baumgardner’s older sister, Emma Jane Baumgardner.

Another piece of circumstantial evidence that John Charles Brown and Charles Baumgardner is the same person is that Michael and Lucetta’s children’s names include Harvey and Emma, names which John Charles Brown chooses to name two of his children.

After the 1880 census record, I could not locate a single record of a man with the name Charles Baumgardner (including many alternate spellings) whose details match those known; and remember, before the 1887 marriage record, I could not locate a John Charles Brown record that fits – even though he should appear in the 1860 and 1870 Census records, at a minimum. 

So, I could not locate a Charles Baumgardner after the 1880 Census, nor a John Charles Brown in or before the 1880 Census, with one exception: there is one other John Brown, born 1858, in the 1860 and 1870 Ottawa, La Salle County, Illinois Census, the son of a Thomas and Elizabeth Brown who were both born in Ireland; Thomas’ occupation is shown as “clerk in store”.  I had explored this family as the possible parents of John Charles Brown for over a year.  But not only do the parents’ names, birth locations, or occupations not match what we know of John Charles Brown, but also I had ordered the baptism certificate for this other John Brown, in which he is shown as born 20 June 1858, a full 6-months before the 24 December 1858 birth date of Charles Baumgardner a.k.a. John Charles Brown.  Based on all of this conflicting information, I increasingly ruled out this other Brown family.

Accordingly, if my hypothesis is true, then the next record of Charles Baumgardner is in Silver City, Idaho, where he is listed as J. C. Brown, a registered guest at the Idaho Hotel, per the 5 November 1881 issue of the Owyhee Avalanche newspaper.  Further records from 1883-1886 show J. C. Brown or John Brown around Jordan Valley on the Oregon/Idaho border, and near Silver City, Idaho.  Finally, as we already know, our confirmed John Charles Brown is found in this same vicinity in his marriage record dated 13 April 1887 with bride Catherine Connors.

Based on all of this circumstantial evidence, I believed the odds were quite favorable that Charles Baumgardner and John Charles Brown are one and the same man.  But I wished there was a way to prove it.


What about DNA testing?  If I could find a living direct male descendant of John Charles Brown, I could see if he was interested in having a y-DNA test done.  He could use FamilyTreeDNA, the leading genealogical DNA testing firm who has tested over 200,000 people’s y-DNA across over 100,000 unique surnames. This living direct male descendant’s y-DNA test results could be matched against all these other people who had ever tested with FamilyTreeDNA, and we could see which surnames he matched with!

I remembered that back in January 2010, I had contacted Dan Brown, a paternal grandson of John Charles Brown.  I had given him access to my private online family tree on, and over the following weeks we had exchanged information about John Charles Brown’s family.  In sticking with family tradition, Dan also didn’t know who the parents or siblings of John Charles Brown were.  I shared my theory on John Charles Brown really being Charles Baumgardner, and he became increasingly curious to get to the bottom of it. Over the next couple of months, Dan decided he would like to get a DNA test done and see if that could prove or disprove whether John Charles Brown was really a Baumgardner.

In early October 2010, Dan sent his cheek swab into FamilyTreeDNA and on 23 November 2010 he received notification of the results of his y-DNA test.  I assisted him with reviewing the results and it settled the matter once and for all.  The results of his DNA test show that Dan Brown has several very close Baumgardner matches, and one exact match!  Also, equally important, Dan has absolutely no matches whatsoever whose surname is Brown. This proves that Dan Brown, and his paternal grandfather, John Charles Brown, are really Baumgardners.

The closest matches that Dan Brown has are with men named Barry John Baumgardner and Robert Sidney Baumgardner, who show their direct paternal line ancestors as being from Germany and Switzerland, respectively.  What the match means is that Dan Brown and Barry and Robert share a common great great Grandfather (we don’t know how many “greats”) very likely within the last 8 generations.


So what caused Charles Baumgardner to change his name between June 1880 in Albuquerque and November 1881 in Silver City, Idaho?  And who are Michael Baumgardner’s parents and where did they come from?  And how is Dan Brown’s Baumgardner line related to Barry or Robert’s Baumgardner lines?  And did Charles Baumgardner’s parents and siblings know what became of him and who he was after 1880?  Who knows if we’ll ever have answers to these questions, but one thing is for certain:  we can stop searching for Brown ancestors.

- Randy Majors (randymajors at gmail dot com)
great great Grandson of Charles Baumgardner a.k.a. John Charles Brown
August - November 2010

New Year's Eve Snow