Archive for category Writing a Family History

Writing a Family History Using Photographs and Other Images

Posted by on Saturday, 11 April, 2015

This post is another in s series of posts about how to write a family history. I’m hoping this series will inspire some of my regular readers to start writing down their family history. You do not need to have completed all research to start writing about your ancestors, you only need to start. In this post, you will find that you really do not need specific photographs of your ancestor, though it certainly helps. I will again be using my ancestor Edwin Banks for this exercise.

For earlier posts in this series see the following;


One of the easiest way to start writing about your ancestors is to take some photographs or other images which have some meaning about your ancestor and start describing it.

Banks Family, Alfred, Edwin, Edward 1850

This depiction is the earliest image known to exist about my ancestor Edwin A Banks. It does not appear to be a photograph nor did it appear to me to be a painting. It must have been some other media. The twin boys Edwin and Edward are standing around their father Alfred. It is not known which boy is which. They boys appear to me to be about three or four years making the image from about 1849 -1850. Notice the buys and their father are dressed in very fine clothes. Being that their father was a tailor in Seneca, Ontario County, New York, one might wonder if Alfred made these fine clothes.

If you have series of images about your ancestor, you can show how your ancestor has grown and aged over time.

Edwin A Banks & Mary Ann McKeown

This photograph of Edwin Alfred Banks is from about 1895 – 1900. You can see how his appearance changes within a matter of five to ten years from this photograph to the next one pictured below. Notice his receding hair line and more pronounced wrinkles in the second photograph.

Edwin A Banks & Mary Ann McKeown

In the photograph above, Edwin A Banks is standing next to his wife Mary Ann McKeown. The date of the photograph is unknown, but is must have occurred prior to May 19. 1909. That is the date which Edwin’s wife died. They are both dressed in what is likely their finest clothes or clothes perhaps borrowed at the photographers they went to. It appears that Edwin and Mary are perhaps in their late 50’s of early sixties which would date the photograph in about 1905.

You can put in a picture of two of your ancestors children.

Minnie Bell Banks 1873 Hartford Connecticut

This photograph is of Minnie Bell Banks from about 1873. Minnie is the oldest of Edwin’s three children (Minnie, Alfred, Charles).

You do not have to have photos or other images with your ancestors in them. Find or take a photo from the place your ancestor lived, even if that place is not the same as today. You can look in old city directories for buildings or street scenes from where your ancestor lived. Perhaps there’s a photograph from the civil war unit your ancestor served in. That’s a great way to introduce your ancestors civil war service.

Fitch's Home for Soldiers Darien Conencticut

The Fitch Home For Soldiers in Darien, Connecticut is where Edwin spent the last part of his life. Edwin was living there when the 1920 United State Census was taken. He died there on July 3, 1921.


1845 New York City Store Front

The image above was depicted in the 1845 New York City Directory. The image does not have any relation to my ancestor Edwin Banks, but it’s just a short walk from where my ancestor Dr. Henry L. Sanders lived. Other buildings shown in the directory have a similar structure and composition. This is the New York City that my ancestor would have known.

1) Depiction of Alfred, Edwin and Edward in possession of author’s mother.
2) Photograph of Edwin and Bank in the possession of the author.
3) 1845 NYC Directory

Writing a Family History Using Census Records

Posted by on Saturday, 21 March, 2015

As a continuation of this a series of blog posts about how to write your family history, this post is about using the US Census to write snippets about your ancestor. One way to write about your ancestor’s life is to divide your writings into chapters. One chapter could be about places they lived and the census record gives you a good indication about that. City Directories (a topic for a future post about writing your ancestor’s life story) if available, provide even more details about where your ancestor lived if they are available.

For earlier posts in this series see the following;

Want to know how many people lived in your ancestors town during a census year? Do a search on with only the town listed for the census year in question and indicate it has to be an exact match. Combine the census data with historical references about the town and you have the beginning of a great chapter in your ancestor’s life. The following snippet is just a small sample of what you can write about your ancestor. You can add more details about the particular town in which he lived. Use the addresses from the Census record and get a photograph from today of the place your ancestor lived. Better yet, if you can find a photo near where your ancestor lived at the time your ancestor lived use that (with permission of course if it’s still under copyright).

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Residences of Edwin A Banks – Civil War Soldier

In 1850 when the census was taken, The Town of Seneca in Ontario County, New York had about 8,500 people living there. A town that size would need a tailor or two and may have kept Edwin’s father busy, being that he was a tailor. At four years old, Edwin and his twin brother Edward would not have been old enough to go to school yet. They would have to wait another year or two.

While Seneca may have been a thriving larger sized town, Edwin’s early teenage years started in Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut. This was a much smaller town. Only about 3500 people were living in Newtown at the time the 1860 Census was taken. Three generations were living in the household. Edwin’s maternal grandparent Orrin and Sarah Shepard, Edwin’s mother Jane plus the twin boys Edwin and Edward. Orrin Shepard was a farmer and it’s likely that Edwin and his twin brother Edward worked a little on the farm.

Along some of the rivers which ran through Newtown, there were several small industries. Several small hat shops developed and larger hat factories were in the neighboring towns of Bethel and Danbury. Edwin’s mother Jane was a milliner and likely worked at a small hat shop in town or one of the larger factories in Bethel or Danbury.

After the civil war, which Edwin participated in, he lived in the thriving city of Hartford, Connecticut with more than 38,000 people living there when the 1870 Census was taken. This number would grow to more than 42,500 in within ten years. Edwin was living as an electrotyper in the 1870s. He must have been making a pretty good living for the time. The value of his personal state in 1870 was $1,500, which was more than the value of most other peoples family. In 1880 Edwin, his wife and their three children are living at 21 Harrison Ave. His mother-in-law Mary McKeown is also living with them.

1880 US Census, edwin banks

It is unclear what made Edwin and his family leave Hartford. In 1890 Edwin is living in Revere, Massachusetts. Revere is near Boston and was a small coastal town. With the completion of a railroad in town, Revere was rapidly growing in population. It had a population of about 5,500 residents in 1890.

Living in Brooklyn must have been like any other place Edwin lived at during his lifetime. By 1910, there are over 1.5 million people living there in 1910. He’s living at his son’s place at 2109 Pacific Street. Two grandsons, Alfred and George are also in the household as is the mother of his son’s wife Kate Wilson. He is still working as an elctrotyper and his son Alfred took up the same profession.

Fitch's Home for Old Soldiers Darien Connecticut

By 1920 Edwin is living in Darien, Connecticut. Darien is a small town in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. There are a little over 4,000 people living there. He’s living at a home for old civil war soldiers.

1) “1850 United States Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Seneca, Ontario County, New York, accessed 2015
2) “1860 United States Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Shepard, Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut, accessed 2015
3) “1870 United State Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, accessed 2015
4) “1880 United State Census”. database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, accessed 2015
5) “1890 United State Veterans Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Revere, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, accessed 2015
6) “1910 United State Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, accessed 2015
7) “1920 United State Census”, database,, entry for Edwin Banks, Darien, Fairfield County, Connecticut, accessed 2015
8) Newtown Historical Society, Newtown in the Nineteenth Century , A Brief History of Newtown, by Dan Cruson
9) City of Revere Massachusetts Website, Brief Historical Background Revere Society for Cultural & Historic Preservation

Writing a Family History – Military Monday – Civil War Service Records

Posted by on Monday, 9 March, 2015

As the first of a series of blog posts about how to write your family history, this post is about using the Civil War Service records to write snippets about your ancestor. Civil War Military Service Records are rather a unique set of records. While they may not have a lot of information about your ancestors relatives, it provides a great source for writing about your ancestor. Using my ancestor Edwin A. Banks, I will outline various types of documents you will find in civil war service records.

Using the civil war service record and a regimental history, I was able to write the following about my ancestor. You may never be able to tell for certain whether your ancestor was at a certain battle. However, you can get a very good indication that he was if the company muster rolls list him as present and no other documents indicate he was away from his unit. You could embellish the writing below to talk more about specific battles and how his unit participated in the battle. Perhaps that will be another part of this series of posts.

Edwin Banks being 5′ 2″ tall with brown hair, a light complexion and hazel eyes volunteered for the civil war on January 2, 1864 in New Haven, Connecticut. He was a farmer who was originally from the town of Newtown, Connecticut. He mustered into the service on January 29, 1864 and was a private of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery unit.

After the start of Edwin’s service, he likely participated in garrison duties at Fort Worth, Fort Williams and Fort Ellsworth. These forts were south of the Potomac River and were defending Washington DC. On May 17th 1864 the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillary was ordered to join the Army of the Potomac in the field. Over the next month and a half the unit was in action at Spottsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomoy, Hanover, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Jerusalem Plank Road. On July 10, the unit was moved back to Washington DC where they repulsed Early’s attack on Washington.

From August through December the unit took part in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. They saw action at Battle of Opequan, Fisher’s Hill and the Battle of Cedar Creek. They took part in the Siege of Petersburg, Dabney’s Mills and Hatcher’s Run. They also took part in the Appomattox Campaign and participated at the assault on and fall of Petersburg, Pursuit of Lee, Sailor’s Creek and Appomattox. Edwin’s unit was there during the Surrender of Lee and his army. Edwin was most likely present at all of these battles and skirmishes including the surrender of Lee and his army as he was marked present on all company muster rolls. The only time it appears he spent away from his unit was when he left to go to a hospital on May 2, 1865. He was discharged from Douglas General Hospital in Washington DC and returned to his unit on June 20, 1865. Shortly after his return, it is further noted that he was “On daily duty as worker Reg. Hd2d since June 28/65″. Edwin would have missed the corp review which happened on June 8, as he was in a hospital in Washington. Edwin was mustered out of service on August 18, 1865.

Most service records will contain the volunteer enlistment form.

Typical Data from a Volunteer Enlistment form

  • Town and State of where he was born
  • His current occupation
  • A signature of your ancestor
  • When and where he enlisted
  • Mustered in Date
  • A brief description of your ancestor (eye color, hair color, complexion and height

early Connecticut School Photo

A document you will almost always find is either Muster and Descriptive Roll and/or Company Descriptive Book. I’m lumping these two documents together as they have the same type of information on both record types. Not every piece of data is found on both document types. Be sure to look at each and every one of these documents. My Edwin Banks is described as having dark eyes in most descriptions. One description indicates his eyes were hazel which is a dark color.

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Typical data in a Muster and Descriptive Roll and/or Company Descriptive Book

  • Rank
  • Unit, where and when enlisted
  • Period of Enlistment
  • Bounty Paid
  • A brief description of your ancestor (eye color, hair color, complexion and height
  • Age and where he was born
  • Occupation
  • Sometimes notes if he received advanced payment

early Connecticut School Photo

early Connecticut School Photo

Another common document you will find in the service records are company muster rolls. Every two months a roll call would be taken to see who was present and who was absent. If your ancestor was absent for some reason, it will most likely say where he was and when he left. It might be that he was at a hospital, which was very common. Using this information and a regimental history, you may be able to get a good idea which battles your ancestor likely fought in.

Typical Data in a Company Muster Roll

  • Present or absent when the roll call was taken
  • If absent, a description of why he was absent and when he left
  • If any bounty was due to the soldier
  • If any money was due to the Federal Government from the soldier (stoppage)

early Connecticut School Photo

You will usually find a muster-in roll and/or muster-out roll.

Typical Data in a mustet-in roll and/or muster-out roll

  • Rank
  • Regiment
  • Where mustered in/out
  • Total bounty (money) due the soldier, less any the soldier owes

early Connecticut School Photo

Another document you might find in your ancestors service records are “returns”. Is your ancestor was away from his unit for some reason and then returned to duty, this document might provide some insight.

Typical Data in a Returns document

  • When he left the unit and for what reason
  • When he returned to duty and where he was coming from

early Connecticut School Photo

Additionally there could be other documents in your ancestors civil war service file. Some of these documents may include a consent in case of a minor, a document detailing the capture of the soldier and his parole, documents pertaining to the death of a solder and a whole lot more.

Source List Entries for resources

1) Civil War Service Records, Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington DC
2) National Park Service, Regimental History,, accessed March 6, 2015, 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillary

Writing Your Family History

Posted by on Friday, 6 March, 2015

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last blogged regularly. My personal life was thrown for a loop quite some time ago which led to my absence. I’m trying get back into a regular blogging habit for those of you regular readers of this blog. I feel somewhat guilty since my absence in blogging occurred shortly after my blog being mentioned in Family Tree Magazine’s 2013 best genealogy blogs. First I’m going to finish what I started in 2013.

In addition, this year I thought I would try something a little bit different and something I haven’t seen done on any other genealogy blog. I’m going to choose one of my ancestors and try to write his life story. I will write snippets of his story by evaluating each record group and showing how you may be able to start on your ancestors life story. You do not need to be a great writer and you do not need to have completed all research you can ever find about this ancestor. You only need to review the research, perhaps find and complete some gaps in that research and just start writing. If you do not document his life story, who will?

My goal is to write something about his life every month. My ancestor I chose to write about is Edwin A. Banks. He is pictured below with his wife.

Edwin A Banks & Mary Ann McKeown

The following snippet is what I have written about his life story in my version Family Tree Maker software right now. Let’s see how we can write this life story using primary and secondary records.

“Edwin Alfred Banks was born on 28-Nov-1846 in Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut and the son of Alfred Banks and Jane Ann Shepard. He had a twin son Edward Alfred Banks. In 1850, he was living with his parent and brother in Seneca, Ontario County, New York. By 1860, the family was living back in Newtown, Connecticut.

On January 2, 1864 at the age of 17, Edwin enlisted in the Union Army. He had lied about his age and he indicated he was actually 18. He served in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillary. On August 18, 1865 he was discharged from the Union Army.

After the war, he married Mary Ann McKeown on April 22, 1869. The ended up having three children, Minnie, Alfred and Charles. During the rest of his life, he moved around quite a bit. He lived for a while in Washington DC. He died at a soldiers home on July 2, 1921.”

While writing his life story this year, I will try to document the sources properly to the best of my ability. A great resource for this is the Book “Evidence Explained”. It shows the proper way of citing just about any resource you can imagine. Look for the first snippet of Edwin’s life story to emerge by highlighting his civil war service records. At the end of the year, I will attempt to put all these snippets together and create one long blog about Edwin’s life.

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