Summer Adventures In Genealogy

The last couple of months have been incredible.  I cannot believe how quickly it has flown by.  Then again they say time flies when you are having fun!

Back in April, I was working on the probate file of Willis Coffey.  I have received more documents from the DeKalb County Historical Society.  The short story is that when Willis passed away, the children from his first marriage went to court against the second wife and their half-brother from that marriage.  It reads like a Lifetime Movie.

I was distracted from the drama of Willis Coffey for a couple of reasons.  First, I was re-elected as President of the Marin County Genealogical Society.  I am looking forward to another year of working with great people on our Board of Directors.

The second distraction is working with a friend on their family tree.  One of our good friends (GG) needed help to work on his paternal line.  He has tested his DNA to compare to a person we are pretty sure is related.  I have been building the paper trail so when the results come in, there is a tree to work with.  This project has been a blast!  I am so lucky because GG’s family only arrived in the United States a few generations back.  The gateway ancestor has a fairly uncommon name so tracing him back to Denmark was a breeze.  From there I have found over 50 digital images of the family in the Denmark Church Records.

Gregers Erichsen Death Record 1746

The farthest ancestor for GG we have identified is Gregers Erichsen. His death record on 19 September 1746 states he is 77 years old. This gives us the earliest date of 1669 for this family.  Just incredible!!  Just thinking about it makes me happy all over again. I am so thankful for the time I got to flip through the church records and learn all about patronymic research.

My children got out of school in early June.  We have been on one adventure after the next. We visited my parents in Virginia and my uncle and aunt in Seattle.  Not too much genealogy research was accomplished in June but I was able to get a bunch of documents transcribed on the plane rides.

One of my biggest projects this summer has been to clean out our office and the top of my sewing table.  My husband was shocked at the two black garbage bags of paper I was able to get rid of.  Being liberated from all the clutter has led us to start using the office again.  It also created specific piles of genealogy work to digitize and write about.

This month has had genealogy peek into the picture more than I thought it would.  Look for a blog post about a previously unknown sister for my grandfather.  I am also going to blog about my experiences with DNA testing.  In the last month, the autosomal DNA results for both of my parents and one of my mother’s cousins has come in.  I having been immersing myself in DNA education to figure out what it all means.

The rest of the summer includes more adventures with the kids.  They are in dance camp this week, which has created time to write this blog post.  Hopefully, I can keep my new schedule of 20 minutes a day to either scan, transcribe, or write something.

How is your summer going?

Willis Coffey Last Will and Testament

Last week, I told you how there may be some conflict surrounding the estate of Willis Coffey, my 3rd great-grandfather.  You can read about it here.

Today, we will look at what is causing the fuss.  There are a few items to cover before we read the will. Willis Coffey was born in Russell County, Kentucky on May 2, 1804.  He married Velotty (Lotty) Haynes on March 23, 1828.  They had nine children: Louisa, Nebuzaradin B., Teckly, Sara Tiller, Mary Frances, Jackson, Lotty Emeline, Nancy, and James C. Coffey. Lotty Coffee passed away in October 1869 and is buried in the Stewartsville Cemetery, DeKalb, Missouri. Willis was remarried seven months later on June 15, 1870 to Susan Pickett Laffern.  Susan was much younger than Willis (born 1832) and then had a son together (Willis Franklin) in 1874 when Willis was 70 years old. Now that we know the family structure, the will will make more sense.

The lawsuit that follows the death of Willis Coffey will focus on the Will he wrote in 1885, 8 years before his death.

Transcription of the Last Will and Testament of Willis Coffey:

I, Willis Coffey, of the county of DeKalb, and State of Missouri, do make and publish this, my last will and testament.

1st, I give and devise and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Susan Coffey, during her natural life the following real estate (lands), situated in the county of DeKalb and State of Missouri, to wit:

the East half (1/2), of the North west quarter (1/4), of section thirty four, (34); township fifty eight (58); of range thirty three (33).

The above described lands to belong to my wife during her natural life; and at her death, the said lands to become the property of my son, Willis Franklin Coffey.

2nd, I bequeath to my beloved wife, Susan Coffey, a sufficient am’t of provisions for the support of herself and my son Willis Franklin Coffey for the period of one year; said amount to be determined by the Judge of the Probate court.

3rd, I devise and bequeath unto my beloved wife , Susan Coffey, on horse, one milk cow, four pork hogs, and five sheep.  The above personal property to be selected by my said wife, and delivered to her by my executor.

4th, I give and bequeath to my beloved wife, Susan Coffey, two hundred (200) bushels of corn; and twenty (20 bushels of wheat, and if there be no a sufficient amount of corn and wheat on hand at my death, my executor is hereby directed to pay to my said wife the value of the deficiency, out of my estate.

5th, I will and bequeath to my beloved wife, Susan Coffey, all of my household and kitchen furniture of every description, whatever.

6, And as to the remainder of all my real estate (lands), I hereby direct my executor to sell the same at public or private sale, as he may think best, and to such person or persons as he may think proper and just, and I hereby direct my executor to divide the proceeds of said sale of my real estate as follows: to wit said proceeds to be equally divided between my children and grandchildren as follows:

To the children of my deceased daughter, Eliza Warner one ninth (1/9) part, and to each of my other children as follows: N.B. Coffey, Sarah Clark, Tecka Rippeto, Jackson Coffey, Mary Mitchel, Lotta E Carter, Nancy Stepp, and Willis Franklin Coffey, one ninth (1/9) part.

7th  And as to all debts due and owing to me; I hereby direct my executor to sell the same at public or private sale, as he may think best and to divide the proceeds thereof, as above mentioned in the distributions of proceeds of real estate,

8th,  And lastly, as to all the rest, residue, and remainder of my personal estate, whatsoever, after paying all my just debts, I give  and bequeath to my son Willis Franklin Coffee three hundred $300.00 dollars, then the remainder is to be equally divided between my children and grandchildren as above described.

9th,  And I hereby appoint William M. Stigall, of DeKalb county Missouri as guardian and ensator(??) of my son Willis Franklin Coffey.

10rd[sic], I do hereby appoint William M Stigall, of DeKalb county and State of Missouri as the executor of this my last will and testament; hereby revoking all former wills and testaments by me made.

In witness whereof I have presented my hand, this the 26 day of January, A.S 1885,

Willis Coffey

Signed and declared by the above named Willis Coffey, to be his last will and testament, in the presence of all who at his request have signed as witnesses to the same, in his presence, and in the presence of each other.

Wm T Thornton

James Adams


Willis Coffey – A Probate Story

Willis Coffey is my 3rd great-grandfather.  I recently found his probate papers on  I am super excited about this find because the file contains 174 digital images.  With this much paperwork there must be a story!

Me to Willis Coffey

The story begins with a flurry of paperwork between 28 September 1893 and 9 October 1893.  On the 28th of September a receipt was written by the manager of the Clarksdale, Missouri office of the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad for sending a telegram announcing the death of Willis Coffey.

A week and a half later, several people appeared at the county courthouse in Maysville, Missouri (the county seat).  Several documents were signed and witnessed on October 9, 1893.  First, the will of Willis Coffey was presented to the court.  I was very disappointed to realize one page of the will was not digitized.  Of course it was the page that was to lay out how part of the estate was to be divided among his heirs.  The last page of the will had a sheet of paper attached that stated the will had officially been recorded in DeKalb County.  This was signed by the local probate judge, W.A. Thornbaugh.

Next, W.F. Thornton appeared before the judge to swear he was present and signed as a witness on Willis Coffey’s will.  He also stated that James Adams (the other witness) was now deceased and his signature was true.  This was all signed to in the Proof of Will and witnessed by Judge Thornbaugh.

Another form was signed by the Probate Judge which states the will of Willis Coffey appoints W.M. Stigall as executor.  This was followed by a signed Executor’s Bond for $2000 for W.M. Stigall.  Also on the same form was an Oath for W.M. Stigall to sign.  The oath states that the executor will truly perform his duties as executor, including a perfect inventory.  Apparently W.M Stigall took this oath very seriously as most of the digital images in the Probate packet are receipts for every detail.

The last sheet in the Will papers was my favorite.  It is an undated hand written notice that says: “The court instructs the jury that the only issue in this case is whether or not the paper writing offered in evidence (and hereto attached) purporting to be the last will of Willis Coffee deceased, is his last will and testament.

Coffey, Willis Will page 7

It is starting to get good!!  My next blog post will take a look at the Will in question.

My Ancestor Score Card

Every now and then the Ancestor Score Card makes it rounds in the genealogy blogs.  This is a chart that compares the possible number of ancestors in each generation to the number you have identified.

Last month, I saw a couple of blog posts focusing on the genealogists Ancestor Score Card.  Today I want to share mine.

8 generation score card

I am very happy with the progress I have made in my family tree.  It will be really interesting to see when I finally crack the 100% level at the 6th generation.  The four ancestors I need to identify are the parents of James Dempsey and Mary Ann O’Neil.  Haha!  This should be fun to find in Scotland.

Filling out this chart is not my goal for my genealogy research.  I enjoy filling out the lives of each ancestor with stories.  I think this is a fun exercise to take stock of the work done so far.

Ancestor Birthplace Chart

Last week the genealogy world was all about sharing their Ancestor Birthplace Charts.  It started with J. Paul Hawthorne on his Facebook page.  It quickly went viral and the charts were popping up on Facebook and genealogy blogs.

What most impressed me about the charts I was seeing is the visual migration pattern that is created.  Since each place is assigned a different color, the migration pattern is a completely different representation then I have ever seen.

I played with my chart all weekend to find a color pattern I enjoyed.  This morning I decided I needed to do a chart for my children to show how different their story is from mine.  My husband’s family has a very different migration story than my own.  I love the results.  I plan on printing these charts to hang in my office.

My family has definitely participated in populating the West.  As you can see every couple of generations, the family continued across the United States. An interesting note to add to this story is my niece and nephew were born in Virginia.  The migration continues….

Birthplace migration sierra


My kids have a different view in their chart because of my husband’s family.  I was shocked to see how many generations have been born in California.  My kids have some deep roots back to the mid 1800’s in this state!

birthplace migration kids

This spurred me to looking at the dates of admission for statehood for each state on the chart.  I knew California was admitted in 1850.  I was surprised to see Kansas was not an “official” state until 1861.  My ancestors formally claimed land in Kansas in 1853 as soon as the territory was up for grabs. Just another reminder to always look at historical events to see how they shaped the lives of your ancestors!

I would be interested in doing this exercise again but in a different format.  I would like to see a circle chart with my kids in the middle that was color coded in the same manner.  I think it would be much easier to add additional generations to a circle chart.



A Family Tree With Index Cards and Black Tape

I try not to watch TV in real time.  I love my DVR.  This week, I caught up on some episodes of Elementary.  The show is a modern interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. The show features Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock and Watson.  I enjoy the different ways the show incorporates the original books.  Sometimes it is very obvious such as Sherlock’s battle with his arch enemy, Moriarty.  Other ways are more refined such as Sherlock being a recovering drug addict.  Drugs are very prevalent in the books.

The episode I just watched was called “Hounded.”  It began with a spin on the “Hounds of Baskerville” story.  The story opens with Charles Baskerville dying after being chased by an animal.  Not long after, this “animal” is captured after chasing the dead man’s brother, Henry (Henry lives).  It turns out the animal is actually a robot built by a company owned by the dead man’s cousin, Roger.

This is where genealogy enters the picture.  The three men (Charles Baskerville, Henry Baskerville, and cousin, Roger Stapleton) are the last living heirs to a vast fortune left by patriarch Hugo Baskerville.  There is a great scene with Sherlock and Watson standing in front of a large family tree created with index cards and black tape.

2016-03-11 10.49.58

It appears all branches of the family tree have died out.  Sherlock proposes that there may be an unknown heir from a non-paternity event. He goes on to describe an illegitimate child as a “cross pollination event”.  An interesting way of looking at it!

I was cracking up as Watson says,”So all we have to do is look through 120 years of birth records to find our new suspect?!”

The genealogy laughs continued when Sherlock was explaining his ideas to Henry Baskerville as to who killed his brother.  Henry says to Sherlock, “He or she could have been born anywhere in the world sometime in the last century to anyone of several dozen people!!”

A plan is hatched to have Henry “kill” his cousin, Roger.  Therefore, since the last heirs are eliminated, the killer/unknown heir will come forward to collect his or her fortune.  Sure enough, with a few minutes left in the show, Miss Laura Lyons appears to collect her money.  She claims to be the daughter of Ike Stapleton, the dead older brother of cousin Roger.  She also worked for Roger and had access to that robot animal who caused the death of Charles Baskerville at the beginning of the episode.

I always enjoy when genealogy is part of a tv show.  I really enjoyed the way it was incorporated into Elementary. A huge thank you to the writers for not portraying family history research as a one click find your answers. I also enjoyed the large black tape family tree.  I wish I had a wall to go crazy on in my house!



Join The Fun – We Are Genealogy Bloggers Facebook Group

Last weekend, I read a blog post at the Olive Tree Genealogy Blog about a new Facebook Group.  Lorine McGinnis Schulze has started the group We Are Genealogy Bloggers to share ideas, inspiration, and knowledge.  In less than a week, the group already has 170 members.

It has been no secret that I have not been blogging much in the last year.  The past year has been filled with many highs, lows, and children’s activities.  While my family still has a full calendar, I have decided it is time to prioritize what I want to do.  I miss writing.  I enjoy writing.  I need to make time for writing!

Yesterday, I posted a question asking how the group’s members schedule their writing.  Do they write posts in advance?  Wing it? etc.  Within a day I had nine responses.  It made me realize I am part of a larger group out there. This supportive group has me inspired.  I sat down this morning and created a list of blog post ideas.  Joining this new Facebook Group is the perfect motivator to get my fingers moving across the keyboard again.

If you have not already done so, check out the We Are Genealogy Bloggers Facebook Group.  Maybe you will find some inspiration too!

My Geneapets

There is a fun genealogy bog called GeneaDictionary.  It was created by Jill Ball (aka GeniAus) to document words that have been adopted by genealogists into our vocabulary.

At the end of December, a new word was added that caught my attention.  Check out the blog post here: Geneapet.

Geneapet : The genealogists four-legged friend who keeps him or her company while spending time researching in the geneacave.

I personally have two geneapets.  The labrador, Riley, can be identified by the loud snoring while I am working.  The King Charles Cavalier, Coco, snuggles at my feet any time I sit down at the computer.  Some of my best work is supervised by my loves!

2015-01-22 15.12.31

Review – My Heritage Book by Deanna Bufo Novak

This Christmas my husband’s entire family went on vacation together to Disney World.  It was an incredible week of fun!  One of the highlights for me came on our last day.  My mother-in-law purchased a copy of My Heritage Book by Deanna Bufo Novak for my kids(her grandkids).  To top it off, Deanna was scheduled to be at Epcot that afternoon.  We could meet her and have the book signed.

Myself, my older daughter, and Deanna at Epcot.

Myself, my older daughter, and Deanna at Epcot.

My Heritage Book looks at the traditions and customs of the countries you where your ancestors are from.  You as the buyer get to decide what countries your book includes.  There are currently almost 100 countries to choose from.  Each section focuses on a little geography, the country flag, food, important festivals, people, stories, and an invention/music/sport that originate from the country. The last section of the book is about the United States.  The book ends with pages to write your own family traditions down and a family tree to fill in. The book includes beautiful illustrations by Alicia Bresee.

The best part of the My Heritage Book is that it is completely customized to you and your history.  My mother-in-law and I discussed which countries to include in the book to best represent the extremely varied ancestry my kids enjoy (aka European mutts).  My girls love that their name is printed at the beginning and end of each country.  They also love learning how to say hello and goodbye in the language of each country.

My Heritage Book was written for school aged children.  The book hits the mark for my girls who are aged 4 and 7.  It is just the right amount of information and interesting traditions to keep them engaged.  The vocabulary is perfect for school children.  My new reader is able to enjoy the book on her own with just a little help for the words in other languages.  I was happy to see my girls understand the concept that you can have ancestors from other countries and our own country.

It was such a pleasure to meet Deanna Bufo Novak at Epcot that afternoon.  She has created an incredible product for any family to enjoy.  I am so happy we have added this book to our collection!  I highly recommend visiting her website and ordering a book at

Deanna will also be at Roots Tech next week.  If you are lucky enough to be going, stop by her booth and check out her products!