Learning More About John McMurry from Federal Land Records

Because my recent research has focused on Mary Smart McMurry, I decided to obtain her husband John McMurry’s federal land records. I needed to expand my “reasonably exhaustive research” — a tenet of the Genealogical Proof Standard — to her closest male relative in the absence of records for Mary. John patented approximately 160 acres in Gaar’s Mill, Winn Parish, Louisiana, in 1898. His land patent application could give more clues about his family structure, including Mary’s origins or her date of death.

Location of John McMurry’s Patented Land in Winn Parish
S 1/2 of NW 1/4 and N 1/2 of SW 1/4 of Section 22, Township 13N, Range 2W

So I hired my first NARA researcher to retrieve the records. Brian Rhinehart from Rhinehart Roots was easy to work with — affordable, professional, and quick. He goes to DC almost monthly, and I placed my order with him while he was on a research trip. Because of this great timing, I received his photographs of John McMurry’s homestead application within 24 hours!

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Colorizing a 1920s McMurry Family Photo with MyHeritage In Color

MyHeritage has an intriguing new feature — MyHeritage In Color. As its name suggests, this feature adds color to black and white photos.

I decided to colorize the only childhood photo I have of my granny Ethel McMurry. It shows her with mother Lula McKaskle McMurry and younger brother John Wright “Unc” McMurry. I’m not sure where the photo was taken. There are telephone wires in the background, so it wasn’t on their farm in Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana. But John, born in 1918, appears about 3 to 5 years old, which dates this photo to the early 1920s.

Here’s the before and after with MyHeritage In Color:

Original Photo
MyHeritage In Color

Wow! The photo is so vibrant and has so much life. I wonder if that’s a function of our modern-day brains thinking “old” when we see black-and-white photos, but “current” when we see color. The colorizing algorithms had trouble with Granny’s left leg, around Unc’s knees and hands, and with Lula’s left ankle. But, overall, I love the effect. And now I wonder if Granny was a blonde in her early years…

Upload your own photos to MyHeritage In Color and give this new feature a try. I’d love to see your results!

NGSQ/MGP Study Group: February 2020

One way I’m furthering my genealogy education in 2020 is participating in Cari Taplin’s NGSQ/MGP Study Group. This group reads selected articles from National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) and studies the authors’ research and writing methodologies by referencing key chapters from Tom Jones’s book Mastering Genealogical Proof. We then meet online monthly to discuss.

I’m in the Tuesday noon group, so our February meeting is in a few hours. But I wanted to blog about this experience to (1) keep me accountable in preparing and attending, and (2) help me sort out my thoughts before each meeting. We have questions and worksheets for each article, but I won’t share those here. Instead, these blog posts are a way to explore my other observations and questions.

Our selected article for February is “Reexamining the Parentage of Anderson Boon of Lincoln, Marshall, and Obion Counties, Tennessee” by Darcie Hind Posz. It appears in National Genealogical Society Quarterly 107 (September 2019), pages 201–217.

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Winter Research Project: Mary Smart McMurry – Writing a Research Report

The final step in the Research Like a Pro process is writing a research report. This report summarizes the question, objective, and all the research performed during the project. Research reports explain your reasoning — a proof argument — and convince others of your conclusions.

Research reports are critical when resolving difficult genealogy problems. Just writing this report forced me to deal with conflicting evidence and explain my positions. The Smart females in my tree have been a huge brick wall in my family tree for years, but undertaking this project means I’ve reached a measure of success with this line.

So, here it is — all 13 pages and 120+ source citations of it. By far the largest, most complex research report I’ve written!


Readers, I’m interested in hearing what you think. Did I prove who Mary Smart’s parents were? Did I prove who her siblings were?

Winter Research Project: Mary Smart McMurry – Doing the Research

When people say they are “doing genealogy,” the fifth step in the Research Like a Pro (RLP) process is probably what they’re envisioning — the nitty, gritty work in libraries and archives. It’s definitely the most fun part of family research. Finding those golden nuggets of evidence is such a high!

But a challenging research problem requires the four steps we previously discussed in this series: forming a research objective, analyzing sources, researching the location, and making a research plan. If the answer to my question could be answered directly by a single piece of evidence, wandering aimlessly may eventually lead me there. But when a problem requires indirect and negative evidence, it is necessary to collect multiple pieces of evidence, analyze them, and build an argument — all things that require a plan and thorough record keeping.

Research logs are key to doing the research and recording my findings. Some people use paper research logs or notebooks, but I prefer electronic ones. I use an Excel spreadsheet and save it to my Microsoft OneDrive in the folder I created for the project. My OneDrive is synced across all my devices — laptop, tablet, and phone — so I always have it with me. However, typing in an Excel spreadsheet from my phone or tablet is slow, so I bring my laptop for planned research sessions. If I need to record something when I don’t have my laptop, I usually snap photos of the source and its contents with my phone and add it to my log when I’m back at a keyboard. If it’s an electronic source, I either email a link back to myself or save it to a USB drive with a similarly-named text file containing the source citation.

Yes, research logs should have source citations, and I really do try to make them at this step — but I’m lazy. I will make a source citation if I’m in a repository where I must create it then to capture all the information correctly. But if I’m doing something standard like census research or marriage records, I write quick notes and will craft the citation when I write my findings.

For the Mary Smart McMurry research project, I took my research plan and decided which of the actions from the prioritized research strategies section I could do in the allotted time. (I’m writing an article about Mary for the spring issue of Stirpes, so I do have a deadline for this project.) I tried to tackle all the strategies from my plan, but I stalled with the DNA component. I may try to add some DNA evidence in the future, but it has been difficult getting all the best known testers to grant access to their data.

So, what my research log look like? Here’s a screenshot:

When I find a key piece of evidence I want to investigate further, I make the text red and sometimes bold important words. I also like to make separate tabs on the spreadsheet for areas of research that need their own space for organizing. One example is “Naming Patterns” on the image above. On that tab, I listed of all the Smart siblings’ children and made notes about similarities. Another tab (not pictured) is a Smart Siblings timeline I created to compare movements of Mary and her hypothesized siblings.

I’ve decided not to post my entire research log here — it’s big, and I kind of want to keep it to myself until I reveal the next step in the process: Writing the Research Report. But if you are researching Mary Smart McMurry or any of her hypothesized siblings, contact me and I’ll share the log.

Doing the research is definitely my favorite part of this process, but it is closely followed by the final step: Writing the Research Report.