Laws and statutes differ from one state to another. State and local taxing procedures, intestate probate practices, local record requirements, and other legal processes may vary slightly from one location to another.
Don't assume that what was true in Indiana in 1850 is true in Virginia in 1800, Massachusetts in 1750, etc.
While this seems obvious, it is easy to forget it we aren't careful.
We are offering two new webinars at the end of August:
Meyers Orts--on 31 August
Transcribing an 18th Century Estate Inventory on 30 August
Meyers Orts--Gazetteer of the German Empire. Published in the early 20th century, this print geographic reference in traditional Gothic print contains information on thousands of German place names. If you've ever struggled with this reference, or never used it because it seemed overwhelming, then this presentation is for you. We'll assume that you know no German and are unfamiliar with the script. See how the entries are organized, how to interpret them, and how to use the information from the entries to further your research. Geared to those who have not used the gazetteer extensively before. Session will run approximately one hour. 31 August 2014--8:00 pm central time.
Transcribing an 18th Century Estate Inventory. In this presentation we will go step-by-step through the transcription of estate inventories from Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia that were recorded in the 1700s. We can't make you an expert at reading handwriting in one session, but we will systematically go through the listing of items, showing ways to assist in "guessing" when the handwriting is difficult to interpret, determining what the items are, and using the inventory to further your research. Geared towards advanced beginner or intermediate researchers. Session will run approximately one hour. 30 August 2014--8:30 pm central time.
People don't always live on the real estate they own (or on which they pay taxes). Try and use other clues to make certain your ancestor lived where you think he did. This item on Rootdigmakes a this point with an 1804 example.
If your ancestor's estate had enough value to require a probate, the inventory of that estate may list more than household goods. Are there any debts listed that are due to the estate? The names of people who owed your ancestor money can be clues as to their associates, neighbors, or additional family members.
And your ancestor didn't have to be rich to have died with people owing him money.
Record offices usually record items in the order in which they are brought into the office, not the order in which they took place. For this reason a variety of records may be recorded out of chronological order. When manually searching birth, marriage, deed, death, and other records, look a little after the time when you expect to find it.
It may have been recorded several months (or longer) after it happened.
Not everyone who submits DNA to the "determine your ethnicity" type of sites or databases is really interested in the details of their heritage beyond generalities. You may find that "matches" on those websites simply do not contact requests.
Just like some submitters to trees do not respond either. For some people, work or obligations involving living family members, have to take priority.
And for others the interest in their history is fleeting.
Those "wrong" names may simply be in the wrong place. One branch of one of my families has mixed up the maiden name of the mother with the married surname of the daughter. The confused branch descends from one of the mother's later marriages and had little contact with this daughter. They remembered the last name but put it in the wrong place.
When reading that deed where your relative sold real property, pay close attention to where they acknowledged the deed to be their own true, lawful act. The text of the deed may (or may not) list where the resided when the deed was drawn up, but the acknowledgement will indicate where that acknowledgement was made.
Clerks love to abbreviate. Sometimes those abbreviations are common and sometimes they are not. The phrase "Appraised in Old Ten" appears in the 1756 estate inventory of Ephraim Puffer from Stowe, Massachusetts. The reference likely is to "old tender," referring to the money used to value the property.
It does not mean that all the property was in an "old tin" shed (grin!).
If possible, find out what level of screening is required before entering a courthouse to search local records. You may save yourself some time and frustration if you prepare for any screenings before you leave your car.
And while you are at it, find out what hours the facility is open, and whether cameras and personal scanners can be used to copy documents.
If your relative's ownership in a piece of real property is referred to as a life estate, then typically that means they could use the property during their lifetime but could not sell, mortgage or bequeath the property. Usually someone who holds a life estate estate in property cannot transfer that ownership to anyone else.
When writing your "notes" about relatives that you remember, write down those words they said that "weren't quite proper," like "et" for "ate" and "het" for "heated." If Grandma had an unusual way of pronouncing a certain word, make a note of that--but do so in a kind way without being judgemental.
Grandma always said "bullnozer" for "bull dozer" and "manure" was always "bnure."
And even more importantly, record or note the way Grandma said certain family names. That can be a direct help to your research.
Sometimes genealogists want to get as much new information as possible when interviewing relatives. That's fine, but asking questions when you "know the answer" is a good idea as well. You may trigger memories that might not have been triggered in any other way.
And it may turn out that you really don't "know" what you think you "know."
Before asking some one to help you figure out what something means or says, ask if you are giving them enough to help you. That usually means a copy of the entire document (not just the one little word you can't understand), what the document is from, and where you located it.
I had an individual in a seminar quote 3 words from a 18th century deed and ask me what it meant. I nicely responded that without some more information ("context") that it was difficult to interpret or easy to give the wrong answer.
Help people who can help you by providing them with adequate detail.
If you have been accumulating information and records, when was the last time you stopped gathering and wrote about what you have located? Don't forget to include where you obtained the information, a transcription or detailed summary of it, and a discussion of what you think it means.
You may be surprised what discoveries you make when you really get into writing up what you already have.
Microfilmers and digitizers are human. When "reading" books or other printed material online or on microfilm, I always look at the page numbers to make certain they are sequential. I discovered a certain website that missed one image out of a thousand page book--of course it was the page I needed. When reading from one image to the next, it did not make sense.
Sure enough a gander at the pages indicated one was missing.
If the last name on which you are working is not all that common and you can't find where the family was from, have you considered searching a modern directory to see where that name is clustered today?
That's not evidence that your ancestor was from that area, but it may give you a place to look for your missing ancestor.
The point is that when researching always ask yourself if the time period is right and if you are correctly aware of the historical events taking place. Sometimes being a few years off doesn't make a difference, but sometimes it does. Churches merge and split apart, county lines change, streets get renamed, etc.
And if you never stop to think "is this right for the time period," you'll never know.
Online translators serve a purpose, but remember that the documents genealogists usually use are not modern documents. There may be terms in the document that are no longer used or no longer mean what they used to mean. If a translation doesn't make sense, or even if it does, consider having a human who is familiar with older terms translate the document as well.
Once research into your family's past progresses to before 1900, your ancestor's last name might not be as "fixed" as we think of last names being today. In certain regions of Europe last names changed from one generation to another or were tied to the property on which an ancestor lived (particularly in certain rural areas).
Don't assume that your ancestor's name was "fixed."
And don't assume that it changed either.
Learn about your ancestor's country of origin and determine what the common practices were in that region.
If your ancestor was a child when their parents died, one or more guardians may have been appointed. One guardian may have been for the child's inheritance (or estate) and the other guardian may have been for their person (the one who had physical custody). In many cases, one guardian served both purposes, but there may be instances where two separate guardians were appointed.
And things can be different if only one parent dies--especially if the mother survives.
Join me for 3 plus days of research at one of the largest genealogical libraries in the United States, the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in August of 2014. Additional details are on our web site.
Don't neglect to write down the stories of your immediate family and yourself and include those as a part of your family history. Those unwritten stories are just as fragile as other items we spend years to locate.
Most of us wish our ancestors had left such stories behind. Pay it forward and leave some yourself.
FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and other sites create their own indexes to certain records. There may also be "older" or "original" indexes to these same records. The National Archives created many card indexes to certain records, particularly in 1930s and 1940s. FamilySearch has digitized some of these card indexes and put them on their website.
Passenger lists for Philadelphia are an excellent case in point where there are "new" indexes and "old" card ones:
Yesterday's Tip ("Flip It") generated quite a few comments.
One was that tombstones need to be photographed or viewed from all sides--not just the front. There may be inscriptions on more than one side. Don't just get a picture of the "front" and assume that you are done.
Do you look at the reverse side of every document used in your research? Newspaper clippings can have clues as to the date and place of the paper. Court documents can have clues as to when a statement was recorded or filed. There's a back side to every piece of paper.