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30 September 2010

Just A Deed?

If you think there should be an estate for an ancestor, make certain to look for a deed even if court records are not located. In some cases, if there was just the widow's inheritance to settle up after her death the only record might be a quitclaim deed where the heirs transfer property to one of their siblings. There might not have been any need for an estate settlement.

29 September 2010

Those With No Descendants Might Not Be Listed

Keep in mind that in the cases of intestate estates, a court might not be concerned about relatives who die young, never marry, and do not leave any issue.

If John dies without children and had six siblings, the court might only list those four who left heirs of their own.

The court is concerned with determining heirship--not with compiling a complete genealogy.

28 September 2010

Start Small

Does that research project seem too large? Maybe it is. Pick a smaller task or research goal to start on and go from there. 

Don't think about building the whole house in one day. Worry about the first brick, digging that first bit for the basement, etc. 

Then maybe you will at least get SOMETHING done--even if it isn't EVERYTHING. Your descendants will appreciate something small that got completed versus some grand plan you never got started. 

27 September 2010


When was the last time you took a hard look at some conclusions and research you did in the early days of your family history adventure?

Any chance you made a mistake?

26 September 2010

Baselines and Meridians

If you need a map of baselines and meridians within the United States, there's a good one here: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/Visitors/PrincipleMeridiansAndBaselines.html
and if you don't know what base lines and meridians are for, take a look at the Bureau of Land Management website. Baselines and meridians are used to describe ruralproperty in those states where land was initially transferrred to private ownership by the federal government insetad of the individual colonies.

Those of you who only have urban ancestors or east coast ancestors might not need these links....

25 September 2010

They just might not remember

When interviewing that relative, keep in mind that there just might be some things they either do not know, never knew, or just cannot remember. It happens to all of us occasionally.

Sometimes it is easier to just say "don't know" when asked for a name or a piece of information. And sometimes it's the truth.

24 September 2010

What Name Did They Prefer?

I record every name exactly as it was written on the document. Sometimes though I struggle with what name to "use" for an ancestor when they had more than one name.

I try and use what they used for the majority of their life. My great-grandmother I have listed as Fannie Rampley. Her name on her birth certificate was Frances. But from her marriage on, every record lists her as Fannie. She signs "Fannie Neill" or "Fannie I. Neill" (Iona was her middle name) on legal documents. She (or likely her children) had Fannie put on her tombstone. I transcribe the records using whatever name they say.

But I have her listed as Fannie in my database as it really appears that's what she preferred.

23 September 2010

Read the Newspaper on that Day

Need some perspective on your ancestor? Try reading a local and national newspaper on the day he was born, died, married, etc. While not every national or world event impacted your ancestor, reading the newspaper might bring some additional thoughts to your research.

And that's never a bad thing.

22 September 2010

In Book Form?

Don't assume no one has ever published part of your family history. A little searching located a genealogy published in 1987 on the family of my great-grandfather's sister's husband. It contained pictures and a great deal of information I did not have.

Search out the in-laws!

21 September 2010

Validate--Don't Just Copy!

Use compilations of others as clues, not as proven facts to be copied down with nary a thought. Make certain you reduce the chance you perpetuate the mistakes of others by trying to validate their conclusions and information.

20 September 2010

Do Your Interview Questions Suggest Answers?

When asking relatives questions, try and avoid planting ideas in the mind of the person who is answering your questions. You want the interviewee to remember as much as THEY can. Suggesting answers might cause them to "agree" with you when they shouldn't.

Of course, ask for clarification if necessary. Asking if you heard correctly is different that suggesting an answer in the first place.

19 September 2010

How Was Life the Same?

Yesterday's tip was "how was life different" for your ancestor? Today think about what aspects of your ancestor's life were the same. There has to be something. Think about what motivates you, what tasks you have to perform every day, every week, etc.

Which ones did your ancestor have to perform as well?

Any clues in those tasks? Any clues in those motivations? In some ways we aren't all that different from our ancestors.

18 September 2010

How Was Life Different?

If you're stuck on an ancestor, make a list of ten ways your ancestor's life was different from yours. These ways can include lifestyle, educational level, ethnic background, native language, physical environment, what they ate for supper, etc.

It just might get you thinking.

17 September 2010

In and Out

If your ancestor owned property (whether it was a small lot or a large acreage), determine how it came into and left his possession. Either document could provide vital clues. But both ends of the transaction are important.

16 September 2010

Learn Something New Everyday

Try a new genealogy website, read a how-to article from a journal, work on a family you've never worked on before.

Keep your genealogy mind engaged. Get off the cycle of searching for the same names in the same places in the very same ways.

Getting outside your comfort zone may help you break that brick wall.

15 September 2010

Double Check

Catalogers make mistakes when going through materials. Consequently what appears as the description in the card catalog for an item can be incomplete or wrong. Items get missed when being microfilmed or digitized. Look at page numbers and dates of entries, could some be missing?

It may be necessary to go back and view the original.

14 September 2010

Read the Whole File

Make certain you read the entire set of court, probate, divorce papers, etc. There may be incomplete or incorrect information in one part of the file that may be corrected or discussed in more detail in a later section.

13 September 2010

A Hidden Spouse?

I'm not talking about one hiding in the basement.

Instead does a man have a first and a second wife both named Mary? Does a woman marry a man who has the same last name as her maiden name (that's happened more than you think)? Was there a first, short-lived, marriage because a spouse died young?

Just something to think about.

12 September 2010

Never Moved but Changed Addresses?

Is it possible that your ancestor never moved, but where he lived changed? In early days of settlement county boundaries were sometimes in flux. And in urban areas, street names or numbers sometimes changed as occasionally did city boundaries. Was your ancestor annexed?

Just something to think about.

11 September 2010

Analyze the Witnesses

If your ancestor divorced, determine any relationships with those who provided testimony. Siblings and relatives may provide testimony in a divorce case without specifically stating their relationship.

10 September 2010

How Accurate Did It Need to Be?

Think about the record you are using and the pieces of information it contains. Are there facts that don't really need to be accurate? Yesterday's tip mentioned a marriage date in a divorce record. Think about it for a minute.

In most divorce cases, is it material if the date of marriage is slightly incorrect? Probably not. The key fact is that the couple is married. Uusally a date being sightly off is not going to impact the divorce case in any significant way.

Always keep the intent of the document in mind when analyzing the information is contains. It doesn't mean things have to be wrong, but there may be certain facts that don't have to be 100% precise.

09 September 2010

Might Does not Make Right

A 1921 divorce case I'm looking at for an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues indicates several times that the couple was married in 1908. Just because this year is repeated in several places does not make it more likely to be correct. Frequency does not mean accuracy. Errors can easily be repeated and a divorce record ten years after the marriage is not a primary source.

Just because you see something repeated numerous places does not mean it's right. That's true even if legal documents are being used.

08 September 2010

Check All Levels

When searching for materials in the Family History Library Card Catalog, make certain you have searched for materials cataloged at all jurisdictional levels, not just the town. In some areas, this may include township, county, state, province, nation, etc.

Don't just look at the town or village level records. There may be other available materials.

07 September 2010

After the Widow Died

I'm working on a case where the husband's probate in the 1880s doesn't tell me very much. The widow survived. What I need to do is:
  • search for a probate/will for the wife
  • see if there are settlement deeds for any real estate after her death
  • check for court action of non-probate courts in case there was an estate squabble after her death.
The problem may be that there just wasn't anything left to settle after her death.

06 September 2010

Go Back?

Revisit repositories, libraries, websites, etc. that you've not visited in a while. They may have cataloged new materials, created new indexes, or acquired new materials since your last visit.

05 September 2010

Older Immigrants

Don't assume that your sixty something ancestor would never have immigrated. If all their chidlren had left the old country, it's very possible that Grandma or Grandpa (or both) got on the boat with the last child instead of being left in the homeland all by themselves.

04 September 2010

Ethnic Based Genealogy Mailing Lists

If you are unfamiliar with researching members of your ancestor's ethnic group, considering joining a mailing list specifically for individuals researching people from that region. Networking with others who have ancestors from the same area can be extremely helpful.

03 September 2010

Moved Back?

Did you ancestors "head west" only to "head back east?"

Not everyone who went west stayed. Is it possible that the ten years you can't find your ancestor is because he was in California, Oregon, etc. only to return "home" in time for the next census?

02 September 2010

Coming of Age?

In one family that I've worked on for sometime, I realized that the step-children separated from the step-father about the time some of them reached the age of majority. I'm not certain exactly what went on, but I'm starting to think that when some of them reach "age," they struck out on their own, taking their younger siblings with them.

01 September 2010

There Might Be a Reason for the Error

Your ancestor might really have believed they were born somewhere they were not. As a result, every record where they provided their place of birth might be incorrect.

My grandmother insisted she was born in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois. She actually was born in nearby Wythe Township according to several contemporary records (discussed at length in an issue of Casefile Clues).

Grandma insisted she was born in Tioga and listed that on every document where she provided the place of birth.

This tip was well timed---Grandma would be 100 years old today!