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30 April 2011

What Have You Overlooked?

 On one of my wife's families, I  didn't bother to get the will of the ancestor. In fact, I never looked for it. The records weren't microfilmed and I already knew "everything" about the family from other records. If there was a will, it wasn't going to tell me anything I didn't already know anyway.


The will was short--"everything to my wife." The order probating the will mentioned all the heirs, including a child in a mental institution, complete with the institution's name and address.

If possible, don't leave records ignored because you "know everything." There still may be clues in those materials.

29 April 2011

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Look at the Act

When viewing anyone's military pension, regardless of the war, look at the act under which he was applying. Look at what types of service qualified under the act, length of service, etc. If a widow is applying look at the act and see if it mentions length of time married, whether she could have married him after the war, etc. There may be clues about your ancestor hiding in the act under which the application was made.

28 April 2011

How Speedy Was the Mail?

Ever wonder how fast the mail was one hundred years ago? There was a slight clue in an old pension file:
  • Letter dated 3 May 1907, Washington, DC--sent to West Point, Illinois.
  • Response to letter is dated 7 May 1907, West Point, Illinois.
  • Response received 9 May 1907, Washington DC.
The letter was a request for information in a pension file. There's no guarantee of when anything was mailed and a date could easily be off, but the timeline was tighter than I thought it might be for 1907.

Just something to think about. Are there clues about the speed of mail in an old record you have?

27 April 2011

Did They Have Relatives Already Here?

Descendants of James Rampley (1803-1884) insisted he was the only member of his family who came west to Illinois from Ohio. "No other family members came here" was what I was told.

James bought his first Illinois farm from a first cousin. His sons served in a Civil War unit with a near neighbor whose grandmother was a Rampley and another set of cousins lived about ten miles away. While the cousins ten miles away might not have been on James' radar, he clearly knew about the others. The "no other family members" was not correct.

What the teller of the story might have meant was that no one in James' immediate family of siblings settled near him. That was true. Always look for relatives in the new area where your ancestor settled, despite what the relatives today may insist is true.

26 April 2011

Look for that Cemetery in a Directory

Having trouble finding that 100 year old cemetery? If it is in a town/city that published city directories, see if the directory had a list of cemeteries. Might be that a directory has an "old name" for a cemetery that's not in modern materials, a location that's not showing up in current directories, etc.

25 April 2011

Witness Not a Beneficiary

Witnesses on a document do not have to be related to the person signing the document. It a "genealogy legend" that they are. For wills, witnesses usually cannot be heirs or beneficiaries of the will. A witness just has to be of the age of majority and know the person signing the document. That's it.

24 April 2011

Tip of the Day Survey

If you are a regular user of Genealogy Tip of the Day and have not already taken our survey, please do so here. Thanks. The survey will close Monday at 3 pm or earlier. This is the last announcement regarding the survey.

All the Consideration I Need Is Your Love

If a deed of transfer for a piece of property or other item indicates that the only consideration is "love and affection," there is a likely relationship between the seller and buyer on the property. In fact, it might not even be technically correct to refer to the grantee as as buyer. On these deeds the relationship among the parties is not always stated.

Similarly, if the amount of the consideration on a deed is a token amount, say a "dollar," that also might be a clue as to a potential relationship between the individuals involved.

Deeds that say a "dollar and other valuable consideration" may be referring to a mortgage or other document also recorded on the property.

23 April 2011

Check Out the Sponsors

If your immigrant ancestor was a member of a denomination that practiced infant baptism and you have not determined who the sponsors were for all of his or her children, you could be missing out. There's a good chance that sponsors were somehow related to the parents and if the parents cannot be traced across the pond, perhaps the sponsors can.

22 April 2011

They Really Did Not Care How It Was Spelled

In modern society for a variety of reasons, we are concerned about how our name gets spelled. Our ancestors were not so concerned. They didn't worry about the various agencies, companies that had records on them that needed to be correct. I'm typing an 1820 era Kentucky court case and the last name of Bonham is spelled Berham, Benham, Burham, etc. There are times where the same last name is spelled several ways in one document.

The key is that the name should sound the same. Another thing is when transcribing documents of this type, transcribe the name how it is spelled. Do not standardize the spelling. One reason is that the variant spellings give insight into how the name was pronounced by your ancestor. Another reason is that if someone sees you "correcting the spelling" when you transcribe a document, they might wonder what else you fixed along the way.

21 April 2011

How Consistent Are Those Records?

If you've located your ancestor in census records that provide ages and places of birth, consider making a chart or somehow listing each year, what year of birth the age implies, and the place of birth.

How consistent are those years of birth? How consistent are those places of birth? A little variation is to be expected, but sometimes this can be a good way to realize that maybe you don't have the same person in all those records. Or maybe you do, but make certain you've got reasons for why you "know" it's the right person.

20 April 2011

Which Page Number Are You Using?

When using original records, make certain that there are not more than one series of page numbers being used. United States census records are notorious for having multiple sets of page numbers, but other records can easily have more than one. Scan the entire page the record is on to make certain there are not multiple page numbers. If there are other page numbers, make a notation about which number you used, was it the printed one in the lower left hand corner, the handwritten one in the upper right, etc.?

19 April 2011

Do You Only Have An Abstract?

Is there a brick wall problem where you have an abstract of a record instead of the complete record? Is it possible the abstract includes a word of phrase transcribed incorrectly or a where a key phrase has been omitted? It's possible that a detail the abstracter considered trivial (and left out) is key to your problem. Make certain you've got the complete records on all records for your "brick wall." A small omission may be the key to your problem.

18 April 2011

New Blog-Search Tip of the Day

I've started a new blog to complement Genealogy Tip of the Day. It's called Search Tip of the Day. The new site will focus on websites, online search techniques, and other ways genealogists interact with computerized data. The website is http://genealogysearchtip.blogspot.com/. You can subscribe to updates to that blog via the site. This new site currently has no Facebook page and allows for moderated comments and follow up ideas. Suggestions are always welcomed.

Are You Violating the Laws of Biology or Physics?

Look at information you have compiled or located. Look at it closely. If to make the story fit, you have to violate laws of biology (dead people do not typically reproduce, people who are not born do not have children, etc.) or  the laws of physics  (travelling 400 miles on land within two days in 1820, etc.), then there is a problem.

Violating common sense is not usually advised either.

17 April 2011

Not Hiding, but Married Again

If you think you've lost that female ancestor after her husband's death, consider the fact that she might have married again. The story of the later in life marriage might never have been passed down in the family and she still might be buried with her first husband and the stone, if there is one, may not indicate a subsequent marriage, particularly if there were not any children.

16 April 2011

Did Your Ancestor Record His Notch?

In frontier areas, when livestock roamed without fences, farmers often had their own peculiar notch they used to identify their hogs or cattle. Records of these notches may be found at the local courthouse, recorded with other public records. In areas where branding livestock was a common practice, one may find records of brands.

15 April 2011

Children's Guardian?

If your male ancestor died with even a small amount of real estate (lot in town or more) or enough personal property, there might be a guardianship case for his children. The mother likely was the guardian of the child's person, but someone else might have been appointed guardian of the child's estate. Pay close attention to the name of this person. It might have been a male relative or in some cases a step-father and that relationship may never be spelled out in the documents.

14 April 2011

Wife Disappearing from the Releases?

When a husband sells property and is married, there should be an acknowledgment by the wife that she knows about the sale and releases her dower interest in the property. Pay attention to these acknowledgments. The absence of one usually indicates the wife is deceased--a potential clue. And a "new name" appearing on the dower release likely means that the previous wife has died and that the husband has remarried. Although keep nicknames and diminutives in mind when drawing these conclusions, however. A 1800 wife named Sarah may be referred to as Sally in 1820.

13 April 2011

One Office Many Courts

In some counties, the court records office may hold records of several different courts. Make certain you have accessed the records of each court you need. There may be an equity court, a criminal court, a probate court, and others depending upon the location and the time period. Find out what court had jurisdiction over the type of case for which you are looking--don't assume you know, particularly if it is an area with which you are not familiar.

12 April 2011

Clerk's Copy

Sometimes called the record copy, this is the official recorded copy of a document, usually made in the local records office. This copy may be considered the legal equivalent of the original copy.

11 April 2011

Did They Reuse That Name?

In some places during some time periods, it was common to "re-use" names of children who were deceased. You may find a family with three children named James. If this is the case, most likely the first two died young, before the next James was actually born. If you do find a couple with two children of the same name where the same-named children survived to adulthood, make certain the children actually had the same name and that the names just were not similar or ones that Anglicized to the same name.

10 April 2011

Exhaust Sources Where they Settled

Before you track someone across the pond, make certain they (and their children) have been researched exhaustively in the area where they settled and died. Clues as to previous areas of residence or origin may be directly stated or indirectly stated in a variety of records, not just the death record or obituary. Associates may be listed in probate records, christening records of children, etc.

Sunday (Monday) Morning Special on Casefile Clues

Email to Tip of Day subscribers did not go out, so this will run through 2 PM on Monday 11 April.

09 April 2011

What Did They Have to Do to Be Able to Do That?

If your ancestor signs a deed, find out how old he had to be to execute that document. If an ancestor is on a tax list, does it mean he owned real property, was above a certain age, perhaps even under a certain age.  Some records seem to tell very little. If that appears to be the case, find out as much as you can about why the document was created, who was "eligible" to be on the document, if the order of the names has any significance, etc.

There may be clues you are not seeing!

08 April 2011

Is There a Form They Actually Filled Out Themselves?

Some records we use were not filled out by our ancestors--someone else, perhaps with less knowledge answered the questions. My big break on my wife's grandmother came not from her death certificate, which was filled out by her children, but instead her SS-5 form. The grandmother filled out that form herself in the 1960s and gave a different name for her father than what her children had put on her death certificate thirty years later.

If possible, find something the person actually provided information on. It may be different!

07 April 2011

Stuck People Should Read

If you get stuck on an ancestor, read a county or local history of the area. It probably won't mention your ancestor, but reading and learning something about the history of the place your ancestor lived in will at least make you more knowledgeable about the location. And it just may spark a research idea.

And if you've read the county history--read a local newspaper for a week if it's a daily and a for a month if it's a weekly. Reading the newspaper will provide a background the county history probably won't.

06 April 2011


The word "coparcener" generally speaking, means joint heirs. Siblings, whose father dies without a will, may be referred to as "coparceners" of his real estate, meaning that they own it jointly. They each have a share, just not a specific part of the real estate. To have their part clearly marked typically requires court action, or at least complete agreement among the heirs.

05 April 2011

Recorded in the Margin

Always look in the margins of courthouse record books. You may find comments written there, or in the case of mortgages, you may find an acknowledgement that the mortgage was released-signed by the holder of the note.

04 April 2011

Why Did They Wait?

The widow dies and three daughters inherit 12 acres in the 1850s. One daughter apparently pre-deceased her mother. The two surviving daughters sign deeds over to their brother at about the same time-probably shortly after the mother's death. The deceased daughter's heirs wait a few years to sign their deed. Why? I'm not certain, but my guess is that they waited for all the deceased daughter's children to come of age so that they could legally sign the deed. Minors can't execute deeds.

03 April 2011

Sections, Quartersections, and Congressional Townships

In most areas of the United States, a section is 640 acres, a quartersection is 160 acres, and a Congressional Township is 6 miles on a side. There are exceptions--especially in Ohio. If you are doing research in a state that uses sections and townships and your ancestors were property owners you should either know or find out.

02 April 2011

Making A Mark Doesn't Mean They Were Illiterate

Remember that just because your ancestor signs their "mark" on a document it doesn't mean they were illiterate. In some cases, a person might have been told to "make their mark" which was unique to them, and as long as it was witnessed, legally binding.

Remember also that if your ancestor was ill and on their death bed when they signed their will, making their mark might have been all they could do.

I have several ancestors who signed numerous documents, but made their "mark" on their will, generally because they were advanced in years.

Join Me In Salt Lake in May

As a short reminder, I'm leading a group research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake this May. Going  with a group can be a great way to have your first (or second) library research experience. There's more details on our trip on my website at:  http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2010/06/reserve-spot-in-my-2011-family-history.html


Take A Moment To Stop Gathering

For those times when locating information seems easy, stop and take time to analyze what you have already located. This is particularly good advice if you're searching on a collateral family in hopes of learning more about the direct line. 

Get off the websites, get off the internet, email, stop gathering more information, etc. and look at what you have. Sketch out relationships, make chronologies, make timelines, etc. 

You may see errors you didn't see before or opportunities you have overlooked. Either way, you're better off! Sometimes it pays to stop collecting for a while and do some analyzing. 

01 April 2011

Clues in the First Names of Neighbors

Here the clue is pretty obvious. The first household has a father-in-law named Henry J. Fecht and the adjacent house has someone with the exact name aged 18.Seems highly coincidental. Look at the first names of members of adjacent households, not just the last names. Are there clues in those names? In this case, it turns out the older Henry J. Fecht is the grandfather of the younger one.