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31 July 2011

Did You Read the Entire File

That packet of pension, estate, or other documents may be repetitive. Some series of records are, with essentially the same or similar material being restated several times. And yet sometimes, buried in one of those repetitive pages will be a word, phrase, or even a sentence or two that reveals significant information.

Take the time to read everything. Buried in five pages of "stuff you already know," may be a thing or two you don't.

30 July 2011

Newspapers May Mention Things That Are in "Closed" or Lost Records

If there is a court case that "can't be found" or a record that is "closed," remember that there might be some account of it in a local newspaper. I've got one 1870 era case where the packet of court papers is "gone." One option for me is to search the newspapers of when the case was heard and when judgement/sentence was issued in hopes that the newspaper mentioned something.

Always keep in mind that there might be a newspaper account of an event as well. And while court records can sometimes be sealed, newspapers are a little more difficult to control in that fashion.

29 July 2011

School's Out Blowout-Year 1 of Casefile Clues Back Issues for $10

To celebrate the end of summer school for me, we're offering a discounted rate on year 1 issues of my newsletter Casefile Clues.

Grow your genealogy, see how problems are solved, sources analyzed, and information organized. We focus on showing the method, not just the one way that worked to solve the problem. Our concentration is on clear writing that explains process.

Topics from Year 1 can be viewed here--click back to view this offer page.

Where to Look for Death Notices or Obituaries

For those ancestors who died in the last fifty years or so, consider these locations when looking for an obituary:

  • place of death
  • place of birth
  • place of marriage
  • any places of "significant residence"
Obituaries or death notices may appear in newspapers in any of those areas. This is not true for most 19th century deaths, but you never know. Sometimes it happens then as well. 

28 July 2011

Did Your Ancestor Have Selective Memory?

A relative of mine gives testimony in a pension case. Most everything she has to say is confirmed from other records and actually her memory for being nearly 70 years old in 1918 and having moved dozens of times is really good.

One problem. She forgot her remarriage to her husband--despite the fact that she remembered her five other marriages. Reading through all the information made it clear she had NOT forgot about her marriage. There was no apparent divorce from this husband and mentioning the marriage would have created more problems for her application.

There's always the chance that your ancestor had a reason for being less than entirely candid.

27 July 2011

What Source Did You Use?

I've been working on an early Tennessee family lately and using marriage records as a part of my research. There are many ways I can access those marriages, but I need to think about what source I am using. Am I using:

  • Original paper copies
  • Microfilm of the original paper copies
  • Digitized images made from the microfilm
  • Published transcriptions
  • Handwritten copies made from the originals
One of the many questions is, if I am using those published transcriptions--were they made from the original paper copies, the microfilm, or the handwritten copies made from the originals. Transcriptions can always have the occasional error, being made by humans. Transcriptions made from transcriptions have an even higher liklihood of an error. And there is always a chance something is transcribed incorrectly or omitted.

26 July 2011

Start Small

Is writing that 6 generation genealogy too much of a task? Think you'll never get that much completed in your lifetime? Consider starting small: write the biography of one ancestor. Document as much of her (or his) life as you can, citing your sources as you go. This smaller task is one that you are more likely to complete. When you've finished, consider submitting it to the local genealogical or historical society where the ancestor lived for inclusion in their files or possible publication in their newsletter.

Then at the very least, you've preserved some of your information.

And maybe you've got yourself started to the point where you are confident to continue writing.

25 July 2011

If You Really Want to Preserve Your Work

Consider ways to preserve your genealogy information before you die. Don't include it in your will and think that you're "done." Libraries don't always have time to organize unorganized material and some don't have the funds to preserve it, catalog it, or store it. And your will may tell your executor what to do, but are a few boxes of papers going to be high on their priority list? Will the probate judge care what's done that box of papers? Will the estate's heirs and beneficiaries really care? Remember that unless you're a well-known author, your manuscripts aren't financially valuable documents.

Consider publishing bits and pieces of what you've located now, even if it is not finished. Local or state society publications may be interested. Self-publishing may be an option. Publishing to a website might not be enough for long term preservation--will the website be around in fifty or a hundred years? Ask around for ideas on how others have preserved their information. But don't simply put it "in your will and forget about it."

24 July 2011

Do You Really Need a Professional?

If you've contemplated hiring a professional, do the following first: 1) transcribe relevant documents; 2) list what you have searched and what you have not; 3) compile the information you already have; 4) summarize your problem so someone unfamiliar with the person/family can make sense of it. 

This will save time if you do need to hire a professional because the information you send to them will be more organized. You might even realize when organizing your information that you do not need a professional--at least not yet.

23 July 2011

Are You Forgetting Yourself?

When recording information about long-deceased relatives, don't forget to record information about your own life as well. Write those stories your remember, not just about parents and grandparents, but yourself as well. Someone may want to read those stories someday.

Think about other ways to preserve your stories besides a blog. Your goal is for the stories to be around in 50 years, not just 50 days.

22 July 2011

Time Gaps In Their Life?

Creating a chronology of an ancestor's life can serve many purposes. One is to see time periods when there is no information on the ancestor? Do you have a five year gap in records on an ancestor? Some gaps cause more concern than others--eight years between the 1860 census enumeration and a 1868 death is not probably a huge concern.

Selling property in location A in 1851 and then first appearing in another location in 1859 should make you wonder where he was between 1851 and 1859.

Unexplained gaps of time when one event indicates an ancestor might have been thinking about moving or might have just moved should get the research wheels turning in your head.

21 July 2011

Look at the Copy Even if You Have the Original

With some probate and estate records, researchers may locate the actual will in the packet of papers. Signed by the testator, the actual will is always an interesting find. Sometimes researchers neglect to locate the "record copy" when they have the original. In many locations, a (usually handwritten) copy of the will is made in a ledger or journal. Determine if the locality of interest has a record copy, even if you have the "original."

The record copy is especially important if the original has words or phrases that are difficult to read. The clerk might have been familiar with the names and knew "what was meant." And the record copy may also have a comment not on the original record.

20 July 2011

Easy Place to Elope?

Was there a nearby county or state where the requirements were easier than the location where your ancestor was living? It is possible that your ancestor crossed the county or state line in order to get married. Eloping a few counties away meant that the groom and bride were less likely to be recognized and that the marriage license might not be published in a local paper. Both of these considerations would lengthen the time before family and friends found out about the wedding. Getting married a distance from their residence might also make it easier to lie about their age. 

19 July 2011

Devise Versus Bequeath

Technically in a will a "devise" refers to real property and to "bequeath" means to give personal property to someone. For the genealogist the difference is usually not consequential, but it never hurts to be aware of the distinctions sometimes made in legal terms.

Thomas would "devise" his farm to his son Thomas and bequeath the household goods and farm equipment to his son Benjamin.

18 July 2011

Do They Really Know What They Are Talking About?

There is a reason why doctors suggest a person get a second opinion. Genealogists should consider this as well. If I join a new message board for an area or topic with which I am unfamiliar, I generally wait to post a question until I have an idea of who knows their stuff and who does not.It still can be difficult to know, but often a person gets an idea of who is knowledgeable and who is not. I'm generally not inclined to take advice from mailing list or message board posters who post anonymously and I also usually wait to "act on suggestions" until I've gotten more than one response.

Of course, if there is someone on the list or board that I already know to be reliable, that's different. But random, off-the-wall responses may not be quite on the mark.

17 July 2011

Fire Insurance Maps

Have you located your ancestor's residence on fire insurance maps? Available in the United States starting in the nineteenth century, these maps cover large cities and often fairly small towns as well. You can learn what your ancestor's residence was constructed of, the relative size of the home compared to the lot, neighboring structures, etc. The Library of Congress has more information on these maps on their website at http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/sanborn/. Other locations may have them as well.

16 July 2011

Need Historical Perspective?

No history books for the location in which you are researching? Are there daily or weekly newspapers? Try reading a week or a month of newspapers for the time period of your brick wall genealogy problem. You should get ideas of what might have been impacting your ancestor's life during the time period. The newspaper probably won't mention your ancestor, but the perspective you get will be invaluable.

15 July 2011

Are the Codicils Telling a Story?

Did your ancestor include several codicils to his or her will, making specific changes or additions, but not desiring to go to the expense of completely revising the entire document? Those codicils may tell a story.

One ancestor had four codicils to his will. All relate only to the inheritance to his daughter. Originally she is given a cash amount from her father's estate. Later it is stipulated that her inheritance is not to go to pay her husband's debts. Later it is to be put in trust for her and money to be set aside for her children. Finally a trustee is appointed to oversee the inheritance which is to go to the daughter's two daughters.

What is unstated is significant. The son-in-law has serious financial troubles, eventually committing suicide. The daughter becomes ill and leaves her two surviving daughters in their teens. The grandfather survives this deceased daughter and the changes in his will are an apparent reaction to the son-in-law's financial difficulties and to the deaths of the son-in-law and daughter.

Of course, all the reasons are not stated in the codicils--sometimes the researcher must look behind the scenes.

14 July 2011

How Many Sources Are Enough?

How many sources do you need to "prove" a statement? There's not a hard and fast answer to this question. It actually depends upon what sources are being used and where those sources got their information. Ten different family histories that make the same statement based upon an earlier family history do not count as 11 sources, they count as one.

Let's say those sources indicate a Revolutionary War veteran died in 1831. His widow's pension application indicates he died in 1837. While there are always exceptions, this case would likely be one where the one source outweighs all the others. The widow's pension application is more likely to be correct than family histories published several lifetimes later.

13 July 2011

Adoptee Can Go Just About Anyway

Most adoptions before 1900 were informal. There were no official records of the adoption--a neighboring family simply took the child into their home. The child may have had some biological connection to the family or the child may not. The child, if "adopted" at an older age may even have known who his biological parents were, or what his or her last name was. Or he might have had no idea. There were few rules because the adoptions were not done through any legal process.

The names a person used might have varied as well. I know of instances where the "adoptee" at various times used their birth mother's last name, their father's last name, and the last name of the adoptive parents. Of course, not all adoptees knew their parents' names and census takers might have assumed all children in a household had the same last name when they actually did not.

12 July 2011

Google Plus Site for Tip of the Day

If you'd like to add our Google Plus Page to your circles, liked pages, liked things, etc. our address is https://plus.google.com/112795642126740923406/about.

Tips will still be on the blog and in your email as usual. This is just another place for those who'd like to interact with us.

What Do You Know About That Place?

Look at that location you just entered into your database. Do you have it spelled correctly? Do you have it in the right jurisdictions? It is known by any other names? Has it been a part of more than one country or region? What languages are spoken in that place?

11 July 2011

Did They Think We'd Analyze It To Death?

When your ancestor answered questions for that marriage application, birth certificate, census, social security application, etc, remember that they might not have realized that in one or two hundred years a descendant would be analyzing that one response in great detail.

They might never have realized that giving a wrong answer would create so much frustration later on and the records clerk might not have thought that sloppy handwriting decades later would be an issue. All individuals involved might have thought the record would be filed away and never looked at again.

Guardian Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem is typically a guardian that is appointed for a person for a very specific purpose. In many cases, this type of guardian is appointed with the minor is being sued for some reason, typically because they are an heir to some property that is a part of the lawsuit.

If there's a title dispute to real owned by a deceased person, there may be minor heirs of that person who technically are part of the suit. They may never have had guardians appointed. The judge may appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor to make certain the minor's interests are represented. The guardian's only function usually involves the specific court case and the appointment is usually temporary.

10 July 2011

Have You Tried City Directories?

Recently I've been using 1890 era city directories to fill in some gaps during that time period in my research. Directories can augment what is found in census records. While directories do not mention every person living in the household, they can list widows (and who their deceased husbands were) and may indicate adult children living in the household and where they work. 

Directories may also give more specific information regarding place of employment than the census. Census records frequent just list the type of work--a directory may name the employer specifically.

09 July 2011

Reverse Engineer That Village Name

Your relative gave a records clerk the name of the village in Europe where he or she was born. The records clerk did not know how to spell the name of the village. Your ancestor might not even have been certain how to spell the name of the village. The records clerk was unfamiliar with where your ancestor was from. The clerk simply spelled the word your ancestor gave him as best the clerk could spell it.

So your German ancestor's village of birth got spelled the way an English speaker thought it should be spelled. If you are having trouble finding a village, you need to think about the way the word that was written was said. Then try and discover how that would have been spelled in your ancestor's native language.

08 July 2011

Went to the Poor Farm?

Is it possible that your ancestor spent some time at the county poor farm, almshouse, or workhouse? If so, those records may shed some light on your ancestor. And if they died at the poor farm, they might have been buried there--frequently in an unmarked grave.

07 July 2011

Plat Out The Family Structure Outside Your Database

Sometimes records do not make the family structure obvious. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out which mother is the mother of what children when the father has had more than one wife. Sometimes it is not immediately known who are the children of which father.

In cases such as these, before putting the relationships in your database, sketch them out on paper in an attempt to get things straight. Or, write up the information in a word processing document. There are families where putting the family structure in your database may simply have to wait.

06 July 2011

Census Taker Did Not Ask for Proof

Keep in mind that the census taker just wrote down what he was told. The person did not have to prove anything they were saying. The person providing the information could have been an older child or a neighbor who happened to be home when the residents at the specific dwelling were not.

05 July 2011

Does Your Heirloom Have a Story?

If you have a family heirloom or keepsake, try and determine who in the family first owned the item, how they obtained it, who made it, and how it has been passed down to the present day owner.

Recording the history now is an excellent idea and searching for information about the heirloom may provide you with more genealogical information on your family.

The item can be  as commonplace as grandpa's horse collar (I have one) or as unique as a fancy piece of jewelry.

04 July 2011

Needing Local Pictures?

I'm paraphrasing this from a message list post regarding suggestions for getting pictures of far away places:

I contacted a university in Boston (a photography class) and asked if someone would take pictures of old homes for me. I would send them a disposable camera along with a stamped envelope for sending the camera back. I got great reception from someone. They sent the camera back. I had the pictures developed and sent the person a check for $25 for doing this.

In Lake County, IN, a realtor was called and asked if she would take a picture of a specific home and attach it to an email. She said she would for $25.

Any other thoughts or ideas can be posted as responses here or on the Facebook Fan Page.

Multiple Versions of Same Thing

Digital versions of books are great, but remember that there may still be actual hard copies in libraries. If you have the opportunity to visit one that has a genealogical collection, consider looking at books for which you have a PDF version.

The actual one may have an inscription, clippings stuck in it, etc. that could be helpful. I ran across one a while back myself.

17.76 Discount on Casefile Clues

In honor of the holiday, we're offering a July4th Special on Casefile Clues--$17.76 for a year and twenty issues from Year 2 (issues 20-40).That's essentially 20 free issues. Jump start your research for less than one tank of gas. 

Offer good through midnight 5 July for those who were actually celebrating the holiday and not on the internet.

Topics here:

  • Volume 2-Number 20--Just One Wife Who Shaves Her Age. Records hinted that a man might have had more than one wife. Despite age discrepancies and first name variations, we've likely proven that there was just one wife.
  • Volume 2-Number 21--1930 Census: Primary, Secondary, Original, Derivative, Direct and Indirect. You'll never look at a census entry the same way again-also shows how in this case, New York became Kentucky
  • Volume 2-Number 22--Finding the Biegers in 1850. Organizing our search and our negative search results in an attempt to find a German immigrant living in Cincinnati in 1850.
  • Volume 2-Number 23--Separating Two George Butlers--working on two men born in Michigan in the same year with a father of the same name.
  • Volume 2-Number 24-A Minor Naturalization
  • Volume 2-Number 25-Genealogical Potpourri
  • Volume 2-Number 26-Looking for Benjamin-Formulating a Census Search
  • Volume 2-Number 27-An 1849 Cash Land Sale
  • Volume 2-Number 28-From 1820-1870 Analyzing Enoch Tinsley's Census Entries
  • Volume 2-Number 29-Middle Name Issues: Finding Henry J. Fecht in 1870 and Passenger Lists
  • Volume 2-Number 30-The Master Reports--An Assignment of Homestead and Dower in the 1890s
  • Volume 2-Number 31-The Parents Sell 10 Acres-an 1880 era land transaction
  • Volume 2-Number 32-Clues from a Pig Murder--an 1820 era Kentucky Court Case
  • Volume 2-Number 33-Civil War Pension Application-Why My Name's Different
  • Volume 2-Number 34-Staying Focused on Divorces and a German Immigrant
  • Volume 2-Number 35-Strategies for a 1820 New York Birth
  • Volume 2-Number 36-First Appearing in an 1847 Marriage
  • Volume 2-Number 37-The Chattel Property Will from Maryland
  • Volume 2-Number 38-6 Marriages, Four Divorces, and Naming All My Siblings-a Civil War Pension File
  • Volume 2-Number 39-A Guardianship from 1870s Documents "of age" children.
  • Volume 2-Number 40-Moving Mother's Inheritance-18th century women's property rights discussion

Take advantage of our $17.76 offer today.

03 July 2011

They Might Have Gone to Church

Never assume your ancestors won't appear in church records. Just because your grandparents were irregular church-goers, doesn't mean that your great-grandparents weren't regular attendees.

02 July 2011

Is It One Book Or A Series

When using local or even published materials, make certain you indicate if the book is one standalone volume or a volume in a series.

"County Court Orders 1790-1802" is probably a volume and title and page will work.
"Deed Book" is probably not sufficient as that "deed book" likely is one of a series for the locality.

Make certain your title, particularly of unpublished materials, is accurate and complete enough to get you to the same book again, if necessary.

01 July 2011

Did They Keep In Touch?

Communication was more difficult in the 18th and 19th century than it is today. It is possible that your ancestor had brothers and sisters who moved away from home and were never heard from again. Or it is possible that they did keep in some sort of contact. It varies from one family to another.

I've seen Civil War pension files from the US where the person had no idea where their siblings were living and I've seen others where they knew where everyone was. Some families kept in better contact than others.

All of which makes some people more difficult to find--but don't be surprised if great-great-grandma doesn't know what happened to most of her siblings. It really is possible.