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31 August 2011

Those "Boring" Bills Can Shed Light

Reading through every bill paid by your ancestor's executor or administrator might seem as fun as watching paint dry, but I learned:

  • My great-grandfather was paid $2 in 1918 for setting posts on his deceased father's farm
  • My great-grandfather was paid $3 for hauling manure on his father's farm
  • The fire insurance on the farm in 1918 was $32.50
  • A phone call made by the executor from Tioga, Illinois, to Carthage, Illinois, cost 20 cents--no mention of how long the phone call was. 
Looking at the chronology and to whom the phone call was made, it's pretty clear the executor was calling the loan officer at the bank to inquire about the mortgage payment.

All from a look at the estate accounting. Interesting stuff. 

30 August 2011

Could Married Women Make Wills?

There was a time when in many states, married women could not make wills. If a female ancestor makes a will that is later proven in a probate court to be valid, determine what the law was in the state when she wrote the will. It could be a clue that her husband was dead at the time the will was written--depending upon the state statute in effect at the time the will was written.

29 August 2011

Can You Go Back Any Further?

There are some points, in some places, some ancestors have been researched as far back as possible. If there are no earlier records it may just be that you have reached the end of the line. If there are no records, research is somewhat difficult.

Make certain you've learned all you can about other ancestors in that same lineage--and the extended family as well. There's probably research you can do, but extending the lineage further back in time may be impossible.

28 August 2011

Heirs and Assigns Forever

Ever wonder what the phrase "heirs and assigns forever" meant on an old deed? The intent of the phrase was to convey to the grantee a fee simple title, meaning that the grantee was able to keep, mortgage, sell, or bequeath the land as he or she saw fit. This type of ownership was different from a life estate, which is where the grantee only has use of the property during their lifetime.

27 August 2011

My "Daily" Blogs

For those who were not aware, I have three daily blogs:

What Are You Trusting to Memory?

The great thing about re-reading material or records is that one realizes how easy it is to remember things incorrectly. Are you making a research  decision (particularly online late at night, or while researching in those last minutes in a library) based upon what you "think" a record says? Relying on our memory can be a big mistake.

We often realize that great-grandma might not have remembered things correctly when the census taker arrived. Can we expect her great-grandchild to be any better?

26 August 2011

Minors Choosing Their Guardians

In most US states, minors over the age of 14, could usually choose their guardian, subject to the approval of the court. If you see your ancestor choosing his guardian, it probably means he or she was over the age of 14, even if the record does not state that fact. You should check the contemporary state statute to be completely certain.

25 August 2011

Maintaining Themselves Separately?

Your great-great-grandparents may have decided to live separately without ever divorcing because "we don't believe in divorce, but can't live together either."

In cases like this, there won't be divorce records, but it is possible that a court action for "separate maintenance" might have been filed. This would have kept the couple "married," but contain information similar to a divorce.

Couples might also have lived separately without any type of court record or agreement. I had an uncle who lived on the farm while his wife lived in town and an aunt who lived across the street in a separate home from her husband. Her home did not have indoor plumbing--his did. When he would go to a nearby larger town to run errands, she'd go across the street to his home just to use the indoor restroom.

Census records and city directories may hint at these separate living arrangements without providing specifics.

24 August 2011

Even Ads Can Be Clues

Don't forget that ads in newspapers, yearbooks, etc. can also be clues. They may provide information about your ancestor's residence, occupation, or even affiliations. A 1925 yearbook in Chicago contained an advertisement from a relative (well beyond high school age) that showed his occupation and where his business was located. Too bad there wasn't a picture.

Got All Those Sibling Obituaries

I'm trying to track the movements of a relative who lived in both Chicago and upstate New York between 1900 and his death in about 1935.

Fortunately he had over a dozen siblings who survived to adulthood, many of whom he survived. The next step in my research is to track down obituaries for these siblings and see where it says he is living--assuming he is listed as a survivor.

23 August 2011

Are You Checking Every Court?

Remember that in some jurisdictions there may be separate courts for different functions. There may be a criminal court, a probate court, an orphan's court, a court of equity, etc.

Make certain you have searched all the records--not just one court. It can be easy to overlook one court and not find what you are looking for.

22 August 2011

Affidavit Filed With the Deeds

Once in a while, non-deeds may be discovered with the actual land records. An ancestor died in 1893 in Illinois--no will and no probate. There apparently were no bills from the estate, other than funeral expenses. The oldest son filed an affidavit with the land records indicating that the farm was owned free and clear at the time of his father's death. The affidavit partially explained why there was no estate settlement for the father either.

21 August 2011

Back to School Casefile Clues Offer-52 for 12

Sunday we're offering a year of my weekly newsletter Casefile Clues for $12. Samples can be downloaded as PDF files here:

Feel free to let others know about the offer--this blog post will be pulled late Sunday night--don't wait. 

One Document--Many Statements

Remember that one document, a death certificate for example, may contain many statements. Those statements (about the birth, the parents, the date of death, the place of death, burial, cause of death, etc.) are not necessarily made by the same people. Each statement must be evaluated separately as the informant might not have been equally "informed" about every statement which they gave.

20 August 2011

One Piece of Paper Isn't Proof

There is more to "proving" a date of birth, a place of marriage, or a maiden name than finding it written on one piece of paper. At the risk of oversimplifying, the researcher should be at the very least be considering:

  • how accurate that "piece of paper" probably is
  • the likely informant of that "piece of paper"
  • what other "pieces of paper" have to say
  • how reasonable the information on that "piece of paper" is
There's more to making a case than this, but these are elements of analysis that should be considered on a regular basis. And if at all possible, try and find other "pieces of paper" that mention the same date, location, or relationship. Ideally those pieces of paper will have different informants-preferably ones who had first hand knowledge of the information. 

19 August 2011

Census Taker Assumed Entire Household Had Same Last Name?

If the members of a household were not all the children of the same father, keep in mind that the census taker might have simply assumed everyone in the household had the same last name, whether they did or not. 

Step-children might be listed with the step-father's last name, even though he never adopted them at all and they never used his last name themselves. Grandchildren enumerated with grandparents might be listed with the grandparent's last name, even though they never actually used that name. 

18 August 2011

Do You Need A Separate Genealogy Email Address?

Consider getting a separate email address for your genealogy research and correspondence. There are several places to get free email addresses, Yahoo, Hotmail, Google, to name a few. You shouldn't have to change it if your service provider changes, space is usually fairly generous, and web-based interfaces make it easy to check anywhere.

And for some of us, it helps to keep genealogy emails separate from those in our "other life."

17 August 2011

Is There Something No One Ever Told You?

As you use family sources, interviews with Grandma, and stories that were passed down in your family to begin your research, keep in mind that there might be key details that relatives either forgot or intentionally neglected to tell you.

They can be as innocent as forgetting that great-grandpa lived in Idado for ten years and "came back home."

Or they can be intentional, as in forgetting that Grandpa had a wife before he married Grandma and that he had five children with the previous wife.

Omissions can be inconsequential or serious roadblocks to your research. They can also be things Aunt Myrtle simply forgot or something cousin Harold never wanted you to find out.

16 August 2011

Do You Know What That Date Is?

I was using a burial register from England in my research. I had to constantly remind myself that the dates listed in the register were dates of burial, not dates of death. In most cases, the individuals probably had not been deceased long, but I need to make certain I record the information correctly.

15 August 2011

There Might Be No Stone

Depending on the time period, the location, the number of nearby relatives and your ancestor's financial status, your ancestor might never have had a tombstone.

Don't assume that every person buried in a cemetery had a stone, even at one point in time. It's possible there never was one.

14 August 2011

StepChild How?

In the 1900 census, Tom is listed as Bob's stepchild and Bob is married to Mary. Don't assume that Tom is Mary's child and that she had a previous relationship.  Bob could have had a wife previous to Mary who was Tom's mother and that's how Tom became Bob's stepchild. 

13 August 2011

All the Papers That Could Tell Me

Regular readers may remember that I'm working on a couple who likely got married in Canada--somewhere. The difficulty is that I do not know where. I do know that the couple had children born in Canada and that the husband's brother probably lived nearby for at least a time.

To increase the chance I find the name of that town, I'm looking at all the ancestor's Canadian born children, his brother's Canadian born children, and children of all those children in case some record mentions that village. And the child from whom I descend wasn't even born in Canada.

But the hope is that one of these people may mention where they (or their parent) was born--and that's what I need!

12 August 2011

Spouses Might Not Share A Grave

Remember that spouses aren't necessarily buried in the same cemetery--or even in the same state. One ancestor died in Indiana in 1861 where he is buried and another is buried in Iowa where she died in the 1870s.

And one aunt is buried at the veteran's home in Iowa where she died and her husband was buried at the veteran's home in Kansas where he died.

So they might have been together in life, but not in burial!

11 August 2011

A Femme Covert

This phrase typically refers to a married woman and one whose legal rights are controlled by her husband.

10 August 2011

Search a Collateral You've Never Searched Before

Get yourself out of your research rut and perhaps make a discovery in the process.

I decided to spend a little time researching the man who fathered a child with my aunt in Iowa in the 1870s. They never married according to her Civil War pension. Searching him caused me to discover an error on FamilySearch and realize that this father received a pension for his own military service. Now I'm wondering if his pension mentions his daughter, which could help me find her.

All from searching for a collateral.

09 August 2011

Look Where They Stayed Not Just Where They Landed

Peter Bieger immigrated to the States about 1847, probably settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. He married there in 1849 and by late 1850, he was in Illinois, where he purchased a small home/tavern.

The best place to search for his Germanic origins: Illinois. Peter left only two records in Ohio, none of which name any witnesses or associates. His 1856 estate settlement and guardianship for his children has the names of several witnesses and associates, most of which appear to be Germanic in origin. Searching these associates may provide some clue to his origins--and should be done before continued work in the larger Cincinnati area where the number of Germans is much larger.

Sometimes the best approach to immigrants is to completely research them in the area of settlement.

08 August 2011

Were They Alive Then?

Before you spend time looking for someone in a census record, make certain they were living at the time. I realize that occasionally someone who has been dead gets enumerated in a census, but someone who died in 1875 should not be listed in the 1880 or 1881 census.

07 August 2011

Does Dating Make Your Dominos Not Line Up?

When working out any lineage, especially a new one, keep approximate years of birth in mind for the parents, children, grandparents, etc. and always be asking yourself "Could these people be old enough to have these children/grandchildren?"

It won't help you catch every mistake, but there will be the occasional one.

I thought the ages for a recent "theory" of my own did not fit, but realized that a man born in 1770 could have a son born in 1788 and that son could easily have also had a son born in 1819.

Sometimes the ages will make you realize the people you think fit together, do not.

And other times it means you've got more research to do.

06 August 2011

Is It Time for a Break or a Different Approach?

Sometimes you have to admit that you are spinning your wheels, the facility (or website) you are using does not have what you need, or that you need help.

I've been working on an ancestor in New York and Michigan over the last couple of days at the Ft. Wayne Library. I realized that the published genealogies I had been using were pretty much "copying" each other and that the answer to my question was not in any published sources and that what I actually need to utilize are local records in one of the two counties where the family lived.

Until I access those records, more time in print materials/websites probably isn't going to help me.

05 August 2011

Odd Names Doesn't Mean Same Person

Use unusual names for clues, but don't conclude that they have to be the same person. I was looking for the parents of a man, lets call him Ebenezer Whatshisname, who was aged 61 in the 1850 census for Michigan and was from New England and old enough to have had children born by 1820. There's another Ebenezer Whathisname whose father was in the Revolutionary War from New York and received a pension. Researchers concluded both Ebenezers were the same person. When you read the pension application of this soldier father, he states that his Ebenezer was born in 1810---towards the end of his group of approximately 12 children all listed chronologically.

Could there be a connection between the two Ebenezers? Certainly. But don't assume an unusual name means you have the EXACT same person--often people pass names in families and first, second, or more distantly related cousins may have the exact same name.

04 August 2011

Get Off Ancestry.com For Two Days

Is there just one site that you're using for your research? Remember that not one site has everything. Consider avoiding using that site for two days and either doing some onsite research or looking at other websites. You might be surprised at what you find.

03 August 2011

Is That Happening at a Normal Age?

Think about the age(s) at which your ancestor marries, buys or sells land, pays taxes, witnesses documents, etc.

Are those typical ages for those things? Or is someone marrying at the age of 14 or marrying at the age of 54 (for the first time)? A ten year old is not witnessing documents.

Use the age as a clue.

And if the age means something is "off" it could be that you have the wrong year of birth to begin with or that there was more than one person with the same name, they were just different ages.

02 August 2011

The Clerk Might Not Know I Was Married Before

Marriage records will not always indicate if one of the parties has been married before. Some marriage records may list the groom as "Mr." and the brides as "Miss" or "Mrs," but others will make absolutely no distinction.

Do not assume that if one of the parties had been married that a subsequent will make a note of it. Some records may indicate the bride is a widow, but others will not.

For this reason, unless there's a statement to the contrary, don't always conclude that the last name of the bride is her name at birth. It could very well be the last name of a previous husband.

01 August 2011

Separation of Property

A separation of property is a legal division of the assets of a husband and wife. Usually it allowed a female to act independently as a feme sole and served to protect her dowry. If done during marriage it was usually to protect her assets from her husband's creditors. It does not mean the couple physically separated or divorced. Sometimes it was done after the husband's death for a similar purpose-protection of the wife's property from creditors of her husband's estate.