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31 October 2011

Your Local Library

Even if you don't have ancestors in the area where you live, your local library may be able to help you with your research. They may have access to subscription databases, reference materials and have the ability to obtain materials via interlibrary loan. Many genealogical books do not go out on interlibrary loan, but books of a more general historical nature often do. And reading a little history rarely created a genealogy brick wall.

See what your local library has to offer. You may be surprised.

30 October 2011

What Was the Last Non-Electronic Source You Used?

Has your research been all digital? While some of us are unable to do onsite research, there are times when the only way to get at information is an actual book or paper record. There are few ancestors that can be researched completely without using at least one record that is not in digital form. When was the last time you either used an original record or received a copy of something that was not already scanned or digitized?

29 October 2011

Do You Have Abbreviations Lurking in Your Data?

When was the last time you used an abbreviation, either in a location or in the notes or sources portion of your genealogical software?

Is it an abbreviation that others will understand? Or is it something specialized or local that may confuse instead of enlighten? Someone in 100 years might be able to Google the abbreviation, or maybe not.

Most genealogical database programs are sophisticated enough to handle long place names. Cutting words short might only lengthen the confusion later.

28 October 2011

Is There a Final Settlement?

When looking through a set of estate or probate papers, don't neglect to look for a "final settlement." It may list names of children of original heirs who died before the estate could be settled, among other nuggets of information. The temptation may be to look for just the will and the estate inventory, but that final report may hold some clues as well.

27 October 2011

What Laws Are You Violating?

Think about the reasonableness of any information you find in a compiled database. Are people having children before they are born? Are people getting married after they died? Are there individuals who get married before their parents are born? If you have never seen entries such as these, you've not looked at very many online trees.

Personally I use online compilations as CLUES, sometimes very weak clues, to give me ideas. Never incorporate such information into your database and never spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it. But once in a while, compiled information in the "online trees" is correct.

But make certain when you compile your own information that you are not violating any laws of space, time, biology, or physics.

26 October 2011

Were They Somewhere Unexpected?

It is always possible that you ancestor lived, at least for a time, in a place that seems to make no sense, fits no migration patterns, etc. I still haven't figured out my an uncle was in Arkansas for a few years in the 1910s. There may be a reason, but even so, in his family this is unusual. Anyone who left Illinois either went west or north. South was rare.

Never discount the possibility that a relative in the "wrong" place cannot be yours.

25 October 2011

Are There Clues In the Time of the Year?

My great-great-grandmother died in February of 1888 in rural Illinois. Her obituary indicates that relatives from two separate towns, one 8 miles away and another nearly 20 miles away, came to her funeral. The travel would not have been easy, given the time of year.

Chances are those people were related to my great-great-grandmother, even though the newspaper did not mention any relationship, and the last names were unfamiliar to me. I would have researched them even if great-great-grandmother died in the summer, but given the probable difficulty of travel in February, the chance of a connection was even greater.

24 October 2011

Quitclaim Deeds

Most of the time quitclaim deeds are used to clean up title to a piece of property after the owner has died. Individuals who sign quitclaim deeds are literally "quitting their claim" in the real estate listed in the document.

If you see a group of individuals listed as grantors on a quitclaim deed and one other likely relative listed as the grantee, you should be asking yourself "who likely died that caused this deed to become necessary?"

Often it was the last surviving member of a couple, but not always.

23 October 2011

Order of the Children?

For families that lived during a time of no vital records genealogists often do not have dates of birth. In some cases, it may even be difficult to estimate years of birth if records are not available. In cases such as these, make certain that you indicate the birth order is either a guess or inferred from the order of children in a will or another document. If children married, years of birth could be estimated from the marriage dates.

And ask yourself, would any of my conclusions change if the order of birth for these children change? Most times they wouldn't, but you never know.

22 October 2011

Not Enough to Leave a Record

Keep in mind that there's not always a "need" for a record or a document. If a child has no "estate" or inheritance from a deceased parent, there will not be need to appoint a guardian. If an ancestor doesn't belong to a church, his children probably won't be christened there. If an ancestor does not own property, there will not be property tax records. If recording births was not mandatory when a relative was born far from the county seat, there might not be a record of their birth.

If your ancestor didn't care about his reputation among his neighbors, he probably didn't bother to have his biography included in the local county history.

It doesn't mean that we should fail to look for records, but to keep in mind that sometimes there are pretty simple reasons why records do not exist.

21 October 2011

Change Your Perspective

Sometimes we need to forget we are a genealogist and

  • think about census taking as if it were our job
  • pretend we were the clerk that couldn't understand your ancestor
  • imagine we are a semi-literate frontiersman collecting taxes
  • imagine you are a non-English speaker with a fear of the government who sees the census taker coming
  • think what it might have been like to have 4 small children, little money to spare, and barely able to afford a burial plot, let alone a tombstone
Remember, the research is about our ancestors and the people who created the records that we use--not necessarily about us.

20 October 2011

Those Little Tics

In several post-1840 US Census records, tic marks are used to indicate a variety of things. In some cases, it is eligibility to vote, married within the census year, ability to read and write, etc. If you're using a US Census after 1840, don't ignore those tics, there may be clues hiding there.

19 October 2011

Heir versus Legatee

There is a difference between an heir and a legatee. An heir is someone who, usually by statute, is entitled to a share in someone's estate if that person leaves no valid last will and testament. A legatee is typically someone who is given property in a will.

18 October 2011

Read Some History

This has been a tip before--but it bears repeating. When was the last time you read a history book? Actually read it and not just searched for a name in the index. Either a history of the place your ancestors lived or the time period in which they lived would be excellent reading material. If a book seems too much (and it isn't), consider reading a few issues of the local newspaper during the time period of your "problem." You might be surprised what you learn.

17 October 2011

Try All the Newspapers

If your ancestor died during a time when there might have been an obituary or a death notice, search every paper that might have published something. In an urban area, consider the daily newspapers and suburban newspapers that might have included a notice as well--especially if the ancestor actually lived in a suburb. For rural areas, consider all nearby newspapers, ones in the county seat, and perhaps ones in the nearest "large" town, which could be 40 or 50 miles away--especially after auto travel became popular. Newspapers in towns where your ancestor used to live might also have published a notice as well.

And always consider ethnic or denominational newspapers, even if they were not published near your ancestor lived.

16 October 2011

A Rood is not a Rod with An Extra "O"

A rod is a unit of measure of length equal to 16.5 feet. A rood is a unit of measure for  to 1/4 of an acre.
Rod is for linear measure and a rood is for area measure. 

15 October 2011

November Webinar Schedule

November webinars we are giving include:
  • Ancestry.com US Census Searching
  • DeedMapper for Metes and Bounds Properties
  • Using the Bureau of Land Management Website
  • A Missing 1840 Census Enumeration

Trace Those Letters

If you are having difficulty reading the handwriting on a document or record, particularly one that is entirely in longhand, consider making an "extra" copy and tracing the handwriting yourself with a pencil. Getting a "feel" for the handwriting of the person may help you to transcribe those words or phrases that are giving you difficulty. This also can work with foreign language script as well.

14 October 2011

Errors Can Be Clues

Even something obviously incorrect can be a clue. On a 1900 census enumeration my great-grandfather's siblings indicated that their mother was born in Ohio. Every record indicated she was born in Illinois and there was no reason to doubt that. It turned out that her parents had lived for 2 or 3 years in Ohio before her birth and had been married there as well. Ohio was a clue to the family's past, it just wasn't where the ancestor was born.

Even errors can be clues, often because people remember the name of the place, but forget just how it fits into the family's individual chronology.

13 October 2011

Did Great-Grandpa Communicate with the Other Kin?

Remember that some families kept in contact more than others for a variety of reasons. Your great-great-great-grandfather in 1850 may have had a rough idea of at least the county where his siblings were living and might have been able to at least write a letter to them with that address and have them get it. Other ancestors might have had no idea where their siblings were located or any way to contact them.

It can vary from one family to another and one place to see evidence of it is in estate settlements or probate records. A Civil War pension for one ancestor indicates she knew where her scattered siblings were. Another indicates she had no real clue where her siblings were located.

Of course, that may also be because they might have provided testimony inconsistent with hers.

But not every family maintained the same level of contact. Don't assume that they did.

12 October 2011

Private Business Records

Records of a private business, such as a funeral home, are private records which do not have to be made available to the public. Yes, they may have provided funeral services for your great-grandparents, but they are under no obligation to tell you who paid the bill, what biographical information was provided, or anything else. So be courteous and polite when requesting these records, or any records that are not public records. This includes church records as well.

11 October 2011

Are You Recording Your Thought Process?

An 1870 estate settlement lists your male ancestor as an heir of their grandfather. The estate settlement enver indicates your male ancestor is a minor, so you (reasonably) conclude they are "of age." Based upon this you conclude that your ancestor was born by about  1849. Did you list the estate settlement as the "source" of the approximate year of birth? Did you include in the notes HOW you reached this conclusion. The estate settlement doesn't provide direct evidence of age and the indirect nature of it (which includes your reasoning) should be discussed in your notes on the specific ancestor.

10 October 2011

Genealogy Webinars in September and October

We won't be offering our September and October topics for a while and because of hosting and other costs, the registrations for future webinars will be higher.


  • Court records
  • Land records
  • Establishing migration trails
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls

The schedule, registration information, and download information (if you cannot attend) is here http://www.casefileclues.com/webinars_neill.htm

Take A List With You

If there are key terms that confuse you, consider taking a short list with you when going to a courthouse to research onsite. If you cannot remember the difference between grantor and grantee, quitclaim and warantee, executor and administrator, etc. having a list might be very helpful. It could prevent you from misinterpreting something and wasting time.

09 October 2011

What Part Can Heirs Play?

Remember that heirs to an estate are typically prevented from performing certain roles in the settlement of an estate. Heirs usually are not allowed to appraise an estate or to witness the will of a person from whom they are   inheriting. Relatives can witness a will or appraise an estate, they just cannot be heirs. And remember that relatives of a deceased person may not necessarily be their heirs.

08 October 2011

Does Music Help Jog the Mind?

If you are having difficulty getting a family member to remember things from their youth instead of getting aggravated at them, considering using names of music, music itself, names of movies, etc. as a way to get their memories started flowing. Who won the presidential election the first year they were allowed to vote? These and other things might get them started remembering.

07 October 2011

Needing Geographic Perspective?

Do you have modern maps of where your ancestor lived? Do you have maps contemporary to when your ancestor lived in the location? Geographic perspective is always good--keeping in mind that places in 1750 might not be named the same or of the same size as they are in 2011.

06 October 2011

Every Word In Context

Every word in a document, record, or newspaper account needs to be kept in context. The precise meaning of a word may have been different in 1800 than it is today. A word being used in a legal document may have a meaning that is more specific than when used by a layman and may have a slightly different meaning than in common conversation.

Is there a word or phrase that you could be interpreting in a 21st century way--and not the way it was meant when it was used in the document?

05 October 2011

What Last Name Did She Use?

While it was unusual, some women who divorced in the 1800s did revert to a previous married name. This should be stated in the divorce decree and it was not common, but it did happen. However, it is more typical for the divorced female to use the last name of her most recent husband.

And divorce in the 1800s was not as common as in the twentieth century, but it did happen.

04 October 2011

Native Born and Yet An Alien?

Do you know what until the early 20th century in the US if a native born female married an un-naturalized man that she lost her citizenship status?

Wasn't always a real big problem---until women got the right to vote.

03 October 2011

Does the Husband's Probate Give Clues About Wife's Later Marriage?

If the wife survived when the husband dies, be certain to look through all the estate and probate records for clues about subsequent marriages by the widow. In some cases, she may be listed as "Barbara, late wife of Henry Smith, deceased." In other cases, her new marital status may not be stated so clearly. The widow could be listed on virtually any document in the estate papers simply with a new last name, with no mention of the husband.

And if the wife appears in initial papers settling her deceased husband's estate and a man, whose not a known blood relative of the widow or deceased husband, suddenly "appears" in the records--check him out. There's a chance he is the new husband, just with the relationship not stated.

02 October 2011

Correct Webinar Site Address

The correct link for my series of October genealogy webinars is:


An email contained the incorrect link. My apologies for the confusion.

Topics in October are:

  • Seeing Patterns
  • Court Records
  • Land Records--Federal Land States
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls
  • Determining Your Own Migration Trail
Now back to the tips! Thanks...

No Guarantees of Results

Be cautious of a researcher who guarantees to find your family for you. Genealogists can search records to which they have access and that they can guarantee. However, no one can guarantee that they will find your great-grandparents--unless they already have done it and located the information before you ever contacted them. If a search has not already been done, there is no way someone can "guarantee" they will find your family for you.

01 October 2011

Did They Have it Wrong in their Head?

Information on your ancestor's records may be inconsistent for several reasons. One to keep in the back of your mind is that maybe they "got something in their head wrong" and used that wrong information every time they answered the question. There are times where there's no real "reason" for incorrect information and "wrong" details are not given with the intent to deceive.