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31 October 2014

Do You Look At Those Changes?

One of my ancestors wrote his original will approximately fifteen years before he died. As time went on instead of writing a new will, he executed various codicils to his original will. These codicils changed specific clauses of his will. In reading these codicils, one realized that one was in reaction to his son-in-law's financial problems, one was in reaction to his son-in-law's death, one was in reaction to his daughter's death, and one was after his sons had traded farms.

If your ancestor's will had one or more codicils ask yourself what might have prompted the change?

30 October 2014

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Children With the Same Name

Your ancestor and their spouse may have had more than one child with the same name. In some families it was common to "reuse" names of children who had died as infants. Consequently a couple may have children named Geske born in 1852, 1856 and 1859--if the first two died. Couples may also have children with names so similar that a researcher does not realize the children are different--naming children Lucinda and Lucena can confuse researchers. And other families give children names that are different in their homeland but are different in the country where they settled--Johann and Jann may both get anglicized as John.

Don't assume those kids with the "same name" are all the same kid.

29 October 2014

A Great Deal Is Not Digital

We've mentioned it before, but...

There is still a great deal of genealogical data and information that is not available in digital format. Some is available on microfilm, but the rest remains only on paper. If you've been stuck on a problem or family for a while, have you made certain that you're not concentrating only on what you can get in digital format?

28 October 2014

Mortgages In Separate Books From Deeds

In some local records offices the mortgages are kept in a separate series of books and not in the same volumes as the actual deeds. A mortgage can help to document your ancestor's financial status and it may be that the holder of the note was an actual relative.

27 October 2014

Extractions Should Include Context

It's not always practical or possible to completely transcribe every record used in your genealogy. However any extraction should always include enough context so that what is extracted makes sense and does not mislead you or another person who uses your extract. A recent posting to Rootdig.com ("Dead Men Swear in Mercer County")  gives a simple example of how taking some of a document out of context could create problems.

Hopefully readers wouldn't extract the way we did in that example, but it still makes a good point.

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26 October 2014

Case Files For Signatures

One place to get signatures of family members is in the estate case files of papers that were used in the settling up of estates. Court filings, receipts, and other documents in these materials can contain signatures of many of the parties involved.

25 October 2014

It's Not Just About Citing Your Sources

Documenting your research is also about including in your notes why a record caused you to reach the conclusion that you did. Some records state things pretty clearly and explicitly--we say those are "direct" statements. Other times the researcher needs to take statements from several documents, combine them with other known facts to reach a conclusion not specifically stated in any one document. We say those statements are "indirect."

That reasoning needs to be included in your notes.

Just in case anyone else wonders how you got a "piece of information" that's not explicitly stated in any one record.

Or in case you forget.

But that would never happen, right?

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24 October 2014

Bucking the Variant and Rocking the Location

When coming across a "new" location for a person or an event, consider that the new place may not be so new after all.

The reference to Clark Sargent moving to Buckton, Illinois, in this 1881 history of Marlborough, New Hampshire, probably is a mangled reference to Rockton, Illinois, where Sargent is known to have settled.

That "different" place may not be so different after all.

23 October 2014

To Standardize or Not

When writing about ancestors whose names were spelled in a variety of ways, I tend to use just one spelling when writing about them (see our earlier post "lidya Sargeant Not Lydia Sargent"). When transcribing documents though, it is best to spell the name as it is written. If you have a "reason" for why one spelling is used in your discussion and summary, clearly state that reason or at least say "this is the spelling that is being used for all discussion even though the name gets written in numerous ways." Otherwise it may be difficult for readers to know to whom you are referring.

lidya Sargeant Not Lydia Sargent

[note: this post was also posted on Rootdig.com today as well]

Variant spellings are frustrating for many genealogists, including myself.

This image (with the black text) was originally used an illustration in a recent Genealogy Tip of the Day blog post. I incorrectly spelled the name in the citation. It should have been "lidya Sargeant"--not Lydia Sargent. Normally when writing about ancestors whose names are spelled a variety of ways, I standardize the names in any general discussion of them and in my conclusions about them.

But when transcribing documents and records I should transcribe the names as they are written or at least as close to that as possible.

I didn't in this case and thanks to a reader for very graciously pointing this out to me.

22 October 2014

Get Help From a Local

Sometimes the best way to get help with county level records is to ask someone who has actually researched in that specific county. A person who has researched three or four counties away--even in the same state--won't always know the ins and outs of every county. Counties may have had slightly different record keeping practices, had different sets of records that were destroyed, or have research staff and clerks who need to be handled carefully.

Sometimes a local is best able to do that.

21 October 2014

A Guardian When the Parents Are Not Dead

Do not assume that because a child has a guardian appointed for him that the parents of that child are dead. A Maryland relative in 1817 gave money to two grandchildren and then appointed a guardian to oversee their inheritance. The parents of the child were still alive and their mother was the daughter of man writing the will and were not named as the guardians of their children's inheritance.

Given the era, the writer of the will was likely trying to avoid the son-in-law having any control over the grandchildren's inheritance. Giving the money directly to the daughter in 1817 would have realistically meant that the son-in-law controlled it.

Giving it to the grandchildren and appointing someone else to oversee it took care of that.

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20 October 2014

He Who Hesitates May Get the Short End of the Informational Stick

We've mentioned it before, but..

Never delay asking that relative questions about your family history. That person may not be able to answer questions tomorrow. And go back and ask them more questions once you've done some research--they may be able to provide more information than was in the records you located and the information you've discovered may help them remember things they could not remember before.

19 October 2014

A License Gives Permission

If the marriage license is the only information indicating that a couple married, keep your mind open to the possibility that the marriage may never have actually taken place. A marriage record documents the actual marriage, a license documents the intention to get married.

18 October 2014

Try Writing Out Transcriptions

I was having difficulty transcribing a rather difficult to read 18th century will from Massachusetts. Instead of typing it on my computer, I wrote out my transcription by hand. It might not have been the fastest method, but it slowed me down and forced me to concentrate on what the words actually meant instead of seeing how fast I could type it. And thinking about the words helped to interpret some of the hard to read phrases.

17 October 2014

Failure to Mention Does Not Mean Failure To Exist

Your relative may not have mentioned all his children in his will. Some wills will include a statement naming specific children who have been "left out" of the will saying they receive nothing or only giving them a token amount--which serves the purpose of indicating that they were not forgotten by the parent. But other wills will include no such clause mentioning "disinherited" children. They may simply be not listed because there was a falling out with the parent or the child had already received their share.

Don't assume that your ancestor named all his children in his will. It's possible that he didn't. 

16 October 2014

Tools of the Trade

What do you know about the tools of your ancestor's trade or occupation? Learning what tools were commonly used in your ancestor's occupation may help you to interpret estate and other records correctly. I'm reasonably familiar with most types of farm equipment based on my own background, but other occupations sometimes leave me confused.

A recent blog post involving one of my ancestors who was a weaver reminded me of the importance of learning about the tools your ancestor probably used.

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15 October 2014

There's More than One Context

When you find a person of interest in a census, do you look at all the contexts in which that person appears? There are not as many details in pre-1850 census records, but for enumerations after that date, do you look at how many of your ancestors neighbors are from the same state or country as he? Do you look and see how many homes in the neighborhood are rented, owned or mortgaged? How common is his occupation? How common is it for the wife to have an occupation outside of the home?

Not all census enumerations provide these details, but there are multiple layers of context that can be easy to overlook.

14 October 2014

Get Beyond the Abstract

Are you using an abstract or a summary of a document? Abstracts and summaries by their nature leave out details. The 1716 will of Thomas Sargent of Malden, Massachusetts, mentions all his children by name. But it also indicates why he gave his children what he did, what he had already given them, and a few other details about their life than an abstract may not include.

Abstracts and summaries are meant to give researchers an idea of what is in a document or record. Sometimes there's more information hiding in there.

13 October 2014

Do You Collect Ancestral Signatures?

This is the 1716 signature of Lydia Sargent of Malden, Mass., There are times when comparing signatures can help to connect two individuals with the same name in different locations. And there are times when it is simply interesting to have an image of an ancestor's signature when pictures of that person are not available. Not all of our ancestors were literate, sometimes illiterate people left behind marks or signatures, and ancestors with no property likely didn't leave behind a signature at all. But it's worth a look.

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12 October 2014

Language Borders are Fluid

Did your ancestor speak more than one language or is it possible that he spoke the language you didn't "expect him to?" Political borders in Europe changed frequently for some time and the borders in regards to the spoken language are even more fluid--despite what the official language of the area is.

Some borders are more fluid than others. Language and cultural practices don't often change immediately when a political boundary is crossed.

11 October 2014

Have You Written Your Own Stories?

In addition to documenting the lives of your ancestors, have you written down information about yourself? Not just the bare dates and facts, but more personal details about yourself-things you wish your ancestors had written about themselves.

It can be a good activity when you're stuck on a brick wall.

And your descendants will thank you for it.

10 October 2014

Siblings of the Immigrants?

Two of my wife's ancestors immigrated to the United States as adults with young children, settling in Chicago. For some reason, I never thought to look and see if either of them had siblings who immigrated to the United States. After some additional searching, I discovered that one brother of the wife also immigrated to Chicago--and died without children. 

It's possible that his estate settlement will mention some relatives that I cannot locate. 

09 October 2014

Local Records at the State Facility?

When was the last time you checked the appropriate state or provincial website to see if they had compiled indexes or finding aids to records you could use?

Many state or provincial level archives have created finding aids or partial indexes to records in their collection.

Some of these are indexes to state or provincial records and some are indexes to local records that have been deposited with state or provincial authorities.

08 October 2014

No Junior Here

Some families use "senior" and "junior" to distinguish between older and younger individuals with the same name. Don't assume that the "senior" is the father of "junior." Don't assume either that just because a father and a son had the same name that they had to use "senior" and "junior" to distinguish between them. Some families didn't.

07 October 2014

High School Graduation Pictures in Newspapers?

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 1932  

Paper: San Francisco Chronicle;
digital image from

Some newspapers published pictures of local high school graduates. While the pictures in newspapers are not always the best quality, it may be the only picture a researcher has. Some small town papers may even put post-graduation goals of students in the paper as well.

06 October 2014

Is There a Letter from A Great-Grandchild in the Pension File?

Pension files for American Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans frequently contain letters from descendants looking for information on their military ancestor. While the content of these letters can vary and may be inaccurate, they can provide some sketchy information on grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the veteran, including their name, address and relationship to the veteran.

And some were trying to get bounty land that their ancestor didn't claim. Those attempts usually failed.

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05 October 2014

Was it Germane?

When considering the reliability of information in any record, court testimony, deposition, or affidavit, consider what aspect of the information were really important to the case or situation at hand and which aspects were not. If a couple has been married for over ten years and is getting divorced, does the judge really care if they were married in April of 1823 or March of 1823? If the couple had no children until June of 1824, whether the date was in April of March of 1823 really doesn't matter to the court. It may matter to the genealogist, but that's a separate issue.

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Registration begins on 13 October.

More Than One Relationship?

Is that son-in-law of your ancestor also his cousin by marriage? Is the Justice of the Peace who attests to your ancestor's signature on several documents the man of the same name who was his neighbor thirty years ago in a different state? Is your ancestor's first cousin also his third cousin on another side of the family? Just because two people are related in one way does not mean that they are not related in another.

Those relationships may be biological, by marriage, or through some other connection.

Never assume there is just one.

04 October 2014

No Punctuation

Many old documents contain little, if any, punctuation. When an item contains a list of children, make certain you are interpreting names correctly and ask yourself  "is there another reasonable way" this document could be interpreted?

03 October 2014

They Can Drag On

Court cases can drag on for years and in some locations are filed when they are settled. This may take place after some of the original litigants have died. I knew my one ancestor died by 1812 and a case involving him in Virginia drug on until 1827--which is when it was indexed. Had I assumed my guy couldn't be mentioned in an 1827 court case, I would have missed the reference.

02 October 2014

Put Aside the Compilations

I'm working on a family from 18th century Virginia. Some compilations on this family have directed to me to original records such as deeds and wills. However, in reviewing the conclusions that have been made from these materials, lifespans do not quite fit, people are having children at unusual ages, and people are signing legal documents before the age of majority.

It's time for me to put aside the compilations and conclusions that others have reached and work with the original materials from scratch. I'm thankful that the compilations directed me to a variety of original records, but I need to quit trying to make the documents fit the conclusions that others have made.

Could it be time for you to do that on a family as well?

01 October 2014

Front and Back

When you are making digital copies of loose papers from a court packet, pension file or similar document, do you indicate what image is the front and back of the same piece of paper?

Later it can be difficult to know "what goes with what" if you simply make images and don't make it clear what was the front and back of the same piece of paper.