How Covered are Those Years?

Many databases will be titled something like “Blah Blah Records of Blah Blah: 1800-1900.” Always try and determine just years are really included in the database. It could be that the “Blah Blah Records of Blah Blah: 1800-1900” actually only contains entries for:

  • 1800-1820
  • 1845
  • 1860-1880
  • 1890-1900

Read the “more about,” “FAQ,” or whatever they call it to determine just how complete the database is. If necessary, browse the records to determine the time periods that are actually included in the database.

The Blah Blah database includes records between 1800 and 1900, but there are gaps. And of course, your person of interest lived in the area from 1830 until 1840…and his grandson lived there from 1892-1898.

Was there a Border Tweaking?

Remember that even after counties are “formed” and fairly settled, county boundaries can change. A change between two Kentucky counties well after each was formed transferred several square miles from one to the other. Not a large part of either county.

But just enough to make my ancestor’s farm go from being in one county to being in another.

And causing land records to start being recorded in the “new” county.

But the Law Said…

The law matters in genealogical research. Many genealogical conclusions and research approaches are based upon what laws were in effect when our ancestors were living in a certain time and place.

There are those occasional times when the law is ignored for one reason or another. But before you decide your ancestor (or your family) was ignoring or skirting the law, ask yourself, “how plausible is it that my ancestor could get away with this?”

It’s one thing to get married a few years before being of legal age. It’s possible, but perhaps slightly more difficult, to marry when you’ve got a spouse and five children living in the same county where you are marrying again. It’s difficult to leave two siblings out of your parent’s estate when they died intestate and live in the same county (it’s one thing to abscond with some of mother’s good china, it’s more difficult to sell the farm in an intestate probate without getting all the heirs to sign off on the deed).

It’s one thing to make illegal moonshine for thirty years. It’s another to get a military pension when you did not serve or were a “widow” who was not married to the veteran.

Before you think your ancestor skirted the law, give a hard think to how easy it was to do that.

When Can a Divorced Person Remarry?

State statute may have indicated that a divorced person wait a set amount of time before getting married again. That time frame can vary.

A divorced person may have had to wait a year to marry again. The amount of time may have been different if the grounds of divorce were adultery and the divorced person was marrying the person with whom they committed the adultery mentioned in the divorce.

Contemporary state statues will indicate what limitations there were on a person’s ability to marry again after a divorce.

Not That Name

Was there a name that family members refused to use for one reason or another? Was there a nickname that a parent was opposed to a child using? Have you tracked that information in your genealogy records and (if possible) the reason behind it?

I’ve written elsewhere about why name which was originally supposed to be John Michael became Michael John and know that others have to have similar stories.

Check out MyHeritage’s current offerings!

The 0th Birthday

No photo description available.

The “0th” birthday sign was a literally correct age for the human who had arrived a few days before.

Technically, in most cultures, a person is considered by 0 years old at the moment of their birth. It’s also reflective of the age many records use to list individuals within the first 12 months of their birth.

And it’s difficult to get mixed up on whether someone is 0 years old or 1 year old–even if there is no record of their birth. But as that person ages, it’s easier for a record to be a off or inconsistent with other records. It’s more difficult to be off by much when someone is under the age of 3. When that person with no birth record has aged to their seventies, it’s much easier to be off a year or two on their age.

The older a person gets, the more their age is to vary especially if they do not have a record of their birth and someone else is determining their age for them.

Check out MyHeritage’s current offerings!

Named for Baptismal Sponsors or Not?

In some locations and time periods, naming children for the baptismal sponsor was common. Other times it was not.

When my grandmother and two of her siblings were christened as infants in 1915 at a Protestant church of German heritage in Illinois, all were named for their baptismal sponsors. In looking at other entries for the same church during the same time period, the practice was relatively common.

That was not the case when looking at the christening records of a German immigrant church in Nebraska (again, Protestant). My great-grandmother and several of her siblings were christened there in the 1880s–none of them had the same name as their sponsor (all were named for grandparents in this case). In looking at several pages of entries for the same time period–again, not just looking at entries for my family–naming the child for the sponsor (or using one of the sponsors’ name for one of the child’s names) was done, but was done in less than half the entries I looked at.

Practices regarding naming children for sponsors vary from one time and place to another. Look at other contemporary entries and see what they were doing. You can’t really know if something was a common practice unless you look at others in the same place and time.

One specific example of someone doing something does not mean it was a common practice.

Same Names Are Not Always Related

It can be tempting to think that individuals with the same last name are related to each other when they end up settling in the same area. That’s not necessarily true.

My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Habben. My maternal grandfather’s grandfather’s sisters both married men with the last name of Habben. They were from the same general area of Germany and some of them lived in the same area of Illinois for a time in the late 1800s. They were not related to each other at all.

It can be tempting when two individuals with a somewhat unusual last name live in proximity to each other to assume that they are related–that they have to be related. They do not have to be related. Sometimes names that are rare in one area are common in the location where the family is actually from (and where the last name originated).

It’s a good idea to research families that settle in the same area and share an unusual name. Just don’t force them to be related when there is no evidence of that connection.

Airing out the Heirs and Heirs-at-law

In the United States, when a person dies without a will state statute dictates who qualifies as an “heir-at-law” to the estate. Heirs-at-law are generally individuals who fall into certain classes of relatives based upon the family structure of the deceased.

It’s difficult to summarize certain concepts in a short tip and readers are encouraged to become familiar with the laws regarding intestate succession in the area and time period in which their ancestor lived, but here are some generalities that are typically true–in the absence of a valid will and testament:

  • if you know one heir-at-law is a descendant of the deceased, then other heirs-at-law (except for a potential spouse) are also descendants of the deceased;
  • if you know that an heir-at-law is a cousin of the deceased then other heirs-at-law are not children of the deceased.

Keep in mind that heirs-at-law are individuals who would inherit property from a deceased individual in the absence of a will. A deceased person can leave a valid last will and testament (or other valid legal documents) naming individuals as their legatees or beneficiaries. Legatees and beneficiaries do not have to be related to the deceased. An heir-at-law (sometimes styled as just an “heir”) is someone who can entitled to inherit property from a decedent when that decedent dies without leaving any valid legal documents indicating who is to receive that property.