Is There More?

Online indexes can lead you to an image of a record with a quick search–if you are lucky enough that names are spelled and indexed correctly. Make certain the “next image” isn’t part of the item you located. Census records may be split over two pages, draft cards are often images of the front and back of the card, death certificates sometimes contain “supplements” directly after the original document.

Always look at the next image or two in any online set of images to make certain you’ve got it all–and look forward too as well.

You’ll never know until you look.


My Ancestor Never…

“Never say never,” may sound like a tired and oft-used saying, but sometimes there is a bit of truth to it. Applying it to your genealogical research can be helpful as well.

If in your head you ever think to yourself, “my ancestor never did x,” ask yourself “how would my research change if my ancestor did do x.?” Don’t carry this to the extreme and decide that your ancestor flew around the sun and returned, but other things such as “my ancestor would never have moved away for a few years, my ancestor never would have gotten divorced, my ancestor would never have had an “early” baby, and my ancestor never would have been arrested” may not be as true as you think.

The word “never,” and the unwritten assumptions that flow from it, can leave us with research hangups.


Genealogy Tip of the Day Book is Coming!

We’re been working it for a while now–a book of some of our earliest genealogy tips. I’m excited about the upcoming release of a list of tips in print form.

We’ve pulled out announcements and items that were timely and have not included those. Tips that were repeated have been deleted as well. We’ve updated a few tips that needed to be refined. And hopefully we’ve caught the minor grammar errors that occasionally sneak in.

If you’d like to get an email when the book runs live, add yourself to our email list.


Signature Analysis

The man is referred to as John Sears in a variety of court records from Bourbon County, Kentucky, in the 1806/1807 era.The handwriting of the court clerks and staff is fairly clear: John Sears. Like most documents, there is more. Sears signed two documents as a part of the original papers in the case file.

It does not look like he signed John Sears. The first name in both references clearly looks like Johann. Sometimes in records of this age, signatures may sometimes look like scribbles or just be viewed as “sloppy and written by someone who is not too literate.” That viewpoint can be a mistake. The temptation may be to just assume the signature is exactly what is written elsewhere in the document by someone whose handwriting is easier to read. That can also me a mistake.

Could that be a clue to his ancestral origins or perhaps where he was born?


Digital Records at FamilySearch?

Access to many digital images at FamilySearch is through the catalog. The images have not been separately indexed and are essentially “online microfilm.”

Search the catalog for your counties and other geographic areas of interest and the browse the subject headings to see what materials may be available. Everything in the catalog is not online, but looking at specific catalog entries will indicate how the materials can be accessed.

The catalog can be searched online at


Did They Really Sign It?

A signature can be a way of identifying a relative when other details are scant or inclusive. The difficulty comes when the researcher does not really know if the executor of a document actually signed it or not. Some records genealogists use are original documents containing actual signatures and other times those records are transcriptions or record copies of the original documents. Record copies made in the day when transcriptions were made by hand don’t contain the actual signature–they contain a transcription of it.

Once in a while original records may not contain the actual signature of the “signer,” even when they appear to. This 1827 bond from Fleming County, Kentucky, contains the “signatures” of James and Enoch Tinsley. Their signatures look very similar. The “signatures” of their names look similar also to how their names are written in the body of the bond. Their signatures also look less “labored” than do the signatures of the other three individuals and of the witnesses.

All of which makes me wonder if James and Enoch actually signed the document.


The Demise of James Tinsley

“Demise” does not always mean death. This court record from early 19th century Bourbon County, Kentucky, states:

in the year 1811 John Goodlittle on demise of James Tinsley exhibited…

It does not, does not, mean that James Tinsley met his demise in 1811. It means that John Goodlittle had a lease to real estate owned by James Tinsley.

Always make certain you are interpreting words in legal documents in their legal context.


Dower Versus Dowry

A dowry is property a female brings to the marriage.

Dower is a right a woman had to a share of her deceased husband’s real property as his widow. The widow’s dower was generally a one-third interest in her deceased’s husband’s property and it was held as a life estate (meaning she could transfer it, encumber the title to the property, etc.). Actual title to the real property would transfer to the husband’s heirs at his death.


Living Along the Creek?

Geography matters in genealogical research. No one lives on a flat piece of white paper.

It never really clicked that my Rampley family all lived along Bear Creek in Hancock County, Illinois, until I was tracing where the creek emptied into the Mississippi River. When I traced the creek through Walker Township using an 1874 plat map, there they were: every member of my Rampley family. James and his sons all owned at least one piece of property through which Bear Creek flowed at least in part. Based upon the map, they also tended to favor land that contained a fair amount of timber.

I need to look at the locations in Ohio (where the family lived before they moved to Illinois) and Maryland (were the father, James Senior, was born) and compare the terrain. People tend to settle in an area where there is some familiarity.

Have you given thought to your ancestor’s sense of geography?


Every Estate Accounting

Always make certain you have gone through every accounting in a set of estate papers. An intermediate accounting or a final accounting may give surnames of female heirs who were not married when the probate began, names of “new heirs” whose parents died during probate (original heirs themselves), or other clues not listed elsewhere.

It’s always about the money. Follow the money.