A Son-in-Law Bypass?

In his early 19th century will, a Maryland ancestor appears to disinherit a daughter when he leaves everything to her two children and appoints a guardian for them.


The man writing the will might have not so much been disinheriting the daughter as he was avoiding a son-in-law. In the very early 1800s, when this will was written, a man would be able to exercise control over real property that his wife inherited. By leaving the real estate to his daughter’s children, and appointing a guardian, the testator was providing for the children while circumventing the son-in-law.


And you thought that only people today who had to use creative ways to get around things. 

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Tip of the Day Book

While supplies last, we are offering copies of Genealogy Tip of the Day the book at $17.00. The 286-page book contains an edited version of our earlier tips. We’ve removed repetitive content, promotional items, and “news” that’s no longer news. There’s more information on the book on our website–that page does not have a link to this offer.

This link is the only one that contains an order at this price.

The book’s price ordered directly is $25. The Amazon price is slightly less than that for Prime members.

You can learn more about the book on our website, but this link is the only one that has the discount price.



State Lines Have to be Rivers

The title of this post is not a true statement. But there was a time as a child when I thought it was. I grew up in western Illinois, barely fifteen miles from the Mississippi River and Keokuk, Iowa, which is the southeastern portion of the state. The Mississippi River forms the Illinois-Iowa border. The Des Moines River forms a short portion of the Iowa-Missouri border in that part of the state.

When I was a child, if we went to Iowa we crossed the Mississippi River. If we went to Missouri, we either crossed the Des Moines River or the Mississippi River (depending upon how we travelled). But the thing was, given our always limited travel radius, we always crossed a river to go into a new state.

And so as a small child, I thought all states were like that: you had to cross a river to get to a new state. The first time I travelled to Indiana, it seemed so odd to cross into a new state without crossing a river at the same time. It almost seemed anti-climatic as there was not bridge, no river–just an apparent line in the dirt.

It is easy for any of us to get odd ideas in our head based upon our personal life experiences. Sometimes those odd ideas end up getting incorporated into events that actually happen and a family tradition is born. Sometimes those odd ideas end up being assumptions that impact our genealogical research. Either way, those odd ideas can present stumbling blocks in our research.

But sometimes there is a reason behind those odd ideas. Sometimes that is worth finding as well.

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Before Your Dump Your Files off at the Library

Putting a clause in your will that “my genealogical papers are to go to the BlahBlah Library” without some advance planning could have unintended consequences.

Some thoughts on preserving your “files” and papers by donating to a library or archives:

  • libraries may not want or be able to maintain random copies of public records that are available elsewhere
  • libraries may not want or be able to maintain random copies made from published books
  • unorganized materials are difficult for libraries to inventory and manage and they are difficult for patrons to use
  • photographs, personal certificates, and other “unique” items are more likely to be preserved and collected, but it can be difficult for some facilities to afford to maintain these collections–consider leaving some financial legacy (if possible) to assist in long-term maintenance
  • ask first to determine if the facility can or is willing to take your collection
  • again–ask first
  • organize your material while you are still able to. Make continued organization of your materials a regular part of your research process. You never know when that day may come when your donation clause will go into effect.
  • one last time–discuss this with the recipient first.

We will continue to have occasional posts on this topic. We don’t have all the answers, but we want readers to become educated about these concerns so they can make decisions and take action while they are still able to.

When your death certificate is being filed at the local records office—it’s too late.

Reasons to Organize Your Data

There are many reasons to organize your genealogical data, including:

  • noticing clues you did not notice before;
  • finding gaps in your research;
  • making it easier for you to share your research;
  • reducing the number of times you locate something you already have;
  • making it easier for you to publish your information (if that’s your goal);
  • making it easier for someone to preserve your information after your death;
  • making it easier for someone looking at your information to help you; and
  • saving money if you hire a professional–they will have to organize it for you before they can help.

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Who is Not Listed?

In any record or genealogical reference that lists a group of relatives or family members, determine if there are individuals who should be there who are not.

Sometimes this is easier to do that others, but it’s still a good exercise. The 1959 reference in the illustration is to a birthday party where siblings and nieces and nephews birthday celebrant were in attendance. The newspaper lists two individuals as “Mrs.” with no “Mr.” listed. In one case, the husband was deceased. In the other case, he was not (it’s not known why he did not attend). I also made certain that there were no other siblings of the celebrant besides the ones listed. One guest was actually the girlfriend of one of the nephews but that is not stated. The celebrant’s husband attended as well, but his name is listed last.

Never assume a list is complete. And if you realize that there are people who should be listed and are not, add that comment to the item when including it in your genealogical database.

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HouseKeeper Versus Keeping House

The 1870 US federal census instructions include detailed instructions about how occupations are to be listed. Among the distinctions to be made was the one between “housekeeper” and “keeping house.” Someone who was a “housekeeper” was one who received wages for performing that service. Someone keeping house for their own family members was to be listed as “keeping house.”

Instructions for the census were to be followed precisely, but like anything else, there can be variation from one census enumerator to another. The complete set of 1870 census instructions can be found online at https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1870instructions-2.pdf

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A One Trick Pony?

I realize county boundary changes can create genealogical research challenges, but there are times when it seems like some individuals think those changes are the solution to every research problem. It’s not. Just because an approach works sometimes or because you heard a professional use it a few times does not mean that the approach works all the time.

An individual was having difficulty locating the birth certificate of their ancestor in a rural Illinois county in 1902. The first two responses to their question were: “did the county boundary change?”

It is important to be aware of county boundary changes. There is no doubt about that, but context matters. By 1902 in most US states east of the Mississippi River (and quite a few others to be honest), county boundaries, except for the very minor tweaking, were pretty much set. And people knew for the most part just about where those lines were. County boundary changes can be a problem, but usually (with exceptions) they are problems in the early days of settlement in an area. Most county boundary issues with records after the early days of settlement involve people moving across them or living near them instead of the lines changing.

In 1902 Illinois was not newly settled. Oklahoma, New Mexico, and other areas were more recently settled and more likely to have boundaries that were a little more in flux.

Failure to locate a birth record in 1902 in Illinois is most likely the result of the event not being recorded, the family living briefly in a location unknown to the researcher (and in a different county), or the name having been rendered on the certificate in such a way that makes interpretation and location difficult.

One approach cannot be used to solve every problem. That’s true in life and in genealogy research as well.

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