I still have room on my research trips coming up later this year. If you’ve been thinking of making a trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake or the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, consider joining us:
While reading Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West, by Marcia Meredith Hensley, I came across a reference to a woman referring to a single neighbor man as a “grass widow” in a letter written by Julia Erickson in Winnett, Montana, in 1911 (page 111).
Doing a little research, I discovered that men could be referred to as “grass widowers” just in the same way as women could be referred to as “grass widows.” The reason was the same: the spouse was “gone.” Of course, gone can mean quite a few things from temporarily away, to separated, to divorced.
But use of the adjective “grass” was not limited to women. It could apply to men as well.
No matter how hard you try, sometimes it is difficult to get good picture of a tombstone. Do not rely only on your photograph if the stone appears difficult to read at the cemetery. Make a transcription there at the cemetery while you are on site. Draw a sketch of the stone if necessary and write the transcription on your sketch of the stone. Take a picture of that hand made drawing and transcription to have with your actual stone photograph. You may be happy you did when you get home.
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I maintain the following genealogy blogs:
- Rootdig.com—Michael’s thoughts, research problems, suggestions, and whatever else crosses his desk
- Genealogy Tip of the Day—one genealogy research tip every day–short and to the point
- Genealogy Search Tip—websites I’ve discovered and the occasional online research tip–short and to the point
- Genealogy Transcriber—one piece of handwriting every day–with the answer the next
Be careful drawing conclusions from an ancestor “making their mark.” It means that they made their mark. Sometimes the person signing a document:
- was told to make his mark even if he could write
- chose to make his mark even though he could write
- was physically unable to sign his name and making his mark was all he could do even though in years past he could write his name
- made a mark because that was all he knew how to do even though he was in fine health
Be wary of drawing conclusions on your ancestor literacy based upon the presence or absence of one signature.
If a record gives a person’s age, remember:
- The age could easily be off by one year or more.
- if accurate, don’t just subtract the age given in the record from the year of the record. Someone aged 35 in 1870 could have been born in 1835. Or, if they turned 36 the next day and the year was still 1870, they were actually born in 1834.
Concluding the age is accurate is always something to be done with good reason. I always use a year of birth calculated from an age in a record as an approximation of that year.
The first clue I had that one of my ancestors might have been married more than once was when two of her heirs were not listed as heirs of her husband. The husband died a year later and if they shared all the same children, their heirs should have been the same. The two heirs of hers that were not his were still living when he died.
It turned out those two were her children by a previous husband.
Spellings of last names can vary significantly, even within one document. Avoid getting hung up on minor differences or spelling variations. The important thing to keep in mind is do the spellings sound the same. Even if your ancestor was literate, he might not have been too concerned about whether or not his name was spelled right.
Just a reminder: the death benefit field in the renditions of what’s commonly called the Social Security Death Index, is where the death benefit check was sent, not where the person was necessarily living when they died. My Aunt Luella Barnett died in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, but the death benefit was sent to Orland Park, Cook County, Illinois, where her oldest daughter was living at the time. The image in this post comes from Ancestry.com. The Social Security Death Index can be searched at FamilySearch or GenealogyBank as well.