Time Gaps In Their Life?

Creating a chronology of an ancestor’s life can serve many purposes. One is to see time periods when there is no information on the ancestor? Do you have a five year gap in records on an ancestor? Some gaps cause more concern than others–eight years between the 1860 census enumeration and a 1868 death is not probably a huge concern.

Selling property in location A in 1851 and then first appearing in another location in 1859 should make you wonder where he was between 1851 and 1859.

Unexplained gaps of time when one event indicates an ancestor might have been thinking about moving or might have just moved should get the research wheels turning in your head.


Look at the Copy Even if You Have the Original

With some probate and estate records, researchers may locate the actual will in the packet of papers. Signed by the testator, the actual will is always an interesting find. Sometimes researchers neglect to locate the “record copy” when they have the original. In many locations, a (usually handwritten) copy of the will is made in a ledger or journal. Determine if the locality of interest has a record copy, even if you have the “original.”

The record copy is especially important if the original has words or phrases that are difficult to read. The clerk might have been familiar with the names and knew “what was meant.” And the record copy may also have a comment not on the original record.


Easy Place to Elope?

Was there a nearby county or state where the requirements were easier than the location where your ancestor was living? It is possible that your ancestor crossed the county or state line in order to get married. Eloping a few counties away meant that the groom and bride were less likely to be recognized and that the marriage license might not be published in a local paper. Both of these considerations would lengthen the time before family and friends found out about the wedding. Getting married a distance from their residence might also make it easier to lie about their age. 


Devise Versus Bequeath

Technically in a will a “devise” refers to real property and to “bequeath” means to give personal property to someone. For the genealogist the difference is usually not consequential, but it never hurts to be aware of the distinctions sometimes made in legal terms.

Thomas would “devise” his farm to his son Thomas and bequeath the household goods and farm equipment to his son Benjamin.


Do They Really Know What They Are Talking About?

There is a reason why doctors suggest a person get a second opinion. Genealogists should consider this as well. If I join a new message board for an area or topic with which I am unfamiliar, I generally wait to post a question until I have an idea of who knows their stuff and who does not.It still can be difficult to know, but often a person gets an idea of who is knowledgeable and who is not. I’m generally not inclined to take advice from mailing list or message board posters who post anonymously and I also usually wait to “act on suggestions” until I’ve gotten more than one response.

Of course, if there is someone on the list or board that I already know to be reliable, that’s different. But random, off-the-wall responses may not be quite on the mark.

Fire Insurance Maps

Have you located your ancestor’s residence on fire insurance maps? Available in the United States starting in the nineteenth century, these maps cover large cities and often fairly small towns as well. You can learn what your ancestor’s residence was constructed of, the relative size of the home compared to the lot, neighboring structures, etc. The Library of Congress has more information on these maps on their website at http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/sanborn/. Other locations may have them as well.


Need Historical Perspective?

No history books for the location in which you are researching? Are there daily or weekly newspapers? Try reading a week or a month of newspapers for the time period of your brick wall genealogy problem. You should get ideas of what might have been impacting your ancestor’s life during the time period. The newspaper probably won’t mention your ancestor, but the perspective you get will be invaluable.


Are the Codicils Telling a Story?

Did your ancestor include several codicils to his or her will, making specific changes or additions, but not desiring to go to the expense of completely revising the entire document? Those codicils may tell a story.

One ancestor had four codicils to his will. All relate only to the inheritance to his daughter. Originally she is given a cash amount from her father’s estate. Later it is stipulated that her inheritance is not to go to pay her husband’s debts. Later it is to be put in trust for her and money to be set aside for her children. Finally a trustee is appointed to oversee the inheritance which is to go to the daughter’s two daughters.

What is unstated is significant. The son-in-law has serious financial troubles, eventually committing suicide. The daughter becomes ill and leaves her two surviving daughters in their teens. The grandfather survives this deceased daughter and the changes in his will are an apparent reaction to the son-in-law’s financial difficulties and to the deaths of the son-in-law and daughter.

Of course, all the reasons are not stated in the codicils–sometimes the researcher must look behind the scenes.


How Many Sources Are Enough?

How many sources do you need to “prove” a statement? There’s not a hard and fast answer to this question. It actually depends upon what sources are being used and where those sources got their information. Ten different family histories that make the same statement based upon an earlier family history do not count as 11 sources, they count as one.

Let’s say those sources indicate a Revolutionary War veteran died in 1831. His widow’s pension application indicates he died in 1837. While there are always exceptions, this case would likely be one where the one source outweighs all the others. The widow’s pension application is more likely to be correct than family histories published several lifetimes later.


Adoptee Can Go Just About Anyway

Most adoptions before 1900 were informal. There were no official records of the adoption–a neighboring family simply took the child into their home. The child may have had some biological connection to the family or the child may not. The child, if “adopted” at an older age may even have known who his biological parents were, or what his or her last name was. Or he might have had no idea. There were few rules because the adoptions were not done through any legal process.

The names a person used might have varied as well. I know of instances where the “adoptee” at various times used their birth mother’s last name, their father’s last name, and the last name of the adoptive parents. Of course, not all adoptees knew their parents’ names and census takers might have assumed all children in a household had the same last name when they actually did not.