When Real Life Makes You Forget Discoveries

Life has a way of pulling you from genealogical research right when you have made a big discovery. When you return, the excitement of the new find is gone.

  • What have you forgotten you had?
  • What’s sitting in your files without being analyzed?

There could be big clues waiting in what you’ve forgotten to actually read. That’s what happend to me with nearly seventy pages of letters written by members of my family in the 1880s.

Undocumented Difficulties

Tales of family mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, and other challenges to normal daily functioning are not often passed down from one generation to another. And yet, they can explain why people disappear, certain relatives are never discussed, some relatives “won’t allow booze on the place,” etc.

Newspapers, death certificates, court records, state hospital records (or committals) can be some places to potentially find some information about these conditions–for some individuals if the records are not sealed. Not all people who suffered from these conditions will leave behind records documenting what was taking place in their life. The records that are left behind may be incomplete and inaccurate.

And remember that diagnosing these conditions was different in 1900 than it is today. The treatment, as well as the diagnosis, was different.

Those Ethnicity Results…

For the most part are entertainment. Mine are never as precise as the ones in the advertisements–and I really don’t care.

Concentrate more on your first, second, third, and fourth cousins and how they connect to you. That’s where the more immediate, more relevant, and (hopefully) more discoverable stories await.

I’m not going to be able to document my relatives back to the first century A.D. It’s simply not going to happen.

I’ll focus on the stories that I might be able to prove–and those are usually quite a bit more recent.


Did They Just Flit in and then Flit Out?

A female ancestor married her husband in Kentucky probably in the 1810s. By 1820, they are enumerated apparently as husband and wife, with some small children. They can be traced for the rest of their lives until they died in Shelby County, Indiana, in the later part of the 19th century.

It’s her that I cannot find–as if she was dropped off by a UFO at the county courthouse where she saw Enoch and they decided to get married right there, right then as the UFO was leaving Earth’s atmosphere.

Of course that’s really not what happened.

One possibility is that her family (property renters and not owners) moved into the county from somewhere when my female ancestor Nancy is in her late teens. Within short order she meets a young single neighbor man–Enoch. After the shortest engagement her parents will tolerate, Enoch and Nancy marry. Enoch’s family owns a farm and he likely helps his father on that farm. Nancy’s family moves further west. Maybe his father dies and her mother marries. Maybe both her parents die.

The possible problem is that her parents only lived in the area for a few years and then they head further west and take their other children with them. This leaves no families with the last name to be listed in the 1820 census and no one to be listed in property tax records either.


What Was the Last Thing You Transcribed?

It can be easy to gather images of ancestral records from the internet. But research is more than simply seeing who has the biggest genealogy files of record images.

When was the last time you actually transcribed a deed, will, estate record, death certificate or other document that you obtained? Transcribing a document one word at a time does take time, but it forces you to look at each part of the record. That can be a great way to notice details that can be overlooked in a quick, silent reading.

Transcribing can help you think about the document and that can cause you to have larger genealogical epiphanies–and genealogists are all about having genealogical revelations.

And lastly, transcribing a document makes it easier for you later to share it, search it for names, and perform other manipulations on the document and the information it contains.

Who Was the First to Arrive?

Families tend to move in groups. That’s true whether the journey is one of several thousand miles across an ocean or a few hundred miles across a small mountain. When they move in groups, they tend to move over time–not all at once on one day.

Who was the first one to arrive in the area? Who came later? The first migrants tend to be single men–but not always. They send word back to the “home folks” and more decide to make the journey once the earlier immigrant or immigrants have settled.

Don’t assume your ancestral couple was the “first set” to arrive. There may have been an earlier immigrant, perhaps a brother, cousin, or neighbor. Even if they were the “first, they possibly encouraged others to follow them. It’s uncommon for people to migrate in complete isolation–but it does happen.

One of my ancestral families were natives of Maryland who moved to Kentucky as children around the turn of the 19th century. Between then and the 1870s, they moved as adults from Bourbon County, Kentucky, into central Indiana, and eventually into Hancock County, Illinois, and Linn County, Iowa. They did not move all on one day or even in one year, but eventually they followed each other.

My Ostfriesen immigrants did the same thing in the 1860s into Hancock and Adams County, Illinois.

Look for those other relatives, neighbors, etc. who might have traveled with them. And remember–it wasn’t always non-English speakers who traveled together over time. Many did it. Social bonds apply to all.

Separation Agreements in the Land Records

Married couples have had difficulty getting along since the first marriage. It’s the nature of human relationships that some don’t work as smoothly as hoped.

For whatever reason, couples may choose not to actually divorce or file any court action regarding the dissolution of their marriage. They may however record some sort of land record to “separate” their property as a couple did in Kentucky did in 1862 (Michael and Margaret Trautvetter in Campbell County). The deed specified that the couple was not getting divorced at that point in time, but decided to partition their real and personal property into “his” and “hers.”

Is there a land record documenting your relative’s separation?

Not all marital squabbles ended in court–particularly if the couple separated without divorcing.

Of course, if the couple had no real property then there was no need for any sort of document partitioning the property between them.


Will Omission Doesn’t Guarantee Family Drama

Legal records were created for those living at the time. Not as a genealogical record for the future.

Be careful reading too much into children who are “left out” of a will and testament. The reasons may not stem around family drama, hard feelings, or ill-will.  It could be that the child had simply received an inheritance earlier in their life. That child may be given a token amount in the will (such as a dollar or a few shillings) not as a slight, but rather to indicate they had not been forgotten. Sometimes a will may specifically state that the parent had already given the child money.

Of course, children are left out of wills due to “family drama.” Sometimes there is evidence of that drama in petitions to deny the will, court battles over the estate, etc. In some cases there may be mention of the family drama in the newspaper when the case was being heard in the local court.

But don’t assume there has been a falling out because your ancestor left a child out of his or her will. That may not have been the case.

It’s worth remembering that a will was an instrument for estate planning, not for leaving a complete genealogical record.



Problem-Solving With DNAPainter Moved to 10 December

My webinar on “Problem-Solving with DNAPainter and GedMatch” has been moved to 10 December 2018. We’ll discuss using these two sites together to analyze, interpret, and make discoveries from their DNA matches. Join us. There’s more details in our announcement.

If you registered and did not receive attendance links, please let me know.

Recording will be sent to pre-orders the day after the session is held.