Probate May Not Mention all Property

In some locations during some time periods, probate files may not mention all property owned by the deceased. This is more likely to be the case if the deceased owned real estate and did not mention it in his will or did not even leave a last will and testament. If you have good reason to believe the deceased owned real property on his or her death, search land records to determine what happened to the property.

If there is a land record for the person’s property created after their death, it will not list them as the grantor–the heirs will be listed. For this reason, search the grantor index for these records using all the names of the deceased’s heirs. Deeds are usually only indexed in the grantor index once and any of the heirs could be the name under which the land record is indexed.

Property tax records may also help in determining what happened to a deceased person’s real property. Of course, the probate is the first place to look, but don’t only look there.



Practice On What You Know

An excellent way to learn about records, research, and methodology is to “rework” a family that you think you already know. Probably the best way to really understand court, probate, land, and other records is to completely research them on a family that’s “already been done.” Completely reading those records in families where you already know the family structure will allow you to focus on details (legal terms, especially) other than the family.

It’s a great way to broaden your understanding of records for those times when you don’t have all the names and relationships at your disposal.

And sometimes when you “redo” a “done family,” you realize that it wasn’t as done as you thought it was.



Using ThruLines Webinar Released

My latest webinar on using ThruLines at AncestryDNA has been released and is available for ordering and download.

It includes:

  • understanding  where the information in the tree comes from–what’s yours and what’s someone else’s;
  • basics of evaluating the information in the tree;
  • responsibly using ThruLines(TM) information;
  • limitations of ThruLines(TM)
  • basics of how much DNA you typically share with certain cousins and relationship prediction;
  • do you really have the right genealogical connection with that DNA match;
  • using ThruLines(TM) to sort your matches with linked trees;
  • problem-solving and trouble shooting with ThruLines(TM).

Orders can be processed on our announcement page.


You Can’t Share Significant DNA with Every Distant Cousin

The amount of DNA you have is not infinite. You cannot share significant genealogical amounts of DNA with every far-flung distant cousin you have. Humans have a lot of DNA, but the amount stays the same with every generation. You don’t get every “drop of DNA” every one of your ancestors had. There is a 69.8% chance that you and a 5th cousin have no detectable DNA relationship. That does not mean you and that 5th cousin do not have the same ancestor.

You just don’t have a big enough DNA chunk to prove it.


They Waited to Settle Because they Were Fighting

Sometimes the settlement of an estate can drag on for years. And sometimes researchers assume the amount of time it takes to settle the estate is because the estate is a vast one that heirs spend decades fighting over in court. Not always.

Smaller estates, perhaps even a farm that was just big enough to support a family, may have stayed in probate for an extended time for another reason: waiting for all the heirs to become of age. If that estate takes fifteen years to “settle up,” look closely at all the heirs. There may have been one who reached the age of majority around the time the estate was closed out.



How Long Do You Query Databases Until You Manually Search?

Sometimes it is faster to manually search a record set than it is to think of every possible way to query the database in order to search an index. It’s especially true when the name is spelled woefully incorrectly and written in a script that resembles scribbling more than it does writing. If the records being searched are a census record, do you have any idea where the person would be enumerated? Is that region or district fairly small? If so, manually searching may not take that long. Other records may be organized in such a way that a manual search is possible–just not as fast as “typing the name in.”

Manual searches may take longer but sometimes are necessary. They can sometimes result in locating additional individuals or entries that were not originally a part of the search.



Were the Records Always Organized the Same Way?

Records, what they contain and how they are created and recorded can change over time. Their organizational structure can change as well. Learn what is different about the records. In one time period there may simply be one ledger or record book for the probate records. At other times there may be a separate set of records for probates and for guardianships and those records may consist of separate ledgers and original packets of records. It could be that later the probates and guardianships are kept in the same set of materials.

Things change.


The Northeast Bedroom

My great-aunt Ruth remembered a cute story that took place in my Mother’s grandparents home when my Mother was a small child. It involved Mom walking around the house and mentioned the northeast bedroom.

The northeast bedroom?

As I read it, I scrunched my nose and made that face when I am certain that something is wrong. My own grandparents had lived in the same home for thirty years. I had been in it often. There was no northeast bedroom. The entire north side of the house was the living room. Then I remembered.

My Grandparents, not needing two downstairs bedrooms and two upstairs bedrooms, had taken down a wall and enlarged the living room.  The seeming error in my great-aunt’s story was not an error at all.  My personal memory was the problem. It only extended through my life time. Fortunately upon reflection, I realized I had additional information.

In this case the discrepancy was small and my memory of what I had been told was able to rectify it. Many times that is not the case.

Don’t assume that someone else’s memory is incorrect. It could be that your personal knowledge is simply incomplete.


A Different Family Perspective

Nancy Jane (Newman) Rampley (1846 Rush County, Indiana-1923 Hancock County, Illinois)

When deciding which relatives to interview and ask questions of, get outside your “line of descent” and your “immediate family.” Others may have a different perspective, know different details, or not be “afraid” to reveal tidbits that others are hesitant to.

Family history remembered and written by nieces and nephews of Nancy Jane (Newman) Rampley indicated that when they’d go to visit her in the home she lived in West Point, Hancock County, Illinois’ after she’d moved “to town,” she’d let them play dress up with clothes in the attic and they generally always had a fun time playing at Aunt Nancy’s.

And while I know that all pictures of the era look stern, that’s a really nice contrast to her picture–or maybe not. She could be thinking let’s just get this camera nonsense over with.



Look at the Background of the Neighborhood

When you find someone in the census, do you look at the nativity of others on the same or adjacent census pages? How common or unusual was your relative’s place of birth compared to their neighbors? Were they living in a neighborhood where they were in the majority or the minority in terms of place of birth? Was there even a majority in terms of place of birth? If the census asked the question, were most people homeowners or renters? How does your relative’s occupation compare to that of his neighbors?

Sometimes the biggest clues about a relative in his census enumeration aren’t on the line that contains his name.