What is Germane

Remember that in any court case, the court is only interested in details that are necessary to render a fair and just verdict in the case being heard. There might be details that a genealogist would like to know, but the court is not concerned with leaving behind detailed genealogical information.

That said, court cases where genealogical information is typically included are important, those involving inheritances and property rights of heirs, are of paramount use to the family history researcher

Happy Anniversary: Love, Mother

If it had gotten mixed up with my other “old papers,” I might never have known who “Mother” was. Fortunately this card was in a stack of other 40th anniversary cards my grandparents received in 1981. Because of that context I knew exactly who mother was.

Grandma’s mother was deceased by 1981 and Granddad’s mother lived until 1986. It had to be my great-grandmother Tena Ufkes who signed the card. It helped that the writing was somewhat familiar to me as I’d seen other snippets of her writing.

But if the card had not been with the others from my grandparents, identifying it would have been difficult. That’s the way genealogical records need to be analyzed: in context.

My image of this card includes my provenance (how I got it–the cards were in my Grandmother’s effects after her death). It also includes how I identified the card. I didn’t keep all of Grandma’s anniversary cards–just the ones my parents gave her and the one given to her by my Grandmother Neill. One only has so much room. Fortunately Grandma Neill signed her card the way she signed everything “Mrs. Ida Neill.”

Mrs. HusbandFirstName

Be careful assuming a document is consistent and that every difference means something.

Sometimes differences don’t mean as much as they usually do. In many newspapers, particularly in the 1950s and before, married women were listed as “Mrs. HusbandFirstname Husbandlastname.” Women listed as “Mrs. Femalefirstname Lastname” were often widowed or divorced. But there can always be inconsistencies as in this obituary from the 1930s.

These three daughters of the deceased were married, their husbands were alive, and they were living with them at the time the obituary was written. Yet one is listed as “Mrs.” and the others are not.

One might be tempted to think Mrs. Luella Barnett was divorced or widowed. She was not.

Is Something Amiss with “Miss?”

A marriage record may indicate the bride was “Miss” or “Mrs.” There is also the possibility that the title is missing. A missing title only indicates the title is missing and the bride may or may not have had a previous husband.
And always make sure you read the “Miss” or “Mrs.” correctly. For some writers the two words look alike–and genealogists know there’s a big difference.

Double, Triple, Quadruple Check…and Proofread

Did you relative get the wrong name in their head? I wrote a complete blog post about a man named Joseph Watson, only to refer to him as James Watson almost every time I used his name. Is it possible that your ancestor simply referred to the wrong person when giving information?

And proofread what you write–more than once. It’s possible that you made a mistake as well–and those accidental, “got it in my head wrong” mistakes sometimes come back to haunt you.

Track the Widowed Ancestors

It can be easy to lose a female ancestor after her husband dies. Sometimes she’s right there where she always was and sometimes she’s not. Failing to research the widow after her husband’s death can cause the researcher to overlook additional information and possible clues about her origins and parents. Sometimes additional children are overlooked. If you’ve lost your widowed ancestress, consider:

  • searching marriage records to see if she remarried;
  • looking for deeds drawn up after the husband’s death or (more likely) settlement deeds drawn up after the widow died;
  • whether she moved in with one of her children who had left the area;
  • looking to see if she’s buried near any of her children in cemeteries other than where the husband is buried;
  • seeing if she applied for any military pensions based upon her husband’s service.

These suggestions won’t apply to all people in all places, but they are worth considering. And, as always, learn as much as you can about the local records that were created and being kept during the time period your ancestors lived there.

Familiarize Yourself with the Records First

I first worked on my children’s Belgian ancestors years ago. When using the vital records from the 19th century, I used them the way I had other European records from the same time span. I looked in the “book” for and read through the entries for the years I thought included the person’s birth date. Then, if I had the correct person and had the names of the parents, I scanned the years before and after the birth to locate siblings.

Imagine my surprise when I found indexes interspersed in the records. I had never encountered those before. While indexes are not perfect, they would have saved me a great deal of time. 
Moral-the first time you use any “new” record, familiarize yourself with the whole thing first, don’t assume that it is like every other one you have ever used. 

Tax Sales Are Not Indexed in Deed Books by “Owner”

Tax sales of real property get recorded with other land deeds in the appropriate local office (usually the county recorder, but not always). However using the grantor and grantee indexes to land records will not locate these deeds.

That’s because the grantor on the tax deed usually is not the owner who failed to pay their taxes. It’s often the county sheriff or another county official. The person who did not pay taxes and had the property taken from him because of that is not the owner. That’s why they are not the grantor on the property–they don’t have the title to transfer.

The deed will be in the grantee index under the name of the purchaser of the property. That’s another name the researcher probably does not know. There is one place to search in the local records for the name of the property owner whose property was sold for non-payment of taxes: local court records. They may appear in a lawsuit as a defendant in the legal action that took place before the property was actually sold for non-payment.

Their name may also appear in newspaper notices as well.

What’s the Record Format?

Foreign language records present difficulties for researchers. That difficulty is compounded when the records are written in ledger format and there are not columns to guide in the reading and interpretation of the record. This baptismal record from 1798 was different (at least to me) than others I had recently used in other locations. The name of the father was underlined and was the “focus” of the entry–not the name of the child. If I had not really read the entries and concluded that the underlined name was the name of the child, I might have missed this entry.

Just because other entries in other records I used highlighted the name of the child does not mean every location does. It’s good not to make assumptions about records when one crosses cultural, political, or chronological lines. It’s also good to know the general format of record entries when they appear in this ledger format. Otherwise it can be easy to miss a record or interpret it incorrectly.

Learn more about transcribing genealogical documents in German with
Katherine Schober ‘s transcription book–see our brief review of her Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting.