Instead of Asking for the Tree–Just the Connection

I’ve stopped sending immediate requests for “tree access” from those whose trees are private. There are reasons a person might want to make their tree private. I’m not certain this approach will garner any more success than I have currently had, but it’s worth a shot. What ideas have you tried?


You and I are a DNA match and suggests that we are connected through James and Elizabeth (Chaney) Rampley who were married in Ohio in 1830 and came to Illinois where they died in the 1880s. My connection is through their son Riley who died in 1893 and served in the Civil War. I’m trying to sort out my matches and wondered if the connection was correct and which child of James and Elizabeth you are from.




A Few General Courthouse Tips

Winnie’s not going to the courthouse, but she does know how to get ready.

A few general comments about going to the courthouse:

  • You are not a local. It sometimes makes a difference.
  • Be polite.
  • Look reasonably professional.
  • Ask before taking digital images.
  • Consider copying indexes if time is short.

There’s more you can do to prepare for a visit, but these are a few short reminders for this short tip.


There Could Always Be One More Relationship

If you have family who lived in the same small, somewhat isolated area for a few hundred years and there are records extant, always consider the possibility that you are related in more than one way to someone than you think you are–especially if your research on the family is not complete.

This can impact your autosomal DNA results going back to your 5th great-grandparents at least. One more relationship than you think you have can confuse your matches more than they already are–especially if you’ve already got two or more relationships between a DNA match.


Review That Index and Practice

When using any handwritten index to local land, court, or probate records for the first time, take some time to familiarize yourself with how it is set up and organized. Indexes can vary from one office to another and the indexing scheme that was used in one location can vary from what’s used in another.

Assuming they are all the same can cause you to overlook records. This index from Clinton County, New York, indexed records by the name of the grantor and grantee, but the last names were not just broken up by the initial letter of the first name, they were broken up in to subsections based upon the first and second letters of the last name. A hurried researcher, not familiar with the index might overlook references needed.

Another good exercise is to pick one record at random in the record books and then see if it can be found in the index.

This section of the index only includes the last names beginning with the letter A and then having a second letter that appears alphabetically between i and j in the alphabet (notice the A – i – l in the upper left hand corner of the image).

Learn About those Estate Inventory Items

A little Google searching for those items in your ancestor’s estate may enlighten you about their life and some of the items in it. The 1880-era estate inventory of Andrew Trask in Mercer County, Illinois, mentioned a “Weir Sulky Plow.” After some searching, I knew what it was, where it was manufactured and even had a patent image of it.

Newspaper searches for those items may reveal pictures and other information–if Google isn’t helpful.


Name Changes With No Fanfare

For much of American history, name changes did not require court action. A person could simply start using a new name–as long as they weren’t going to engage in any fraudulent activity. Your ancestor in 1880 could simply have chosen to use a new name when he or she moved into a new town.

Sometimes immigrants would take a new name when they naturalized. That name may have been based on the name they had in their native language, but there was no law that they had to literally translate.

Comprehensively searching your ancestor may help reveal name changes as land records, estate records, other court records, military pension materials and other records may document the name change.

Good ol’ Riley was originally named Latte when he came home from the shelter and we named him Riley. It was a complete coincidence (seriously) that I have a great-great-grandfather with the same name. Sometimes coincidences happen as well.

Obviously a dog in 2014 didn’t need to officially have his name changed. There’s a good chance your ancestor in 1814 didn’t need any official paperwork to change his name either.


A Professional Does Not Guarantee Success

A seasoned professional genealogist does not guarantee to find anything. All any researcher can do, professional or not, is methodically search the records that are extant and report what they find. Without having searched the records, no one can guarantee what will be found.

If someone tells you that they are 100% certain they can answer your question, consider another researcher.


The Preemption Act of 1841

The Preemption Act of 1841 permitted “squatters” who were living on federal government-owned land to purchase up to 160 acres for $1.25 per acre, before the land was to be offered for sale to the general public. To qualify under the law, the squatter had to be:

  • a head of a family;
  • a single man over 21 or a widow;
  • a citizen of the United States (or an immigrant who has filed a declaration of intention); and
  • a resident of the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months.

The text of the Act is online.

The Bureau of Land Management website indexes federal land patents that were issued under this act. View the actual patent to determine if the patent was issued under the Preemption Act as not all patents issued under this act are tagged as being issued under this act in their database.

The application materials for these claims are at the National Archives.


Start with the Low-Hanging DNA Fruit

When starting with an analysis of DNA matches, it can be tempting to work on solving that “brick wall” problem right away.

That might be a mistake. Two good approaches are to sort out the low-hanging genealogical fruit–those matches that are easy to figure out. This should be done even if the family some of these matches are related on are not the “brick wall” family. The other approach is to sort out matches on those families where you already “know everything.” This can be a good way to improve your DNA analysis skills in order to help you work on your true brick wall.