What Was the Last Document You Transcribed?

It can be fun to find copies of documents–either paper or digital reproductions of ancestral records. Do you always transcribe them or do you just scan through them? Does that will or deed seem too long, too difficult to understand, or too difficult to read? The best way to start understanding every detail of a document is to transcribe it. Simply reading a record silently can make it easy to miss key details or clues that were not originally obvious.


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List all Possible Names

Individuals who have multiple middle names and who used more than one last name can create research headaches. The main reason is that they could appear in a record in any one of a number of ways. It’s important not to omit any of those name possibilities.

Johann Christian Valentin Hess was born in 1827 in Wohlmuthausen, Thuringen, Germany. His parents, Ernestine Trautvetter and Kaspar Hess, were never married. His sister when she married in St. Louis, Missouri, used the last name of Trautvetter. It’s possible Johann Christian Valentin did as well.

Of course, many Germans in the area where the Trautvetters were from did not use the “first name” they were given. Their “call name” was one of their “middle names.” That does not mean that they never occasionally used (or were referred to by) their “first name” in a record.

For this reason, I need to keep a list of the names Johann Christian Valentin Hess could have been called:

  • Johann Hess or Johann Trautvetter
  • Christian Hess or Christian Trautvetter
  • Valentin Hess or Valentine Trautvetter

And of course Johann could be written as John and Christian could be written as Chris. When searching for this individual, I have a list of the name options so that one does not get omitted.

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Before Your Research Trip: Plan

Before you go to that courthouse, make certain you have answered some questions:

  • What are the hours?
  • What are the research policies?
  • What do things cost?
  • What can you bring in?
  • Are there any special holiday closings?
  • Are all records onsite?
  • etc.

Don’t “just show up.” You may be disappointed if you do.

Consider asking a local researcher or someone who has been to the courthouse or facility before for advice.

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When the Name Depends on the Gender or When it Does Not

I don’t really have a new variant spelling of Trautvetter in this entry for Anna Catharina Trautvetter that appears in the records of Wohlmuthausen, Thuringen, Germany, in 1823. There’s not a “new name” of Trautvetterin.

The “in” is an ending attached to the name because Anna Catharina was female. Her last name is Trautvetter. Issues of this type are why it is important to learn about the culture and linguistic practices for the area where your family lived. What’s true in one area may not be true in another. Don’t assume an entire country is the same. My Germans who lived in other areas did not include any gender derived endings to surnames–ever.

But certain parts did. And other parts didn’t.

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Were They Even Married?

Most genealogists should know how people reproduce. But sometimes we forget that people don’t have to be married for that to happen. In some time periods and in some locations, having children outside of marriage was more common than a person might think. Two siblings of my great-great-grandfather in Thuringen, Germany, had several children before they were married (1830-1840 era). They were apparently in a long-term relationship with the fathers of their children as baptismal records for the children indicate that both sisters had their children with the same father.

Not the exact same father (one needs to be careful how one phrases things). One sister had her children with Mr. B and the other sister had her children with Mr. S. The sisters eventually married their respective fathers of their children.

Why does this matter? One reason is that sometimes the children used their mother’s surname as their last name and sometimes they used their father’s surname as their last name. That was confusing to me until I learned the marital history of their parents.


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Was There Another Marriage?

My great-grandfather’s brother and his wife are buried together and have a joint tombstone in a rural Illinois cemetery. They were in their late seventies or early eighties when they died. I easily located his death certificate and other information on him, using the death date on his tombstone as a starting point.

I had some difficulty with the wife who had survived him.

The difficulty stopped when I located a newspaper reference their son where it referred to his “mother” with a different last name. She had married after her husband’s death. The tombstone does not mention this and it was not one of those things Grandma told me before she passed.

The marriage took place in the 1940s–just where I’m not certain. It easily could have been out of state in a location I had never thought to look.

Lessons and reminders:

  • Never assume someone doesn’t have “one more marriage.”
  • Don’t ignore any newspaper reference–even ones to seemingly innocuous social events.
  • Tombstones don’t tell you everything.
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When Searching Court Case Indexes…

This court case was not located until I searched the digital images of newspapers. It is only indexed in the plaintiffs’ index under Luella Barnett and in the defendants’ index under Velva Ray Schupp. Neither name was one I had searched for. When searching indexes of court records, it is important to search for extended family members as well as those individuals in whom the researcher has a direct interest. This is especially important in locating court records over estates in general and particularly when those cases may involve individuals who are only tangentially related by marriage.

The case apparently was to settle up some issues with the estates of Jeanette and William Miller of Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, in the 1930s. This couple had no children of their own, but Jeanette (who died first) was survived by nieces and nephews and William was survived by his second wife, Ida, who died before she could settle up his estate.

The item was located by searching the online newspapers for one of the other names that happened to be a defendant. I had no idea that there had been a court action over these estates.

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Every Social Reference

After one of my great-grandfather’s brothers died in the 1950s, it seemed like his wife just disappeared.

Until I went through every newspaper reference in the local weekly newspapers for their children. There was a reference to one a son (by then an adult) who was in the hospital and had been visited by his mother–with her name listed as Mrs. Newhusbandfirstname Newhusbandlastname. Sometimes it can be frustrating to find women listed this way. In this case it was not as I now had the first and last name of her second husband.

All because I went through every social reference to the children.

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Go to the Start of the Next

Documents in handwritten ledgers can be of varying length. Always make certain that you have gotten a copy or images of the entire document in which you have an interest. When copying make certain that you went until at least the start of the next document. Don’t stop when you get to the signature (or transcription of the signature).

Acknowledgements and certifications often appear at the end of the document and some times these can be easy to overlook. These items may contain geographic clues help pinpoint the chronology of the document and its recording.

A deed from Indiana contained the names of all the children and children-in-law of a deceased relative. The acknowledgements of the deed (after the transcription of the signatures) had the counties where they were living at the time they signed the document. That was a clue as to where they were living when the document was signed and acknowledged.

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