It never hurts to ask someone else “what is this?”
I ran across an online posting indicating a former US president had written a decree in a divorce case. While I remembered the president having been an attorney, I did not remember him being a judge. Knowing that memories are sometimes ephemeral things (mine included), I recognized the fact that I could be wrong.
Instead of scanning biographies of the former president, I decided to look at the original copy of the document to which the posting referred. A quick read of it made it clear what it was: a bill of complaint in a divorce case. It was not any sort of verdict or order issued by a judge. The former president had written a “bill” for his client.
It reminded me that when I run across something I’m not 100% familiar with that seeking the opinion of someone else who is more versed in those items than I am. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone their opinion of what something means.
And there is nothing wrong with checking your memory. Sometimes we are correct. Sometimes we are not.
The mortgagor is the person who is borrowing the money. They are the person who is actual mortgaging their property. The mortgagee is the lender. They are the person to whom the debt is owed which is secured by the property owned by the mortgagor.
Reviewing sets of image files is a good activity when you “want to do some genealogy,” but brick walls and real life have you frustrated. Is there a chance you have something in the wrong place?
In the example, it’s just a stray restaurant menu from when my daughter and I spent a day at the Library of Virginia taking images of original court records. But it could have just as easily been something I really needed later and had put in the wrong place.
Of course, I do need to eat, but that’s not really the point of this tip.
This hopefully is our last post about my Grandma Neill’s teeth.
My Grandma had her teeth removed in her early thirties because they were “bad.” It’s been at least forty years since Grandma mentioned her teeth to me and I certainly cannot ask her about them now. It honestly was not a common topic of conversation.
A reader pointed out to me that Grandma could have had her teeth removed for cosmetic reasons, including horribly buck teeth, terrible alignment, etc. At first I dismissed the comment. Then I got to thinking about what Grandma actually said and I realized that I could not really remember her description of them–except that they were “bad.” She might have said they were “no good” or that they were “rotten.” Again I cannot really remember and all of those descriptions can be interpreted in several ways. How Grandma described her teeth was not one of those things that I thought worthy of immediately writing down.
But it got me to thinking about other words or terms that individuals have used to describe certain events to me. What other things could I have inferred incorrectly from someone’s use of a word or a phrase? In terms of my research, Grandma’s teeth and the reason they were pulled are inconsequential.
But are there other things I’ve inferred that are incorrect and where the impact on my research has been significant?
I’ll have to chew on that and see if there are conclusions that need some details flossed or brushed away.
It is not the most startling of genealogical revelations, but it is instructive.
I was reading through the entries in my Grandpa Neill’s farm ledger absentmindedly in hopes of finding something that met my loose definition of interesting. There were two entries for the dentist in the fall of the year. The second entry for $60 caught my eye.
Then I wondered, “are those Grandma’s dentures?”
What happened next is instructive. I shut the book without looking in it any further and forced myself to think what I knew about Grandma’s dentures. There was one thing I was absolutely certain of because I had first hand knowledge: she only had a lower plate because I had seen it several times and, as far as I knew, she had had them as long as I could remember. I tried to remember if I knew when Grandma got her false teeth and all that came to mind was she got them when she was in her thirties. I can remember telling my kids to take care of their teeth because my Grandma had hers pulled when she was in her thirties when her children were small. I know I had given that warning to my children twenty years ago.
Then I looked at the date in the ledger. It was 1944. On October 4th, Grandpa paid the dentist $6 and on November 14th he paid him $60. That $60 charge was a significant amount compared to the other entries in the ledger. It would have nearly bought a ton of pig meal and have paid for 60 one year subscriptions to the Christian Herald.
The only other thing I remember Grandma saying was that they could only afford a lower-set of teeth.
The difficulty with some pieces of information is that we don’t think to write them down and document them before we find something that references them. It can be difficult at times to remember what we were actually told from what we “got in our head” for some incorrect reason. It can be even more difficult once we have read something or come across some information about an event to separate out what we knew before from what we read somewhere.
A little food for genealogy thought. Just make certain you use all your teeth to chew on it.
We are not talking about getting married, having a child, retiring, or selling those stocks you bought using a tip from your fourth cousin.
We are talking about that term, cultural practice, or lifestyle that you’ve discovered and decide to learn more about with a quick Google search.
Separate from the fact that anyone can post anything on the internet, there are bigger concerns if you want to make certain you are understanding things about your ancestor as correctly as you can given the amount of time that has elapsed between their life and yours.
Time is one of those concerns.
Was the “thing you learned about” a “thing” in the 1500s or the 1800s? Make certain that the “thing” you have learned about was a “thing” in the time period and place where your ancestor lived.
Don’t get so excited about learning what something means that you fail to consider if it was applicable during the time period your ancestor actually lived. It’s true that not many people had books in the 1300s and they were generally only owned by the wealthy. Don’t assume that was true in the late 1800s as well because by then life had changed.
Not everything changes over time as much as printing, but things do change.
Transcribing old ledgers, account books, and estate inventories can sometimes be difficult. Businesses that are no longer in existence may be mentioned, names be abbreviated in unique ways, farm implements or occupational tools may be ones that are no longer used, etc. One way to potentially determine the names is to perform searches in digital newspapers for what can be transcribed. Wild card searches (*oat, sho*t, etc.) can be helpful when items can only partially be read.
Newspapers may contain more complete references to items that can only partially be read in the item being transcribed. Business names your relative partially abbreviated may be more completely spelled out. Advertisements for these businesses may provide more detail about what they sold for those times when your ancestor’s reference to them is somewhat vague.
Newspapers have quite a few genealogical uses–helping translate documents is one that researchers occasionally forget.
[note: Originally I spelled “thresh” as “thrash” throughout the entire post. I’ve corrected it, but I’ve made the notation here because, as some readers have pointed out, the spelling based on the pronunciation brings back a nice memory.. In my case Grandma would talk about making large meals when the “thrashers” were there. I can almost hear her saying it.]
Reviewing my grandfather’s farm ledger, I noticed who he hired to come and thresh grain for him in 1944. The last name was one I recognized from my childhood, so I looked him up on the 1940 census. He was easily found living not too far from my grandfather and was about his age–just seven years older.
The last name was the same as one of my Dad’s long time friends and I assumed that the man who threshed grain for my grandfather was the father of my Dad’s friend as their fathers were not too far apart in age. Turns out I was wrong. The man who threshed grain for my grandfather was the grandfather of my Dad’s friend.
My grandfather was thirty-seven when my father was born. In 1944, my grandfather would have turned 41 and the threshing man would have turned 48. My grandfather was the father of a three-year-old child at that time and the threshing man was the grandfather of a child the same age. It’s not too difficult to see how that could happen.
A reminder about age, chronology, and how there could either be two or three generations in a time frame. It’s up to the researcher to determine, if they can, which number of generations is correct.
My grandmother used to work out and my Grandpa paid locker rent.
When Grandma worked out in the 1920s and 1930s, it meant she worked for a neighboring family doing household chores, preparing meals, and other related tasks. When my Grandpa Neill paid locker rent in the 1940s it was for rent at a frozen food cooperative where he had freezer space where he and Grandma could store butchered meat and other food items they wanted to preserve by freezing.
Readers of a certain age will already know what these terms mean. Others may not. Any document or record can easily contain a term or phrase whose meaning has changed over time. That chance increases as the genealogy research extends further and further back in time.
Is there a chance that phrase didn’t mean then what it does now?