Child Not in the Will

It’s easiest to know a will mentions all the will writer’s children when they are all mentioned–even if to be told they are getting nothing. It is the wills that appear to only mention some children that are more confusing. It’s possible that other children were provided for separately or were intentionally left out for one reason or another. Children do get left out of the parents’ wills.

It is proving the connection that can be the problem.

Researchers should make certain that all probate records involving the settlement of the parent’s estate have been obtained–not just the will. Were there any settlement deeds drawn up for property not referenced in the will? Did heirs have to sign any of those deeds? Was there property whose disposition was not mentioned in the will? Was there court action over the validity of the will–a potential if children are truly omitted?

What Really Matters?

This is not some spirituality post.

When looking at any legal record, it’s always important to remember:

What is the true purpose of this record or the process that created this record?

The purpose of an estate settlement is to settle up the affairs of a deceased person, either according to the terms of their last will or according to the procedure set in state statute. It is not to leave a detailed record of all the heirs, exactly where they were living at the time of their death, exactly how they were related to the deceased, or even the exact date of death for the individual who died.

In some cases, because it was deemed necessary for the settlement or contemporary statute required it, those details are included. Other times they are not. The court was not concerned with leaving a record for 100 years later when the great-great-great-granddaughter of the person would be interested in what happened to these long dead people. The court was concerned with paying the bills and distributing the assets within the framework of the law.

How “Right” Does It Have to Be?

The petition to probate the will indicated the deceased died “on our about” the 6th of December. The person’s death certificate indicated that they died on 3 December. Is the difference significant?

Probably not.

Of the two documents, the death certificate is most likely to be correct, but there are always exceptions. The probate court is most concerned about the fact that the individual is deceased. The date being three days off most likely not germane to the petition to begin the probate process. The incorrect date could simply be an error that was not noticed. Even if it was noticed at some point later, correcting the error was likely not considered to be worth the bother.

If there’s real concern about which document is correct, one could search for obituaries or other contemporary sources that would reference the date of death. A newspaper notice of a death on 5 December would suggest that the death certificate was correct.

And if a child was providing the date of death to the court, it is always possible that the date of burial was confused with the date of death. That’s easy for someone to do as well.

Avoid Early Conclusions

It can be tempting when only a few documents have been located to reach a conclusion about an ancestor, family member, or historical event. While sometimes conjecture is occasionally justified as a problem-solving technique, remain focused on what the documents actually say–avoid creating dramatic events in your head to “explain” what was left behind on paper. Remind yourself that conjecture is just that: conjecture.

It can be easy to get caught up in conclusions that are drawn too early and sucked into the belief that there was something dramatic going on in our relative’s life. The result is that we often ignore other obvious information or spend too much time trying to prove conclusions that are improbable, wasting time and money in the process.

Sometimes we need to speculate in order to continue our research. Clearly label speculation in your research notes as exactly what it is: speculation. Be careful sharing speculation with other researchers, especially when you are unaware of how likely they are to share the speculation with others.

The majority of the time the simplest explanation is the explanation.

Assumed Behaviors

Online citizens are good about sharing a variety of memes, images, and other things from “back in the day.”

Recently it was some sort of make up.

People were saying “Oh everyone’s Grandma had that.” And on and on and on.

No everyone’s Grandma did not have that. Mine had an old container of powder of some sort that she must have had since well before my father was ever born. She rarely wore it and I’m not certain I can ever remember her actually wearing it. Grandma was a farm wife, did not drive, wore house dresses everywhere (except when going to town), and shoes were optional a fair portion of the time.

Be careful assuming something about a deceased relative just because someone shared a common practice “from the old days” on the internet. Avoid ancestral generalizations as well–because they are generalizations and many of us had ancestors who were exceptions in one way shape or form.

That “Old Political” Affiliation

If a biography of an ancestor refers to him as a Whig, a Federalist, or a member of any political party, have you determined what that affiliation likely meant at that point in time? There may be a history lesson there.

If your relative named a child for a politician, what was that politician known for?

There may be clues in those affiliations–or at least a chance to improve your knowledge of historian.

Have You Written Your Own Stories?

Chances are you have at least one ancestor that you wish had left some sort of written record behind. Most genealogists would be happy with just a page or two about an ancestor’s life–a complete five-volume autobiography is not necessary.

Have you left such information behind for the family members who may come after you? Write about your early life, your work years, your raising children years, political beliefs, etc.

Be Consistent

When entering items in your genealogical database, be as consistent as possible. While some things can vary from one individual to another, such as last names, other things do not. Transcriptions should always render documents and records as they were recorded and originally written.

But other things should be entered as consistently as possible to facilitate searching and analysis–not how entered the name of this Missouri college in their yearbook database.

When They Just Appear

It can be difficult to learn more about someone when the earliest record that can be located is a marriage and it seems like they just showed up from nowhere at the courthouse to get married and start making descendants.

Sometimes that first appearance is the first time they’ve actually provided their name to the person writing it in a record. In earlier records (such as census) someone else provided their name, perhaps a parent, older sibling, etc. Is it possible that during that time they were living with a step-parent, foster parent, etc. and their last name was used for the “appearing ancestor?” That marriage where they “appear” could be the first record where they actually provided their name–that of their biological father.

Maybe they were living in the area for years before they got married–just under a last name that you are unaware of.