Kicking Around Organizational Ideas

Kicking ideas or pieces of information around can help us to see additional perspectives that might not be obvious otherwise.

But there comes a time when one has to stop kicking around the individual pieces and start to see if there is any trend that appears. Our first organization approach may not be as successful as in the illustration. We may have to try multiple strategies before a clear picture emerges. Organizing information chronologically (in a timeline), geographically (on a contemporary map), by perceived reliability of record, by record type, etc. are all ways to sort details in hopes that trends are noticed after the sorting.

There may be gaps in any organization. Your ancestor may not have left records during a decade of his life, some records may not have precise location necessary for mapping, etc.

Extracting all the names from a series of documents on an ancestor–land records, court cases, etc. allows the researcher to sort those entries by name and determine how many times certain “non-relatives” appear in those records and in what capacity those names appear. There can be clues in those trends.

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Not In Any Order

Don’t assume that when a document lists the children of a deceased individual that the children have to be listed in any specific order. They may be listed from oldest to youngest. They may not. The boys may all be listed first in order of age and then the girls in the same way. The living ones may be listed first in order of age followed by any children who were deceased.

If you think the children are listed in a specific orders and have a conclusion based on that perceived ordering–state your reason for the belief that the children are listed in a specific order in a certain record. Don’t just assume something is true based on a gut feeling.

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Consider the Consideration

The consideration on a land record is what changed hands in order to pay for the real estate being transferred. If the consideration is “love and affection,” “natural love,” or a token money amount, try and determine what relationship existed between the grantors and the grantees.

Land records with token amounts are frequently used to transfer land between family members, but not always. The challenge for the researcher is that these records don’t specify the relationship.

After all, everyone alive at the time already knew what those relationships were.

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Check for Court Records Well After They “Left”

Individuals can be referenced in the court records of their “home county” or area long after they have left. James Tinsley left the Amherst/Bedford County area of Virginia around 1800 when he and his family headed for Kentucky. He played a part in a lawsuit in Amherst County, Virginia, that was eventually settled in 1841 and filed for record around that time–40 years after he left the state.

In 1822 he made out a power-of-attorney to Robert Tinsley (his brother, but the relationship is not stated in the document) to deal with the case involving property Tinsley acquired from members of the Rucker family. Other documents in the case clarify Tinsley’s relationship to the Rucker family, clearly indicate who his wife’s father was, and who several of Tinsley’s brothers were.

Don’t assume that your relative won’t be mentioned in court records because he had left the area. Estate matters can take place years after someone leaves and, in some cases, can take years to be settled–perhaps after the migrating family member has died and their own heirs (who never even lived in the area) are mentioned in subsequent materials.

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An Official Copy of that Difficult to Read Will?

Don’t forget if you have found that will in the packet of probate papers for your ancestor that there might be a “will record” contained with the probate records as well. Not all jurisdictions kept these records (which are actually transcriptions of the will and served as the legal equivalent thereof), but many did. Perhaps if the will has a difficult to read portion, is partially missing, or open to interpretation, the transcription in the “will record,” done after the will was admitted to probate, will answer your questions.

In the United States, probates are local records typically maintained originally at the county court given jurisdiction over probate matters. In some states they are recorded at another local level besides the county–generally in New England states and independent cities in Virginia.

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The Purpose

I ran across an old road map for the county where I grew up. The former railroad track that defined the west border of my Grandpa’s farm was shown on it.

Based on the township lines (which were on the map) the railroad’s location was slightly off. The map showed it about a 1/4 further east than it was. The only reason I really noticed was because it changed the shape of Grandpa’s farm. There was another portion of the map that failed to indicate a triangular piece of property made by the highway and section line in another portion of the county.

But then I had to remember the purpose of the road map: to generally show where roads were located so individuals could get from point A to point B. This was also in a rural area where there are not a large number of streets and highways. Was the atlas sufficient for that purpose? Yes.

Was it the same as a property survey where boundaries, roads, and geographic features need to be clearly and accurately represented? No. A survey serves a different purpose and is usually a legal document that is recorded. A road map is not.

Think about the original purpose of that record you are using for your genealogical research. What need did the record or document serve? What needs was it not serving? What details mattered to the individual using the document?

All those things matter when we later analyze that record. Maybe a map would help us to see the way.

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Which Homes are Standing?

The home I grew up in is still standing. The homes I remember my grandparents living in are not. The home one set of paternal great-grandparents lived in and owned is lived in by a descendant. The home a maternal set of great-grandparents lived in is still standing.

The others I’m not so certain of.

Do you know whether the homes your various ancestors lived in are still standing yet today? Do you even know all the homes they lived in? This can be difficult to determine for those ancestors who rented properties and moved frequently. I know where two of my grandparents lived from their birth until their marriage. The other two I have a general idea where they lived, but no specific location. Those with ancestors in urban locations may be able to obtain street addresses from census records, city directories, and other materials. Those with rural ancestors who were not landowners (particularly before the 1920s) may have more difficulty finding a specific residential address. Rural newspapers in some cases may help to pinpoint where tenants lived when “spring moves” are discussed in local gossip columns.

Even if I can’t find out about all the houses, the exercise might yield some genealogical fruit.

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What the Document Actually Says–Not What It’s Consistent With

The online tree indicated the person of interest was born on a specific date in 1865 in a specific German village. To that point, my research had only uncovered a birth somewhere in Germany sometime in 1865. I was curious about the specific details and the source behind them.

The “source” was the 1880 census. Now the 1880 census did suggest the person of interest was born in 1865 or 1864. The 1880 census did state the person was born in Germany. However, that census enumeration did not give the precise date or place of birth. The census was consistent with that specific information, but was not that specific itself.

The census should not have been used for a source of the specific date and precise place for the German birth. The census should have been cited for what it actually said–born 1864 or 1865 in Germany. I realize that means in most genealogy databases that requires created a different date of birth and place of birth. That’s because it’s what the census says.

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Double Check That FindAGrave Memorial

FindAGrave memorials are like any compiled source. Many contain a significant amount of material not on the actual stone itself. Verify the information the memorial contains.

Pictures of tombstones are probably reliable images of the original. Some photos make the inscription easier to read and others do not. Some photos are good, high-resolution images where magnification can enhance the readability. Others become pixilated. Transcriptions of what is on the stone can be incorrect–even when the transcription is easy to read. Supplemental information on the individual referenced on the tombstone may be correct–or it may be not. Treat that information as you would any other piece of information: verify.

Some memorials have precise dates of birth and death where the stone only has a year–verify. Some memorials have a place of birth where the stone does not–verify. The same is true for any relationships indicated on the memorial as well.

Information on burials where no stone picture is included and no source for why the memorial compiler indicated the person was buried in the cemetery are always a little suspect. Death certificates, cemetery records, obituaries, earlier cemetery transcriptions, and other sources are places to verify the place of burial when no stone actually exists.

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Cemetery Formerly Known As?

Just like humans and other geographic features, cemeteries can change their names. What was used on a death certificate as the place of burial may not be what the cemetery is known as today or even several years after the burial took place.

Local libraries, county historical/genealogical societies, and long-time natives of the area may be familiar with older names for cemeteries. County atlases or plat books may also refer to a cemetery by the name it was called at the time the atlas was published. A search of old newspapers for the name of the cemetery may not provide the new name but may help pinpoint the area in which it was located. A search of county histories or other out-of-copyright material on or for the name of the cemetery may also locate references to the location.

Searching for the gravestone on FindAGrave, Billiongraves or other cemetery transcription sites may result in a reference to the grave. That’s what happened in this case. But it is worth remembering that the grave could have been moved or there was never a stone. And when using a tombstone website, remember that they may not be complete and that you’ll have to make certain you really have the same person.

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