Out-of-Towners Can Pay Taxes

When viewing real property tax records, remember that landowners are the ones who pay property taxes and landowners may not live on the property they own.

Just because you see Nicholas Schnieferdornman paying tax on real property in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1813 does not necessarily mean that he resides in Amherst County at that time. It is possible that he is a non-resident landowner. Individuals who are taxed on personal property in an area are usually residents of that area, but there can always be the occasional exception.

Tractor Wars

It’s not an end of the world movie fought by tractors. Tractor Wars is a book about the development of the farm tractor and the individuals and companies instrumental in that development.

If your farming ancestors lived in the United States in the very late 1800s and early part of the 20th century, then this book may be of interest. The tractor changed farming in many ways and was one of the factors that eventually lead to larger farms and fewer farm families. The book is about the development of the tractor industry itself and focuses on the key players and companies in that industry. How the tractor changed farming is mentioned in general and in passing, but this book is not a detailed study of how the tractor changed farming. There’s a wonderful bibliography of materials that were used in the compilation of this book.

But it’s an interesting read for those curious about the development of the tractor or how three big players in the tractor industry (Deere, Ford, and International Harvester) competed with each other in the early days.

Genealogists are always looking for historical background. This is one of those books that provides that–and the sources will no doubt make for some great reading material.

Tractor Wars was written by Neil Dahlstrom. It’s available on Amazon.com.

One Good Source

I don’t need four repairmen coming over, I just need one who knows what he’s doing.

Citation and documentation matter in genealogical research. But “sources” are more than just citing them and the number of them you in an attempt to prove a fact about a deceased relative. It is the accuracy of those sources and whether or not they are truly independent that matters.

A person may have four original documents that provides the same piece of information: a place of birth. But if those documents (a death certificate, a marriage application, an obituary, and a biography written by the same person) all have the same informant, it’s really just one piece of information that is dependent on how reliable that person is.

A place of birth on a birth record completed by the doctor or someone else in attendance at the event or who would have had reliable first-hand knowledge may be better than numerous other sources written by someone whose knowledge of the event is second hand–especially when those sources did not agree.

It’s not how many sources you have that is as important as their perceived reliability.

Were the Records Really Destroyed?

No genealogist wants to hear “the courthouse burned and all the records were destroyed.” The reality is that sometimes that statement is only partially true. Other times there are partial workarounds to those times when a courthouse and its records were really destroyed.

The first thing to do is to determine what actually was destroyed. This may mean reaching out to others besides the local records offices. In some locations research guides to the area in question may indicate what materials really were destroyed and what ones are still extant. Local libraries, genealogical/historical societies are a good place to start asking about what records are available.

Individuals familiar with research in the area can be another great resource. These people may not live in the area and may not be members of local societies. Ask around if there is anyone who has done extensive research on families in the area and see if it is possible to reach out to this person.

State or regional archives may have materials related to the area in question. FamilySearch may have copies of some materials as well.

In some cases, after a facility’s records were destroyed, local individuals may have been told to bring in their original deeds or other items that had been recorded to have them recorded. Others may have documented land ownership through affidavits and depositions.

Finally, state or federal records may provide some information on your ancestors as well as newspapers, cemeteries, church records, etc.

Follow Up on the Ex After the Divorce?

Do you completely research all the ex-spouses of your ancestor after they and your ancestor divorced? Records after the divorce may mention your ancestor, their children, or provide research clues that help with your actual ancestor.

And you never know, you may just find a really interesting story–even if your ancestor is not mentioned. I did. It included a fall down an elevator shaft and a box of missing estate documents that were never found. And the probate ended up mentioning the ex-wife.

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Not in the File, but in the Paper

The widow never did find the box of papers.

Thomas Price supposedly left behind a lock box with valuable papers related to his estate when he died in Quincy, Illinois, in 1923. It was never found.

The probate packet made no mention of the missing papers (because they were not found), but there were at least two newspaper references to the missing items. One reference indicated that Thomas had been married before and had children with his first wife.

Always search newspapers for references to an ancestral estate. They will not always be mentioned and the references may not be as sensational as this one, but additional family details may be alluded to in the newspaper.

The widow hired an attorney and three fortune tellers to help her find the box. She had no luck.

Who Was the First and Why?

No photo description available.
The probate of Belinda Newman in Linn County, Iowa, indicated three children were in Hancock County, Illinois.

My ancestor and at least three of his siblings spent some time in Hancock County, Illinois, during their life. Two of his siblings died there.

To the best of my knowledge his parents never lived there and some of his siblings went from Indiana straight to Iowa without making any long-term stops in Illinois. The family originally lived in Indiana where the children grew up and where the father died in 1864.

The question is: who was the first one to move to Hancock County, Illinois? What brought them to that area? Were there more distant relatives living in the area already? Were there others from the same Indiana location who moved to the same Illinois county? Or did one just settle there for reasons that can’t now be precisely determined and others simply followed?

Who I’m Focusing on in 1950

The 1950 US Census will be released to the public on 1 April 2022.

There are ways to find people in the 1950 census before it is indexed (and even after it’s indexed for people whose names are issues). Those ways hinge on knowing where the person probably lived in 1950, determining the enumeration district for that location, and manually searching that district.

Personally I am going to focus on the individuals in my family whose residences were stable during the mid-20th century and search for them. There will be aunts, uncles, and cousins in those areas as well who will be “easy pickings” to find. I have about seven rural townships where I will search for relatives initially. Additionally, I will search two small towns whose population is under 3,000 each.

I have eleven ancestors who were alive in 1950. I will search the townships where they were likely living first and then complete the others that are on my list. As I read those townships, I’ll be on the lookout for other relatives beyond my immediate ancestors. I won’t be looking for specific people, I’ll be looking at each name and seeing if it “rings a bell” in my head. Is that the most efficient approach?

Maybe. Maybe not. But until the census is indexed, finding anyone is a manual search process. There’s not need to read those pages for names more times than I need to. I won’t completely transcribe the entries at the time. My focus will be on searching the census. I will transcribe the complete entry later as I need it. I will create a spreadsheet for each person that includes:

  • Last name,
  • First name,
  • State,
  • County,
  • Township/Town/Village
  • Enumeration District
  • Page
  • Line number for the head of household
  • Comments–anything unusual I noted about the enumeration, etc.

I think I’m going with line number of the head of household in my spreadsheet to make copying/pasting the information from one person’s entry to another one as easy as possible. I’m not creating citations. I’m creating a spreadsheet for my own use.

This approach may not work for everyone. I know how I work and what works for me. I may never get to transcribing all the entries I put in the chart. But I know that given how many relatives I have in these areas, I want to read the entire townships first to see if there’s anything “earthshattering” in the enumerations (which I’m doubting).

Check out my 1950 Census prep webinar.

Can I Get a Witness?

There are different types of witnesses one encounters in genealogical research. There are witnesses who are indicating that they saw someone sign a legal document such as a deed or a will. Those witnesses are really just testifying that they are aware of who the person signing the document is and that they are signing the document. Witnesses have to be of the legal age of majority at the time they are witnessing someone’s act. Witnesses could easily be someone at the office the same day the person signing the document was there signing it. Witnesses to certain documents cannot usually be beneficiaries of the document being signed.

Witnesses in court cases or pension applications are a little bit different. They are usually providing more information about an event or a person than is a witness to a document signing. These witnesses are often providing information about people, places, or events. If they are making a statement about a person, they may indicate how long they have known that person. That length of time can be a big clue in one’s genealogical research. Did the witness know the person about whom they are providing testimony when that person lived somewhere else? Does the length of time suggest that the individuals knew each other as children? Does the length of time suggest that the individual was a child when they knew the person about whom they are providing testimony?

Witnesses to signatures are often “warm body witnesses.” While they should not be ignored, the relationship they had to your relative may have been fleeting and extremely short-lived. Witnesses in court depositions and pension applications are another matter, especially when the length of time they knew each other is considered.

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Parted Ways to Marry Again?

It can be tempting to think that when one member of a husband-wife couple marries again that the other spouse has died or that there was a divorce. That’s not always the case.

Sometimes couples just separated with no legal arrangements at all. One of them may have up and left or they may have decided to just part company without worrying about legal entanglements. An ancestral couple of mine did just that in New York State in the early 19th century and both of them married again and had children with subsequent spouses. No divorce can be located.

Another ancestor of mine, Clark Sargent, is supposed to have died near Rockford, Illinois, in the 1840s, a year or so before his wife married her second husband. It’s too early for a death record. Despite him owning farmland and having small children, there was no estate settlement or guardianship for his children. His daughter in her Civil War widow’s pension application even suggests that her father might have simply “run off” instead of dying–she also refers to him as a gadabout.

When divorces were more difficult to get and it was easier to move and start a new life, that might be what your relative did.

Don’t assume thought that is what happened. Make certain you have looked into all extant court, property, and other records in the area where the person lived. There may be something that mentions the couple’s separation–like the deed between a relative and his wife in Kentucky in the 1860s that separated their property but stated that they were not technically divorced.