It May Put You to Sleep…

Have you ever read the probate section of state statute for the state in which you are researching? At the very least it may put you to sleep. On the other hand, you may learn something.

Let Yourself Focus

Stuck on a certain problem or document? If your computer is always “online,” consider temporarily turning off your internet connection while concentrating. Maybe even turn off the cell phone.

Recently I was working on a christening record from the 1870s. It was written in German and mentioned two families. The temptation was to start surfing for information on the families before I really completed my attempt to translate the document.

Sometimes it is good to brainstorm and jot down ideas one after the other when you cannot immediately do some of them. Being able to search immediately can easily get you distracted and cause you to lose focus on what you were originally trying to figure out.

Without constant interruption or the temptation to be distracted I was able to concentrate on my document, read it as best I could, and make a long list of ideas for how to follow up on what it told me. Then, when I was out of ideas, I got back on the computer and started working on my list, one item at a time.

It helps a lot to be focused.

The Ultimate Instant

The abbreviation “inst.,” as in “7th inst.,” refers to a date in the present month. “Ult.,” as in the “8th ult.,” generally refers to the previous month.

Letters in the Corner

Yesterday’s tip was a reminder to make digital images of those paper copies you may have sitting around.

In my case, a large stack of those copies are of entire case files from court records. The copies were all stapled together because some of them were from multi-page documents, affidavits, statements, etc. I removed the staples. To keep me organized, prevent some confusion, and keep things together, I assigned a letter to each document and placed that in the corner of each page in any multi-page document. The extreme corner so as not to confuse the letter with any text on the document.

I should have put numbers after the letters.

Did They Really Sign It?

This bond dated 10 January 1827 was “signed” by James Tinsley, Enoch, Tinsley, Landon Bernham, Margaret Reeves, Hiram Reeves, to guarantee an appearance in regards to Fleming County, Kentucky, County Circuit Court Case 4209.

This “bond” was signed on 10 January 1827 to guarantee that the five individuals named would appear to give statements regarding a court case in Fleming County, Kentucky. The last three individuals appear to have actually signed the document. The first two individuals, James and Enoch Tinsley, do not appear to have actually signed the document. Their signatures look too similar to each other and to the writing in the text of the document.

I don’t know why the Tinsleys did not actually sign the document themselves. One other individual, Margaret Reeves, made her “X” on the document. Based on that, inability to write does not appear to be the reason for the Tinsleys apparent failure to actually sign the document themselves. James could sign his name and has done so on numerous documents before and after this one was made out. Enoch’s ability to write his name is not known as he left behind no evidence that he could write his name.

I’m not saying that “failure to actually sign” was common–just that it happened. It should also be noted that record copies of records made during the time when handwritten transcriptions were normal–what’s typically found in record books in courthouses–contain transcriptions of signatures and not actual signatures.

Is it possible that your ancestor didn’t sign a document that you think they did?

Are You Waiting to Preserve Paper Copies?

Nearly thirty-five years ago, I obtained approximately one hundred and fifty pages of photocopies of court cases from a county in Kentucky. The copies were high quality and are still legible, but I was reminded when looking through them that nothing lasts forever. It’s time to digitize them to preserve them. The staples that were used in some of them have rusted.

The copies are from the court case files and are not available digitally. I need to preserve the copies I have. Digital images will make it easier to complete my transcription and analysis project. It will also make it easier to share the records with others who may be interested in them.

What paper copies do you have that need to be saved in digital format?

Join Michael at either the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this summer!

Those “Business Dealing” Court Cases

One can be tempted to avoid ancestral court cases that focus on an ancestor’s business dealings. They are less likely to give family relationships than other cases–that’s true.

But they can help you place a person in a place and a time. They can help establish who some of his business associates were–who may be relatives. There may be testimony about how his business was operated–providing interesting social history information. There may be details on his business or personal finances–providing potential information on his lifestyle or even suggesting other records to search.

And if the business was a family business, those records could be even more interesting.

Found Grandma on Thursday the 21st

The entry in my Mom’s calendar for 21 July 1994 says:

Keith found G. Neill

made funeral arrangements

I can easily interpret the two lines because I know what happened on that date. I know that “G. Neill” is a reference to Grandma Neill and not some relative named Gerald or someone else whose name begins with the letter G. It’s when we don’t already know the information to which something is referring that interpretation can be difficult.

“Found” in this case does not mean that she had been lost. It means that she was deceased when my father found her. The comment about making funeral arrangements is suggestive of what “found” meant in this case. That’s a good reminder to always look at things in context.

When analyzing a statement or reference that is cryptic or confusing, it’s important to locate as much about the item as possible–when it was written, who wrote it, what its purpose was, etc. It’s also helpful to begin on identifying and analyzing the things that are clear to interpret and not likely to be misunderstood–who Keith is and what funeral arrangements are is pretty clear to me. Also read the item in the context of other items in the material in which they were located. In this case, there are other references to my Grandmother’s funeral in the days after this entry.

I also remember that my Mother always called her mother-in-law Grandma Neill. I never heard her refer to her by her first name and the only time I’ve seen Mom refer to Grandma as “Mrs. Neill” is on a few items created early in my parents’ marriage. While Grandma was a Grandma before my parents married, it appears that my Mom never referred to her mother-in-law as Grandma until after my Mom had children.

But sometimes “found” means more than simply “found.” One should always be thinking about what one finds.

Join Michael at either the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this summer!

Establish those Parameters

Hasty research increases the chance that incorrect conclusions are made and that we include records for our “person of interest” who is not really our person of interest.

To reduce the chance mistakes are made, take the records that you “know” are for your person of interest and estimate whichever items you do not have specifically:

  • a time frame for when they were born
  • an approximate location for where they were born
  • a time frame for their marriage
  • an approximate location for their marriage
  • a time frame for their death
  • an approximate location for their death

For all of these approximations, include your reason why you think the time frames and locations are reasonable–you should have at least one source document. These reasons combined with the records are key.
Then look at the “new” records you think are for your ancestor. How closely do they match your expectations? Is the difference reasonable? Is it possible your conjectures were wrong? 
It may also cause you to question whether the records that you were “sure” were for your ancestor are really your ancestor at all.
We’ve simplified the analysis process here–but this general framework, armed with analysis and contemplation, is a good start.