Have You Ever?

Have you ever guessed about an answer on a form you filled out? Have you ever lied on some sort of record–particularly if the answer wasn’t really germane to the issue at hand (a wrong mother’s maiden name on a eighty-year-old mans’ death certificate is not the end of the world)?

If you’ve guessed, lied, or intentionally left something blank on a record what’s the chance that an ancestor did the same thing?

Suits in Neighboring Counties?

If you ancestor lived relatively near the county line, is it possible that he appeared in a legal action in a neighboring county? Legal disputes can arise from a variety of situations and, depending on the other parties involved and the type of dispute, the resulting legal action may not be in the county where the ancestor lived.

A Little Foreign Writing?

A pastor whose first language was not English, but who was writing in English script, may have easily inserted a little non-English script into a record he was writing.

Old Phone Books?

Does the local library in the area where your family used to live have old phone books? They can be helpful in tracking a person’s residence in an area. Some libraries may copy or send copies of limited numbers of pages if you are unable to personally visit.

When using these phone books, remember that not everyone had a phone and some people who had phones chose to have their number not published in the phone book.

Avoiding Grand-Aunt, Great-Uncle, etc.

Genealogical writing needs to focus on being clear. Sometimes that means being technical, sometimes it means being pedantically tedious, and sometimes it means using phrases that may seem cumbersome.

Occasionally it is all three at the same time.

I’ve decided to avoid the debate about Grand-Aunt, Great-grand-Aunt, Grand-Uncle, by being more specific.

My Mom’s Aunt Ruth Newman, my Granddad Ufkes’ sister Ruth, my Dad’s Uncle Ralph, etc. are more specific descriptions of the people to whom I am referring. In the case of Ruth, I have two grandparents who had siblings with that first name and one who also had a sister-in-law with that name–one has to be clear. To avoid the great/grand debate and cause less confusion, a little more verbiage is helpful.

What’s clearer: Grand/Great Uncle Herschel or Grandpa Neill’s brother Herschel? The second makes the relationship more clear and helps the person reading the phrase know more precisely to whom I am referring.

Heirs, Legatees, Beneficiaries

While state statute usually defines these terms, it is generally true that an heir of a deceased person is someone who inherits from the deceased based upon their biological relationship to the deceased. Who qualifies as an heir is defined by state statute. A legatee (or sometimes what is called a beneficiary) is typically someone whom the deceased has mentioned in their will or other papers with a directive that they are to receive certain property when the individual dies. Heirs are related. Legatees and beneficiaries may not be related biologically.

Always make certain you know the definition of any term used in legal documents by your ancestor. Sometimes a layman’s definition is not the same as the legal one.

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Did They Move Because of an Ad?

From a while back…

If your ancestor apparently picked up and moved to where he knew no one, is it possible he was responding to an advertisement? Speculators, land agents, promoted their projects and developments in a variety of ways–including newspapers.

It might have been an advertisement that caused your ancestor to pick up and move to where he knew no one.

Location of the Deed Acknowledgement

When heirs are selling property after a death, always look to see where the deed was acknowledged. The deed will have to be recorded in the county in which the property was located, but heirs may acknowledge the deed before a local official where they live. That local official will indicate the location in which he was authorized to act as a notary, justice of the peace, etc.

That location can help you to determine where the person was living at the time the deed was acknowledged, even if the deed itself does provide any residential information on the grantors.

Avoiding What You Want

When analyzing a record or set of materials that does not make sense, get away from what you “want to prove” and try to think “what do these documents really say?” You may find that they do not say what you think they do. And not every record says what we want or expect it to say.

Sometimes our preconceived notions are what is getting in the way.