Townships: Congressional and Civil

Townships are spread throughout the United States and usually are responsible for a variety of civil functions. In areas where the rectangular survey system is used (generally settled after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787) there’s also a township referred to as a Congressional township. Congressional townships serve a different purpose.

Congressional Townships are used to determine where a piece of property is located and were used for original surveying purposes when property was being settled in the federal domain. In many places Congressional Townships and civil townships have contiguous boundaries. Congressional Townships are assigned numbers to describe their location in relationship to base lines and meridians. Civil townships usually have names.

The illustration shows one Congressional Township in Hancock County, Illinois (Township 7 North Range 7 West). That township serves no civil government purpose. This Congressional Township is different from most as it is divided into two civil townships that provide various governmental functions: Pontoosuc and Dallas City townships.

What is a Descendant?

A descendant of a person is their child, grandchild, great-grandchild, great-great-grandchild or someone further down the line of descent (by adding more “greats” in front of the word).

If a person had no children, they have no descendants. They may well have other relatives, but in order to have descendants, a person has to have had children.

If You Can’t Transcribe

I have a digital copy of a court case from early 19th century Maryland that is 119 pages. There’s no way I’m ever going to get the entire thing transcribed. I just know that is not going to happen.

What I have done instead is to create a document where I can take notes on the court case–indicating what page something is on in the original PDF file I have that contains the whole case. I’m extracting names, dates, key elements in the document. Sometimes I extract a paragraph here or there or I type an entire page or two if there’s quite a bit of information or I want to include context. In these cases, I always use quotation marks to indicate what has been taken from the records verbatim instead of being my notes.

Every name is extracted as well.

Typing the information helps me to get some of it in my brain and later I will have the ability to search the text by keyword, name, and the like. I would like to transcribe the entire thing.

But that’s not always realistic and a file of my notes of what’s where in the document is better than nothing.

Getting All the Details?

Citation is an important part of the genealogical process. It’s often one that can get left to the side during the research process. The hope of finding something or the excitement of having just made a discovery can result in details being omitted.

My own personal attempt to getting all the details for a citation without slowing down the research process too much is to take pictures or get images of the materials being used–especially when utilizing local records. Covers or spines of record books often can be used for this purpose. It’s a reason why when FamilySearch made microfilmed images of records they often filmed the cover.

Just make certain you get all the details. County record books in some locations include the name of the county. Others do not. That name is something you will want later. Record it while you are doing the research instead of wasting time later wondering where the record was obtained.

Don’t Judge…think “Why?”

From a while back…

Upon occasion, one hears fellow genealogists being slightly judgmental about a specific ancestor. Instead of getting bogged down in that line of thinking (which doesn’t help your research any), think “why?”

Putting yourself in your ancestor’s shoes gives you a different perspective. If you were twenty-six years old, widowed, the mother of two small children, unable to speak English and living where you had no relatives, what might you do? You might marry the first German speaking single male around–one who would not have been your choice if you were twenty years old and still living at home with no children to support.

If your great-grandfather “disappeared” consider where he might have gone and what he might have done in an attempt to find him. Was there a war he might have enlisted in? Did he have some type of psychological problems? Maybe it was even better that he left, despite the disruption it caused in the family.

If you never personally knew the ancestor, leave the judging to someone else. Focus instead on your research.

On the flip side of this, I know one researcher who thought it was “romantic” that her great-great-grandmother found the “love of her life” and left her husband and headed out West on some grand adventure. The researcher was completely enamored with the story. Now if HER mother had done the same thing, I’m certain her response would have been somewhat different.

They Just Appeared!

When a person “just appears” in an area, one can be tempted to think that they were dropped off by a UFO or some such.

1–The person’s family lived in the area a very short time (maybe just renting a house or a farm)–during which time the person of interest met someone and got married. Their family of origin moved further west and left no records of their own in that place where the person married. I don’t know this happened with one of my Kentucky ancestors who married around 1818, but it’s very plausible.

2–The person’s marriage record is the first where they actually gave their own last name. It’s possible that in earlier records (census most likely) they are listed with a step-father’s name which was provided by the adult in the household or assumed by the census taker. I have a guy in my ancestry who is listed with his step-father’s last name in the 1850 and 1860 census and only with his actual last name from his marriage in 1870 and on.

And of course, your ancestor may have moved to an area as a young single adult because they knew they could find work, had former friends who had moved there, or had relatives there of whom you are unaware.

Get more tips from my Genealogy Tip of the Day book!

A Stopping Point

This was posted to our Facebook page, but I decided to share it with readers here as well.

There’s not right or wrong here, just something to think about.

A female relative of mine had a short-term marriage in the mid-20th century. It ended, so I’ve been told because “he was mean to her and the relative’s mother told her to get a divorce (suggesting that his behavior was likely not to improve).” The marriage resulted in no children.

This is not about the facts of what happened. This is about how much time and money I should spend trying to find his name and the date/place of marriage. The story about the marriage tells something about the family–even though there is no name. There are no statewide marriage records in three of the four states where this marriage is most likely to have taken place. Of course it was the mid-20th century and a couple could have gone anywhere to elope. I don’t have the groom’s name and that makes looking for a divorce hard–the female went back to her maiden name.

So I have decided to put the story in my notes on this person–citing the individuals who passed the story along to me….and I have moved on. I may find the name and date at some point. But at the end of the day, there is only so much time and money to be had in the search. And I have other people whose stories I want to find out and whose stories can be discovered a little easier.

I’m not hiding the story or keeping others from knowing it. It’s in my notes and I’ve mentioned it to relatives. This is not about “hiding the story.”

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here…just a decision about where to place your time and resources. I keep my eyes open for new databases that may help, but I’m putting an active search for this to rest for the time being.

Letters in German

An October 1852 issue of The Banner from Davenport, Iowa, included a list of recipients of “German Letters” that had been received the post office. Publishing lists of received letters at the post office was not uncommon during this time period.

But what does it mean?

Nicholas and Peter Willey are two of the recipients. The Willeys likely knew someone who spoke German and that person knew that either the Willeys could read German or could have the letters read to them.

It means that at the time the writer mailed the letter they believed that both Willeys lived in Davenport–or close enough to it that they could get to the post office and would likely know of the letter having been received.

The lists can be helpful because they let us know that someone thought the person lived in the location at the time the letter was mailed–or it was the last address they had for them. The appearance of a person’s name on the list does not guarantee they were alive at the time of publication either–the letter writer may simply not have learned of the person’s death.

A Female Guardian?

Throughout much of US history, a minor child whose deceased parent had a significant estate would have a guardian appointed for them. This guardian usually was to oversee the financial interests of the child and did not take physical custody (that was usually left to the mother if she survived). Typically this guardian was a male relative (grandfather, uncle, older brother, step-father, etc.). While not unheard of, it was atypical (especially before the 20th century) that the mother would be appointed guardian of the child’s estate. Mothers were appointed and could be appointed guardians–but it was not the norm. This was usually done if there was no male relative in the area who qualified as a guardian.

So if the mother is appointed guardian of her child’s interest in an estate ask yourself: “why?” Were there no males in the area who qualified? Keep in mind that guardians had to be of the age of majority and of a character that would be approved by the court.

And if the mother was appointed guardian, make certain you have reviewed the bondsmen on the bond she had to put up. Those men are clues. They likely knew the mother and knew that she would “do right” by the child and their inheritance and would manage it well.

Mathilda 1 and Mathilda 2

In cultures where women take the last name of their husband, it can sometimes be difficult to know (without doing a search of marriage and other records) if a man had two wives with the same first name. This tombstone indicated that Nels Johnson had two wives named Mathilda–one was Mathilda S. and the other was Mathilda P.

Other records do not always use middle initials and sometimes we are not so fortunate to know that there were two wives with the same first name. 1850 and later US census records may list the same first name of a wife, but details about age and origin may suggest the two same-named women were not the same.

If you suspect a man was married to two women with the same first name, a check of marriage records is the first place to look to validate your suspiscion.