Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

Indirect Occupational Clues in Estate Inventories

A listing of your ancestor’s personal property, if included in his estate inventory, may suggest what his occupation was. In certain areas of the United States local records will state occupations as a way of further identifying the individual. In other areas such occupations are not often stated as part of the name. In these places, items in an estate inventory may provide indirect evidence as to what an ancestral occupation was.

Records that state the occupation provide direct evidence of the occupation. Estate inventories that list items owned provide indirect evidence–because the mention of such items suggests an occupation instead of stating it directly. Indirect evidence isn’t wrong, it’s just categorizing what type of statement it is.

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Guardians Do Not Mean Both Parents are Dead

A child having a guardian does not mean that both of the child’s parents are deceased. For much of American history a guardian had to be appointed even if the father was dead and the mother was alive. A guardian could also be appointed if someone giving the child an inheritance did not want a parent (usually the father) having control over the property.

An immigrant wanting to get married under the legal age would need a guardian to sign off on the marriage even if both parents were living overseas.

Do not assume everyone with a guardian had no parents living.

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Who Is Absent?

Do you notice who is not listed in records where other family members are? In going through a series of “gossip columns” for a family in the early 20th century, I noticed that one individual’s husband rarely attended anything. I’ve made a notation about his frequent absence in my compilation of the columns.

There are other records where sometimes people who “should be listed” are not. This happens in more than the gossip columns of local newspapers. Are you making a notation of this in your analysis of the record?

Some absences mean more than others. Missing family functions may just mean there’s been some sort of disagreement, that someone is a loner, or needs time away from their spouse. Failing to appear in a city directory may mean a move, failing to appear in personal property tax rolls may mean a change in financial status (or move), etc.

Absences matter and not just when Uncle Herman refuses to attend the annual cookout.

About Genealogy Tip of the Day

Genealogy Tip of the Day is written by Michael John Neill.

Michael has been actively involved in genealogy research since the
mid-1980s and writes and lectures on a variety of genealogy topics at a variety of levels.  Tip of the Day is meant to make readers aware of topics they didn’t know about, remind others of topi
cs about which they’ve forgotten, or suggest slightly different ways of approaching research problems.

We just want you to keep thinking and analyzing as you research.

Genealogy Tip of the Day is sponsored by GenealogyBank. They exercise no editorial control whatsoever and we thank them for their support.

Three Days off in 1858

Compare the actual date of a record with the date indicated by the database. Don’t assume the database is correct and use the actual record date where possible since it’s more accurate.

Any database can occasionally have a date incorrect. Small differences usually don’t have a huge impact on research conclusions, but sometimes they do–depending upon how “off” the incorrect date is.


And maybe doublecheck again.

Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank. Try their “GenealogyBank Search” and see what discoveries you make.


In the Paper After Death

Newspapers can contain references to people long after they died. They can be mentioned in obituaries of their children or other family members, retrospective columns, references to their former residence or farm, etc.

Don’t assume that someone will not be in the paper after they died. 

Reunion Notices Contain More than Blood Relatives

Rampley Family Gathering, Warsaw, Illinois, 2 Sept 1932.

That reunion listing in the newspaper may contain more than blood relatives.

This 1932 reunion was for descendants of James and Elizabeth (Chaney) Rampley who died in Hancock County, Illinois, in the 1880s. Most of the individuals listed are descendants of that couple or are spouses of descendants. There are a few non-Rampleys in the mix, including a girlfriend of a descendant, the sister of James and Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law (who was the aunt of over half the attendees), another girlfriend of a descendant who is listed as “Mrs.” when she should be “Miss,” and a handful of people I can’t quite figure out, but who are not descendants or their spouses.

Reunions might not contain only “blood” relatives.

Don’t assume everyone in the listing is related to the main family. The connection may be a little less formal than that.

Newspapers Do Not Always Use Names

For a variety of reasons newspapers may not always use given names when mentioning people. This is why it is important to search for all family members, last names only (including perhaps locations),all spelling variants, etc. in an attempt to locate as many references to the person of interest as possible.

Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank. Try their “GenealogyBank Search” and see what discoveries you make.