Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

The Witness Knows I’m Sane But Should Not Be Interested

Witnesses to a will cannot be beneficiaries named in that will and are generally not heirs. Witnesses should be disinterested individuals. And, as a reminder, beneficiaries and heirs are not necessarily the same group of people. Heirs have legal rights of inheritance under statute. Beneficiaries are named as the recipient of real or personal estate, usually upon the death of the owner of that property.


“Delay” in Settling the Estate?

Your relative died in 1850, but records indicate that his estate was not settled up and the farm sold or transferred to someone else until 1869.

Don’t conclude that there had to be “drama” or some court action that you cannot find.

It could be as simple as the family waiting until the widow had died or the youngest child reached the age of majority. Mother may have put her foot down and issued an edict that she was living on the farm until she died. The children could have decided to let mother have control and the money from the farm until she died. The heirs could have decided it was easier (and cheaper) to wait to “settle up” until all the heirs were of age and a guardian would not need to be appointed.



Those Were Not Mullable Roses

Multiflora Rose—By Σ64 [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

There is no such thing as a mullable rose.

And yet there is because that’s what Grandma called them and I had seen them. They had to exist. I really doubted Grandma had discovered a new plant.

Years later I discovered a reference to something referred to as the multiflora rose. Based upon the discussion and the description, I thought it was odd that I had never heard of the plant before.

And then I saw the picture. There was Grandma’s mullable rose.

The word was not “mullable.” It was “multiflora.

Maybe I heard Grandma wrong. Maybe Grandma said it wrong. Maybe Grandma heard it wrong. Maybe all three.

When you can’t find that maiden name that Grandma insists is true consider how off the pronunciation may be.



Do You Know What You Are Searching?

Do not mindlessly type names in database searches without first learn what you are actually searching. Is it a website that contains voluntary submissions of data other researchers have compiled? If so, it may be incomplete. Is it an official archives site? Even those may have omissions because some records were not extant. Most sites will indicate where they obtained their information. Find out and find if all records were extracted. Gaps or omissions seem to always be for the time period one needs.

Not knowing what you are searching may explain why you are not finding the information you seek.


What Do the Kids Think Is Mother’s Maiden Name?

Remember that the children may not know their mother’s maiden name and what they do know is not first-hand information. They may think their mother’s step-father was her actual father. They may never have met her father and may have a totally “mixed” up version of the name in their head as a result. Or they may be entirely correct about their mother’s maiden name. It depends upon a lot of factors, but keep in mind that information children provide about their mother’s maiden name is not first hand information.


Never Ever Edit a Document

When transcribing any document, make no changes–even if something looks blatantly incorrect.

Annotations or comments about the incorrect part of the document should be made in a way that clearly indicates they are not a part of the actual document itself. My own personal preference (which we utilize in Casefile Clues, is to start a transcription with [begin transcription] and to end it with [end transcription]. Between those markers only the transcription of the document is included.

Comments about the accuracy are made outside those brackets. [sic] is used within the transcription for the occasional word spelled incorrectly or other blatant error. That notation is simply used to indicate that something was copied exactly as written and that it was not a transcription error introduced into the document when I was transcribing it.

Don’t fix the document when transcribing it. What you think is wrong may end up being correct.


Could There Be One More?

Did you ancestor have two spouses instead of one? Did your ancestor have three children instead of two? Have you searched completely and thoroughly? Finding a civil record of an ancestor’s birth suggests that there might be some church record of the event as well (the same is true for a marriage). Finding one deed for an ancestor should make you wonder if there could be more.

Always be asking yourself: what more could there be?


Some Thoughts on DNA

AncestryDNA‘s sale (through 20 August 2018) is a good time to remind about some things to be aware of when doing any DNA test:

  • this is a autosomal test–to work all lines, not just the paternal or the maternal. Know what type of test you are taking.
  • don’t just wait for the results to arrive thinking that they’ll solve all your genealogy problems–they won’t. Read our suggestions for what to do while waiting for your results to arrive.
  • other submitters will have no trees tied to their DNA results
  • some submitters will have no idea about their ancestry
  • some submitters will never respond to your request for information
  • some matches will be difficult or impossible to figure out
  • DNA won’t solve all your problems
  • DNA may alter your genealogical reality.
  •  Once you get back to your 5th great-grandparents, there is a possible chance (4.95%) you have none of their DNA. That chance increases as your extend your pedigree further back (see chart here).

AncestryDNA, just like any DNA test is a tool. One tool will never solve all your problems.


Service Versus Benefit Records

Records related to an ancestor’s involvement in the military may take the form of service records or benefit records. Service records were those records created during the person’s actual service and relate to their service, when they were mustered in, their physical description, when they were mustered out, where they were assigned, and other information from records created during their service.

Benefit records are records typically created after service related to benefits that were given to or were dur to the serviceperson as the result of their service. Those records, in the United States at least, are typically pension records and sometimes records of bounty lands that were awarded to the serviceman.