Only an Email

A relative passed away in the last few years. There’s no online mention of her death. She’s not in any of the online databases that might mention a date of death for her and, at this point, my only knowledge of her date of death comes from an email from a relative.

What do I do?

I cite the email. I’ve changed some details in this sample citation to the 2020 death of Luella Ottoman, but it’s based on the format in Evidence Explained.

Firstname Lastname, Los Angeles, California, [(e-address for private use),] to Michael John Neill, e-mail, 1 February 2024, “checking email,” Personal Correspondence Folder, Neill Research Files, privately held by Neill, [(, street address for private use,] Galesburg, Illinois, 2023. Firstname Lastname is a nephew of Luella Ottoman who died in 2020.

Of course, the email needs to actually be preserved and filed as indicated in the citation. An image of the email could even be included in my genealogy database. The comment is provided to give information as to how Firstname Lastname knows the date of death.

I’ll use the date provided by the relative to assist in locating another reference to this person’s death, but until I locate something else, this will be the only citation I have for her date of death.

Look for Yourself

Apparently in 1978, I entered the handwriting and arithmetic competition at the local county fair. This was only discovered by searching for myself in digital images of my local newspaper.

There were a variety of other references to me as well–most of them were when I was in attendance at various family functions. Search for yourself as a child in local newspapers–especially if you grew up in an area with small town newspapers that published every piece of gossip they could get. Those references may help you track down missing relatives and cause you to learn a little something about yourself.

Even if your handwriting today would not win the competitions it might have when you were ten years old.

Social Column Clues

It can be tedious to wade through the socials columns in old newspapers, particularly if your relative was something of a social butterfly. But those references can be useful. A 1938 letter written to my grandmother by her niece mentions a couple with the last name of Braeden. That couple apparently socialized with the niece’s parents. I just did not have any more of a name than “Braeden.” A 1966 reference to the letter writer’s mother indicated that the mother had visited a Mrs. Albert Braeden.

It’s a clue as to the couple referenced in the 1938 letter. It’s not 100% proof of their identity. But it is a start.

Genealogical Publishing Company has announced the release of the new 4th edition of Evidence Explained. Check it out on their website.

If They Don’t Have it and Will Take It

Do you have spare copies of a genealogy book? Do you know a library with a genealogy collection that would be interested in it? The Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Collection did not have a copy of the 1982 Roots of the Family Fecht. I had two. My children are not going to want them. I now have one. The Genealogy Collection at the Allen County Public Library has the other. Don’t wait for your children to do these things. Cull your collection yourself.

Genealogical Publishing Company has announced the release of the new 4th edition of Evidence Explained. Check it out on their website.

Join Michael in Ft. Wayne!

A Patronym

A patronym is a last name derived from the first name of the father. The most common one, and the simplest one, is Johnson–son of John. In some cases the first name may be altered slightly to form the last name, but the essence is there.

Your Ancestor’s Responsibility

It’s not your ancestor’s job to leave behind records. Many of them did good to survive from day to day and take care of themselves and others for whom they were responsible for.

It’s your job as a genealogist to find what records you can, learn so that you understand completely what those records mean, report what you find accurately and clearly, and leave behind something about yourself.

That’s a pretty tall order.

It’s also not important how many ancestors your discover. There’s no prize for who finds the most ancestors or relatives. What matters is that you report their story as accurately as you can.

It’s also good to share and preserve what unique records and materials you may have been lucky enough to acquire during your genealogical journey.

A Will Is…

One person’s view at one point in time.

It’s always advised to not look at a will in black and white. Like all documents used in genealogy it was created for a specific purpose. In the case of a will, it was to provide instructions for how the executor should dispose of the property of the deceased.

While a will may contain significant commentary about the individuals mentioned, that’s not the real purpose of the document. If an individual is not named in a parent’s will, it could be because that individual had already received property from the parent. It could also be because the writer of the will and the specific child had a falling out of sorts. That “falling out” could have been the result of the child, the will-writer, or both.

Situations are rarely black and white.

A grandparent may only list half of their grandchildren in their will. It does not necessarily mean that those grandchildren were their favorite. It is possible that they were, but one needs to be careful reading intentions into documents that are not there.

A will is meant to transfer the property of the deceased after they have died. A will can contain clues as to family dynamics, but care needs to be taken when using a will to draw conclusions about relationships between various family members.

Check out Genealogy Tip of the Day book!

How Specific is it?

from a while back…

A death certificate indicates that a relative was born Rush County, Indiana, on 23 December 1846.

The tombstone indicates that the relative was born on 25 December 1846.

The 1850 census indicates that the same relative was a native of Indiana and was three years of old at the time of the enumeration. That means that the person was born in either sometime in 1846 or 1847. It’s not additional evidence that the person was born specifically on 23 December 1846. It is consistent with that date of birth (which is good), but the census does not indicate that precise date of birth.

Use the death certificate as the source for the 23 December 1846 birth in Indiana.

Use the tombstone as  the source for the 25 December 1846 birth. Don’t use the tombstone for as a source of the Indiana place of birth since the stone does not provide a place of birth.

Use the census as the source for a 1846-1847 birth in Indiana.

Choose which date you believe to be more reliable and make that your “preferred” date of birth for the person in question. In your notes indicate why you believe that date/place to be the most accurate.

Avoid indicating sources say things that they do not. It will reduce confusion later–especially if other records disagree.

Transcript, Abstract, Extract

Generally speaking, a transcript is a complete exactly copy of a document–including exact spelling, grammar, and punctuation. An extract is a verbatim transcription of a portion of a document–preserving spelling, grammar, and punctuation (and usually enclosed in quotation marks). An abstract summarizes the content of a document.

All three should include a citation to the document that was used to create the transcript, abstract, or extract.