Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

My Parents are Dead But I Write my Folks

Today many of us use the word “folks” to refer our parents. The term was not always that specific and often in earlier times meant family in a broader sense. When Emmar Osenbaugh mentions writing “my folks” in March of 1918, she’s talking about her family in general–not her parents. They were long dead by 1918.


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Many Hands Make the Work Lighter and the Analysis More Confusing

When viewing an original document (or a microfilm or digital copy), do you try and determine if the same person wrote out the entire record? Or does it look like perhaps more than one person wrote on the document? If that’s the case there may have been multiple informants on the record or someone may have written in additional information years later.

All of which impacts how reliable we perceive the information to be.

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Why Matters

It is important somewhere to keep track of your research logic as you progress. Otherwise you might not remember “why” you are researching a certain person.

While at the Allen County Public Library last August, I focused on a certain Benjamin Butler in 1850 as being “mine.” Using that enumeration as the starting point, I searched other records and made research progress. A stack of papers and records. One problem–I didn’t track WHY I thought this 1850 census entry was for the correct person. It took me hours to reconstruct my reason. Time wasted when I started writing up the 1850 Benjamin for an issue of Casefile Clues.

When I decided the 1850 guy was “mine,” I should have written down my reasons. That would have saved time.It is important somewhere to keep track of your research logic as you progress. Otherwise you might not remember “why” you are researching a certain person.

I focused on a certain Benjamin Butler in 1850 as being “mine.” Using that enumeration as the starting point, I searched other records and made research progress. A stack of papers and records. One problem–I didn’t track WHY I thought this 1850 census entry was for the correct person. It took me hours to reconstruct my reason.

When I decided the 1850 guy was “mine,” I should have written down my reasons. That would have saved time.

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Signatures in Signed Receipts

Ancestral signatures can be helpful in comparing two people of the same name or just to have something a little more personal from a relative. Packets of court papers (either for estate settlements or other types of court action) may contain actual documents signed by a relative. Signed receipts for money received from an estate are one good place to get a signature of your relative. The illustration comes from disbursements made in a partition suit in Illinois in 1907.

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They May Have Moved…A Lot

An ancestor of mine has children who were born in Canada, Mchigan, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He and his family got around.

Never assume that your ancestor did not move. Just because he was in a specific location in 1850 and 1860 does not mean that he was there in 1855. One of my wife’s ancestral families was in Illinois in every census after 1860, but spent two years in Pennsylvania and a year in England after that. Both of these residences took place in off census years and the family was “back” in Illinois for the next enumeration.

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Grandma Really Wasn’t Grandma After All

Sometimes relationship terms are also used as terms of affection, even if there is no biological relationship. Take care when a letter, diary, or a relative refers to someone as an “aunt” or an “uncle.” The use of the term may have been done out of respect and not necessarily indicate a biological relationship.

Of course, you may gain some clues or insight by researching this person, but if you find no biological connection between the individual and your family be open to the possibility that “Grandma” wasn’t really “Grandma” after all.

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Order of the Children

For families that lived during a time of no vital records genealogists often do not have dates of birth. In some cases, it may even be difficult to estimate years of birth if records are not available. In cases such as these, make certain that you indicate the birth order is either a guess or inferred from the order of children in a will or another document. If children married, years of birth could be estimated from the marriage dates.

And ask yourself, would any of my conclusions change if the order of birth for these children change? Most times they wouldn’t, but you never know.

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