Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

The First Guy Might Not Be Your Guy

Records suggest that your ancestor who was in Kentucky in the 1830s and after was in Amherst County, Virginia, before that. Don’t just grab the first guy you find in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1820 and assume you’ve got the right one.

There could be more than one guy in Amherst County with that name–see if there are guys with that name still living in Amherst County in 1830 after your guy has left. It could be that your guy wasn’t really in Amherst County at all, but lived near the border and actually appears in adjacent counties in those records.

And it could be that your guy had already left Virginia by 1820.


1850-Era Military Benefits for War of 1812 Vets

Your War of 1812 veteran may not have lived long enough to qualify for a military pension, but he may have qualified for a land warrant based on his military service.

Many land warrants for War of 1812 military service were granted in the 1850s–either to the veteran or his widow. The names of warrantees (if the warrant generated a land patent) at the Bureau of Land Management website (

If you are unfamiliar with land warrants, make certain to have an understanding of the following terms first:

  • patentee
  • warrantee
  • patent
  • warrant

And if your ancestor received land, there are additional terms to learn. All are described on the BLM’s “Reference” page. Not knowing what something means can lead to additional brick walls.

Michael John Neill writes Casefile Clues in addition to Genealogy Tip of the Day. Learn more about Casefile Clues on our blog.


Are You Searching All Court Records?

In some jurisdictions there may have been multiple courts that heard different types of cases. The obvious court that is often separate is the probate court–the one the oversaw the settlement of estates. There may have been a court that heard criminal cases and yet another court that heard other types of cases.

Make certain you’ve gone through them all. A divorce probably won’t be heard or settled in a probate court or a criminal court. Separate courts may have used the same facilities and had the same judge.

But the records may be separate from each other with separate indexes and finding aids.


How Closely Do You Look At the Neighbors?

If your relatives are in a “new” area, your search for relatives in the area should include more than just neighbors with the same last name. Look at the first names, look at the places of birth for these neighbors. Does a neighboring family have children with many of the same first names as your ancestral family (hopefully ones that are not common)? Does that neighboring family have places of birth that suggest they could be related to yours or at least followed a similar migration path to the area where they are now living?

That’s a good way to find nearby families that are related to a family in a way other than through the father.

Sometimes it’s not the last name that’s the clue.



Greeting Cards Clues?

Years ago, I went through the cards my parents received when they married. Most of the names I recognized as relatives of one of my parents. Many of the others had last names that I knew had to be neighbors. There were several I didn’t recognize and I asked Mom who they were from. Most of those were from college friends of my Mom or teaching colleagues early in her career.

Then there was one.

No idea who she was. But I made a note of the name.

It was years later that I found out who she was–a first cousin once removed of my paternal grandmother. I had no idea she was still living in 1968.

Too bad Mom didn’t save the envelopes, but we can’t have everything (grin!).



Criminal Associates

Genealogists are often familiar with the importance of working on not just immediate ancestors, but neighbors, slightly-more-distant relatives, and associates. Information on these individuals can sometimes give either direct or indirect insight into the ancestors in question.

And if your ancestor was involved in any sort of criminal activity, do you know who his (or her) partners-in-crime were? Those associates can be clues as well.

For a longer post, read “Partners in Crime.”


My Blogs, Newsletters, Etc.

To reduce confusion, here’s a list of my newsletters, blogs, etc

  • Genealogy Tip of the Day(one tip every day)—free to get daily–subscribe on the blog
  • Genealogy Search Tip of the Day (but not always every day)-  (genealogy search sites and online search tips)—free to get daily–subscribe on the blog
  • Rootdig -(research stories, frustrations, and whatever interests me–a genealogical potpourri without the annoying smell)–free to get daily–subscribe on the blog
  • Casefile Clues Blog(updates on my how-to newsletter)–blog is free to get
  • Michael’s Weekly Blog Update –(weekly summary from all my blogs)–$5 a year–weekly
  • Casefile Clues-PDF Newsletter-(usually weekly how-to newsletter on document analysis, methodology, and more–grow your research skills–it’s easy to understand, cited, )-$20 for 52 issues.

Consider subscribing to the Michael’s Weekly Blog Update or to Casefile Clues. We try and keep the prices affordable and easy on the budget. There’s not a better genealogical education budget than Casefile Clues. It’s easy-to-read, straight-forward, and not full of overly pretentious academic prose written to appeal to an editor or reviewer.



Devise, Devisee, and Devisor

The three Ds of the day are:

  • devise–gift of real property, usually by the last will and testament of the giver
  • devisee–the person receiving real property, usually by a last will and testament
  • devisor–the person giving real property, usually by a last will and testament

Devise is the gift of real property given to the devisee by the devisor.


Casefile Clues is Back

After a hiatus, Casefile Clues is back!

We’ve put out four issues since resuming publication. Casefile Clues focuses on being readable, understandable, and practical. Articles exhibit sound research methods and analysis–but are not tedious or difficult to follow. Sample issues can be downloaded on our website.

Learn more about Casefile Clues

If you’ve not been getting your issues and you are a subscriber, email me at

And if you’re not a subscriber, consider subscribing today!

Casefile Clues content is separate from our blog content.