Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

Adjacent Deeds?

When you locate one land deed for a relative, always look to see if other deeds by the same buyer or seller were recorded at the same time. Look a few deeds after and before the item you initially located. Sometimes buyers record multiple deeds at the same time, particularly if they live a distance from the courthouse or are buying a piece of property from group of heirs and the deeds were drawn up separately. Look for similar names. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Read more about the example in the illustration.


Land Warrants for Single Sons Who Died in pre-Civil War Wars?

Land warrants may have been issued to the heirs of single men who died in US military action for service prior to the US Civil War. These land warrants may provide significant family clues and help clarify relationships.

The patent in the illustration was issued based on a land warrant that was obtained by Harrison Ramsey based on his son Andrew’s service in the Illinois Volunteers in the 1840s.

The patents can be searched on the BLM site. The warrant applications and surrendered warrants are at the US National Archives.


Search the Employer

To learn more about your ancestor’s employer as given in a city directory, search the rest of the city directory as it may include advertisements or list the employer in a list of area businesses. Consider performing a Google search for the name of the business and search local and regional histories as well, many of which have been digitized at Google Books ( or (


Ask a Friend to Look at It

Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can notice what you cannot. If you’re stuck, consider asking a genealogy friend for their input on the problem.

  • New perspective can help
  • Just don’t test your friend’s patience
  • Some friends are more knowledgeable than others
  • Preferably someone who does not know the family

You Rely On Memory More than You Think

It’s easy to see how stories told by a family member are reliant upon the accuracy of their memory. After all, the family member is telling you those stories. But most of what is contained in other records comes from someone memory as well. The person’s memory of what they were told may be accurate (or it may not). What they were told originally may have been accurate or it may have not.

Information on census records, marriage applications, birth and death certificates, and a variety of other documents comes from someone’s memory. No “proof” was necessary and the clerk or census taker simply wrote the information down and went on.

It’s not just Grandma’s memory of personal stories that a genealogist relies up. It’s the memories of many people that were used to create the records we use.


Look at the Back

Look at the back of every document you locate–actual record, newspaper clipping, old family letter, etc. There may be some clue of significance written on the reverse side of the document. Years ago, a short note written on the reverse side of a probate document ended up being one of the biggest clues in the file.

Backs of newspaper clippings can help to date the item or determine the newspaper from which it came.


Did They Really Meet on the Boat?

The story makes for a romantic one but, like many family legends, the reality may be somewhat different.

A couple may not really have met for the first time on the boat. They may never have met on the boat at all. The future husband may have immigrated as a single man and then sent word back home that he had settled and was ready to marry.

Story was my great-great-grandparents met “on the boat,” having been from different villages. They were born in different villages, but there’s more to it than that. The future bride’s family had moved to the small village where the groom was living about ten years before the couple married.

They knew of each other before they ever crossed the pond.


The Creation of Papers

When reviewing any record, document, or family story think about the pieces of information that item contains and the events it mentions. Does that information suggest another record or source that may contain more detail? Would the events mentioned in the family story have caused the creation of other records?

Many events in a person’s life cause the creation of some sort of “paper record.” Try and get beyond birth, marriage, and death.  A good way to begin analyzing a family tradition or story is to break it into the pieces that may have generated some sort of record or evidence and the pieces that probably did not.

Then focus on locating those records.




Did Grandpa Date in the Old Style?

17th and 18th century documents are full of dating that may appear to be “off.” This document was dated Stow, Mass., 23 January 1746: 7.

It’s 1747 in our modern style where the “new year” started on January 1. It’s 1746 in the old style where the new year started in in March. It’s not some other parenthetical notation, an abbreviation, or a stray mark or error. 

There’s more on the calendar change on this page from the Connecticut State Libray

Learn more about research, methods, and sources in Casefile Clues.