Familiarize Yourself with the Records First

I first worked on my children’s Belgian ancestors years ago. When using the vital records from the 19th century, I used them the way I had other European records from the same time span. I looked in the “book” for and read through the entries for the years I thought included the person’s birth date. Then, if I had the correct person and had the names of the parents, I scanned the years before and after the birth to locate siblings.

Imagine my surprise when I found indexes interspersed in the records. I had never encountered those before. While indexes are not perfect, they would have saved me a great deal of time. 
Moral-the first time you use any “new” record, familiarize yourself with the whole thing first, don’t assume that it is like every other one you have ever used. 


Tax Sales Are Not Indexed in Deed Books by “Owner”

Tax sales of real property get recorded with other land deeds in the appropriate local office (usually the county recorder, but not always). However using the grantor and grantee indexes to land records will not locate these deeds.

That’s because the grantor on the tax deed usually is not the owner who failed to pay their taxes. It’s often the county sheriff or another county official. The person who did not pay taxes and had the property taken from him because of that is not the owner. That’s why they are not the grantor on the property–they don’t have the title to transfer.

The deed will be in the grantee index under the name of the purchaser of the property. That’s another name the researcher probably does not know. There is one place to search in the local records for the name of the property owner whose property was sold for non-payment of taxes: local court records. They may appear in a lawsuit as a defendant in the legal action that took place before the property was actually sold for non-payment.

Their name may also appear in newspaper notices as well.


What’s the Record Format?

Foreign language records present difficulties for researchers. That difficulty is compounded when the records are written in ledger format and there are not columns to guide in the reading and interpretation of the record. This baptismal record from 1798 was different (at least to me) than others I had recently used in other locations. The name of the father was underlined and was the “focus” of the entry–not the name of the child. If I had not really read the entries and concluded that the underlined name was the name of the child, I might have missed this entry.

Just because other entries in other records I used highlighted the name of the child does not mean every location does. It’s good not to make assumptions about records when one crosses cultural, political, or chronological lines. It’s also good to know the general format of record entries when they appear in this ledger format. Otherwise it can be easy to miss a record or interpret it incorrectly.

Learn more about transcribing genealogical documents in German with
Katherine Schober ‘s transcription book–see our brief review of her Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting.


As You Find Things…

It is great to make discoveries and locate new details about your relatives. But make notes as you go along. Transcribe as you go along. Record things as you go along.

You won’t remember where you found what. You won’t remember what you found. You’ll do the same thing more than once and have duplicate copies of the exact same record.

And you’ll waste time.


Could the Child Choose the Guardian?

In some locations, when a child for whom a guardian had been appointed reached a certain age, they could choose their own guardian. That age was often fourteen. The guardianship papers don’t need to say the relationship, but they sometimes do. This fourteen year old, Abigail Daby chose her brother (Joseph Clark–with relationship stated) to be her guardian in 1746/1747 in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.


Probate Laws

Laws regarding probate and inheritance generally are a state responsibility. Consequently what’s true about inheritance and the probate process can vary from one state to another and over time. Contemporary state statute may help in interpreting some probate records and documents.


Tracking the Wrong Ones

I’m trying to find a man enumerated in an 1860 census as Philip Pipher. He may be the brother of Barbara Haase who is enumerated in Hancock County, Illinois, with her husband Conrad. Philip’s last name may actually be Siefert or some rendition of it as that was Barbara’s maiden name.

The places of birth for these individuals in this 1860 enumeration are to be taken with a grain of salt. The children 12 and under all are known to have been born in Illinois, so it’s possible that other places of birth are incorrect as well.

My attempts to find him needs to include an eliminated list of individuals who are named Philip Pipher/Siefert (or reasonable variants) and can’t be him. Creating this list requires me to use what I know about this Philip as a guide to elimination. He’s living in a certain spot in 1860 and is listed with a specific place of birth and an occupation. This means he’s probably not a man named Philip Siefert living in Chicago in 1860 as a lawyer. He’s probably not a 25 year old living in Kansas in 1875. My chart also needs to include why I’ve eliminated that Philip as being this person. Examples might include any detail that’s significantly inconsistent with what’s stated about this individual–admitting that any fact could be incorrect.

If I keep track of the ones I have eliminated and why, then I don’t waste time researching them again. Or if what I “know” about Philip changes, I can go back and review them and see if they still don’t match. But if I don’t track these failed-to-be-my-Philips, I can’t do that.

And I need to remember that this Philip may not even be a relative to the Haases at all. But I won’t know if I don’t look and track those searches and results effectively.


What Rule Did They Break?

I spent some time looking for an immigrant relative who came to the United States in the 1880s after her husband died. Several things combined to make her difficult to find, including:

  • She changed her first name. Many from her area of origin anglicized their name by directly translating it or by using a name with the same first letter. Not her. She picked something seemingly random and totally different.
  • She married again in the new area where she settled. The problem was that I didn’t know where this was or that she changed her first name.
  • She immigrated under her maiden name. Took me a while to find that.

She really didn’t “break any rules.” She either did things in a slightly unusual fashion or acted in ways that didn’t coincide with my assumptions about her. Which is why it is often good to get away from our assumptions about the subjects of our research whenever possible.

And look for extended family in hopes of finding the person of interest. That’s how this woman was finally located.


Review Those Unvisited Families

It never hurts to go back and review those families that you have not worked on in some time. An ancestor was used as an example in a seminar I gave over the weekend and while reviewing my notes, I realized that it had been some time since I had made a serious attempt to document the children and grandchildren of her second oldest daughter. It’s time. In doing so, I may learn more about the ancestor we share, but there’s more than that. I might:

  • discover relatives who have information or family ephemera that I do not;
  • get names to help me sort my DNA matches that are “unknown.”
  • connect to a new relative who is interested in genealogy.

Time to get back to work on Aunt Louise.