Clean Up Those Notes

Do your notes look like this? Scribbles on what looks to be an index card? Little things written down while you are madly clicking away on one genealogy website after another?

While it is great to make discoveries, try and include enough information so you know where you found the information and what your thought process was. The notes in the illustration are a little unclear and where the information was obtained isn’t indicated either. It’s fun to be “hot on the trail” of a connection, but include enough detail so that you can go back and locate the information again. In the illustration it would have been helpful to know where Ida was located in the 1940 and 1920 census even if a complete citation couldn’t be created at the time. The location of where the apparent marriage information to Smith and Anders would have been helpful as well.

Even a cursory citation will make it easier to determine if your three in the morning research was done correctly and nothing was overlooked. Tracking some of your thought process will also allow you to know if the caffeine that induced your research frenzy was a brand worth purchasing again or not.

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List of Names and Genders

Working with records in a foreign language presents difficulties–handwriting, terminology, and translation variations can challenge the researcher. Knowing the usual gender with which a name is associated can be difficult in some cases? As you discover what gender a certain name is typically paired with, keep a list. Sometimes it can be easy to get confused.

I know that Volke is typically female, Focke is usually male, Tjode is female, and Mimke is male, but for other areas I need to keep track–especially when it’s a new area with names that are unfamiliar to me.

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Projecting What It Will Say

Before you search for someone in a database, index, or set of original records, think about what that record will probably say about them, including:

  • name(s)
  • nicknames or diminutives
  • age or year of birth
  • place of birth (may not be very precise) and what “wrong locations” they may have given
  • location of the event
  • approximate date of the event
  • approximate location of the event
  • others who may be mentioned in the record (and similar details about them)

It may see like “if you know all that,” you wouldn’t need the record you are looking for. I understand that, but the process is more than just that. Part of this “what would the record look like” analysis is to help you formulate a search strategy for those who are difficult to find and to help you compare the located record with what you already know–keeping in mind that what you already know could be wrong.

Or it could be right.

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The Legal Won’t Tell You Everything

The legal description of your relative’s property won’t tell you everything about it. Locating it on a map (contemporary if possible, but those are not always available) may provide you with more details about the location. This map indicated that the timber claim filed by a relative was located along a channel of the Platte River in Dawson County, Nebraska. The Union Pacific Railway also ran through the property.

The legal description is helpful and important to have. It’s just not the only thing.

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James Rampley’s Estate Planning

Ancestral estate planning can create challenges for the genealogist.

At one point in the late 1860s James and Elizabeth Rampley owned several hundred acres in Hancock County, Illinois. One would think that by the time they passed away in the 1880s, there would be an estate settlement for one of them.

It was not to be.

James and Elizabeth sold all their real estate to their sons before they died. The deeds were of the “$1 and love and consideration” variety. No money really changed hands. On one deed, James and Elizabeth retained a life estate in a ten acre portion of the property they sold to one son and they were to remain “undisturbed” on that property for the duration. The deeds partially explained why James and Elizabeth had no probate–there was no real estate they owned at their death.

It’s probable that the family settled up the funeral expenses and other non-real estate financial issues after the surviving parent died. Elizabeth died a year before James and, given the time period, the lack of an estate settlement for her (since James survived) was not a surprise.

James effectively avoided any probate. I’m not certain how (or if) they provided for their one daughter as it was only the sons to whom they deeded property. It’s possible that they provided some financial assistance to their daughter upon her marriage.

But, just like today, sometimes our ancestors worked to avoid probate. Ask yourself if there are other records that they left behind instead.

Unless they died penniless and never had any money. Those people avoided probate as well–and I’ve got several of those in my tree as well.

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Reminders from Samuel’s Vermont Property

I located two property deeds where Samuel Sargent purchased property in Addison County, Vermont, in the 1830s. I thought I had looked in all the appropriate indexes and initially could not find where he sold the property. It’s worth noting that there might not necessarily have been any deed where he sold the property in a land deed. It may have been sold for back taxes (in which case he’s not the seller). It may have been foreclosed upon if he had a mortgage (in which case he’s not the seller). It may have been transferred in a will and not mentioned in a land deed specifically.

It was also possible that I overlooked it in the grantor index. That’s apparently what I did because two property deeds where Samuel sold the two parcels were located. It always pays to take a second look.

And Sargent is one of those names that sometimes has an “s” added to the end of it. That’s a good reminder to not get too serious about spelling, because the clerks often didn’t.

Locating the deeds was a good find. Unfortunately they didn’t help me tie Samuel to any other locations other than Addison County, Vermont, but it helps to complete my picture of him.

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Church of Convenience?

While this is not an actual denomination, the concept could easily apply to your ancestor’s worship practices and church attendance. Individuals who felt called to attend church may have attended whichever church was closest and whose practices and beliefs were relatively aligned with their own.

This is more likely to be true for those who lived in rural areas or on the frontier. The nearest congregation of the “right” denomination may have been in the next county and too far away for regular attendance. Your relative may have attended the Baptist church as a child and a Methodist church as an adult–maybe for reasons of geography as much as anything else.

Don’t assume that members of your “long time” Presbyterian family would never have attended a church of another denomination. Geography may have made that decision for them.

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A Personal Dictionary

Reading records in old script or a foreign language can be difficult. Reading just the item of interest is never advised. Looking at entries on the same page and on adjacent pages can give you insight into how the entries are typically structured. They can also help you in reading the entry in which you are really interested. Other entries may be more legible, have more words you can initially figure out, etc.

Keep track of those words and names and then use them to help you with the item of interest. This can be a particularly good technique if one priest with awful handwriting wrote entries for thirty years–during which your relatives reproduced, married, and died.

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Save the Envelopes

Don’t forget to save those old envelopes. Sometimes the addresses can be just as helpful as anything else. This is especially true if the letter does not contain any addresses or does not include complete names.

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What Offline Record Did You Get Last?

What was the last undigitized record you accessed?

Not everything is online.

Manuscript records can hold great clues–many which have been hiding for decades. It can be more difficult to access materials that have not been made available in digital format, but brick walls are sometimes “brick walls” because no one has gone beyond materials that are readily available.

There are many reasons for “brick walls,” but accessing as many materials as possible is one great way to reduced the number that you have.

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