A Life Estate

At the risk of oversimplifying, a “life estate” in property (generally a widow but not always) is the right to use the property and receive income from the property during the person’s lifetime. They do not have the right to bequeath the property to someone, to mortgage it,  or to sell it. Oftentimes a widow is given a “life estate” in a piece of property from her husband and in so doing, he specifies to whom it is to pass after her death.


Leave a Trail

When a researcher is “hot on the trail” of an elusive ancestor or relative, it is tempting to research as fast as possible to find the answers.

Avoid that.

Chances are the relative for whom you are looking is already dead, so time is not of the essence.

Leave a trail of exactly what records you looked at and, more importantly, why you looked at them. Do this as you are doing the research when it is all fresh in your mind. Failure to do so may leave you wondering later where there records were from or what made you connect them to the same person.


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Houses Renumbered?

If you are researching in an urban area, are you aware if the house numbers were changed at any point during your research time period?

Are the contemporary numbers different from what they were during the time your ancestor lived there?

Location matters.

And if you don’t have the answers to these questions, start with the reference section of the town/city library and go from there.


Always Check for a Divorce or Separation

Even if you think divorce “never happened in ‘our’ family,” check for one anyway.

It’s possible the couple divorced and no one in the family mentioned it. It is possible a divorce case was initiated and not completed. It’s possible that there was a court case for “separate maintenance” (where there’s no “divorce,” but the couple lives apart). In all three cases, the testimony and details in the court packets may be similar (particularly in terms of possibly providing a date and place of marriage). Children may or not be mentioned in these cases, particularly if they are of legal age.

And it’s possible that there was no court action of any type, but the couple maintained separate households. My great aunt and uncle did that until their deaths in the 1980s–living in houses directly across the street from each other.

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Create an Ancestral Resume

Most of us use chronologies in our ancestral research–consider making a resume for your ancestor. List what years he worked what jobs. Census and city directories are great ways to start getting this information, but death certifiates, obituaries, estate inventories, etc. all may give occupational clues.

Don’t pad your ancestral resume like you might your own. Stick to documentable facts (grin!).


Mother of How Many Children

The 1900 and 1910 US Census asks females the number of children they have had and how many of those children are living. These answers were not “backed up” by anything other than the respondent’s memory, but in many cases are accurate. Don’t forget to check for this information for any female relative living in the US during this time period.