Named for Baptismal Sponsors or Not?

In some locations and time periods, naming children for the baptismal sponsor was common. Other times it was not.

When my grandmother and two of her siblings were christened as infants in 1915 at a Protestant church of German heritage in Illinois, all were named for their baptismal sponsors. In looking at other entries for the same church during the same time period, the practice was relatively common.

That was not the case when looking at the christening records of a German immigrant church in Nebraska (again, Protestant). My great-grandmother and several of her siblings were christened there in the 1880s–none of them had the same name as their sponsor (all were named for grandparents in this case). In looking at several pages of entries for the same time period–again, not just looking at entries for my family–naming the child for the sponsor (or using one of the sponsors’ name for one of the child’s names) was done, but was done in less than half the entries I looked at.

Practices regarding naming children for sponsors vary from one time and place to another. Look at other contemporary entries and see what they were doing. You can’t really know if something was a common practice unless you look at others in the same place and time.

One specific example of someone doing something does not mean it was a common practice.

Same Names Are Not Always Related

It can be tempting to think that individuals with the same last name are related to each other when they end up settling in the same area. That’s not necessarily true.

My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Habben. My maternal grandfather’s grandfather’s sisters both married men with the last name of Habben. They were from the same general area of Germany and some of them lived in the same area of Illinois for a time in the late 1800s. They were not related to each other at all.

It can be tempting when two individuals with a somewhat unusual last name live in proximity to each other to assume that they are related–that they have to be related. They do not have to be related. Sometimes names that are rare in one area are common in the location where the family is actually from (and where the last name originated).

It’s a good idea to research families that settle in the same area and share an unusual name. Just don’t force them to be related when there is no evidence of that connection.

Airing out the Heirs and Heirs-at-law

In the United States, when a person dies without a will state statute dictates who qualifies as an “heir-at-law” to the estate. Heirs-at-law are generally individuals who fall into certain classes of relatives based upon the family structure of the deceased.

It’s difficult to summarize certain concepts in a short tip and readers are encouraged to become familiar with the laws regarding intestate succession in the area and time period in which their ancestor lived, but here are some generalities that are typically true–in the absence of a valid will and testament:

  • if you know one heir-at-law is a descendant of the deceased, then other heirs-at-law (except for a potential spouse) are also descendants of the deceased;
  • if you know that an heir-at-law is a cousin of the deceased then other heirs-at-law are not children of the deceased.

Keep in mind that heirs-at-law are individuals who would inherit property from a deceased individual in the absence of a will. A deceased person can leave a valid last will and testament (or other valid legal documents) naming individuals as their legatees or beneficiaries. Legatees and beneficiaries do not have to be related to the deceased. An heir-at-law (sometimes styled as just an “heir”) is someone who can entitled to inherit property from a decedent when that decedent dies without leaving any valid legal documents indicating who is to receive that property.

Why the Date?

My paternal grandmother’s holiday cards from 1946 somehow got saved when other ones did not. The only reason I know this is because most of them are still in their original envelopes.

Except for the card on which my grandma’s sister wrote her a fairly long letter. My digital image of the card includes the name of the sender and the recipient along with what I believe to be the year the card was sent and my reasoning why.

The discussion of the year in the citation is brief and only focuses on information not in the card itself. The other time clues in the card are not mentioned in the citation because they are in the card:

  • The reference my aunt’s birthday suggests the card was written in the month of her birth–December.
  • The reference to my aunt’s girls coming back home for a visit suggests it was written after they moved to Chicago in the early 1940s.
  • The reference to Frank is likely a reference to Frank Micklin, my aunt’s son-in-law. It’s not clear here whether her was yet her son-in-law when this was written.
  • The reference to boys raising bantams suggests this letter was written when my Grandma’s sons would have been old enough to help raise them. Her youngest child was born in 1941.

If you estimate the date of something you’ve made a digital image of, consider including some of that reasoning on the image–particularly any date information not evident in the item itself.

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Can You Just Pick a Location?

Towns come and go. Names of places change. Different people identify a place with a different name. Catalogers unfamiliar with an area sometimes have a mind of their own.

I know exactly where the Immanuel Lutheran Church is south of Carthage in Hancock County, Illinois. I’ve been there many times. The church could be seen from where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived–in fact it’s in the background of the occasional picture. It is not located in any town. It’s been a country church since it’s founding in the late 1800s.

It really is closer to Bentley or Basco, Illinois, than it is to Carthage. Bentley is what the pastor wrote for the location of one of the early church books in the 1880s. Others (myself included) refer to it as being in Basco. Ancestry.com in it’s database of Lutheran church books refers to it as being in Carthage.

It’s sometimes referred to as the German church as that language was spoken there longer than it was spoken at the Lutheran church in Carthage. Occasionally it’s referred to as the “south church” due to it’s proximity to Carthage.

This church is not the only one whose “location” may change depending upon the time and who is describing it. Current genealogists who wish to avoid confusion, may wish to clarify the location of such places by using either GPS coordinates or indicating the township and section number.

Just remember that what you think may be two different things with the same name may just be one with different locations connected to it for one reason or another. And always take care when using any catalog or database of record images as a cataloger may have tagged a church or a cemetery to a location with which you do not necessarily associate it.

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Holiday Memory Reminder

No matter what you celebrate or do between now and the first part of 2023, remember that there is never a better time to record and preserve family memories than the present.

Asking about holiday traditions, typical foods, weather-related challenges, etc. are all good ways to get memories stirred. Consider asking:

  • Did anyone attend church during the holidays?
  • What food did a certain relative always bring?
  • What relative always arrived late?
  • What was a favorite gift you received?
  • Was there a year weather changed your holiday plans?
  • Was there a gift you wanted but never got?
  • Was there one person who always cooked the meal?
  • Was there one person who always insisted on performing a certain task?
  • etc.

The holidays can also be a good time to work on identifying photographs–even of ones not taken during the holidays.

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What Page Number are You Using?

Some records, particularly United States census records in the earlier part of the 19th century, have more than one set of page numbers. When creating citations, clearly indicate which set of page numbers you are using, for example:

  • stamped page number upper right
  • printed page number lower left

Because the page numbers can confuse some researchers, it is always advised to include additional citation information to assist in locating the record. For US census records, this would be the geographic information (state, county, township/village/enumeration district, etc.) and the household/dwelling number. The geographic information is necessary information anyway (since it tells you where the person was living), but it could also help someone else to locate the record again if the page number is “off” or confusing.

Some church records, particularly those kept in ledgers that were originally blank, have no page numbers. In these instances, other details are necessary to create the citation:

  • name of village/church
  • type of entry (baptism, marriage, funeral, etc.) as some records are sorted by the type of act
  • year of entry as some entries are sorted by year
  • anything else that helped you “get to it”

Digital image numbers and the like are helpful–to a point. They work as long as the other person has the same database access and the website hasn’t “reorganized” their materials. Some microfilm has image numbers as well. Always indicate where the number appears to come from–don’t just randomly include it. Random numbers without context are not helpful.

You can learn more about citation in:

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. Learn more about it.

$50 to Move Two Bodies in 1920

May be an image of text that says 'Oct. 23, 1920, By cash paid Charles A. Long, in full of expense for moving body of decedent and her husband, from Barnes Cemetery to Mo Sន Ridge Cemetery, incl ud ing digging graves at Moss Ridge Cemetery, 50.00 list of disbursements from-estate of Metha M.-Fecht, Final Report and Settlement, dated and filed October 1921; Hancock County, Illinois, Probate case file packets; Box 447.'

Periodic accountings and disbursements of estate administrators may tell you a great deal about your ancestor. The illustration from 1920 indicated that the deceased whose estate was being settled was moved (along with husband) to a nearby cemetery. The “move” was shortly after she had been buried in the original cemetery.

These accountings can clarify relationships (by documenting the actual amounts they received), provide details about how the family actually lived, give insight into the family’s financial status, and occasionally help to document when other individuals were alive.

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Not Everything Works for Everyone

Periodically I get emails from readers indicating “that didn’t work for me,” “that doesn’t work in England,” or “that doesn’t apply to my family.”

I understand that. Different locations are different. Different time periods are different. Different families are different. While there can be similarities from one location to another, one time period to another, and one family to another, details do matter. It’s hard for any suggestion to apply to ever situation.

Our suggestions are meant to get you thinking, to remind you of something, or to make you aware of something you did not already know. If it “doesn’t seem to apply to you,” ask yourself:

  • Is there something similar (a record or a legal process) for the time and place of my problem?
  • Is there something I may be overlooking?
  • Does this idea or approach not apply to my family at all and why does it not?
  • Have I reached out to others with similar problems to see if thy have suggestions that may be helpful?

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