Followed Directions?

The clerk, enumerator, or records official may not have followed the directions they were given.

The 1950 US census instructions indicate that individuals born in a hospital outside of the state in which their parent resided at the time of their birth should be listed with a place of birth of where the parents were living.

Based on those instructions, my parents (whose parents lived in Illinois, but whose nearest hospital was in Iowa) should have had Illinois listed as their place of birth in the 1950 census. Their place of birth is listed as Iowa.

Sometimes directions are not followed.

Local Records Maintained at the State Level?

One can be tempted to think that records created at the county level (land records, court records, probate records, etc.) are always maintained at the county level. In some states, counties that find themselves unable to maintain their older records are encouraged (if not required) to turn them over to a state agency for safe keeping, retention, and preservation.

Do you know what the policy is in the state in which your ancestor lived? Have you looked recently at websites of state archives to see what records they have other than those that were created by state agencies?

No Guarantees

There are no guaranteed results with any genealogical research. No one can guarantee to find something unless they already know it is there. No one can guarantee to solve a genealogical problem unless they already know the answer to it.

All a researcher can guarantee is that they will research the records to the best of their ability and accurately report their findings. Of course when one hires a researcher, they want to hire someone who has experience in searching the records; is familiar with how the records were created, organized, and maintained; and is skilled in their interpretation and analysis.

Avoiding Writing a Novel

The extant records indicate my ancestor left his farm to his wife as a life estate with the property to be split among their children at her demise. She wrote a will giving her son all “her property.” That will was denied probate as she did not have actual title to the farm.

It would be easy to create a little family drama based on the extant records. It’s wise to avoid that temptation and stick to what is in the records: his bequest to his wife prevented her from selling/transferring the property herself, it was to go to their children after her demise, and she wrote a will attempting to give the farm to one of her children.

The ancestor wanted to make certain his wife got use of the farm for the duration of her life and that his children got it afterwards. His precise motivation is lost to history. It’s possible he was concerned about her marrying someone else after her [correction: his] death. It’s possible he was concerned about her selling the farm or giving the entire farm to one child. It’s possible that there was someone he didn’t trust to do things the way he wanted.

But what I have is what is in the records.

1880 Agricultural Census Asks About Tenure

Among the questions the 1880 US agricultural census asks are ones about farm tenure. This section of the census includes whether the farm is conducted by the owner or a renter (who either rents for a fixed amount of a share of produce).

The 1880 US agriculture census and other Federal non-population census schedules are online at FamilySearch and other websites.

How Covered are Those Years?

Many databases will be titled something like “Blah Blah Records of Blah Blah: 1800-1900.” Always try and determine just years are really included in the database. It could be that the “Blah Blah Records of Blah Blah: 1800-1900” actually only contains entries for:

  • 1800-1820
  • 1845
  • 1860-1880
  • 1890-1900

Read the “more about,” “FAQ,” or whatever they call it to determine just how complete the database is. If necessary, browse the records to determine the time periods that are actually included in the database.

The Blah Blah database includes records between 1800 and 1900, but there are gaps. And of course, your person of interest lived in the area from 1830 until 1840…and his grandson lived there from 1892-1898.

Was there a Border Tweaking?

Remember that even after counties are “formed” and fairly settled, county boundaries can change. A change between two Kentucky counties well after each was formed transferred several square miles from one to the other. Not a large part of either county.

But just enough to make my ancestor’s farm go from being in one county to being in another.

And causing land records to start being recorded in the “new” county.

But the Law Said…

The law matters in genealogical research. Many genealogical conclusions and research approaches are based upon what laws were in effect when our ancestors were living in a certain time and place.

There are those occasional times when the law is ignored for one reason or another. But before you decide your ancestor (or your family) was ignoring or skirting the law, ask yourself, “how plausible is it that my ancestor could get away with this?”

It’s one thing to get married a few years before being of legal age. It’s possible, but perhaps slightly more difficult, to marry when you’ve got a spouse and five children living in the same county where you are marrying again. It’s difficult to leave two siblings out of your parent’s estate when they died intestate and live in the same county (it’s one thing to abscond with some of mother’s good china, it’s more difficult to sell the farm in an intestate probate without getting all the heirs to sign off on the deed).

It’s one thing to make illegal moonshine for thirty years. It’s another to get a military pension when you did not serve or were a “widow” who was not married to the veteran.

Before you think your ancestor skirted the law, give a hard think to how easy it was to do that.

When Can a Divorced Person Remarry?

State statute may have indicated that a divorced person wait a set amount of time before getting married again. That time frame can vary.

A divorced person may have had to wait a year to marry again. The amount of time may have been different if the grounds of divorce were adultery and the divorced person was marrying the person with whom they committed the adultery mentioned in the divorce.

Contemporary state statues will indicate what limitations there were on a person’s ability to marry again after a divorce.

Not That Name

Was there a name that family members refused to use for one reason or another? Was there a nickname that a parent was opposed to a child using? Have you tracked that information in your genealogy records and (if possible) the reason behind it?

I’ve written elsewhere about why name which was originally supposed to be John Michael became Michael John and know that others have to have similar stories.

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