Was there a 19th Century Epidemic?

Your ancestor–perhaps more than one–may have perished in a 19th century epidemic. Cholera and other illnesses could sweep through an area, wrecking devastation in a very short matter of time. The difficulty now can be in learning about these past outbreaks.

Local newspapers and county histories are two places to start looking for this type of information. If the time period is right, one can look through old death certificates one after the other to see the cause of death.

Academic articles in a variety of journals (historical, sociological, medical, etc.) may also mention earlier epidemics. Readers without home access to materials of this type may wish to see if they can access academic journals though their local library. Some academic studies may be online and located through an internet search–that’s where one on Indiana was located. Annual reports of state boards of health (if they existed) may mention epidemics as well. These items may be on GoogleBooks as was this 1880-1881 report from Illinois was.

An article on the Library of Congress website, “Cartography of Contagion” may be of interest as well.

All Those Siblings Deaths

If the time period and location is right, make certain you have accessed the death certificates for all of your ancestors’ siblings. I can think of two female ancestors for whom no death certificate can be located. In fact, I don’t even know when or where they died.

But I do know the names of some of their siblings. In one case the death certificates gave me parental information to work from–although it turned out the siblings were half-siblings and not full ones. In the other case, the death certificate gave a more accurate rendering of the mother’s maiden name.

It’s especially important to keep this in mind if your ancestor died in a state that wasn’t recording vital records when they died. It’s possible their siblings died at a place and time when these items were being recorded.

Cull Your Digital Images and Photographs

There was a time when photographs were taken carefully and with planning. Film cost money. Development took time. Prints cost money. Pictures were not seen until they were printed.

Times are different today. Many of take picture after picture with digital cameras and phones. Even if you back up all those images to the cloud “for future generations,” will anyone want to go through all those pictures if there’s ten or more of every pose? Some of us may take twenty quick pictures hoping to get one good one…without ever erasing the ones that are not so good.

If someone after your demise has access to your digital images will they want to go through all of them? Why not erase the duplicates, the similar ones, and keep the best ones for permanent back up after your demise?

It’s bad enough going through all my vacation slides of my grandparents. I cannot imagine going through all the images if digital photography had been around.

Choose what is worth preserving and cull the rest.

Are they Co-workers and not Relatives?

Those old photographs you have may not just be of family members and friends. The individuals pictured could have been co-workers as well.

The 1970s picture in the illustration was (to me) clearly my Mom and her fellow teachers. Sometimes the determination is not so easy. What’s worth remembering is that not everyone you have a picture of is a relative. Co-workers and classmates may easily appear in pictures you have. And occasionally the random person.

But if you discover work-related photos, considering sharing them. Someone else may be glad you did.

“My Heirs and Assigns”

Many legal documents use the phrase “my heirs and assigns.” There is a difference between those two categories of individuals.

My heirs are those individuals who legally will inherit my property if I leave no legal document (such as a will) giving that property to someone else. My assigns are individuals to whom I have assigned property via a legal document that I have signed.

If person A dies having only had one child (call them B) and that child survived him, then that child is his heir (will or not). B’s children are not person A’s heirs when A dies as long as B is alive. A could easily, via a legal document, assign or give their property to B’s children–making those grandchildren their “assigns.” B would still be the heir to whatever property had not been assigned.

Would the Lost have Inherited?

Was that relative you cannot find an heir to any other relative? If so, have you looked into that relative’s probate or estate file to see if the missing relative is mentioned?

A cousin of my great-grandmother disappeared in the 1920s. His brother died without children in the late 1940s without a will. For that brother’s estate to be settled, the missing brother had to be addressed. While the missing brother could not be found, the court record mentioned when the missing brother was last seen; discussed the search attempts made to locate him; and declared him legally dead so the estate could be settled.

In that case, the court record did not provide the location I was looking for, but there have been others where “missing” relatives came out of the woodwork or were located when there was an estate settled in which they had an interest.

Take a Break

If that one ancestor or family is “giving you fits,” consider taking a break and working on a completely different set of people. Banging your head against a wall is not likely to solve your problem and coming back with a fresh perspective may be what’s needed.

And actually getting something done can be motivation as well…even if it is not the project you’ve been working on for some time.

Reminder: Preserve What’s Unique

If you are debating what to preserve, focus initially on those items that are unique: memories of family members, photographs, family letters, diaries, and the like.

Other items, particularly ones that were published, likely are in other locations. But what’s in someone’s mind or only in your attic or closet is what you should focus on.

The Uncles and Aunts With No Descendants

Sometimes it can be easy to overlook those relatives who left no descendants of their own. They also have their stories to tell and those stories are just as important as those of relatives who left families of their own.

A 1908 horse accident left Mary Trautvetter with her legs broken in three places, a broken arm, and other injuries.  Her sister, Anna, was injured as well–but not as severely.

It’s possible that the injuries from the accident impacted Mary for the rest of her life.

Mary never married. Her sister Anna (Trautvetter) McMahon died in the 1920s and Mary raised Anna’s daughter who was left orphaned by the death of both her parents. Mary died in 1962 and is buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois.

Have you documented those relatives who left no descendants?