What Have You Overlooked?

 On one of my wife’s families, I  didn’t bother to get the will of the ancestor. In fact, I never looked for it. The records weren’t microfilmed and I already knew “everything” about the family from other records. If there was a will, it wasn’t going to tell me anything I didn’t already know anyway.


The will was short–“everything to my wife.” The order probating the will mentioned all the heirs, including a child in a mental institution, complete with the institution’s name and address.

If possible, don’t leave records ignored because you “know everything.” There still may be clues in those materials.

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Look at the Act

When viewing anyone’s military pension, regardless of the war, look at the act under which he was applying. Look at what types of service qualified under the act, length of service, etc. If a widow is applying look at the act and see if it mentions length of time married, whether she could have married him after the war, etc. There may be clues about your ancestor hiding in the act under which the application was made.

How Speedy Was the Mail?

Ever wonder how fast the mail was one hundred years ago? There was a slight clue in an old pension file:

  • Letter dated 3 May 1907, Washington, DC–sent to West Point, Illinois.
  • Response to letter is dated 7 May 1907, West Point, Illinois.
  • Response received 9 May 1907, Washington DC.

The letter was a request for information in a pension file. There’s no guarantee of when anything was mailed and a date could easily be off, but the timeline was tighter than I thought it might be for 1907.

Just something to think about. Are there clues about the speed of mail in an old record you have?

Did They Have Relatives Already Here?

Descendants of James Rampley (1803-1884) insisted he was the only member of his family who came west to Illinois from Ohio. “No other family members came here” was what I was told.

James bought his first Illinois farm from a first cousin. His sons served in a Civil War unit with a near neighbor whose grandmother was a Rampley and another set of cousins lived about ten miles away. While the cousins ten miles away might not have been on James’ radar, he clearly knew about the others. The “no other family members” was not correct.

What the teller of the story might have meant was that no one in James’ immediate family of siblings settled near him. That was true. Always look for relatives in the new area where your ancestor settled, despite what the relatives today may insist is true.

All the Consideration I Need Is Your Love

If a deed of transfer for a piece of property or other item indicates that the only consideration is “love and affection,” there is a likely relationship between the seller and buyer on the property. In fact, it might not even be technically correct to refer to the grantee as as buyer. On these deeds the relationship among the parties is not always stated.

Similarly, if the amount of the consideration on a deed is a token amount, say a “dollar,” that also might be a clue as to a potential relationship between the individuals involved.

Deeds that say a “dollar and other valuable consideration” may be referring to a mortgage or other document also recorded on the property.

Check Out the Sponsors

If your immigrant ancestor was a member of a denomination that practiced infant baptism and you have not determined who the sponsors were for all of his or her children, you could be missing out. There’s a good chance that sponsors were somehow related to the parents and if the parents cannot be traced across the pond, perhaps the sponsors can.