Those “Boring” Bills Can Shed Light

Reading through every bill paid by your ancestor’s executor or administrator might seem as fun as watching paint dry, but I learned:

  • My great-grandfather was paid $2 in 1918 for setting posts on his deceased father’s farm
  • My great-grandfather was paid $3 for hauling manure on his father’s farm
  • The fire insurance on the farm in 1918 was $32.50
  • A phone call made by the executor from Tioga, Illinois, to Carthage, Illinois, cost 20 cents–no mention of how long the phone call was. 
Looking at the chronology and to whom the phone call was made, it’s pretty clear the executor was calling the loan officer at the bank to inquire about the mortgage payment.
All from a look at the estate accounting. Interesting stuff. 

Could Married Women Make Wills?

There was a time when in many states, married women could not make wills. If a female ancestor makes a will that is later proven in a probate court to be valid, determine what the law was in the state when she wrote the will. It could be a clue that her husband was dead at the time the will was written–depending upon the state statute in effect at the time the will was written.

Can You Go Back Any Further?

There are some points, in some places, some ancestors have been researched as far back as possible. If there are no earlier records it may just be that you have reached the end of the line. If there are no records, research is somewhat difficult.

Make certain you’ve learned all you can about other ancestors in that same lineage–and the extended family as well. There’s probably research you can do, but extending the lineage further back in time may be impossible.

Heirs and Assigns Forever

Ever wonder what the phrase “heirs and assigns forever” meant on an old deed? The intent of the phrase was to convey to the grantee a fee simple title, meaning that the grantee was able to keep, mortgage, sell, or bequeath the land as he or she saw fit. This type of ownership was different from a life estate, which is where the grantee only has use of the property during their lifetime.

What Are You Trusting to Memory?

The great thing about re-reading material or records is that one realizes how easy it is to remember things incorrectly. Are you making a research  decision (particularly online late at night, or while researching in those last minutes in a library) based upon what you “think” a record says? Relying on our memory can be a big mistake.

We often realize that great-grandma might not have remembered things correctly when the census taker arrived. Can we expect her great-grandchild to be any better?

Minors Choosing Their Guardians

In most US states, minors over the age of 14, could usually choose their guardian, subject to the approval of the court. If you see your ancestor choosing his guardian, it probably means he or she was over the age of 14, even if the record does not state that fact. You should check the contemporary state statute to be completely certain.

Maintaining Themselves Separately?

Your great-great-grandparents may have decided to live separately without ever divorcing because “we don’t believe in divorce, but can’t live together either.”

In cases like this, there won’t be divorce records, but it is possible that a court action for “separate maintenance” might have been filed. This would have kept the couple “married,” but contain information similar to a divorce.

Couples might also have lived separately without any type of court record or agreement. I had an uncle who lived on the farm while his wife lived in town and an aunt who lived across the street in a separate home from her husband. Her home did not have indoor plumbing–his did. When he would go to a nearby larger town to run errands, she’d go across the street to his home just to use the indoor restroom.

Census records and city directories may hint at these separate living arrangements without providing specifics.

Even Ads Can Be Clues

Don’t forget that ads in newspapers, yearbooks, etc. can also be clues. They may provide information about your ancestor’s residence, occupation, or even affiliations. A 1925 yearbook in Chicago contained an advertisement from a relative (well beyond high school age) that showed his occupation and where his business was located. Too bad there wasn’t a picture.

Got All Those Sibling Obituaries

I’m trying to track the movements of a relative who lived in both Chicago and upstate New York between 1900 and his death in about 1935.

Fortunately he had over a dozen siblings who survived to adulthood, many of whom he survived. The next step in my research is to track down obituaries for these siblings and see where it says he is living–assuming he is listed as a survivor.