At the risk of oversimplifying, a “life estate” in property (generally given to a widow in her husband’s will, but there are other situations where this happens as well) is the right to use the property and receive income from the property during the person’s lifetime. They do not have the right to bequeath the property to someone or to sell it. Oftentimes a widow is given a “life estate” in a piece of property from her husband and in so doing, he specifies to whom it is to pass after her death.
Don’t neglect land records if your city-dwelling ancestor was a property owner. Deeds to settle up an estate or transactions completed after your ancestor moved to a new location can be particularly helpful, but any deed can contain “new to you” information. Deeds for my children’s early 19th century Boston ancestors contained the occupation of the grantor and grantee.
When first communicating with a newly discovered cousin, try not to overwhelm them with information, particularly all the details of family scandals. For someone whose interest in family history is just developing, too much information may intimidate them and too many scandalous details may push some people away. I’m not suggesting keeping secrets, just take it slowly. And you may be surprised–sometimes those new cousins already know all the family skeletons.
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