Working Out and the Hard Road

“Grandma worked out as a young girl and when they bought their farm in the late 1930s it was on the ‘hard road.’ ”

Explain terms in your notes that may not be clear to someone else later. Grandma was not going to the gym when she “worked out” and most farms in the 1930s where they lived were not on paved roads–it was a big deal at the time.

She called it the “slab” too. Grandma babysat me when I was small and she’d warn me not to go out near the “slab.” My children had no idea what I meant. It was the state highway that ran in front of Grandma’s house.

Always make certain your terminology is clear and make certain that you understand terms in old records and newspapers that might not mean today what they did they.

When Searching Digital Newspaper Images

Aside from names that are spelled wrong, first names that are omitted, and names that are flat-out wrong, there are at least two other big reasons you may have difficulty finding a newspaper entry for your relative simply by querying a database:

  • the database of newspapers may be incomplete and
  • the original images are virtually impossible for OCR (optical character recognition) to recognize.

Browse the images to determine if there are gaps in the newspapers online at the site and look at some images from the time period in question to determine how legible. Some digital images of newspapers were made in the early days of microfilming and may be difficult for the computer to interpret.

You may have to read them manually and search them that way as well.

Alias Buried in the Legalities

James Chiaro is referenced twice in this estate document from Cook County, Illinois. In the initial mention of his name, he is simply James. In the second reference, buried in text that sometimes gets overlooked, was the name of his alias. Had it not been read, it would not have been noticed. This document was indexed at and the index only lists James. It does not list the alias of Vinenzio which is also given for him.

Proof of Death in Probate Records?

Depending upon the location and the time period, an individual’s probate file may have a “proof of death” statement or affidavit. The court wanted to know that the person whose estate was being probated was actually deceased. In other places there may be no such record and the best estimate of date of death is simply before the first date the individual is listed as “deceased” in the records.

Aunt Law

It took me forever to “realize” where the nickname probably came from. Some family members referred to my Aunt Luella as “Law.” I had known her by those names for so long that I never questioned it and never wondered where it came from. I just took as it was.

Until today. I was saying the name to myself for some reason or another and it dawned on me that the originator of the “Law” name probably said “Luella” in such a way that “law” was a part of it. I never heard it pronounced that way and didn’t say it that way myself.

Of course the reason I never heard anyone say “Lawella” or “Lawellaw” is because those people never said her full name. They called her “Law.”

Knowing the origination of her nickname is not crucial to my research–just a reminder that sometimes it takes a while for things to dawn on us. And that’s fine.

1850-1940 US Census Class

We are excited to offer this new class on using US census records. Virtually every US genealogist uses census records, but not everyone is aware of how those records can be maximized for what they do contain. There are limitations to these records, but there are advantages to them as well. If you’ve wondered if you are getting the most out of US census records, this class is for you.


This three-week session will look at US census records from 1850 through 1940. Topics discussed will include:

  • enumerator instructions and how information “got in the census”
  • organization of original records
  • working with family structure in 1850-1870 records
  • correlating a family’s census records over time
  • evaluating accuracy of census records
  • determining other records suggested by a family’s enumerations
  • crafting census citations

Our approach is laid-back, down-to-earth, and informal while providing accurate information and analysis.

Order here–intro price of $50 through 29 August. Regular price of $65 applies after that date. Download is immediate and media can be replayed for personal use only.

A Foreigner They Be

Do not assume that a reference to your relative as a “foreigner” means that they were from a different country. There are times and some records (eg. some town records in New England) where a reference to someone as a foreigner may simply indicate that they are from a different town or state. My uncle’s will was probated in Indiana in the 1980s and was needed to settle some property in Illinois where it was mentioned as a “foreign will.”

Post-Death Record Appearances?

Death records, probates, and obituaries are not the only place where your relative’s name could appear after their death. There are a variety of records and materials that could contain a reference to your ancestor–even if that ancestor was deceased. Barbara Haase had been dead for several years and her name was still appearing on tax rolls because her estate had not been settled. Newspapers may mention your relative’s name after their death for a variety of reasons. The estate of your dead relative could have been sued as well.

Your ancestor stops breathing when they die. References to them may continue for some time in certain records.

Legally It’s Confusing…

Legal documents are usually created in response to some event. Often that event is not stated in the document–try and determine what it is.

Legal documents use words that may be used on “common conversation” with a slightly different meaning. Make certain you are interpreting words in the legal sense not in the everyday language sense.

Legal documents are created in the context of contemporary law and contemporary legal practice. Try and determine what those are. What sufficed in 1719 might not be what suffices in 2019.

A Convenient Witness?

Sound genealogy methodology indicates that witnesses on documents should always be researched for a potential connection to the person for whom they are witnessing a document. That’s good advice. Just remember that not every witness had a connection to the person who actually was signing the document.

Samuel Neill became a citizen in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1880. A quick search of the 1880 census indicated that the witness on his naturalization was the county collector who apparently had no connection to Neill other than he was in the courthouse on the day Neill naturalized. Sometimes witnesses are simply other adults of legal age who were in the vicinity of your ancestor.