We are offering a new section of our “US Land Records” class during April and May of 2020. Lectures are downloadable and can be viewed whenever. Discussions are online. Homework is optional. More details on our blog post.
When I’m stuck on a family, I ask myself:
am I sure I have found all the easy ones?
Sometimes I have and then the work is more difficult. But other times there are easier members of the family to find and sometimes finding those individuals can provide me with additional information to help find the others.
These “easy pickings” include:
- Individuals whose name is less likely to be spelled wrong in a census.
- Children in a census whose ages are less likely to be off .
- A relative who was better set financially and left more records.
- A relative who received a military pension.
- A relative who was in a different social class and left better records.
- A relative who lived longer when perhaps better records were kept.
- A relative who lived in an area that kept better records.
These approaches won’t always work. No approach always works. But it’s always good to ask if there’s a close relative to your “problem person” who might have left better records.
Not all homestead applications in the United States were successful. Part of the process of completing the homestead application was to post a public notice that the claim was nearing completion–and often that notice was published in the newspaper.
Homestead claims that were completed generated a land patent which transferred title to the claimant. Those patents are indexed on the Bureau of Land Management website (https://glorecords.blm.gov/ ). Claims that were not completed did not generate a patent and consequently do not appear in that website. Incomplete claims are generally not indexed. The incomplete files are at the National Archives and can contain significant information on your ancestor. One needs the location of where the property was located to obtain the incomplete claim records.
If the incomplete claim got to the point of requiring a notice to be published, the newspaper notice would contain the name of the claimant and the legal description of the property. This would allow the researcher to obtain a copy of the incomplete file.
Be careful “sorting” photographs that a deceased relative already had in separate envelopes or boxes. It can be tempting to organize them when you are beginning to identify them, but remember that re-sorting them may cause you to lose forever clues that were contained in that original sorting.
If the original envelopes and boxes are not preservable, store them in the same way you found them.
This old mailing envelope contained a whole cache of photos that were only partially identified. Fortunately most of them are individuals that I know. The envelope was one of several in my parents’ things. Every photo in the envelope was a relative of my paternal grandfather.
There’s a lot more to church attendance for some individuals besides being baptized, getting married, and having a funeral. Details in those other church records may provide the additional clues about your ancestor for which you are looking.
Some churches kept records of individuals who were confirmed, were able to receive their first communion, took communion in general (especially in those churches where frequent communion was not common), made donations, served in some church organization, etc. A church may have kept a family register that provided ecclesiastical information on members of the family, including where they were born or baptized, where they were confirmed, married, etc. Churches may have kept records of when individuals were received into membership.
They may also have kept records of those who were asked to leave the church or those who were point-blank told to leave. Sometimes those are the most interesting records of all.
Make certain you’ve searched all the records of that church–not just the records directly related to vital events in your relative’s life.
It is always advised to compare a record of your ancestor to others in the same series of records. How does the amount of detail compare? If the document is a death certificate, is it filed in the same time frame after the death as the others? If it is a handwritten baptismal entry is there something about it that is different from others? Whenever you are confused about a document, look at similar ones to get a reference point.
You can’t know what’s unusual if you don’t know what other ones look like.
Like this phone from my childhood. It sat on top of a box of toys in my Grandparents’ home for years. I thought they came with a red O. They don’t. Grandma painted it that way so I’d quit hitting it and getting mad when the operator popped out. The phone was different from others and there was a reason.
The differences in records are a little more important than trying to stop a two-year old from hitting the button on a red phone. Or maybe they aren’t any more important, But they are clues.
My parents are buried in the same cemetery in adjacent plots. I know where they are buried because I was there the day it happened. I am a source for that information.
Their death certificates are not.
Their death certificates give a date of burial, but the place of burial is only as specific as the township. They do not provide the name of the cemetery. So if I’m creating a citation to a record or reason as to how I know they are buried in the cemetery where they are buried, I cannot use the death certificate. I can use my knowledge. I can use the tombstone (even though we all know that tombstones are not always 100% evidence someone is buried in a cemetery). I can use the obituary which also provides that information. Not all these sources are always equally reliable. But they do state the name of the cemetery specifically and so I could cite them because that is what they say.
But the death certificate cannot be used as a source for the specific place of burial. In this case, it can only be used to source the township of burial and not the cemetery.
If a record does not state something, do not cite it for that statement.
Sometimes the best pictures don’t always show the faces of the people in them. They tell a story without really letting us know what the individuals actually looked like.
And sometimes the documents that provide the biggest piece of genealogical information don’t always make any blunt, in-your-face, direct statements. A man purchases property in his own name in 1821, suggesting he was born by at least 1800. A man sells property in Massachusetts in 1780 and buried in the metes and bounds legal description is a reference to his mother (without stating her relationship), along with her new married name. An estate inventory in Illinois references income from a mortgage in Kentucky and researching that mortgage leads to major discoveries on the family.
Never overlook a reference because “it doesn’t show me what I want to know.” There may be an even bigger clue hiding–if you only look for it.
Just like this picture reminded me that Grandma Neill always wanted to make certain everyone got enough to eat.
Some things about your ancestor remain the same: where they were born, who their parents were, where they died, etc. It may be difficult or impossible to determine these things, but they are facts about your relative that don’t change–even if our knowledge about them does.
Religion is one of those things that can change over time. While your own personal faith system or denomination may remain constant for your entire life, your ancestor may not have been the same. She may have been raised in one denomination, married and spent a good portion of her child rearing years in another, and died while a member of another faith.
For this reason it is advised to search records of more than one denomination in your search for an ancestor. Their faith may have been strong, but your ancestor may have spent the first fifty years of their life a Lutheran only to attend a Presbyterian church and be buried from one.
Change for the sake of change is just change.
Change with a purpose is a separate matter entirely.
What new skill have you learned to help you with your genealogical research? Is there a software program that might help you to organize your genealogical information? Do you know as much about legal terminology as you should? Are you familiar enough with land descriptions to interpret them reasonably well (particularly helpful if your ancestors were landowning farmers)?
Do you know how to make charts and tables in your word processor well enough so that you can use them to organize pieces of information that are confusing?
Don’t be afraid to learn something new. It may help you with more than just your research.