Invalid Will Recorded?

Even if your ancestor’s estate was intestate (without a valid will), the probate records could contain a copy of will that was refused probate by the court. While that will was unprobated, it still could provide good genealogical clues and reading it may tell you it was not allowed to go through probate.

If there was a separate court case over the will it may be filed with non-probate court records in the county where the estate was administrated.

A Witness is..

A witness to a document is simply indicating that they saw you sign the document and that they believe you are who you say you are. They are not saying anything about what is in the document. They do not have to be related to you in any way.

Witnesses to wills cannot be beneficiaries to the will and need to be old enough to execute their own legal documents (meaning of age and of sound mind).

Employment Records

If your ancestor worked for a company, there may be a record out there that could help you in your family history research. Those of us who have generations of farming ancestors or otherwise self-employed family members have to rely on whatever materials our relatives left behind–and those are often minimal. However, if your ancestor worked for a large employer, it’s possible records are sitting around somewhere.

Employment records for your ancestor can provide significant information on your relative, perhaps brief biographical data, citizenship status, address, etc. The difficulties with these records are that they were not always retained long term by the company, may have been destroyed when the company closed (was sold, went bankrupt, etc.), and are not public records. If you find them, you may be surprised at the amount of detailed information they contain. Some places to start looking and asking about the availability of these records include:

  • local historical or genealogical societies,
  • local libraries,
  • regional libraries,
  • the company itself (do they have an archives?).

Google searches for “myancestorsemployer business records,” “myancestorsemployer company records,” etc. may also be helpful.

Keep in mind that a company’s employment records are not public records and that access to these materials may be limited or not allowed at all.

More than One Way to Read That?

“I had a large client report.”

The report, or more accurately the client report, was what was large–not the client themselves. In this case, it is probably pretty clear that the word “large” does not refer to the client themselves. But ask yourself when reading any statement: is there another way to read that? Is there a different interpretation that is reasonable?

Don’t get stuck on your first interpretation of a word, phrase, or sentence. Some items genealogists use are poorly edited for clarity, particularly 19th century county histories, “mug books” of biographies submitted by family members, and more newspapers than one may care to admit. If that’s the case, references to certain items may be ambiguous.

Always ask yourself: Is there another reasonable way to interpret this?

Write Down All You Know

Write down everything you think you know about a specific ancestor. Do not refer to anything other than what is in your mind. Include birth, death, marriage information, likely educational level, religion, occupation, how often the person moved, etc.

When you are done, see what pieces of information you can find in actual records or “reliable” sources. Those other pieces of information about your ancestor for which you have no source may not be true, could be partially true, or completely incorrect.

But if you have those pieces of information “in your head” while searching for your ancestor, they could be impacting how you search, what types of records you look for, etc.

And that could be hindering your research.

What Was Their Mobility Tolerance?

Some families move more frequently than others. That can be a difficult concept to grasp for researchers who still live in the same area where all their great-grandparents did. The bigger problem is making certain that the same people have actually been located in different locations and that the researcher is not assuming they have the same person (or family) without more than just a hunch.

Making certain ages, places of birth, and other identifying characteristics are reasonably consistent is one way to reduce the chance of making an incorrect identification. Researching as thoroughly as possible is another way to be more certain that two people in records hundreds of miles apart are actually the same person. The more items that are located in each of the geographically separated regions, the higher the chance that one record explicitly connects the two individuals.

Who Gave the Information?

Some documents indicate who provided the information contained in the document. Other documents do not. Even documents that have an “informant” may actually have had several different people who actually provided the information.

How likely was the informant to actually know the information they provided for the document? Where would the informant have obtained the information they provided for the document? Was there any penalty for lying? Was there any reason to lie on the document?

Just because a person could have lied or given incorrect information on a record does not mean that they did. It just means that the potential is there.

When You Can Read Part of It

If a name is partially legible in a document or record, it can be difficult to find a list of names that “it could be.” One way to potentially get a list is to search a database for those known letters using a wildcard search. If a maiden name in a church marriage register looks like Tr[letters]t[letters]n, search for Tr*t*n in databases that contain name from the same general area where the name you are unable to read comes from.

Using databases on, FamilySearch, etc. are great ones because if the record set is a large one, you are pulling from a large group of names. When performing searches of this type, search specific databases. If the name is of German origin, focus on databases from that area. If it’s English, use indexes to English parish records or other English materials.