Those 1850 and 1860 US Census Property Values

If your relative has property values in the 1850 and 1860 census, analyze them in context–not in isolation. The only thing the value tells you by itself is that the relative owned property. Context matters.

How does their property value compare to that of their neighbors in both these enumerations? By what percentage does their property value change from one enumeration to the next? Does this same change seem to be taking place with their neighbors as well?

An increase in property value could mean more property was acquired, property values in that area went up in general, or improvements were made on the property. A decrease may mean property values declined or property was sold.

No matter the value of real property listed in the census, locate local land records to determine how the property was acquired, whether more property was purchased or sold between the 1850 and 1860 census, and how the property left your relative’s ownership.

That value was more than just a number.

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Those Vague Relationships

The title of this post may conjure up memories of a college roommate you have not seen in years.

It’s about those relationships given in documents or records that can be interpreted in one of many ways. Sister-in-law or brother-in-law are two of those relationships. I have a sister-in-law who is my brother’s wife and another sister-in-law who is my wife’s sister. Had my wife’s brother married, his wife would also have been my sister-in-law. Keep in mind that for some relationships, “in-law” or “step” may never be used when describing the relationship. Individuals may be referred to as “nephews” whether they are biological or related by marriage.

And of course the difference matters to a genealogist and when analyzing DNA matches or those individuals who “fail to match.”

When the phrase used to describe the relationship is vague, consider all the possibilities.

DNA Generations Removed

Success with the DNA aspect of your genealogical research will be enhanced if more relatives are also tested. It can sometimes be difficult to get other family members to test and it is best to take a “soft and gentle” approach when trying to convince others to test.

Prioritizing those you should ask and those you should test is also important. Generally speaking it is older family members and ones who might not be around as long as you would like. Another factor to consider is how many generations the testee is from the ancestor on whom you are really stuck. If your great-great-grandparents are the problem and your parents and their siblings are deceased, do those great-great-grandparents have any great-grandchildren who are still living? They may even be from a branch of the family with whom you are not close, but their closer relationship to the “problem people” may give them more of the missing ancestor’s DNA to help with your problem. They are probably a better person to test than your own sibling given their closer relationship to the “problem person” on whom you are stuck.

You Don’t Need Every Rabbit Hole or to Find Kevin Bacon

There are times when the methodology of tracking all the friends, associates, and neighbors can be taken a bit too far. It’s always important to keep perspective in mind and to think about interactions with people in our own lives when researching those whose lifespan preceded our own.

The witness who appears on several deeds my ancestor signed? That’s someone I probably should research a little further to determine what (if any) the connection is to my ancestor. The lawyer who draws up his last will and testament or writes a few deeds for him? That’s someone whose background I should research, but I probably would not research the lawyer as closely as the repeating witness. Think about your own documents and records and how people from your life come to also appear in those records. Witnesses who appear on only one document your relative signs could have been witnesses of convenience, much like the assistant in a legal office who may have been the witness on your own will.

It’s probably not necessary for me to extensively research the 1900 landlord of the man who appears in my ancestor’s life once as a notary on a statement he makes when he naturalizes in 1935. It would make more sense to see where that notary worked and lived in the 1935 era–particularly if I do not know where the relative was living at that point in time.

Ask yourself, “what chance is there that information on this person gives me some good ‘background information’ to help me trace my relative?”

Remember genealogical research is not the same as “six degrees of separation” or the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

What Could I Be Missing?

One problem-solving approach I like to use is to constantly ask myself “what could I be missing?”

That’s an intentionally broad question and does cover a lot of ground.

Do I really have every document on this person? Is there a relative I’ve overlooked? Is there a detail I do not understand in this record? Did I get everything in the file or record?

Is there something I think I understand that I do not?

And so it goes.

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Don’t Neglect the Women

There is no doubt that in local records throughout much of American history women do not appear as often as men. Genealogists know that an American women who dies before the twentieth century is more likely to have an estate settlement if her husband died before her.

But it is a mistake to assume that a woman would never appear in a court or land record in the United States before the twentieth century. While divorce was less common, it did happen. There were women who, for one reason or another, had separate property and occasionally appeared in a court record or a land record because of it.

Failing to search for that female relative in court and land records “because I have not found one yet,” means that you won’t find those who are there.

Were They Moving, Moving, Moving?

An ancestor of mine has children who were born in Canada, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He and his family got around.

Never assume that your ancestor did not move. Just because he was in a specific location in 1850 and 1860 does not mean that he was there in 1855. One of my wife’s ancestral families was in Illinois in every census after 1860, but spent two years in Pennsylvania and a year in England after that. Both of these residences took place in off census years and the family was “back” in Illinois for the next enumeration.

Some city and town dwellers who rented their home may have moved frequently as well. They may have stayed in the same general neighborhood or maybe not. The same applies to rural individuals who may have moved from one small town to another.

Check out Genealogy Tip of the Day book version for other tips and questions you should ask yourself about your research.

Those With No Children–Who Gave the Data?

Tracking down those aunts and uncles who had no descendants is advised because it helps give the researcher a complete picture of the entire family and it helps all members of the family to be remembered. Those are excellent reasons. But there’s another reason.

Some record on that relative with no children of their own could provide information on those relatives you can’t find out more about. This 1980 death certificate for my aunt listed a sister-in-law as the informant–complete with residential address in 1980. Had I been unable to track her down, the reference would have been extremely helpful.

Any record on that relative with no descendants could tell you more about your relative’s life. It could also provide information on other family members as well.

The drawback is that sometimes death certificates on these relatives only have “hospital records” as the informant. But you will not know until you look.

Getting Around Between Census Years

I’m working on a family between the 1900 and 1930 time frame. While we often rely on the decennial federal census records to give us a scaffold on which to build research plans, it’s worth reminding ourselves that a great deal can happen in the years between one census and the next.

In the case of this family, I suspect that the man and woman who married in 1908 were divorced or separated by the date of the 1910 census. It appears that the wife did marry again but she used her maiden name when doing so. That made locating the marriage all the more difficult. All the creative searching for her under the name of her 1908 marriage would not help.

If you can’t find someone in the next census after the one in which you’ve located them, it’s always possible that they were dead. But it is also possible that there were several life events that took place that changed their name, marital status, etc.

Sometimes people are not dead. They are just dying to be found.

Check out Genealogy Tip of the Day book version for other tips and questions you should ask yourself about your research.