I discovered that an ancestor of mine died in 1837 when he had barely been married five years, leaving behind a wife and three children. This obviously caused a big change in the life of his wife and children. Did his widow move back to the nearby village where she was from? Did she continue to live in the village where she had her now late husband had moved to shortly after their marriage? Did she marry again and have more children? Ancestral discoveries are made about real people who lived out the events in real time. We may focus on the record on paper but our ancestor was focused on how that event was going to impact their life.
When using a record set with which you are not familiar, think about how someone gets into the record, how the  information in the record is obtained, how the record is organized, what was the purpose of the original record, and how the original  record got from its original state to you. If possible compare the record of interest to others in the same series of records. How is it the same? How is it different? All if these issues get to how we use and analyze the information contained in the record.
Locating a signature for John Michael Trautvetter was difficult. It’s not that he was poor and left few records. It’s just that the records he left behind did not contain his own handwriting. The record copies in the local courthouse of the deeds and mortgages he signed were made when the clerk copied everything in his own hand–including the original signatures. John left no will and his parents had no probate that might have contained a receipt with his signature on it. His marriage record, typical for the time and place, did not contain his signature either. But in January of 1905 his seventeen-year old daughter wanted to get married and John signed to give her permission. It’s the only record extant that contains his actual signature. Just […]
For those with US ancestors it is important to ask yourself if you have used records at varying jurisdictional levels in your family history research. Records may have been created at the town/village level, county level, state level, and federal level. Not all records created by all jurisdictions are still extant, but if you’re only using things from one jurisdiction, you may be missing out. And if you don’t know what jurisdiction created the records you are using, that’s something to find out as well.
Genealogical documents present transcription challenges, especially the older they are. One wants to make it clear in any typed up rendering of a document what comes from that document and what comes from the researcher’s mind (or other sources). I have a simple approach that I use when transcribing any document. The transcription is clearly indicated as such and put between two markers in brackets indicating where the transcription begins and ends. The analysis or commentary is after the transcription. [begin transcription] transcribe document [end transcription] [analysis] analyze [end analysis] That helps me to know what the document said and what I thought it said.
The address of my maternal great-aunt in a 1970s era probate is “Rural Route 3, Carthage, Illinois.” That’s as specific as it gets. This was in an era before 911 addresses gave more precise locations. I know roughly where route 3 was since that was my address also at the same point in time. While the house is no longer standing, I know exactly where my great-aunt lived because her farm shared a property line with my paternal grandparents. However… If my great-aunt and her husband’s residence had not been known to me and if they had not owned their own farm, determining where they lived precisely could have been more difficult. A rural directory or phone book may have provided a more specific address and there may […]
When someone has a life estate in real property, they have the right to use it and receive income from it until they die. They are unable to mortgage, sell, or “waste” it. They also have to pay taxes on the property as well. But what happens to the property when they die? It depends on how they received the life estate. If the original owner gave them a life estate interest in the property, the document giving them a life estate typically indicates what happens to the property after the recipient of the life estate dies. Who that person is will depend upon the wishes of the grantor on that document. If the person has a life estate in the property because they transferred it to someone […]
If the earliest records do not provide any suggestion as to where your ancestor was from, ask yourself: who were the earliest hangers on? Who were your ancestor’s geographic neighbors? Who appeared with him on the earliest documents in which he appears? If he appears in court records (particularly declarations of intention and naturalizations) who appears on the same day? Who attended the same church she did? From whom did he buy his first piece of property? All those people could potentially be someone the “can’t track back any further” ancestor knew at some point in his life before the earliest record you have found on him. Check out Genealogy Tip of the Day book version for other tips and questions you should ask yourself about your research.
Ancestral documents often mention names of others in addition to the person of interest. Witnesses, notaries, justices of the peace, neighbors, bondsmen, etc. may be named. To fully understand the ancestor as much as possible and to “use” the associates in a sound way, it is important to understand the purpose of the interaction. Witnesses, notaries, justices of the peace, and clerks often appear on a document due to the place and time in which that document was created. Witnesses may have just been in the same location when the document needed to be signed. The ancestor may have travelled to a notary, justice of the peace or clerk, but the sense of geography still remains the same. These individuals may provide clues to narrow down where the […]
One is sometimes tempted to think that the latest version of anything is the best and the one that should be used as a reference. That’s not always the case. A transcription of the stones in a cemetery may have been done sixty years ago when they were more legible than they are today and when more stones were viewable. The formatting of the earlier edition might not be quite as “slick” as one done more recently–but more information could be there. Transcriptions of actual records done 100 years ago may have been done before the writing faded or when more records were extant. There’s always the possibility that the earlier transcription was not done with as much care as one more recently compiled or that the formatting […]
Never look at a tombstone in isolation. Make a note who is buried in close proximity to your ancestor–it could be someone with a connection. A different last name on a nearby stone could be a married sister, a mother buried under a different husband’s last name, an aunt or uncle, other relative or close friend. It is also possible that someone purchased eight spots in a plot of graves and, after years of not using the “last spot,” let someone totally unrelated have it or later sold it. The cemetery may (or may not) have those records.
If you’ve found your relative’s name on a petition, remember that petitions were not all signed on one day. Like modern petitions they were circulated and signatures were not all collected in one afternoon, one day, or even within one week (usually). Petitions may have been taken around the neighborhood (village, town, township, county, etc.) and signed over time. The petition may have been kept at the local tavern or other common gathering place where signatures were obtained. Signatures that “look a lot alike” may have been all made by one person for themselves and others who agreed the petition at the same time, but could not sign themselves.
I’m reading an academic work on slaveholders and it mentions the phrase “life estate” and indicated that someone who was given a life estate in something could hold it during their lifetime and it would go to their children afterwards. If an individual has a life estate in something they can use it during their life time but they cannot transfer it to someone else, encumber the title, “waste” it, etc. They have it for the duration of their life. But after their death it may or may not go to their children. If A gives B a life estate in property, A can indicate what happens to that property after B dies. A can indicate it goes to B’s children or that it goes to someone else. […]
Irish research isn’t easy, but knowing what is available and having a plan can help. That’s what is discussed in my “Beginning Irish Research” webinar. It’s an hour of actual content–no babble and we don’t spend time trying to sell you other products. More information (including a discount coupon good through 8 November) can be found on our announcement page.
Did your 19th century immigrant ancestor have an international layover when they left the old country? Some Irish went to England or Canada before arriving in the United States. Some Germans may have had a brief stop at a port in England as well before heading to the United States. If the layover was short they probably didn’t leave any records in the land of their layover. A longer stay may have resulted in the family leaving records in layoverland. No matter how long the stay, their “origin” on a passenger manifest may have been the place they arrived from (their layover area) instead of their home country. And if your immigrant arrived in Canada before heading to the US, there probably is no record of the arrival […]
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