Heirs, Legatees, Beneficiaries

While state statute usually defines these terms, it is generally true that an heir of a deceased person is someone who inherits from the deceased based upon their biological relationship to the deceased. Who qualifies as an heir is defined by state statute. A legatee (or sometimes what is called a beneficiary) is typically someone whom the deceased has mentioned in their will or other papers with a directive that they are to receive certain property when the individual dies. Heirs are related. Legatees and beneficiaries may not be related biologically.

Always make certain you know the definition of any term used in legal documents by your ancestor. Sometimes a layman’s definition is not the same as the legal one.

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Out of Order?

Your relative, when providing you with oral family history information, may easily get events in the wrong order. The details they remember, with the exception of the order in which they happened, may be perfectly correct.

The order in which things happened does matter because a correct time frame matters at least most of the time. If two events are completely unrelated to each other, it can be even easier to confuse the order in which they happened.

When talking to a relative, focus on what they can remember. If the order in which things happens seems a litle wonky, concentrate on getting as much information as you can from the person and recording their rendition as accurately as you can.

Then when you analyze the oral history you can start looking at the specific ordering of events.

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Handwritten or Typed?

When analyzing a genealogical record, determining if the item being viewed is an original or derivative source is one key component of that analysis. Sources are generally considered “original” if they are in their first form (or an accurate digital reproduction thereof). Derivative sources are ones that are transcriptions of other sources (derivative or not) or are a compilation of information from a variety of sources.

Original sources can be wrong or right. The same goes for derivative sources.

I once read “typed sources are derivative.” That’s not necessarily true. Marriage records from the late 1700s that are typed are an obvious transcription. A will from 1930 that is typed could very well be the original. The same of a birth certificate from 1930.

Handwritten records can be derivative as well. Before digital reproduction techniques were readily available, many copies of records were made by hand.

Just don’t jump to a conclusion when determining what “type” of record an item is.

And lastly, “original” and “derivative” refer to the form in which a record was accessed. Determing the accuracy of the information it contained is broader than just whether something is original or derivative.

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Did they Make a Location Distinction?

Normally in genealogical writing it is suggested that authors make it clear whether a location refers to a town/city or county. Clarity matters. Not all writers do that, partially because they think it’s “obvious” or don’t realize the possibility for confusion.

A county-wide publication of biographies in the 1980s included a piece on a relative. The book appeared to be one of those where family members submit material, pay for their copy of the book, and it gets published. There is no copy-editing either for style or fact. That’s fine as long as the user of the material is aware of that.

Being somewhat familiar with some of the areas discussed in the article, I knew the author was referring to a county even when that word was not used. But someone unfamiliar with the area would not. There were locations in a variety of states referenced in the biography and given what I noticed about places I was aware of, I concluded that there could be other potentially confusing references as well. I transcribed the document as it was written.

It will take some work to determine whether Des Moines, Iowa, meant the county or the city within that state. “Hancock, Illinois,” could mean the county or perhaps even a township of that name located in a county other than Hancock.

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How Good Is Your Memory?

We often think our own memory of genealogical records or discoveries we have made is infallible. It is not.

In an attempt to put my grandson to sleep, I told him the “Pig Story.” It is a modified version of my teenaged ancestor’s discovery of his father’s murdered hogs in Kentucky in the 1810s. The parts about the hog being killed in the woods, the trail of blood in the snow, and the remaining body parts were omitted. The story I told was a cuter, shorter, child appropriate version that concentrated on the young boy’s discovery of the stolen hogs, their being kept in a barn, and the notches in their ears.

The notch part was true.

I went back to the original court records and discovered my memory of the court case testimony (which I have read several times) was off. There were details I had wrong and pieces of the story I had forgotten. It won’t change the story I tell my grandson because that one needs to be a shorter-kid-friendly one.

But it reminded me that memories are not as good as we think and before I write anything from my “memory” of what I read, I need to go back and read it one more time.

That’s especially true if I “restart” my research on this family using what I remember from the records. I could waste a fair amount of time otherwise.

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One More Immigrant?

Ancestors do not live in isolation–after all, that’s how they come to have descendants.

But it never ceases to amaze me how often extended family members migrate to where others from their family have settled. Siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, etc. In my own research it is rare for me to have an immigrant settle where absolutely no one from their family had already settled or eventually followed. The followers, particularly if they were the immigrants nieces or nephews may have arrived fifty years later, but the often eventually made their way across the pond.

It was not just immigrants to a new country who tended to follow this pattern. Migrants across the United States often did the same thing.

And if the other settlers were not biologically related, they were often related by marriage or had been “near neighbors” when they lived “back home.”

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Have You Seen Who Has Tested?

It is one thing to get your autosomal DNA results back and see a new first cousin, half-sibling, etc. That can be a surprise.

But have you reached out to any of your siblings, first and second cousins, etc. to see if they have done an autosomal DNA test? If they have tested at the same company as you, then they should show up on your results list. Relatives that close, if they have an autosomal test at the same company as you, should show up on your results list.

If they do not, there is a puzzle to be solved.

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Transcribe as Soon as You Can

Transcribing wills, deeds, and other records is not done to create book work for genealogists. Even if records are obtained in digital image format, it is often easier to work with the text of a document. Transcription also helps the transcriber to notice more details contained in that document–particularly “little words” that can have significant meaning. Those small words can be easy to overlook when one just does a silent reading of a docuement. It is also easier to search the text of documents for key names, places, etc. when those documents have been typed.

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How Far?

For your “brick wall” ancestor, do you know (or have any idea) how far they lived from:

  • the county seat?
  • the nearest church of their denomination?
  • the nearest place they could get supplies or transact necessary business?
  • the nearest “big city?”
  • their nearest neighbor?
  • the cemetery?
  • the location where the nearest newspaper was published?
  • a major river?

The list here is not exclusive. If you’ve got no idea of the answers to these questions, determining those answers may help you solve your problem.

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Grantor and Grantee

The grantor on a deed is the person who is transferring their interest in the property to someone else. That person receiving the grantor’s title is the grantee. Deeds can have more than one grantor and more than one grantee.

Deeds are usually local records–typically created at the county or town level (depending upon the location). There is usually a grantor’s index to the grantors and a grantee’s index to the grantees. Always make certain you are in the correct index–depending on whether you are looking for someone who is selling or someone who is buying (or receiving) property.

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