The Locally, Contemporary Created Index

Many record offices created indexes to their records as those items were recorded. These indexes are not perfect. They are not every name indexes. And just like with every index, names can get left out. But they do have some occasional advantages over new indexes created decades or centuries later to digital images of those records.

The “original indexes” created by the clerk or office that recorded the record originally were often created by the person recording the item at the time it was recorded. The handwriting was not faded. They may have actually known the individuals involved and were better able to render the name in the index even if it was difficult to read on the original–particularly if the original was a birth certificate written by a doctor or someone with handwriting that was difficult to read.

So if the “newer” index to records is not helpful and a manual search is not feasible see if there were indexes to the records created at the time those records were created.

And double check to make certain that a manual search is truly not feasible. Sometimes it simply takes time.

Many of these locally created indexes are included in FamilySearch’s set of digital images of records–see my webinar on those images.

The Unknown First Husband

My aunt Wilhelmina (Trautvetter) Kraft died in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, in the latter part of the 19th century. She was born in 1808 in Dorf Allendorf, Germany. She died without enough of an estate to warrant a probate, had no obituary, or other record in the area where she died suggesting that she had children. The name of her Kraft husband was known and it was assumed that they had been married at least twenty years when she died.

Turned out she had a husband before she emigrated from Germany to the United States. They were married at least twelve years and had five children who survived to adulthood. She and Mr. Kraft were married for twenty years, but all her children were with her first husband who died in Germany before she emigrated. Her children were grown before she moved to Illinois. She is not listed with any of them in any census record.

Until I found the first husband all those children were hiding under his name. Don’t assume that the long-term spouse someone has at death is the only spouse they had.

Get Past the Index

Indexes and other finding aids that are created to assist the researcher in locating someone are imperfect. Names are spelled wrong, transcribed incorrectly, accidentally omitted, etc. In most cases, it is possible to search the records manually to make certain the person is really not in the record.

Do not rely on an index to contain every person actually named in a record series with every name spelled correctly. Original records may have been partially indexed by the body who originally held the records or organized in such a way that may partially reduce the number of pages that have to be manually waded through.

I plan on researching the 1950 census manually when it goes online in April 2022. I’ll start with my rural people and then work on the ones in more heavily populated areas. Get ready for the 1950 census with my webinar–recording and handout included.

Good Intentions

Some records were created before an event took place, usually in preparation for the event itself. The issuance of a marriage license does not guarantee that the marriage ever took place. The announcement of marriage banns also is not evidence of the actual marriage.

Even a church bulletin announcing my baptism that day in church does not guarantee it took place. It does indicate the event was planned and scheduled for that day. And, in all likelihood, it did take place.

But if one document said something was going to happen and other reliable information indicated that event did not happen, remind yourself that not every event intended to be actually comes to pass.

The Giver of the Affidavit

A man and woman had four children “without benefit of marriage” in the 1790s in Virginia. This relationship necessitated documentation of the relationship in order for the children to inherit from the father.

That’s not the tip.

The mother of the four children testified in the 1820s to their relationship to their father–that’s not expected. To strengthen their case another woman testified to the parentage at the same time. If there was a relationship of this woman to the family it is not stated. But she had at the very least known of the relationship between the man and woman during the time the children were born–she testifies to that.

This woman is one who warrants further research. While she may not have had any biological relationship to the children in question, she at the very least must have been a near neighbor to the parents of the children. There’s also a reasonable probability that she was related to one of the parents–either biologically or by marriage.

At the very least this witness warrants further research. Whenever someone provides testimony about members of a family and their relationships that someone is someone who should be researched.

The Getting When You Can Reminder

We have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating…

Don’t assume that online site will “always be there” and you can always go and get what you need. Make a copy of that image for yourself while you have it on your screen. Save the information while you have access to it.

Websites go down. Fee-based websites sometimes lose the ability to include certain items in their subscription. Websites change how things are organized and what you could find a month ago is impossible to find. Your cousin could remove their online tree from that hosting site.

You may find yourself unable to continue to pay for that monthly subscription to that database site that includes images.

Save it while you can. Name it in a way that makes sense. Save it where you can find it. Make backup copies.

Later you will be glad you did.

You Don’t All Share the Same Bits

Analyzing DNA matches can sometimes be confusing. One issue is the bits of shared DNA that get passed down through the succeeding generations of the family. The visual with my ancestor Erasmus Trautvetter’s simplifies the genetic process, but serves to illustrate what potentially could happen.

Among all the DNA Erasmus had in his body, let’s focus on two chunks: chunk 1 and chunk 2. Only chunk 1 is passed down to son Henry. Chunks 1 and 2 are passed down through son George and chunk 2 is passed down through daughter Ernestine. Henry passes chunk 1 to one of his descendants. George’s chunk and 2 are passed down through several generations until another George. The second George passed chunk 1 down to all of his descendants, but I am the only descendant of the second George who got chunks 1 and 2. Ernestine passed down chunk 2 to one of her descendants.

For that reason, all of us in the current DNA are not matches for each other. Those of us with chunk 1 all match. Those of us with chunk 2 all match. But the descendants with only chunk 1 in their DNA will not see the descendants with only chunk 2 in their DNA.

Search the DNA Match Trees

I was looking for two “missing” grandsons of an ancestral couple who married in Germany in the 1790s. The men had the common name of Hess and while I knew where they lived shortly after immigration to the United States they seemed to have dropped off the radar after 1855 or so when they would have been in their early twenties.

They were alive until at least 1871 when they were heirs to an estate in Illinois. Those records indicated they were alive, but that one could not be found. The records provided no clues as to where the one who could be found was living. If they lived until 1871 they would have been in their forties and old enough to have left their own descendants.

Then I looked at my DNA matches to known descendant s of the couple who married in the 1790s. Some of those matches had trees attached–incomplete ones most of the time. Two of those trees had men with the last name of Hess as ancestors–not back far enough to help make an immediate connection, but at least a clue.

My next step is to trace those Hess men in other records to see if their ancestry has a connection to the Hess grandchildren of my ancestors that I am looking for.

After all, the presence of that name in the trees may be a coincidence. The actual connection could be through one of the other blanks in those trees.

What Hamp?

When I was small, “What hamp?” was my phrase when I wanted to know what was going on.

As a genealogist, I’m still asking it.

Documents and records are usually created in response to some event. For vital records, the event taking place should be obvious. Probate records are also the result of an obvious event. But the precipitating event behind other documents may not be quite so obvious. An quit claim deed listing all the heirs may have resulted from the death of a surviving parent or the youngest heir coming of age and finally being able to legally execute a document. A partition of an estate may have resulted from one heir needing money from the estate or a group of the heirs having disagreement about the property. Or the attorney may said that “now would be a good time to do this before there is trouble.”

Even a family photograph may have been the result of a graduation, visit of family from a distance, etc.

Once in a while things happen for no reason, but it is still a good problem-solving technique to ask yourself, “what might have been going on to cause this document to be executed and recorded when it was?”

And the documents don’t always tell us what “hamp.” Sometimes we have to do a little snooping–and there’s still no guarantee we find the reason.