I Think, Therefore He Died

“I think Isaac Rucker died in May 1799…”

That’s what Archeleus Reynolds said in August of 1834 in a deposition taken in Amherst, Virginia.

The statement needs to be understood and evaluated based on context. There were several Isaac Ruckers in Amherst County, Virginia. The one Reynolds is talking about is his father-in-law–that’s made clear in other records in this case.

Reynolds is making the statement 35 years after Isaac Rucker is claimed to have died. While this document should be transcribe exactly as written (along with a citation clearly stating where the deposition can be found and when it was made), the analysis should take into account the amount of time that has passed and how long it has been since Rucker died. A few things to consider:

  • Was Reynolds married to Rucker’s daughter at this point in time?
  • Was there another event at about the same time that might have helped Reynolds remember when Rucker died?
  • The deposition does say “think,” which hedges the time a little bit. Was the month and year crucial to the case?
  • How old would Reynolds have been when Rucker died?

One might be tempted to say that Reynolds looked at an old family Bible to get the date–there’s nothing in this testimony to suggest that and if he had the date would likely have been more precise, he probably would not have used the word “think,” and a reference to the family Bible would have been made.

Treating Recipes Like Photographs

I treat recipes like photographs–something to be preserved.

That’s what has been done with this innocent recipe for Jello cookies that was written in my great-grandmother’s handwriting. The digital image preserves it in it’s original form–better than a transcription which always has the potential for an error. The digital image also provides an example of her handwriting, which might be helpful for someone later in potentially identifying handwriting on the backs of photographs or other family ephemera.

For some of us, handwritten recipes (if we are lucky enough to have them) are the best and only places to get copies of someone’s handwriting.

The one thing missing from the commentary made on this image is who identified the handwriting. When known, that’s an important detail to add. How we come to know information helps us to analyze that information for its perceived accuracy.

I prefer to include this data right on the image itself. While most graphics software allows for the inclusion of metadata (details about a photograph) that information is not seen as a part of the image and can be lost when images are simply shared online and preserved by screen captures.

Reminders from a Noodle Recipe

A digital image of my Grandma’s noodle recipe provides a reminder of a variety of genealogical lessons that are appropriate as we wrap up 2021.

Many stories (or recipes) remain in someone’s mind and may be passed down orally for generations until they are written down. That’s true in the case of this recipe as my Grandmother never wrote anything down. That’s also true of many family stories.

It is important to make copies and to share them and to organize them. This digital image was made from a laminated photocopy of what my mother wrote down. It was also written down more formally on a recipe card that we now cannot find.

Not every image is perfect. That’s ok. There’s a shadow of a coffee cup in this image.

Genealogy research sometimes is like this recipe: a little vague. “enough flour” is not really specific. “Bit of baking soda” really is not either. Sometimes in our research we have to feel our way through just a little bit and there is not as clear of a path as we would like.

You never know what’s going end up getting preserved. This version of the recipe was written on a notepad from an ag lending company. Not everything is on high-quality archival paper. Don’t ignore things written on note pads, backs of envelopes, etc.

Not everyone always makes their letters the same way. Mom ends four words with “t.” They are written in two different ways. Don’t expect 100% consistency.

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Do You Need It?

A close relative dies. There is an obituary on the funeral home website that contains information on the date and place of death. Several relatives communicate with you to let you know the family member has passed away as well. You learn of the funeral date and time. You know who this person’s parents are and where they were born. There’s little doubt of when and where they died.

Do you need their death certificate?

Probably not. There are other good sources to document the date and place of death. The only reason you would likely need the death certificate of a recently deceased person is if you were involved with the settlement of their estate.

Of relatives who have passed away during the last fifteen years, there have only been two whose death certificates I have needed. Both times it was because I was involved in closing accounts and performed other duties to settle up their affairs. For the others, there were reliable sources of the information.

Not to mention that it saved me money for those earlier records where information on the death certificate was information I did not already know.

Typos are Just Typos

I’ve been searching local newspapers in Hancock County, Illinois, where I grew up and where most of my family has lived for generations–using telephone numbers to find classified ads placed by my parents and grandparents.

I found the typical fare: eggs for sale, straw for sale (on the rack and bale your own), bulls for sale, etc. But I found several references to my parents phone number that I knew were errors including one for a Kiwanis breakfast and for inquiries on a home for sale. The references to my parents’ phone numbers in these cases were simply errors where likely two digits were switched (a transposition error) or a digit was keyed incorrectly.

Before I get suggestions that these were actually references to my parents and that I’m in error, neither of them were members of the Kiwanis Club and they didn’t speculate in local residential rental property.

Sometimes a typo is just that: a typo.

Never 100%

Keep in mind that you can never be one hundred percent certain that any one record is one hundred percent correct. This is particularly true if you were not an eyewitness to every statement made in the record.

There is always the chance of an error.

Never “fix” what appears to be an obvious error either. Transcribe exactly as written and put your commentary elsewhere.

How is it Similar? How is it Different?

When a record is located, try and compare it to other records of the same type or in the same series. How is the record for your relative different from other records? How is it similar? Some differences, such as name, date, etc. identify the record as being for your ancestor as opposed to someone else.

But make certain the “boilerplate” of the document is the same as others in the series. Differences, such as a phrase or word that does not appear in other documents may indicate a clue.

Analyzing a record in comparison to others is especially helpful when looking at church records which often are kept in loose paragraph format before standard forms were used.

Token Value on a Deed

If the amount of “consideration,” or what was given for the real estate (often cash) is a token amount, determine if there was a relationship among the people involved.

Transfers of significant pieces of real estate for token amounts are often done to clear up title among relatives. Not always, but frequently.

Check out the relationships among those who transfer land for little to no cash.

How Did They Say It?

Do you really know how your ancestors said their last name? I always thought I knew how my grandmother’s maiden name was said, until I saw it in an 1870 census with a “new” spelling. I asked on an German research list how the last name was likely said by a low-German speaker and was given a pronunciation slightly different from what I had always used. Then the alternate spelling made perfect sense.

Do you know your ancestor’s name was said?

It can make all the difference.