Every Page in Every Book

This “Presented to” page dated 24 November 1953 was a single sheet of paper tucked into a Bible of more recent vintage my grandmother had. I almost missed it as it was stuck between two pages in the front of the book.

It always pays to go page by page through old books of family members–particularly old Bibles as a variety of items are placed in them for safekeeping.

This one is particularly poignant to me as my great-grandmother, who I am guessing wrote the inscription, died a little over two months after this inscription was written.

Not a Fan of the Whole FAN Network

The FAN concept was first coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills to emphasize the importance of researching not just our direct ancestor, but also their friends, associates, and neighbors. That’s where the acronym “FAN” comes from.

It’s a worthwhile concept, but it’s important to remember that your ancestor might not have been a literal fan of everyone in his FAN network–especially his associates and neighbors–and some of their relatives as well. There may have been associates your ancestor interacted with only when necessary. There may have been neighbors of your ancestor with whom he interacted as infrequently as possible. Your ancestor also may have had relatives with whom he interacted only when absolutely (or legally) necessary.

Think about your ancestor’s friends, associates, and neighbors, but pay close attention to how often he interacts with them and how he interacts with them. Is he interacting with them in a way that exposes him to some legal or financial risk? If so, then he likely trusts them. Is he interacting with them in a way that benefits them more than it does him? Then he may like them.

It’s also worth noting that your ancestor’s friends can change over time as well. Moves, changes in social or economic situation, or other life events can alter the nature of a friend relationship.

Use your ancestor’s FANs, but be thinking about it when you do.

Loose Ends Not Tied Up?

My “shoebox” at Ancestry has 77 pages of entries in it. I discovered two blog posts from years ago on my Rootdig blog where I was going to follow up and got derailed by real life before I got back to it. My downloads folder has quite a few document images that need to be property named and filed in the appropriate folder. And on it goes.

How many loose ends do you have that never got tied up, followed up on, or completely analyzed? It can be fun to look for new things and make new discoveries, but following up on all those things that never got followed up on originally may result in discoveries that are just as exciting.

Maybe it’s time to go through that Ancestry shoebox (or the other places where discoveries get put and forgotten) and see what’s buried in there.

Tenant Farmers in the Newspaper

Determining where your farmer who rented all his farm ground lived can be difficult. Census records and other materials in many rural areas may only be as precise as the township where your ancestor lived.

Newspapers in rural areas often contained gossip columns that may mention when your ancestor was moving from one farm to another. That could provide the name of the tenant. Keep in mind that the land owner may have owned more than one farm. Use local records to determine what parcels that owner owned.

Plat books which map out who owned what parcels of the county can be helpful in determining what parcels were owned by the landowner. County records, such as tax records and deeds, can also help with this determination. If your tenant farmer rented the property when the owner died, there may be reference to the lease agreement in the probate records of the owner. If there were ever any serious issues regarding the lease, a court case may also have resulted.

There is more about farming ancestors in our webinar.

Never Read?

It was ingrained in my head from a small child to always read something over before you signed it. It seemed like pretty good advice.

Apparently Thomas and John Sledd, Sr. of Louisa County, Virginia, in the 1820s did not follow that same advice. John Sledd, Sr. was the grantor on the deed and his bill of complaint and the deposition of his son Thomas indicated that Sr. did not read the deed until after it was recorded.


The deed included property that was not supposed to be a part of the transaction. Because the deed had been recorded, the Sledd’s apparent recourse was to have a “friendly suit” to petition for the court to correct the deed. There is no indication in the bill of complaint or the response of the defendant that there was any disagreement about what the deed was supposed to contain and what the Sledds believed it contained.

The suit is a reminder that not all lawsuits are situations where both parties are at loggerheads with each other. It’s also a reminder to read it before you sign it.

Grandma May not be Grandma

Sometimes relationship terms are also used as terms of affection, even if there is no biological relationship. Take care when a letter, diary, or a relative refers to someone as an “aunt” or an “uncle.” The use of the term may have been done out of respect and not necessarily indicate a biological relationship.

Of course, you may gain some clues or insight by researching this person, but if you find no biological connection between the individual and your family be open to the possibility that “Grandma” wasn’t really “Grandma” after all.

Their Organization Needs Understanding to Understand

Analyzing records requires that we think about how the original was created. This 1891 era death register page from Adams County, Illinois, may suggests that the entries were sorted by first letter of their last name in the register. That can be seen by noticing that the initial letter of each surname is the same.

It is also clear looking at the certificate numbers in the left column that these items were not entered in sequential order. When looking at any set of records, try and determine how they were organized. Sometimes this will be obvious and other times it will not be. Sometimes the individual who microfilmed or digitized the items included the enough contextual information that the organization is obvious, sometimes they did not.

Whenever a manual browsing or searching of the records is necessary it’s imperative that the organizational structure be known. Searching, and later analysis, depend on it.

In the illustration, death certificates were submitted to the local records office and information was transcribed from them into the death register, which was apparently organized by initial letter of the last name of the deceased.

Possible Death Notice or Obit Locations

For those ancestors who died in the last hundred years or so, consider these locations when looking for an obituary:

  • place of death
  • place of birth
  • place of marriage
  • any places of “significant residence”

Obituaries or death notices may appear in newspapers in any of those areas. This is not true for most 19th century deaths, but you never know.