Your Lyin’ Ancestor

If some piece of information given by your ancestor in a record does not make sense, consider the possibility that he lied. People lied for many reasons, including

  • wanting to get married
  • wanting to enlist in the service
  • wanting to avoid the service
  • trying to escape their past (parents, spouse, children, debts, etc.)

An outright lie can be difficult to research around, but people did lie about their age, place of birth, name, marital status, etc.

Check out our latest webinar releases.

Is It a Town or a County?

Locations can create all kinds of problems for genealogists. For this reason it is necessary to be as precise as possible. Some locations are logical.

For example, Knoxville, Illinois, is in Knox County, Illinois.

But this is not always the case.

Des Moines, Iowa, is in Polk County, not in Des Moines County, Iowa.

Keokuk, Iowa, is not located in Keokuk County, Iowa.

And remember there are townships as well which may or may not add to the confusion. Hancock County, Illinois, has a Webster Cemetery and a village of Webster. Webster cemetery is not located near the village of Webster.

Provide as much detail as possible when listing locations in your genealogical database. Personally I always use the word “county” in a location. It reduces confusion.

Check out our latest webinar releases.

A Child Remembers

Try and determine when your relative learned that story they are telling you. Would they have been a small child when they heard it? Memories that come from when the person was a child can be impacted by their immaturity and inexperience with life. Sometimes children draw interesting conclusions about family events only to pass them on as facts years later.

Just because someone heard or experienced something when they were young does not mean they could not remember it correctly. But it’s worth remembering ourselves that what children may not get details straight or make incorrect inferences.

Of course adults can as well.

The First Time

From a while back…

Ira Sargent is enumerated in the 1850 and 1860 US Census under the last name of his step-father, Asa Landon. Ira was born in the 1840s and his father, Clark Sargent, died around 1848. By 1850 his mother had married Asa Landon.

Ira’s 1870 marriage record is probably the first document where he actually provided his name to the records clerk. Chances are someone else gave his name to the 1850 and 1860 census enumerator.

Your relative might have known his “name,” but might never have had a chance to give it to the clerk, enumerator, etc. until after he was “of age.”

Is that why you can’t find your person in any record until they get married?

Citing What Is In Your Sight

Never cite a source unless it was actually in your sight.

It’s simple:

  • If you saw a tombstone’s picture on FindAGrave, cite that website–do not indicate you were in the cemetery yourself or took the picture yourself.
  • If you saw a transcription of a will in a published book, cite the book and that book’s transcription–do not cite the will itself.
  • If your Mother told you something about her mother, cite your mother as the source-do not cite Grandma as you didn’t hear Grandma actually say that something.

Whether the source is accurate is another story. We just want our citations to accurately reflect what used.

To learn everything you ever wanted to know about citations, see Evidence Explained.

Sometimes We Have to Wait

I’m working through a family where four of a couple’s sons were in the US Civil War. My original source for documenting their service (and the deaths of three of them in the war) was a letter another son (their youngest brother) wrote in 1879. I wanted to immediately document all their service and pension using the information in the letter.

I thought it would be easy to document the service details–after all, everything today is online.

That was not the case. I documented the service of three of them using online databases. I documented the death of one during war time and found a pension card for the fourth. Instead of continuing to search for the additional information, I am going to obtain the compiled military service records and pension files I have discovered.

Then when those materials have arrived, I will evaluate and work on filling in the missing pieces. It is possible that there are clues in the references I have found that will help me find the others.

An Unapproved Pension Application

Card from:
Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900

The pension index card for Illinois Civil War veteran Charles Schrader indicated an application number but no certificate number. This usually means that the application was denied. This is what happened in Schrader’s case–he received no pension.

Don’t neglect denied pension applications. They can contain just as much information as approved pensions and the denial does not mean the applicant did not serve. It simply means he was not qualified for a pension under the laws in effect at the time of the application.

Schrader’s application indicated that he applied in 1866. This was shortly after the war when fewer applications were approved. Had he lived until the 1890s, he probably would have received a pension as the laws had relaxed by that point in time. Neither he nor his widow lived long enough to take advantage of more liberal pension laws.

More information on Civil War pensions can be found on the NARA site.