Sunday, February 24, 2013

Where did the money go?

People that had assets in the form of money or land were people that went through Probate. Our relatives were concerned with the distribution of their worldly goods at the time of death. Locating Probate documents is a important item to locate when doing research on our families.

Writing a will was a very common document that was done by our relatives. These documents or lack of them can provide critical clues in our genealogical research. In cases prior to the 1860's in most place this might provide the only approximate date of death for our relatives. If your relative owned his own land they normally took steps to indicate how they wanted it distributed at the time of their death. Make sure you know who all the names are in the text of the will.

Another important issue as well is to understand if anyone has been left out. Then try to locate clues of why they were left out. An example of this would be a spouse. The further you go back the less likely it is that a women would have a will. A strong identifier in the man's will is if he mentions the wife. If she is not mentioned why? Was the names the one you expected to find in the will?

Many ancestors died at an early age without a will. If there were minor children (Under 18) in the family you need to check for guardianship. This was normally conducted in most areas going way back into the 1600's. This was only done when the man died first. Again the beliefs of the time played an important factor in this document and the relationship to the women. The courts were very concerned that the children were going to be taken care of after the death of the father.

As in all things in genealogy understanding the meaning and purpose of documents is critical. Understanding the money situation if families helps us better understand their relationships. The lack of money also explains the minimal paper trail and even how they were buried. It is critical to understand what was going on so that you can identify new avenues to continue your research.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Checking out the neighbors

The farther back in history you go when tracing your family the higher chance occurs to having some kind of relationship with the neighbors. An excellent step when doing your research is to identify who the neighbors were to our families. Identifying where they came from and discovering if there is a family relationship is an excellent way to break down brick walls.

Families lived next to people they knew. They traveled with people they knew. Doing research on the people around our families can provide valuable clues to the origins of our relatives. We run into numerous instances where the paper trail runs cold on our relatives for a variety of reasons. Identifying who the neighbors were is the first step in this process to breaking down that brick wall. Take a look at when the neighbors arrived in the area. Did they come when my family did? Who did they buy their land from? What is their families history? All of the answers will provide clues on avenues to continue research on our families.

The migration patterns of our family members closely paralleled the travels of their neighbors. In my own family I have found that the same families have lived next to each other in a variety of locations for multiple generations. I have also identified family relationships that existed prior to when they became neighbors.

On my Mom's side of the family one of the family groups started in Lancaster Co., Pa and them moved to Washington Co., MD. Families moved from one location to the next and I have identified them as neighbors back in PA. Early in the 1800's the family then moved to Columbiana Co., Ohio for a very short period of time and then finally located in Putnam Co., Ohio. At every step of the migration trail I have taken a look at the families that were their neighbors. In all four stops they had people around them that had come from places that they had previously lived. It helped paint a clear picture of why the family lived and located where they did.

Don't always suffer from tunnel division by keeping our focus only on our families. Be sure to look at those that lived in the neighborhood. Neighbors often provide valuable clues on our own families origins that we were not aware of when looking at only our family.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Did they understand what they were saying?

A common myth among genealogist is the belief that their name was changed by the immigration officers on purpose. The important thing to understand is the immigration officer and the rest of the people they came in contact with did not speak their language. English was not the common form of communication for immigrants.

The heavy accents from immigrants both English speaking and non resulted in many errors in spelling. What the English ear heard from the person speaking would play a major part in how the name was spelled. Even today people are terrible listeners. It takes a great deal of skill and practice to be able to write down what you hear correctly. When a person was speaking a foreign language or one with a heavy accent the challenge became extreme.

Compound that with the fact that the majority of people did not know how to read. So when the clerk wrote their name down like they thought it was spelled our ancestors were unable to read it. Our ancestors lacked the ability to say if it was right or wrong.

In my own searches I was doing working on a Polish immigrant and had difficulty in finding a paper trail on him. I knew he had lived in the same place for a extended period of time once he came to the United States, but was unable to locate any information. I started to do name variant searches along with some wild card searches. These resulted in me finding his first name being spelled seven different ways. Finally he ended up shortening his name and Americanizing it. After that point he was easy to find.

When you know a person lived in the same place for a extended period of time, but you can not find them look for variations in name spellings. Look for the English version of the name. Identify shortened variations or even the use of nicknames. Analyzing why this person is missing is critical in getting back on the paper trail.

Just a not I am unable to respond to your questions directly on the Blog. Please email me directly at Happy Hunting!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Those people are crazy!

It comes as a surprise when we find our ancestors making unusual decisions in their lives or finding them in institutional care. Understanding the context of these events will help us again with identifying clues to our families histories and their inter relationships.

People have been different since the beginning of time. Were our relatives like their neighbors? Did they move or relocate, because they did not get along? Taking a look at the land records and mounds of litigation that often occur can offer interesting clues on our family. Normal litigation between people is not a tool often used by the average genealogist. It offers excellent information on our families. In the east coast locations where our ancestors lived they were constantly fighting over land borders. Property was often identified with physical landmarks as markers of the border. Guess what rocks moved and trees fall down. The motto of loving thy neighbor as thyself did not often apply.

One of the large factors in the urban settings where our families started to live in the 19th and early 20th centuries put us much closer to our neighbors. This brought on whole different list of issues with our families and their neighbors. Did they get along? I hate the smell of her cooking? Did your family move a lot? From the census you can identify if your family rented or owned their property. Was the reason that they moved, because they could not pay the rent? This was a common among est immigrant families that had spent everything they had to get here. It often came down to not like the neighbors or them not liking us.

The possibility does arise that you will find a relative that is located in a institution. They are often in and out a lot. Understand people were institutionalized for a variety of reasons. They did not get along with their spouse, drinker or unable to hold a job to name a few. The instances of the person having a mental problem was not as likely as we might think.

Look at the circumstances and the people around our relatives. Understand the human interactions. If we really work to understand the influences will help us better understand to look for new information.