Blog 2022 02 06 2022 Understanding Wills

Many researchers hunt high and low for a will believing it will answer all of their questions and find themselves disappointed.  Before we begin, remember, the overwhelming number of wills written prior to 1900 were done by men.  So this blog will be slanted toward those wills.  However, if the widow had property that was hers in her own right, then you may find her wills as well.

Let’s start with the fact that the vast majority of deaths of a parent, particularly a father were intestate.  Intestate means, without a valid will.  The cause for this varies greatly.  Whether it is because they died suddenly without any warning or they died owning nothing of real value, no will was written.  Additionally, there are all the courthouse disasters causing the loss of records.

So what do we look for when a will does not exist?  We look to see if there was sufficient property, real and personal, worthy of probate and an administrator being appointed.  This is particularly true if minor children or an adult child were needing special care existed and the courts or the family wanted to make sure they were taken care of.  So look for letters of administration or twelve-month support.

If a will does exist, will it answer all of your questions?  Probably not.  Many men listed only the names of their minor children and may or may not appoint a grown son to act as executor or co-executor.  I recently read one that leads me to believe he had a daughter with special needs because he set up the equivalent of a trust for her lifetime care and comfort.

You might also find wills where the married daughters are not listed with their married names or husbands’ names listed.  This, along with calling a daughter by their nickname, make it difficult to further track them.  I recently worked a case like this where the youngest daughter is only referred to as, Polly.  If she was really Mary Ann, then she was married but the will does not help make that connection and no known document has been located to prove that Polly and Mary Ann are the same person.

Another mistake I find quite common is when there is language in the will that gives a hint that his wife at the time of his death was not the only wife he had and may not be the biological mother to all of his children.  Yet, researchers often make that mistake, and thus his second wife would have been 9 years old when giving birth to the first child.  By the same token, do not assume that just because the name of his wife in the will is different than what you find on other legal documents that it indicates a second wife.  It could be something as simple as he refers to his by a nickname or his pet name for her and the legal documents use her legal name.  Everyone on this planet knows my sister by the name of Beth.  But that is not her true name, it is a nickname for her middle name.  Instead of going by her first name, she has made her legal name, D. Elizabeth.

The last thing I want to point out about wills is, to look for the date it was proved.  That means, it was brought into the courthouse, after the testator died, and presented to the court to be legally entered.  While in rare cases, wills were previously filed, if more than one can be found, it is the one just in front of the file being “proven.”  If there is a huge difference between the date the will was signed and when it was proven, they most likely died closer to the date proven.

One last piece of advice, do not get your hopes up too high on finding a will to resolve all of your questions.

Blog 2022 01 30 2022 Mortality Schedules

Did you know the U. S. Census created a Mortality Schedule in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and some states did it in 1885?  These can be a valuable find if your ancestor died within the time period the schedule included.  Additionally, some tie directly back to the population schedule.

However, many people do not read them correctly.  So let’s take a look at each one.

For every year, you can search to find the instructions the enumerator was to follow.  Most of the time, they did but occasionally, you might find where an enumerator either misunderstood or chose to ignore them.  This is the set of instructions from the 1880 U. S. Census for completing the Mortality Schedule.

Most importantly we need to know the dates of the schedule.  In most cases, it is the year ending on 31 May which means, you go back one year to the same date and anyone who died between that date and 31 May of the census year is counted.  In other words, anyone who died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850 is to be included.  You must look at the month the person died to determine what year to apply and this is one of the most common mistakes people make with mortality (and other) schedules.

Below is a couple of excerpts from the 1850 U. S. Census Mortality Schedule and Population Schedule from Barnwell District, North Carolina. [i] As stated, we see in the heading, “Persons who Died during the Year ending 1st June, 1850.”  Emphasis added.  So these people may have died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850.  We see many here whose color is listed as ‘B’ for Black but no indication of whether they were enslaved at the time or not and no last names in this example.  Unfortunately, the enumerator was not instructed to make any distinction pertaining to their status.  We see on line three, a 39-year-old lady named Likey, who was born in North Carolina but died of pneumonia, who had been a cook, and was sick for 21 days.  Without additional information, it might be difficult to determine more about her and her family but there are some places to look.  Tax records often record the names and ages of enslaved people by the owner and might give insight.  Many wills and estate packets list the names and ages of enslaved people and occasionally, their occupations.  Don’t give up, keep looking.

We also see a 34-year-old Margaret Kemp who worked as a laborer. It would be worth looking at the 1840 census for a Kemp family in Barnwell District to see if a family can be found that she would fit.

Below, on lines 2 and 3 we see a possible family from page 64.  Once again, William Edenfield is 45 when he died in March 1850.  We would expect to find a man named William in the 30 – 39 age category, instead, the schedule shows him being 40 – 49.  A good researcher will not reject these as being the same man, we understand that censuses are notoriously inaccurate.  If 11-year-old Charles is William’s son, he could be one of the 4 boys under five recorded in 1840 as shown below.  Since the schedule’s year ended 1 June 1850, then Charles died in July of 1849.  This is a common mistake people make, same as Louisa Frader, she died in August of 1849, not 1850.

1840 U. S. Census for Barnwell District. [ii]

We have taken a look at one method to know which families these souls belonged to, there are several others.  Unless the surname is unique or there is some other indication, you simply do not know for sure.  You will have to research other records to see the best options.

 

1860

Let’s take a look at the 1860 Mortality Schedule. [iii] We see here in Pierce County, Georgia that a white, male, 71 years old who was born in South Carolina died of Typhoid.

We know he was white because this particular enumerator only identified Black and Mulatto people.  Furthermore, we see he was married at the time of his death so we should find a widow.  I have included both 48-year-old Joseph and 12-year-old Rhoda Ann because Lewis was my 3rd great grandfather, Joseph was his son and Rhoda Ann was Joseph’s daughter.  There was an apparent Typhoid epidemic that year.  Lewis died in January so that would be 1860 but both Joseph and Rhoda Ann died in 1859.  Note that there is no indication as to what militia district any of the deceased lived in when they died.

If we look at the 1860 population schedule in militia district 1181, dwelling 159, family 163, the schedule shows a 65-year-old Elizabeth Thomas living, her son and daughter-in-law and their family there as well.  Since she is listed as head of household, it appears to be her place.

1870

What about 1870? [iv] Indiana, like many of the other states, has a consolidated mortality schedule at the state level but is divided by county.  Here is the first time we see a direct correlation between the mortality and population schedules.  First, we see this page covers Charlestown, Clark County, in Indiana.

Note that Robert Sikes, age 14 belonged to family # 18.  When we look at the Charlestown portion of the population schedule, we see at the top, the house of Thomas Sikes in family 18.

You may see that there is also a daughter named Martha who is 14, she could be a twin but this would require more research.  However, it is easier to tie the deceased to a specific household, not necessarily a family.  If there is more than one enumeration district, you may need to look through all pages with a family with dwelling and family # 18.  There is no indication of exactly how the deceased is related to the family.  The only hints we might find is when the deceased was married then we would expect to find a widow or widower.

1880

The last U. S. Mortality Schedule was in 1880 and it is even easier to tie to the household. [v] The Supervisor and Enumeration Districts are in the header.

So we see here on the 4th line an entry for Harry Hargis and little Harry belongs to family # 119 in Supervisor District 1, Enumeration District #123.  When we look at the population schedule we can see the Hargis family.

Are you beginning to see the valuable information you may find within the mortality schedules?  Of course, this is only helpful if your ancestor died within the time specified for that schedule.

To see what states had mortality schedules download this pdf from the census bureau.  https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/mortality.pdf

There are many other schedules the government made while doing the census and you may want to look closely at each of them.

[i] 1850 U. S. Census, Barnwell District, South Carolina, Mortality Schedule, page 60 (inked), image, FamilySearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 8 March 2022), citing NARA publication T 655, roll 7.

[ii] 1840 U. S. Census, Barnwell District, South Carolina, Population Schedule, page 191 (stamped), image, FamilySearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 8 March 2022), citing NARA publication M704, roll 508.

[iii] 1860 U. S. Census, Pierce County, Georgia, Mortality Schedule, page 551 (inked), ), image, FamilySearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 8 March 2022), citing NARA publication T 655, roll 8.

[iv] 1870 U. S. Census, Clark County, Indiana, Mortality Schedule, page 136, image, FamilySearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 8 March 2022), citing NARA publication, T655.

[v] 1880 U. S. Census, Cook County, Illionois, Mortality Schedule, Supervisor’s District 1, Enumerator’s District 123, page 1 (inked), image, FamilySearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 8 March 2022), citing NARA publication, T655.

Blog 2022 01 23 2022 Those pesky middle initials

Do you determine your connections based on an initial?  Do you exclude people who may be your connection simply because they do not have the correct initial, some other initial, or no initial at all?  Do you know when the average person in America started having middle names or initials?  We will take a look at a couple of scenarios to help you determine when to rely on them and when to consider ignoring them.

In colonial America, middle names were almost exclusively used by only those with royal titles.  The average colonist did not have middle names and you typically do not start seeing them until after 1781.  Even then, that initial may change a half dozen times.  You may often see someone start using their middle name and either drop a middle initial or make a middle initial from their first name.  You simply cannot trust it, you must use it as a simple clue like everything else.

Have you ever seen where middle initials mysteriously appeared and wondered where it came from?  Sometimes, it can be quite simple, especially with the illiterate ancestors.  Over time, they learned to make an initial of either their first or last name and began putting that instead of an ‘X’ or ‘+.’

Therefore
     His
John X Doe
    Mark
Became
    His
John J Doe
    Mark

Gets transcribed into John J. Doe.  And voilā, mystery resolved. Everyone thinks he had the middle initial of ‘J.’

So how did a literate man suddenly get an initial?  The answer I believe is quite simple if someone stops to think about it and apply logic along with some simple detective work.

Take the case of a prominent, literate man, Courtney Norman (Circa 1718?? – 1770).  Throughout his entire life, he signed his name to numerous legal, land, and other documents.  For example, he clearly signed Courtney Norman on a tract of land he sold to a man named Henry Stringfellow. [i] Then why do researchers put Courtney C. Norman?  I believe it all stems from his will, where it looks like it is signed Courtney C. Norman. [ii]

However, if he signed Courtney C. Norman, then why did someone add, “his mark?”  If he did not sign his name, then why not?  The answer I think is given in the will.  We are uncertain on exactly when Courtney was born and 1718 is a logical guess.  In today’s day, 52 years old is not considered old, but Courtney wrote, “being sick in Body.”  The ‘C’ may have been all he was able to write.

We as family researchers must take great care not to attribute information to an ancestor that does not belong and do not assume what someone else wrote is correct simply because it looks good.


[i] Culpeper County, Virginia, Deed Book B, pages 440, Clerk of the Court, Culpeper, Culpeper County, Virginia, FamilySearch.org (www.FamilySearch.og: 19 December 2021).

[ii] Culpeper County, Virginia, Will Book B, Page 238, Division of Courtney Norman Estate, Clerk of the Court, Culpeper, Culpeper County, Virginia, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com: accessed 19 December 2021).

Blog 2022 01 16 2022 Trusting Others Research

Have you ever wondered whether someone else’s research is truly accurate?  Were they being thorough or just trying to tie in one or two lines?  Might there have been an ulterior motive resulting in slanted research?  For example, did a couple only have grandchildren from one of their nine children who lived to adulthood?

While this is possible it is not common and may require deeper research.  I know I have discussed this before but I see more and more online trees simply copying bad research into their own trees and this is not a good practice.

I am now working on my third case of determining legal ownership of land which lacks a clear title.  In order to do this, I must track down every living descendant of a daughter who died around 1899.  The land has been passed down from generation to generation without a will or legal transfer.  However, the only trees I can find relate to the line which stayed on or near the land.  They might have little interest in finding other legal heirs to share whatever money they will get for selling the land.

Some other reasons why people may deliberately exclude a branch could be some family split such as a change in their religious denomination, criminal record, opposing side of hot issues like military draft, slave ownership, etc.  The list could go on.

My point goes back to a disclaimer I have stated many times, “History IS what History WAS.”  Whatever our ancestors did in the past should not be a reason to exclude them from our trees.  If we are truly interested in researching our family history then we should be all-inclusive for the best accuracy and understanding.

 

Blog 2022 01 09 “2022 Genealogical Goals “

I started this last weekend then was OBE, overcome by events.  Does that happen to you?

I hope and trust you discovered some good information last year in your family research and I hope my blogs have helped.

I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the five standards as defined by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) because it is foundational to our research.  In researching recently for a client back their immigration ancestor in the mid-1600s of Virginia, I came across a lot of misinformation I needed to weed through to determine fact from conjecture or simply getting multiple men of the same name mixed up.  And while we may make notes, even about conjecture, we must go back and firmly decide whether it was true or not.  Even I almost left a piece of information in my report which clearly stated that an allegation was not proven to be true but upon reading it just before sending it to the client I realized that I had proven it false and clearly showed it.  This involved whether a man’s first wife, Mary, had died and he remarried an Elizabeth as many people believe.  However, early in his life his wife, Mary, signed her Dower in the sale of a piece of land.  It is Mary who is named in the will.  It is also Mary, who filed the will and rejected it since she did not receive her Dower.  Therefore, there was no second wife named Elizabeth.

We also took a look at often overlooked court records.  This is where we usually can find the most information about a person and family.  Most, bought and sold land, applied for licenses, served on juries, and had many other interactions with the government.  I also stressed to look at ALL parts of the estate records for overlooked children, daughters’ marriages, and kinship.  In one case, if there was any doubt who a man’s daughter married, the fact, “for love and affection to my daughter,” he deeded his son-in-law and daughter, named, a tract of land.

We also reviewed how to access these court and other government records at FamilySearch.org.  It is a free site, the best kind, and they are constantly digitizing new records.  There are some records that require accessing from a Family History Library or an affiliate public library and we discussed how to find them.

One other overlooked part is comparing the timeline of our ancestors to historical events.  There are lots of reasons to do this and one of the biggest is that it might help explain the WHY.  Why someone suddenly died, why they became an invalid, or why they might have moved.

My past blogs are available for free on my website at www.AtlantaGenealogy.com and you can go back and reread any of them, any time you like.

Blog 2022 01 02 2021 in Review

I started this last weekend then was OBE, overcome by events.  Does that happen to you?

I hope and trust you discovered some good information last year in your family research and I hope my blogs have helped.

I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the five standards as defined by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) because it is foundational to our research.  In researching recently for a client back their immigration ancestor in the mid-1600s of Virginia, I came across a lot of misinformation I needed to weed through to determine fact from conjecture or simply getting multiple men of the same name mixed up.  And while we may make notes, even about conjecture, we must go back and firmly decide whether it was true or not.  Even I almost left a piece of information in my report which clearly stated that an allegation was not proven to be true but upon reading it just before sending it to the client I realized that I had proven it false and clearly showed it.  This involved whether a man’s first wife, Mary, had died and he remarried an Elizabeth as many people believe.  However, early in his life his wife, Mary, signed her Dower in the sale of a piece of land.  It is Mary who is named in the will.  It is also Mary, who filed the will and rejected it since she did not receive her Dower.  Therefore, there was no second wife named Elizabeth.

We also took a look at often overlooked court records.  This is where we usually can find the most information about a person and family.  Most, bought and sold land, applied for licenses, served on juries, and had many other interactions with the government.  I also stressed to look at ALL parts of the estate records for overlooked children, daughters’ marriages, and kinship.  In one case, if there was any doubt who a man’s daughter married, the fact, “for love and affection to my daughter,” he deeded his son-in-law and daughter, named, a tract of land.

We also reviewed how to access these court and other government records at FamilySearch.org.  It is a free site, the best kind, and they are constantly digitizing new records.  There are some records that require accessing from a Family History Library or an affiliate public library and we discussed how to find them.

One other overlooked part is comparing the timeline of our ancestors to historical events.  There are lots of reasons to do this and one of the biggest is that it might help explain the WHY.  Why someone suddenly died, why they became an invalid, or why they might have moved.

My past blogs are available for free on my website at www.AtlantaGenealogy.com and you can go back and reread any of them, any time you like.

Blog 2021 12 19 Using Timelines in your research

We have discussed timelines a little bit but let’s look more closely at the benefits of using this tool in our research.

If we start by listing every event concerning an individual or family in a spreadsheet (or document) showing the date, the event, and the URL or location of the supporting documents.  Keep adding to it until you have sufficient information that answers all necessary questions.  For instance, while some trees may show a man has remarried after the death of his wife or the assumption of death, the timeline may show that the second wife was actually the son’s wife or another man with the same name.

The timelines can also help determine whether or not certain events pertain to a certain individual such as military service.  Another case involved the timeline proving that an individual could have been a witness to a document because he was just a young child and therefore there had to be another adult with the same name.

Listing all events can lead us to resolve other questions as well.  When we find events such as selling land we look for when and how it was acquired to try and ascertain age.  Listing anything that involves their children might also add to determining an age.

Another advantage is determining the movement of individuals and families.  I recently pointed out that an individual who many believe to have moved to Hampshire County, Virginia (now West Virginia) could not be there and also still be living in Culpeper County.

Most genealogical software will help catch such mistakes when they are mistakes.  For instance, it alerts me that my grandfather married when he was 80.  The answer is, yes he did.  That woman, who was 70 at the time is the only grandmother I ever really knew.  The software also shows me that a relative was born before his parents married, again, that is true.  It also showed that he was born before his mother was born.  Oops, fat finger syndrome, I had to go correct that oversight.

Timelines can help us keep on track as we do our research.  Whether it is a timeline of an individual or a family, they help us see what we have, what we are missing, and maybe where to look for the answers.  By creating timelines we actually develop a road map for our research.

Give it a try and see if it does not help you.  Be sure to list anything and everything you come across.

Blog 2021 12 12 How do you search for your ancestor?

I have written and spoken many times about researching the family members for all hints.  As we are looking for specific ancestors, we often find clues in other family documents.  This week I want to look at some Courthouse examples.

Want might we learn from Deeds?

Let’s say you are looking for proof of a man you believe has a daughter Susan who married a James M. Turner.  As you read a land deed you see where your ancestor’s property borders “his son-in-law James M. Turner”.  You now have found your second validation.  We so often overlook the description of the property and who the neighbors are.

I have seen many times in both North and South Carolina land records, where they list some of the histories of the property which might include a relative by name.  It may also list a previous owner as a grandparent or father-in-law.

What might we find in estate records?

I already wrote about a case where we learn the names of the adult children and the daughter’s husbands in the estate records.  But there can sometimes be many other things we can learn from estates.

Often the Last Will & Testament may state that a bequeathal is made for the offspring of a deceased son or daughter.  I have also seen where the husband of a childless couple leaves everything to his wife and his wife in turn left everything to nephews and nieces.  While many may believe that particular couple had several children in the early 1700s, it would have been against the statutes for the father to give his wife everything and neglect a son.  While he might be able to ignore a daughter, the eldest son by most laws entitled him to no less than one-third of the estate and at times more.

Again, as I have written in the past, if the estate is open for several years you may learn who has died, married, remarried, and additional grandchildren.  Never neglect researching every aspect of the estate.

When the executor or executrix (or administrator) is challenged can be enlightening where it states specific reasons.

What about Colonial and early American Courts?

Reading the historic Court Minute Book can show us many things about our ancestors.  Did you know that it was illegal in many places to absent yourself from the Parish Church?  If you were a poor mother with underage children and no husband, the courts may step in and take your children and apprentice them out to some other family.  Maybe not even a part of the same family.

Even in colonial times, we were a litigious society and you may find that your ancestor was either suing someone else or being the defendant in a lawsuit.  We often see roads being petitioned, laid out, and men assigned to build them, and your ancestor might be among those listed or whose property is named.  This is another place you might find familial relationships.

If your ancestor ran an Inn or a Tavern they required a license and a bond and it was recorded in the order book.  These were eventually moved to other courts.  Also, marriage Bonds were recorded in the courts whereas marriage Banns were recorded mainly in the churches.

Don’t forget the taxes

Be sure to look for any property tax and remember, it was not just on land.  They were taxed on livestock and certain property.  If confused by persons with the same name use the militia districts as the tax records should align with the census records.

Blog 2021 11 12 Take advantage of those Free Days on Search Sites

Every year, all of the major genealogy research sites will offer free days such as Fold3.com’s recent free access to military records for Veteran’s Day.  Many of these run through midnight on a Sunday or Monday and that is usually midnight Mountain Time (for all the Ancestry-owned sites), or wherever the company headquarters is located.

Here are my recommendations for taking full advantage of those days.

First, examine what types of records they typically make available during these days (military, death records, etc.).

Second, determine what records you want that fall into these categories and prioritize the order of research.

Third, determine whether there is a local library that can be used anytime by you so you make the best use of those days when they come around and not get documents you might already have access to.

Fourth, watch for the announcements.

Fifth, sign in as soon as they become available and begin researching.  Besides downloading the document or documents, be sure to capture all of the information for the proper citation of the record(s).

Sixth, mark this item off your to-do list.

Seventh, update your list and await the next opportunity.

Keep researching and good luck!

 

Blog 2021 11 05 Don’t forget to apply history

As family researchers, we are also historians.  Have you looked closely and the history of the area as it might apply to your person(s) of interest when you cannot find certain documents?

In tracing the ancestry of a particular William Norman from Culpeper County Virginia, it is looking quite clear that he descends from one Isaac Norman.  The question is how?  Isaac and his family originally patented land in Spotsylvania County, he is later found in Orange County and then some of the family is in Culpeper with him and others are still in Orange.  However, there is no record of selling or buying land.  How can this be?

Because he never moved.  By going to FamilySearch.org’s research wiki, and putting in Virginia, Culpeper, we find that Culpeper was formed in 1748 from Orange County. [i] We then go to Orange County and find it was formed in 1734 from Spotsylvania. [ii] So this would explain how Isaac is in multiple counties without moving.  So, 14 years after carving Orange County from Spotsylvania, they carved Culpeper out of Orange.  What about the family?

By researching each child who procured land, we find who bought where and it might help see who was living in each area.  Now we can apply the fact that William claimed he was born in Culpeper in 1763 to the timeline and look specifically at those Norman’s in Culpeper at the time.  Does that help?

It can, instead of looking specifically for William’s parents, begin rebuilding each of the Norman families living in Culpeper to find all who had sons named William.  Then try to trace each William until you find the one you specifically researching.

But we have a great hint, he was a tobacco farmer.  That would narrow it down, shouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, no.  Isaac was a tobacco farmer and so were many descendants for several generations.

So, here we are, trying to rebuild each of the Norman families living in Culpeper in 1763.  We must also keep in mind that William may NOT have actually been born in Culpeper.  It is possible his family moved there while he was a small child and never realized he was born elsewhere.  But before worrying about that possibility.  Let’s work on all Norman families in the area first.

[i] https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Culpeper_County,_Virginia_Genealogy

[ii] https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Orange_County,_Virginia_Genealogy