2023 02 05 Interesting Finds at Courthouses

If you are a frequent researcher of courthouses or digitized court records you might have seen some oops!  What I mean by oops, are records in a ledger designated for a specific topic but has a page or pages that has nothing to do with the book’s title.

For instance, this past week I am looking for any document that puts a Simon Bailey McElroy in Paulding County.  The goal is to prove he is the son of a John McElroy.  I was researching on FamilySearch.org and looking at marriage books.  Often, the roll will have more than one digitized microfilm book on the roll.  So I set it to grid view and then shrink it all the way down so I can see if other books show up.  As I started to do this, I saw several pages that stood out as ‘different.’

When you do enough research, you see patterns inside these old ledgers and when something looks off, it catches your attention.  When I zoomed in, I saw numerous pages that do not contain marriage information but County Treasury reports.  Since I live within a 20-minute drive of the courthouse and because I can scan a real book quicker than I can the online microfilm, I drove to the courthouse.  About 20 pages of Paulding County Marriage Book 1 contain lists of money coming into the county and money going out in 1840.  While I did not find my Simon Bailey McElroy, I find it interesting that this type of error occurred and it leaves me baffled as to how it could have happened unless their treasurer ledger was missing and this was the easiest book to grab.

This was not the first time I have seen this.  Though rare, it has occurred and is one reason I often open a FamilySearch.org roll and do the same to see if there are any anomalies that might reveal the information I want in a place that is not indexed and where you would not expect to find it.  Had this error been in the book’s latter half, I might not have seen it.  I don’t spend a lot of time looking for these occurrences but they are fun to look at and I think some should be indexed and annotated in published index books.

Blog 2022 04 03 2022 We learn something new all the time!

Even professionals can learn new tricks.  I have been researching a Rosa Lee Corker who appears on both the 1920 and 1930 U. S. Census as the daughter of Gordon Corker and Alene Daniels Corker. [i] When Alene dies in 1942, it is Rosa Lee Duncan who is the informant for Alene’s Death Certificate. [ii]

Rosa has a daughter, Sarah Lee Duncan who was most likely named after Alene’s mother, Sarah. [iii] Rosa remarries in 1948 several months after her daughter, Sarah Lee marries a William Thomas.  Researching William and Sarah Thomas would be extremely difficult due to the popularity of those names and I was in Macon contemplating a strategy.

My friend, and the Genealogy Librarian at Washington Memorial Library in Macon, Ms. M. Jackson suggested I obtain the marriage applications as well as the marriage certificates.  I had never thought about obtaining the application.  However, it will typicaly list parents’ names and whether they are still living or not.

In Bibb County, Georgia, where Macon is located, the cost for a certified marriage license is $30 but I did not need a certified one, just a copy.  That was $1 per page.  The application would take several days to get in, however, it came in the following day.  Again, $1 per page.

To my surprise, Rosa Lee was never a Corker.  I learned that Alene had married a Holly Myrick who was Rosa’s father.  Holly died and she then married Gordon Corker.  It further states that Rosa’s first marriage to James Duncan ended in divorce because of infidelity.

So now we have another tool in our arsenal in researching our elusive ancestors.

[i] 1920 U. S. Census, Bibb County, Georgia, population schedule, Macon City, Supervisor’s District 6, Enumeration District 23, p. 7 A (inked), Family 161, Dwelling 166, 317 Harris Alley, Household of Willie Brenn and 1930 U. S. Census, Bibb County, Georgia, population schedule, Macon City, Supervisor’s District 8, Enumeration District 11-10, p. 2B (inked), Family 49, Dwelling 58, 220 Division Street, Household of Gordon Corker, image, www.Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com: accessed 3 April 2022), citing NARA T625, roll 23 (1920) and T626 roll 23.

[ii] Bibb County, Georgia, Georgia Department of Public Health, Certificate of Death, File No. 498, Alene Death Certificate, Alene Corker, Bibb Probate Court, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.

[iii] Bibb County, Georgia, Application for Marriage Licenses, Sarah Lee Duncan, Bibb Probate Court, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.

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 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 ‘+.’

John X Doe
John J Doe

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 2021 10 29 Don’t ignore the courthouses

I have met people who have done research for over 20 years and never once stepped inside a courthouse to conduct their research.  This can be a big mistake as way too many records get overlooked which could help in your research.

While many courthouses have suffered devastating record losses the overwhelming majority have not.  Chances are, if your ancestor lived there long enough, they had to have interacted with the local government.  At the very least, they paid their local taxes.

I have written a series of articles on the subject of research at courthouses which is available through the Cobb County Genealogical society’s website in the member’s section at www.CobbGaGenSoc.org.  I hope to post them here on this website soon.  For now, I will give a brief look at what you might find.

Estate records hold invaluable information about the families who lived in the area and had someone die who owned an estate.  Many people settle for just the will, if one exists, but you really need to evaluate every scrap of paper in the packet.  Often, it took a few years to close an estate during which time minors came of age, daughters married, children died and their share went to their children if they had any.  Married daughters died and their father left items to their grandchildren.  Additionally, once the testator (one making the will) died, his or her executor(s) went into the court to have the will submitted to the court to open the administration of the estate.

Land and deed records can help in identifying when someone moved to an area and when they departed.  Assuming your ancestor bought land (I have one line who were renters for generations) then the earliest recorded date will be closer to when they moved there or became an adult and could buy land.  Also, the land was disposed of in some fashion.  Either they sold it, gave it away as a gift of love, or the estate had to deal with the land after they died.  You may also find that your ancestor was a trustee in some organization such as a church or masons.  I have even found the only known document of a couple separating in the deed records.

Criminal and civil court records can also hold a lot of great information.  Whether your ancestor was charged with a crime or gave testimony, there might be good sources in these records.  Also, we have always been a very litigious society with suing others or being sued and you can learn from these records as well.

Do not overlook the vital records stored in courthouses but do not limit yourself to the “certificates.”  Such as Birth, Marriage, and Death.  You can often find the same information in the vital record registers.  I previously mentioned that my father has two birth certificates in the official files in Appling County with his name spelled slightly different and date of birth wrong.  The register confirmed the spelling and birthday he spent his life using.

One more thing, do not assume all the court ledgers are on FamilySearch, often they are not.  There are miscellaneous ledgers that were not easily categorized which were overlooked.