Lamentations Over Scant Details

golden-1920-behrens-sartoriusIt can be frustrating when a document or record provides fewer identifying details of individuals than we would like, particularly in newspapers.

Sometimes it’s a matter of space and certain identifying details make the item too large to fit in the allotted space. Sometimes, particularly for death notices and obituaries, there may be a per-word charge that effects how many words can be used in an item.

But there is often another reason why extraneous details are not given in a newspaper story: they are not needed to identify the individual.

The illustration in this post, under the section “Golden Town Property Changes” indicated that “Mrs. Sartorius had sold her property to her brother, Mr. Behrens, who lives-east of town. His son will occupy the farm and Mr. Behrens will move to town.”

Why can’t it name Mrs. Sartorius?
Why can’t it name Mr. Behrens?
What can’t it name the oldest son?

Because it’s the small town of Golden, Illinois–there’s only one Mrs. Sartorius whose brother is Mr. Behrens. And given that, they’ll likely know who his oldest son is as well. Anyone contemporary reading the reference will likely know exactly to whom the article is referring even if first names are not used. The references as printed are sufficient to the 1920-era reader and using the first names would probably have made the item take up one more line of type-an additional concern.

Newspapers usually see themselves in the business of providing news. They don’t see themselves in the business of leaving behind a complete historical record for future generations. After all, who provided the newspaper its revenue in 1920? It’s subscribers and advertisers.

The Quincy Daily Herald in 1920 was not getting any money from those who currently use the newspaper today. They were under no obligation to leave behind a detailed record so that someone in 100 years would be able to learn things about their forebears.

Always keep in mind the original purpose of any record that we use.

And while you may miss the data when someone is simply listed as Miss Jones, remember that when the reference was published most people already knew who Miss Jones was.

The purpose of a newspaper is not to print things that everyone already knows. They are called newspapers for  reason.


An Illegal Homestead Filing: Part III

antje-claimOn 1 July 1884, Antje Albers went to the land office in North Platte, Nebraska to file a claim on the north 1/2 of the south east 1/4 of section 14 in township 11 north range 25 west. It was the same property her granddaughter had initially filed a claim to in 1883.

A. D. Buckworth, Register of the Land Office, did “certify that the above application is for Surveyed Lands of the class to which the applicant is legally entitled to enter under Section 2289, Revised Statutes of the United States, and that there is no prior adverse right to the same.”

That “certification” was part of the form.

There’s no times given on any part of that document, but apparently later that same day Buckworth wrote the following annotation on the bottom of Antje’s claim:

Rejected for the reason affidavit to contest above described land was filed in this office June 27–1884

Why Buckworth took her application in the first place is another question.

The plot thickens.

& I Was Reading Too Fast

This image was also posted to the Faread2fastcebook page for Genealogy Tip of the Day but it’s seems like a good reminder for most of us.

I encountered this petition from Mary Brown to be appointed the guardian of her daughter of the same name in Stow, Massachusetts, in 1766 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Probate Case File 2948).

When viewing and downloading the files for future analysis, I was only partially reading them as I intended to more fully review them after I had completed the download. This file almost seemed to be the incorrect one as I was reading too quickly and thought the “&” was an “of.” This was one document where that would make a significant difference.

The Mary Brown in which I had an interest was the widow of an Ephraim Puffer. After his death she married Amos Brown and he died as well. This petition is for her to be appointed guardian of their daughter Mary Brown. Jabez Puffer (Mary’s in-law) is serving as her bondsman on the guardianship. That’s made clear in the remainder of the document.

When something like this happens I am reminded of the importance of not making snap judgments when review documents superficially. It’s easy to say that one should “never do it.” The reality is a little more difficult.

But jumping to conclusions can be a problem–and that “&” matters.

Sometimes one item read incorrectly is all that it takes to become really confused.


A Good Time to Use a Derivative Source

Derivative sources are only used by wayward genealogists who have not seen the light of original sources. A curse on the genealogical research of anyone who uses derivative sources.

A curse on anyone who makes such grandiose statements.

There are times when derivative sources can and should be used. The key, like the key to most things in life, is discernment and deciding when such sources will augment work that has already been done or when they are needed for clarification.

Let’s say that I have the record copy of a will written in 1903 and admitted to probate later that same year. When the will is admitted to probate, the court clerk makes record copy of the will in the will record book. The original will is contained and filed in the packet of loose probate papers.

The original will is the original source. The record copy of the will, while the legal equivalent of the original will is, by most genealogists’ definition, a derivative source because it is a transcription of the original.

The original is what I should use. But let’s say that there are a few words I cannot read on the original. In that case the record copy may contain writing that is easier to read or maybe he was able to read words that I cannot. There are times where using the record copy can help me to interpret the original.

Derivatives are not always bad. This is just one time they can help us to more completely understand an original.

An Illegal Homestead Filing: Part II

Continuing our “Illegal Homestead Filing” story…

True to what she said in her affidavit, Cornelia Albers did file a claim for her homestead on 17 December 1883 as evidenced by this receipt for the $9 filing fee paid in the North Platte, Nebraska, land office. This duplicate receipt was apparently the one retained by Cornelia after she left the land office. corneliaapplies1

As she indicated in her affidavit, she transferred her claim. Her relinquishment of her claim on 1 July 1884 was made to the United States government, not to her grandmother. That relinquishment was made on the reverse side of her receipt and was acknowledged by a local notary public.

Given that she technically was not of age when she made the claim, it might have been ruled invalid anyway. That’s why she (or someone in her family) had her grandmother, Antje, file a claim for the same property. Improvements had been made on the property and those would be lost if the claim went “outside the family.” As we will see, Cornelia and Antje were not the only members of the Albers family living in Dawson County, Nebraska. In fact, they are are an excellent example of indivduals who were part of a larger chain of migration. corneliaapplies2

As we continue this story, we’ll see that Cornelia had a little help in remembering her birthday–and it likely was not from her grandmother Albers.

Asking Why?

One needs to wonder, but one needs to avoid drawing conclusions that are not supported by the documents.

I’ve been reviewing estate settlement records on three members of the Behrens/Sartorius family who died in Adams County, Illinois, between 1883 and 1889

  • Herman Sartorius–husband of Volke Behrens–died in 1883.
  • Ulfert Behrens–father of Volke (Behrens) Sartorius–died in 1889.
  • Frederick Behrens–mother of Volke (Behrens) Sartorius–died in 1889.

The Behrenses died less than 24 hours apart and yet separate estates were opened for both of them. Ulfert who died first, had a will and did not leave any property to his wife. In fact, he bequeathed his wife’s clothing in his will, probably because they were both ill at the same time. For reasons that are not explained, an estate was opened up for Fredericka so her widow’s award from her husband could pass through probate.

When Herman died, Ulfert was appointed administrator of his estate. Ulfert had to liquidate the entire estate to pay Herman’s bills. Because there was no real estate of any value, guardians were not appointed for Herman’s children when he died.

When Ulfert and Frederick died, Trientje Volke was appointed guardian for her children for apparently one reason: to sue her parents’ estate for the wages of her two children who lived with their grandparents.

At first the guardianship for Herman Sartorius’ children did not make sense,  six years after he died and when he was nearly broke at his death. But Trientje could not sue the estate for the wages of her children unless she was appointed guardian.

We’re analyzing these items in more details in Casefile Clues, but this gets to the heart of the matter.

It’s often about context. There’s usually a reason for things–we just need to sometimes look  a little deeper to find it.

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The Skinny on a Skinny Yodeler

Some families are simply known for being long-winded.

According to family tradition printed in a privately published 1950-era family history, John Michael Trautvetter went from Illinois to California during the great Gold Rush. Fortune did not smile on John Michael in California. He found no gold and became frustrated. He decided that panning for gold simply was not worth it. After all, the majority of the time goldseekers came up emptyhanded.

Frustrated with his lack of success in California, John Michael decided to return to Illinois by ship. This required that he sail around the tip of South America. He was headed to New Orleans so that he could continue north on the Mississippi until he reached Hancock County, Illinois.

The ship ran out of water and was forced to land. John Michael and several other young men were sent ashore in search of water and were subsequently captured by cannibals. All hope seemed lost and the former goldseekers thought they would meet their end on the tip of South America, thousands of miles from home. It was not to be. John Michael was a musician and his yodeling scared the natives and they decided he was too skinny to eat anyway.

They were freed and returned to the boat.

Skinny yodelers simply are not appetizing.


An Illegal Homestead Filing: Part I

Cornelia Albers’ homestead claim in Dawson County, Nebraska, was not your typical homestead claim. Cornelia filed her claim before she was eligible to do so—four days shy of her twenty-first birthday. In an attempt to keep the claim in the family she transferred her improvements on it to her grandmother. Cornelia’s claim was to eighty acres in township 11 north range 25 west in Dawson County.

On 1 July 1884, Cornelia made the following statement in regards to her homestead claim. Cornelia admitted she was four days shy of her twenty-first birthday when she filed her claim on 17 December 1883, but she did not think the four day difference was significant enough to be a problem. Approximately two months ago she realized her filing was illegal due to her age and she transferred her improvements to her grandmother, Antje Albers. Antje Albers then entered into possession of said tract of land at once and began to improve the property and established her residence on the parcel of property on 17 June 1884. Antje has built a house on the property and has broken five acres on which she has planted corn and beans. The land office was closed or Antje would have filed her clam sooner and filed it as soon as she aware the land office was open—on 1 July 1884.

This is Cornelia’s affidavit, told from her perspective. It makes one wonder what caused her to realize that the four days were suddenly a problem. And why did she assign the improvements in the property to her grandmother? It is worth noting that Cornelia did not assign her claim to her grandmother—an apparent acknowledgement that her initial filing was invalid.

And there must be something about the date Antje Albers filed her claim, because Cornelia makes it clear that Antje filed her claim as soon as she was aware of the land office being open.

There is no completed patent file for this claim–either for Cornelia or Antje. These records were of an incomplete claim for the property in question held at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Stay tuned…there’s more to this than Cornelia suddenly panicking about being a few days shy of twenty-one when she filed her claim.