Children in Quotes and No Data Entry

I’ve tried to be very careful in my blog posts on the family of Benjamin Butler to put the word “children” in quotes. It would probably be best to refer to these individuals as members of Benjamin’s household, particularly those who are not enumerated in his 1880 household.

My work on these individuals is incomplete and at this point I’m not certain which children are his and which ones may be children of one of his wives by a previous marriage. Even for his children, I’m not certain for all of them which ones were born from which marriage. Benjamin is known to have had two wives, Margaret Stevens and Nancy Jane Wolfe. Benjamin married Nancy Jane in Nebraska in 1854. He may have had a wife between Margaret and Nancy.

Entering any relationships in a computer database is premature at this point as well.

I’ll stick to charts to list the children as we’ve shown in blog posts and maintaining the individuals as separate people in any genealogical databases that include relationships.

But to be honest, I’m sticking to doing my work in Microsoft Word.


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It’s Not a Hallson

It took me quite a while to figure out what this word was on John Lake’s 1863 federal tax assessment. The item he was taxed on (the actual heading it “occupation or article”) is the one on the list between the line that starts with 13 and the line that starts with 18.I’m pretty certain it says “stallion. “The tax due was $10.83–this would have been a nice piece of change in 1863.


Were They Married: What’s More Reliable?

I’ve stripped the identifying details because these individuals were alive during my lifetime. The thought process and analysis is what matters.

A relative dies in California in the early 1970s and is survived by a woman with whom he shared his home. She is referred to as his “wife” in his obituary. His “wife” dies ten years later in California.

The relative’s intestate probate file documents who the heirs of the relative were at the time of his death and how the balance of his estate was distributed among his heirs. No wife is listed as an heir–only his siblings or children of pre-deceased siblings are listed. Those same individuals receive the entire balance of his estate. Again, no wife is listed. No spousal inheritance is indicated.

Ten years later the woman who was living with him at the time of his death dies. Her last name on the death certificate is two last names: the apparent last name of a previous husband and the last name of a relative. These two last names are separated by an “aka.” The woman’s marital status is listed as “widowed.” The informant’s name, address, and relationship to the deceased are given. The name and address are consistent with a known sister-in-law of the relative who died in the early 1970s. The relationship as stated on the death certificate is “sister-in-law.”

To date, a marriage record has not been located for the relative and the woman who was his purported wife.

But what is more likely to reflect the true marital relationship (were they married or not?): the probate record, the death record, or the obituary? That is the order in which I would give them credence. Had there been a legal marriage, the wife would have been entitled to inherit from his estate (if this is not something I am certain of, reference to appropriate state statue at the time in question is recommended). The woman living with him would have known that he died and, if she were entitled to his property, would likely have asserted her rights to it.

The death record states she is widowed, but that reference could have been to a previous husband. The informant being listed as a “sister-in-law” is evidence of a relationship between the two, but stronger evidence than that statement is needed.

And obituaries? Well they can always be incorrect.

Not all records are created equally.


Beginning Irish Research Webinar Released

Irish research isn’t easy, but knowing what is available and having a plan can help. That’s what is discussed in my “Beginning Irish Research” webinar. It’s an hour of actual content–no babble and we don’t spend time trying to sell you other products.

Irish native Annie (Murphy) Neill, born about 1840.

More information (including a discount coupon for Rootdig readers good through 19 November) can be found on our announcement page.

Note: the coupon is good through 19 November even though the announcement page says otherwise.


Are those “n”s made into “u”s or vice versa?

The screen above is one of the results from a search for  “Freund” as a last name in Scott County, Iowa, in the Civil War Draft Registrations Records (1863-1865) at I’m not exactly certain what made someone think “Panl” was a first name. I’m not even certain what it could be an abbreviation for.

The image below is from the actual record. It really appears to be Paul Freund as the 37 year old on line 2 of this image.

Astute readers will notice that there is also a forty year old Peter Freund listed. Turns out they are brothers, but that’s not clear from this listing.


Thoughts on “Is It My Person?”

  1. Sounds matter more than spelling. Consider a name as potentially being a match to your person of interest if the name sounds the name, even if the spelling is different.
  2. Ages should be reasonably consistent. If the document gives an age it should be relatively consistent with the known age for the person. Often we do not know who provided the age in the record and it’s also possible that the age you have for a person is incorrect, particularly if you know little about the person of interest.
  3. Does it fit the chronology for the person of interest? People are not buying land or paying taxes (usually) before they reach the age of majority. Eighty-year old women are not having children. Sixty-five year old men are not usually signing up for active military service.
  4. Does it fit the lifestyle of the person of interest? Does the new document indicate the person attended a denomination significantly different from what is suggested in other records? Does the new document suggest a significant change in financial status? Is the residence of the person of interest consistent with what is suggested by the new document? Does the person’s religious beliefs or church membership suggest they would not actively serve in the military on a volunteer basis? Is the occupation listed consisted with the known person.
  5. Place of birth should be reasonably consistent. Records on the known person may give inconsistent places of birth, but these hopefully are either in close geographic proximity or tied to other events in their life (eg. the family of origin moved and places of birth as given include these different places). If all information on the known ancestor suggests they were born in Kentucky or Virginia, a record you think is on them that indicates they were born in New Hampshire would be suspect.
  6. Any other item that looks “off.” This last piece of advice summarizes the first five points and is intended to cover anything we overlooked. If the new record suggests something significantly different from what’s known about the known ancestor, there’s a good chance you have the wrong person in that new record.

The less you know about a person of interest, the more difficult it can be to make these judgement calls about whether you have the same person in a record or not. In those cases, more research is warranted before determining if it’s the same person.

Keep track of the things you have eliminated as being for your person of interest, especially if that determination took you some time. Don’t just track what you concluded was not for your person of interest–briefly include your reason as to why that conclusion was reached and the information eliminated. That will make it easier if you realize what you “knew” about the person of interest was incorrect and a review of previous research is necessary.


Getting a 1905 Signature

It took me years to locate a signature of John Michael Trautvetter who died in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1917. It was not for lack of trying. It was simply because of the records that he left behind.

John was not one of those ancestors who leaves few records and is hard to document. He appears in numerous records after his family immigrated from Germany in 1853. It was simply that most of those records did not include his actual signature.

John was easily found in every US federal census from 1860 through 1910. Obviously those records do not contain his signature or his handwriting–he was not the census taker on any of those records.

John’s 1868 marriage record in Hancock County, Illinois, does not contain his signature either. The only actual signatures that record contains are from the minister who married them and his in-laws who signed a letter indicating that their daughter could get married. A review of other marriage records for the same time period indicated that John’s marriage was not unique in that aspect. It’s always good to look at other records to see if the one of interest is unusual in any way. John’s was not.

John owned approximately 200 acres of real estate in Hancock County from the 1860s until he died in 1917. The deeds of acquisition for those parcels were not signed by him. While John did mortgage the property on at least two occasions, the record copies of those mortgages in the courthouse are handwritten transcriptions–again typical for the time period. Handwritten transcriptions indicate that the original was signed by John and acknowledged by him, but it’s the clerk’s handwriting on the transcription. Again that’s typical for the time period and location.

John did not write a will and died intestate. While the packet of papers for his probate settlement is fairly large, there’s no original document in the file that contains his signature. That’s not unusual.

John did not serve in the Civil War so there’s no pension application or military materials that would have included a copy of his signature either.

John’s parents deeded their real property to their son before they died. Because of this, there’s no probate record for either of them (I’ve looked). Had there been a probate file for either of his parents, John’s signature may have been contained in a petition, on a receipt, or some other document in the file.

John’s father-in-law died in 1855 before John had married into the family so he would not have been mentioned in that record either.

John’s mother-in-law died in 1904 and this was another possible place where John’s signature might have appeared–perhaps on a receipt, a claim, etc. There was no mention on John in her probate and I was not surprised. John’s wife had been dead for fifteen years by this time. While his children were heirs of the mother-in-law (since they were her grandchildren and their mother was dead), they were all of the age of majority. Had one of them been a minor at the time their grandmother died, John may have been mentioned.

But fortunately, at least in terms of my search for his signature, John’s daughter was under the age of majority when she married in 1905. Because of that, she needed John’s permission to marry. That was where I found the only extant copy of his actual signature: in her marriage record.

Given the time period, the way records were kept, and the way the family’s finances were handled, it was not unusual for John to just about slip through life without leaving a copy of his signature around.

Unfortunately there are no family letters or other materials of that type either.

The next question is: did John write the letter of consent or did he just sign it?


A Life Estate in They Were Her Property”

I’m reading “They Were Her Property” by Stephanie Jones-Rogers. The 2019 release by Yale University Press discusses white women’s involvement in the US slave trade and covers the period before and after the US Civil War. It contains an in-depth discussion of white women slaveowners in the 18th and 19th centuries. The portion of the book after the Civil War focuses on the adjustments these women had to make after slavery was abolished. It is an interesting and enlightening piece of historical writing from a perspective one does not usually see and it provides an eye-opening documentation of white women’s active involvement in slave ownership in the United States.

Jones-Rogers uses a variety of documents familiar to genealogists: probate files, court records, deeds, manumissions, and other local court records as a rich source upon which to draw examples. While the book’s message and main point is about white women’s involvement in slavery, it also provides the reader with insight into how women’s property rights–at least in some families–were preserved even after their marriage using the legal maneuverings available in the 18th and 19th century. Families with the means (or the knowledge) were able to structure property ownership in such ways as to “keep in the family,” “give the women some autonomy financially,” and shield it from creditors of a husband with poor financial skills.

I’m only about one-third of the way through the book and this is not meant to be a review. There was a phrase on page thirty that caught my attention:

They also imposed limits on the amount of time their female kin could hold property, usually granting them “life estates” that accorded them ownership for their lifetime after which the estates passed on to their children.

Jones-Rogers, Stephanie E., They Were Her Property, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2019, page 30.

Jones-Roger’s book is not a legal dictionary or a legal work and genealogists reading it to get some insight into their own family’s legal documents need to remember that. Historians generally are writing about macro trends and patterns while genealogy is history and the law at the micro level. The historian necessarily summarizes details to garner a larger picture. That large perspective is good for the genealogist to have, but the researcher needs to bear in mind that family history research is about the minor details of the larger historical narrative that are major details in the life of the individuals genealogists research.

A life estate granted to a female actually is not so much about the “time” a female could own property. It is about what she could do with that property in which she had been granted a life estate. She could use it and receive income from it, but selling, mortgaging, transferring it, etc. could not be done. The “life” nature of the life estate means that she had the use and income rights during her life time.

Whether it went to her children after her death would depend upon the document that granted her the life estate in the property. The grantor (original owner) of the property in cases such as these typically did indicate that after the recipient of the life estate died it was to go to her children. But they did not have to do that. The remaindermen (one who receives property after the person to whom the life estate was granted dies) could be anyone the original grantor chose.

Jones-Rogers book is an engaging read intended to shed light on an aspect of slavery in the United States that is not often discussed. Because of its subject matter, it is also an engaging read for those with female ancestors–particularly in the southern United States–even if those ancestors were not slave owners. Families that did not hold slaves also occasionally performed legal maneuverings to prevent an errant son-in-law from squandering his wife’s inheritance.

They Were Her Property” is giving me additional perspective in the life of my Southern ancestors.


Did Your Ancestor Get a Timber Claim?

Determining if your ancestor filed a Timber Claim under the Timber Culture Act of 1873 can be somewhat problematic. The Timber Act was passed with the hope of getting settlers on Federal land to plant and cultivate timber. The belief was that the timber could eventually be harvested by settlers and that the vegetation would increase the amount of rain in the areas where the trees were planted.

That last belief was mistaken.

There is more about the Timber Culture Act of 1873 on these two locations:

Determining if your relative filed a timber claim is a little more difficult. In some states, particularly ones with a somewhat arid climate, many claims were abandoned or relinquished. Only claims that completed the timber culture requirements (which were amended over time) and were proved up by the claimant, resulted in a patent from the General Land Office that transferred title in the property to the claimant. Those patents are indexed by name of claimant and available on the Bureau of Land Management website ( The complete files are at the National Archives.

So are the incomplete ones.

The challenge is that to find a claim, one must know the precise location of the claim. If the claim was completed, the patent image from the BLM website will have that information–the legal description will be included. That’s enough information to obtain a copy of the completed claim application.

The incomplete claim did not generate a patent, so the legal description will need to be obtained elsewhere. The General Land Office maintained tract books which tracked all claims filed on Federal land, whether they resulted in a complete valid claim or not. But these tract books are organized geographically based upon where the land was located–which is often unknown.

If the claim was in Nebraska, it is easier. The BLM tract books for Nebraska have been indexed for all names (complete and incomplete claims) and can be searches on the History Nebraska website. For other states, the researcher will need to search the tract books (online at FamilySearch) manually. This is a cumbersome process when the location is not reasonably known.

There are some ways to get an idea of where a Timber Claim may have been filed if it was not completed. Some of these claims may be near where a completed homestead claim was already filed and completed. In that case, search that general location for the name of the homesteader. If the potential timber claimant’s township of residence is known, that is the place to begin the search. Just remember that some individuals did file Timber Claims outside the township where they lived.

Completed claims typically do not contain as much information as homestead applications and the amount of information in an incomplete claim can vary depending upon where in the process the claimant was when the claim was abandoned or relinquished.