Summoning Up a James Tinsley

Testimony and depositions can be among the most genealogically revealing documents in court records. They certainly are in this 1830-era court case from Lynchburg,Virginia, that centered around the inheritance of one grandchild of John Tinsley who died in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1817. But those documents are not the only items that may provide useful.

Tracking people who moved during this time period can be particularly difficult. That difficulty can be aggravated when certain names are used repeatedly in families to the point where there are individuals of about the same age, born in the same place, who have the same name. That is the case with James Tinsley–son of the John Tinsley who died in Amherst in 1817.

He had two first cousins named James Tinsley (both sons of brothers (Edward and William) of the John Tinsley who died in 1817 in Amherst County. Of these three James Tinsleys, two stayed in Virginia until their deaths in the 1820-1840 era. They appear in land and census records in Amherst and Bedford Counties in Virginia in the early 19th century. The third James Tinsley moved to Kentucky around 1800. The Kentucky James married Susannah Rucker of Amherst County as evidenced by land records in Amherst County that clearly indicate Susannah’s husband is James Tinsley who is living in Kentucky.

The question is: who was the father of the Kentucky James?

And there was the answer in the court case from Lynchburg, Virginia, in the 1830s. Right there in the summons to appear. At the bottom of the reverse of the summons is the phrase:

“Chas. Harrison, James Tinsley, Elizabeth West, John Harrison, Lindsey Tinsley, Sally Sledd, Richard Fowler and wife are not inhabitants of this State.”

The other individuals listed on the summons are children of John Tinsley who died in 1817, sons-in-law of John Tinsley who died in 1817, or grandchildren of John Tinsley who died in 1817. If John’s son James Tinsley had been one of the James Tinsleys who lived in Bedford or Amherst County, he would have been served along with the other family members from those counties who were served in the early part of 1830.

I need to write up my argument with more detail than is in this blog post. But the key element is there buried on the reverse side of the summons. If the James Tinsley being sued with all the other heirs of John Tinsley in 1830 had been living in Virginia, his Virginia kinfolk would have known about it and he would have been served right along with them.

This record was helpful as well because it confirmed all the families of John Tinsley that had left Virginia. Sally (Tinsley) Sledd was known to have moved with her husband, Thomas, to Bourbon County, Kentucky, in the first few years of the 19th century. Thomas died in Bourbon in 1814 which is why he’s the one son-in-law not referenced in the court record.

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A 1901 Pre-Marital Contract Detailed in the Newspaper

I never cease to be amazed by the things I encounter in a newspaper. This item from the Davenport Daily Republican of 12 May 1901 discussed an ante-nuptial contract signed by Casper Wachter and Mrs. Emma Wilson before their marriage on the same date. It is dificult to imagine such a contract being discussed in a newspaper today at the time of the marriage.

Widow Wachter had children by a previous marriage, many of whom were grown by the time their father married Mrs. Wilson. He also had step-children from his first marriage.

I’m not certain what the inheritance laws of Iowa were in 1901, but it would be reasonable to conclude that this provision was different from what was in state statute at that time. That’s the only reason there would be a need for the agreement: to circumvent state statute.

It is possible that the contract was recorded in the records at the Scott County courthouse. It may be worth taking a look to see if there are any other details of the contract besides those mentioned in the newspaper.

If Emma died first, the contract didn’t matter. If Casper died first or if there was a divorce, then it did. It could also be that C. J. Ruymann was trying to drum up a little business.

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Mother was a Worker

Transcribing documents is often about context. Analysis should not be done in a vacuum. 


This image makes that point crystal clear. It certainly looks like “worker” on the superficial analysis.

But it is not. It’s taken out of context from this document from probate records in the Bronx, New York.

It’s not “worker.” It’s “mother.” 

Is that how you read it in the first box?

There are indexes and finding aids that are created by individuals viewing materials and images out of context.

It never hurts to think about how something could be transcribed if it were viewed in isolation.

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Two Court Cases from Virginia

I’m making a short trip to the Library of Virginia. Because my time there is short, I’m focusing on materials that are only at the library and have the highest chance of telling me something “I don’t already know.”

That may not be the best way to perform an exhaustive search on someone, but sometimes limitations force us to make genealogical choices. The “Chancery Records Index” indicated that there were two indexed cases that were not digitized and are available at the library. The index entry for both cases was pasted into a Word document so that I could add them to the list of materials I wanted to see and know what names were in those records. That printed copy will also be the place where I take any notes regarding the case as I’m making copies of it at the library.

The “Surname(s)” listed for the case are not an every name index. Based upon my use of the cases that have been digitized and are available online, the index entries appear to be the names of the parties involved and individuals who provided depositions or other sorts of testimony. The first case from 1836 appears to have been over the 1817 will of John Tinsley. On the surface, I’m not certain why the James and John Sledd were the parties in a lawsuit over Tinsley’s estate. There were Sledds who were heirs of John Tinsley (through his daughter Sarah/Sally (Tinsley) Sledd), but Sarah/Sally was still living in 1836 and her sons (who were still living in 1836) were not named James or John. Some of the other surnames listed were of sons-in-law of John Tinsley. Further speculation is premature at this point. My goal is to simply view the file and make a copy of it.

There is another case involving John Sledd as well at the Lynchburg City Court. I’m not certain what it involves, but the inclusion of several names suggests that it is a file of some size. Several other names listed in this case are members of the Sledd and Tinsley families. Even a case over a seemingly innocuous debt can contain significant information.

I think I know who John and James Sledd are, but I’ll wait on that until I’ve seen the actual records. It’s always good to try and avoid getting preconceived ideas in the researcher’s head. There should be some residential clues in the court case that may help me confirm their identity. I can’t do that based on the index alone and that’s not the purpose of the index.

Because of time limitations, I’ll be just trying to get good images of these records. I’ll have to save the line-by-line reading and detailed analysis for later.

It may be frustrating that this index does not include the name of everyone mentioned in the file. However enough names are indexed that if one searches for direct line surnames and surnames of ancestral associates, the majority of court cases will be found that may have some bearing on the actual family of interest. An every name index would be frustrating for those whose relatives were justices of the peace, county officials, etc. as their names would appear repeatedly even though their involvement was peripheral. This index is like any other index–we need to know how it is set up in order to use it effectively. I also need to remember that the alternative is no index–or just a defendants’ and plaintiffs’ index which would be limited as well.

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Jumping to a Conclusion

Winnie’s taking a nap in a sweatshirt my younger daughter mailed to my older daughter. My daughter sent me the picture and I immediately assumed that my daughter had put the sweatshirt on her dog in an attempt to amuse the herself or the dog–I’m not certain.

Turns out I was incorrect. The dog had crawled into the sweatshirt herself while it was laying on the bed.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter much. But it did remind me of the importance of not jumping to conclusions. A picture or a document is one snapshot of a moment in time. We can’t see what was taking place outside of the picture and we can see what happened before or after. That’s true of any picture, whether it was taken in October of 2019 or October of 1889. While it is important to try and discern as many clues as we can from pictures, it’s important to not infer things that are not there.

The same is true for documents in our research. Sometimes it can be easy to jump to conclusions based upon what we read in a document and what we read into what we think is in that document. There are many phrases, particularly legal ones, that can be interpreted incorrectly. That misinterpretation can lead our research astray.

For example, the phrase “my now wife” in a will may cause the reader to think that the writer of the will had a wife before the “now” one. That’s not the case. Researchers with significant experience under their belt should already be aware that “late” does not always mean deceased.

We should ask ourselves what is supported by this document or picture and what is not. I know that the dog (Winnie) is laying in a sweatshirt on blanket in my daughter’s bedroom. Based upon the angle, she’s probably on the bed. I don’t even know whether or not she is asleep. Think about what’s really in the picture or document or what is not.

Although I think I see some laundry on the floor.

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Female Ancestor Webinar Released



This presentation discusses approaches and techniques for determining an ancestor’s maiden name and locating “missing” females. Geared towards the advanced beginner or intermediate researcher, it focuses on American records and sources before World War I. The content is not specific to any one time period and many of the approaches can be refined for different locations or types of records. Concepts discussed will include:

  • overview of women’s legal rights;
  • property ownership;
  • inheritance;
  • citizenship;
  • and strategies for making the most from what you can find.

If you are stymied on your female ancestors–and half your ancestors are female–this presentation may give you the insight you need.



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Draft Registrant Dead Before Registration Completed

Paul Freund died in Davenport, Iowa, on or about 28 June 1863. A 37-year old man with that name shows as a draft registrant on the Civil War draft registrations for Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, in a registration that was taken in June and July of 1863. There is no notation that the Paul Freund listed on the draft registration has died.

It is possible there was another Paul Freund in Davenport besides the one who died on 28 June 1863. That Paul Freund’s date of birth is not known precisely, but he was survived by small children at the time of his death. It seems likely that the registrant on the draft registration is the same man who died in June of 1863.

The Freund family has been researched extensively in Scott County, Iowa, and the only other Freund man who has been located living there at the same time as Paul was Peter Freund. Peter and the Paul who died in 1863 were brothers. If the draft registrant is a different Paul, he did not stay in Davenport for long as there are no records for a Paul with an age relatively consistent of being 37 years of age in 1863 other than the one who died in 1863.

There was one Provost Marshall who was taking registrations in the Iowa district where this Paul was located. Those registrations were in several counties–not just Scott. It’s very reasonable the Provost Marshall left to conduct other registrations and was not aware of any registrant deaths.

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What I Learned Researching My Ostfriesens

By ancestry, I’m one-half Ostfriesen. My maternal forebears all hailed from that small ethnic region in northwestern Germany and came to the United States in the mid-to-late 19th century. Much of my early research focused on learning more about these ancestors and there were several things I learned:

  • Names don’t have to be fixed. Many of my Ostfriesen immigrants changed their first names (or at least anglicized them) and practiced patronymics until the early 19th century. In areas where patronymics are practiced, last names are not fixed and a man named Jann Habben has children with the last name of Janssen and a father with the first name of Habbe. A man named Gerd Hinrichs had a father with the first name of Hinrich and children with the last name of Gerdes.
  • Names really don’t have to be fixed. One ancestor took the name of the property he bought as his own.
  • People migrate to areas where they know others.
  • People marry within their ethnic community.
  • Immigrants and their children are inclined to hold tight to ethnic practices. After that it starts to wane in many cases.
  • People are more likely to interact financially and legally with members of their own ethnic community.
  • Researching every record you can locate on a family will tell you more than you ever realized you did not know and may even correct some errors.
  • You are not as ethnically pure as you thought you were. I’m just a little shy of 1/2 Ostfriesen as several of my 16th century Ostfriesens were actually from other areas of Germany–or even, heaven forbid, France!
  • A failure to understand the language and culture of our ancestors can cause us to misunderstand and misinterpret some of their actions.
  • People often have multiple relationships with the same person–they may be related biologically in one way (or more), by marriage, and by a shared historical common geographic origin.
  • Our ancestors weren’t perfect.

Many of those lessons are applicable to ancestors from any location–immigrants or not. They’ve helped me research my Irish immigrants during about the same period and other Germans a few decades earlier. A significant number of these issues are ones I encounter as I research my families who settled in Virginia in the late 17th century and migrated to the western part of that state over a hundred year period. People aren’t as different as we sometimes think.

My mother and her parents–taken in 1954.

My Ostfriesens are near and dear to my heart. The first names sound strange to some yet they sound perfectly normal to me (Focke, Heipke, and Altje immediately come to mind as falling in that “strange to you but normal to me” category). I always try and say them (including Ubbe, Tjode, Gerd, Trientje, Focke, Bruns, Habben, Ufkes, Mimka, etc.) the way I would hear my maternal grandparents and Mother say them in the only real remnant of their ancestor’s Platt language that remained with them-even if many people don’t say the names the “old way” any more. There’s some sense of tradition and comfort in that and a little bit of a connection with my Mother and my Grandparents in doing so.

My research has expanded quite a bit beyond my Ostfriesens, but I’m glad it started with them. That experience taught me quite a bit.

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They Have the Same Last Name–They Have to Be Related

Just because two individuals have the same last name does not mean that they are related. Researchers working on a Smith family know that two people with this common last name are not related, but what about a more unusual surname?

Well it depends on the origination of the name (and that even is not a guarantee) and jumping to conclusions makes for bad research.

One of my ancestral surnames is Habben–a somewhat unusual name. In Ostfriesland, Germany, where many of these families originate the surname is somewhat more common. However, the name is a patronym actually meaning “child of Habbe.” While patronymics was practiced, two men with the first name Habbe would have children with the last name of Habben–though there might have been no relationship.

Sweden is full of Larsons, Carlsons, etc. for exactly the same reason–patronymics.

Even surnames that are not patronymical in origin may be shared by two unrelated individuals. This is especially true with surnames such as Baker, Farmer, Lake and other names that may have been derived from occupations or nearby geographical features.

There may be cases where all individuals with the same surname are related, but let research, not your gut, be your guide. My tentative hypothesis is that all or most individuals with the last name of Trautvetter are related. However, research is not complete and just because the name is concentrated in a certain area of Germany does not mean there was one common ancestor.

Last names can be used as clues to relationships. But a last name only means it was that person’s last name, not that he (or she) had to be related to someone else.

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