Mapping Out Grandma’s Farm…and the Memories

“Made Your Own Map?” appeared recently as a tip of Genealogy Tip of the Day with the map accompanying this post as the illustration.

The map is a rough sketch, but drawing it was a really good exercise for me. As soon as I finished it, I realized the scale was slightly off, the position of several buildings was skew, and I had left a few things out. But drawing it really got me to remembering things I had long since forgotten.

There is an aerial photograph of my Grandparents’ farm that was taken in the mid-1950s. That’s approximately twenty years before my memory starts. I did not allow myself to look at the aerial photograph until I had drawn my own map. When I looked at the photograph, it became clear to me I had the relative position of some of the buildings incorrect. There was at least one building standing in the 1950s that had been torn down before my memory starts. The garage cannot be seen in the 1950s photograph (because of the trees).

The drawing of the photograph made me think of things besides the buildings. Things about my Grandma, things about the time I spent there, and things about the farm. The physical act of creating the map apparently triggered memories that have long been dormant.

So that relative who cannot remember things? Have them draw a map of the farm, the position of rooms in a family home, or something else from their childhood. You might be surprised at what they remember.


Rabbit Hole Genealogy

My post was partially in jest. Is there a limit to how far out one needs to research?

There’s a practical limit to how far into the network of the non-biologically connected people to an ancestor a researcher should delve. At least there is in my research world. I know there are some who believe that researching the step-father of your third cousin’s blacksmith is a valid research approach, but I’m not one of them. There’s a limit to how much time and money one can spend.

I will admit that curiosity got the better of me briefly when I saw the name of the notary on the 1946 mortgage signed by my grandparents for their farm near Carthage, Illinois. I was curious because I did not recognize it. The mortgage was likely signed at the nearby small bank that held the mortgage. It was the same bank where the family banked until the bank closed.

But I knew that the connection my grandparents had to the notary was fleeting and that the chance of garnering any real genealogical knowledge was essentially nil. The likely scenario was that the notary was an employee of the bank who served as notary on bank documents when needed. My quick search for information on her did not mention her bank employment, but did indicate that her sister was later my high school English teacher. The failure to locate an obituary or other reference to the employment was not surprising as many women during era had a short-term job that they terminated before or upon their marriage.

Was I surprised that I had a tenuous, peripheral connection to this person? Not really. This was nothing more than one in a long-standing series of connections that one discovers when one is from a small town where your family has lived for some time. The bigger surprise would have been if there had not been some connection of this type.

This search was not a “what connection did the notary have to my Grandparents?” search. It was a “who is this person search?” There’s a difference.

If this had been a notary on an 1848 document for a set of ancestors about whom I knew very little, I would have had a different reason for the search for more information on the notary. But even in this case, I need to ask myself “what connection did my relative likely have to this person,” “was this connection a ‘one-off’ meeting in a clerk’s office,” “did my relative interact with this person on other documents,” etc. But I also have to ask “does knowing more about this person tell me more about my ancestor even if they have no other connection than the one on this document?” It’s always possible that if I know little about my ancestor that information on a notary public will help me determine when and where my ancestor was in a certain place. That can be helpful.

There are times to go down the rabbit hole. Just think before you dig. And know when to stop.


An Original 1946 Mortgage

It’s really not all that unique of a document. It’s simply a mortgage for $2500 signed by my grandparents in 1946 that references 101 acres of real estate they owned at the time.

The legal description of the property contains a partial metes and bounds description of the real estate due to a railroad track that ran along the west border of the property. The legal description even references an 1875 deed involving the railroad property from the then owner of the property.

Recording information is included on the top of the mortgage (the instrument number and the book and page number) and in a special section of the document created for that specific purpose. A record copy of the document is maintained at the Hancock County, Illinois, Recorder’s Office. The mortgage was signed and recorded on the same day. Given that the location of the bank (Ferris, Illinois) and the Hancock County Recorder’s Office (Carthage, Illinois) are about five miles apart, the mortgage being signed and recorded on the same day is very reasonable–also note that the mortgage was recorded at 3:05 in the afternoon.

The mortgage is not stamped “paid,” but I also have the release signed by an officer of the bank when the obligation was paid in full a few years later.

We often talk about original sources versus derivative sources. This is an original source. The record copy in the courthouse, while it is the legal equivalent of the original copy that I have, is still a derivative copy.

I may have to get a copy of the record copy to see just in what format that record copy was made. I’m guessing that in 1946 it was not a typewritten transcription.

But do I really need the record copy of a 1946 mortgage when I have the original? Probably not.


Precision, Pictures, and Perspective

I’ve been writing about tombstone pictures on Genealogy Tip of the Day. As time has gone on, I have become a bigger fan of taking overview photos to provide perspective and indicate the location of the stone.

Sometimes I get told “GPS” will take care of that. I understand how GPS works. It’s worth noting how close some stones are together and potential inaccuracies with GPS precision based on this article on I also know that sometimes it’s easier to have a visual to see relative positions instead of numbers indicating position. Images such as the one in this post can be used to create maps (hand drawn or digital) of appropriate sections of the cemetery showing relative positions of stones.

I tend to be borderline excessive in my taking of photographs at cemeteries because I do not want to miss anything and I like the landscape photos that show relative positions of stones.

Do not just rely on GPS. Pictures can be worth a thousand words. Take them.

Another article on GPS accuracy on indicates some phones accuracy can by off by 33 to 66 feet. It’s worth noting that adjacent stones can be much closer than that distance and that if you are moving around while taking pictures–which you obviously would be–trees may be impacting the accuracy of your location.


Is a Baby Book a Reliable Source?

I have my Mother’s original “baby book” from her birth in 1942. The handwriting certainly appears to be that of my grandmother. But the handwriting of a seventeen-year-old can certainly vary from that of someone much older and my memory of Grandma’s handwriting does not stem from when she was seventeen.

But Grandma would have known when her daughter was born. Assuming that the baby book I have is the original baby book and not some fake version thereof (highly doubtful), I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of information contained in that book. Grandma would have been the most reliable informant in regards to when my mother was born and the book appears to have been written in over time as the ink color varies and the handwriting, while clearly the same person, does vary just a little bit as well. That’s probably normal given the probability that the writing surface on which the book was placed may have varied among the entries and different writing utensils may have been used.

There’s no reason for me to doubt the accuracy of the information.

Would the baby book have been sufficient for my Mother to get a passport? No. Am I considering it a reliable source for her date and place of birth (both of which are stated in the book)? Yes.

Should I still get a copy of her birth certificate? Yes.

Fortunately, where the baby book and birth certificate contain statements of facts, the details are the same. They are consistent. There would be a problem if they differed in the details.

But unofficial records can be accurate. We just have to have information on which to base our judgement regarding that accuracy.


Genealogy Goals

My genealogy motivation: to preserve and share the family history items I have been fortunate enough to obtain, to preserve and share the unwritten stories to which I have access, and to discover and share the unknown stories of ancestors buried in old records.

I also like to share approaches, methods, and ideas that have helped me. Sometimes doing that is part of the rough-draft creation process as well


That’s enough and plenty to keep me going. What are your genealogy goals?


Frivolity, Dogs, and, Assumptions

I posted this picture to Genealogy Tip of the Day as a reminder to look at an entire image for clues and not to just focus on the people or the animals in the photograph. There were comments made about the photograph on our Facebook page and privately that got me to thinking about the picture, what’s in it, why it was taken, and assumptions that we make.

Based upon a comment, I do think that the items hanging in the tree are at least partially from the cream separator my grandparents used during the time when this photograph was taken. My memory starts after my grandparents had stopped milking cows to sell milk and the separator sat unused in the basement of their home. The middle item in the tree looks somewhat like what I saw sitting on the separator I originally thought the item in the middle was some sort of chicken waterer–as that’s what it looked like to me at first glance.

Maybe it really doesn’t look like a chicken waterer at all, but perhaps because I associate Grandma with chickens, I just assumed the items in the tree had something to do with the chickens. For me, Grandma and chickens are two things that are inexorably tied to each other. I also assumed that Grandma took the photograph, but perhaps my Dad’s older brother was the one behind the camera. I can’t imagine my Grandpa taking the picture, but it’s possible that he did.

I need to keep in mind that my memory starts thirtysome years after this picture was taken. That’s also why it’s slightly difficult for me to think of exactly where this photograph was taken: it’s before my memory starts of my Grandma’s house and the sheds, chicken coop, garage, brooder house, and barns to the south and west of it. I can’t go back today and look at Grandma’s farm to see what it looked like when I was a child either. The house is gone. The garage is gone. The barns and some outbuildings remain. The point is that things change constantly.

I was also told that there must have been some reason the photo was taken–that photos during this time period weren’t taken on a whim. I’m not certain I believe that either. While photography was not cheap during this time period and my grandparents were not flush with money, I do have the occasional picture that was taken at a lighthearted moment–the cat in the window and my grandfather lying in the front yard to where you can really only see his boots come to mind. Maybe they wanted a picture of the dog. I’m not certain.

I’m reasonably certain the picture is of my Dad. It looks like other identified pictures of him from the same time period. It was in his scrapbook that contains other numerous pictures of him and was in his effects when he died. It’s one of the few pictures I have of him with a dog. Based on the short sleeves and lack of socks and shoes, I’m concluding it was taken when the weather was warm.


Where Do the Steps Come In? refers to Anna Fecht as the step-daughter of my second great-grandaunt.

That seems slightly incorrect to me as she was born after my second great-grandaunt, Antje (Habben) Fecht died. Antje was the first wife of a man named Harm Fecht. Harm married after Antje died and Anna was born to that marriage.

I generally do not think of a person acquiring step-children after that person has died.