Digging Deeper

by Ruby Coleman

How much is enough? When you have sufficient proof of a fact pertaining to your ancestor, such as date and place of birth, is that enough proof? When you cannot find that proof, do you assume you have looked everywhere and found nothing? That's when you need to dig deeper.

In the challenge of doing genealogical research we learn to seek out vital records, probate records, land records, church records, the Family Bible, old letters, to name just a few. Surely in that conglomerate of records there will be sufficient evidence and proof. Even if you are satisfied with your quest, there may be more to learn about your ancestor.

Many researchers pass over the tax lists without considering their value. When ancestors do not turn up in logical places on census, or if there is no probate file, always try to locate tax lists. These records can also be used to track down the transfer of property and in many cases they supply clues as to parentage. There are many to check, such as land tax, personal property tax, poll tax, rent rolls and more.

Your perfect ancestor may show up in court records. Begin your research with county court records. You may learn they didn't pay their taxes, skipped the county, had a child out of wedlock or were so poor they were on county support.

Wills often provide significant clues, such as names of the children and the property they received. Always go the distance and locate the actual probate file that contains information on the distribution of property. Never assume they all got along when it came to settling a will. There will plenty more of interest if you locate the document supporting the contesting of a will. There may also be partition records in the land records. When squabbling over the property, the land was divided or partitioned off.

While many small towns did not have city directories, there may be farm lists or business lists available. These are often found in local or area genealogical or historical collections. City directories provide clues as to where people lived, their occupation and relationships. Begin your search of these records locally, but don't forget to inquire at state libraries or archives.

Coroner records or inquests are interesting and supply information about a person and their death. They can be found in cases of accidental deaths, sudden deaths without apparent cause, murders, suicides and if a person was unattended by a licensed physician at the time of death. They vary according to years and counties, but usually contain statements by family and friends, as well as witnesses. Your initial research in coroner records should begin at the county coroner's office. Inquire if records are available for the time period of your research.

Divorce records are usually explicit, but contain valuable clues, such as date and location of marriages, names of children involved, along with dates and places of birth. Mention of other family members may be found within divorce records. They are normally found in county or circuit or district courts depending upon the county where you are researching. Don't assume divorce records are something new. Couples were divorcing back in colonial times!

Finding an ancestor's tombstone in a cemetery is exciting. But there may be more than that and the obituary. Mortuary or funeral home records will supply added information. The information was usually supplied by a relative, so keep that in mind when evaluating it. Begin your search in the area where your ancestor died. The existing funeral homes may have the records. If not, inquire as to where they may be kept, perhaps in an historical society collection. Some funeral directors consider old records as personal property and remove them when a funeral home is sold.

There are many more records that are unique and helpful in trying to locate information on ancestors. It is worthwhile to examine as many as possible. Challenge yourself to learn more about your ancestors. Fill in more than the blanks for birth, marriage and death.

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