Indirect Marriage Date Evidence in a Homestead File

Homestead records can contain many clues. Like most records, the “best clues” are often the ones that are not blatantly stated. Such is the case with the homestead application for Harm A. Fecht.
In his “Final Proof” made out on 19 January 1895, Harm A. Fecht stated that he lived on his homestead with his wife and three children and that they have lived on the homestead continuously. The “Final Proof” often contains a variety of valuable genealogical information and is one of the documents in a homestead application file that genealogists often concentrate on. On the surface this statement seems pretty simple.
Fecht’s initial affidavit is informative as well. Dated 1 March 1888, it indicated that he was a single man, “a widower,” and a naturalized citizen of the United States. Had the complete homestead file not been read, this clue would have been missed.
Fecht could easily have married and fathered three children between the affidavit date and the final proof date. If the statements made in the homestead records are correct, then Fecht married between the date of the affidavit and the final proof.

Hopefully there are local records of Fecht’s marriage, but it’s possible that they are no longer in existence. This document provides information directly stating that Fecht was married and indirect information regarding the range of dates during which Fecht married the wife to whom he was married in 1895.

The 1895 wife is obviously not his first wife.

Sometimes straight forward affidavits provide more clues than we think.

These image are from‘s “Nebraska, Homestead, Records, 1861-1936


A Warning About Warnings Out

An earlier post (“Aunt Caty Warned Out of Addison in 1814“) mentioned a “warning out” a relative received in Addison, Vermont, in 1814.
Like many records, there’s a little more here than just what is on the surface. The “warning out” didn’t mean that Aunt Caty was drug out of town in January of 1814 with her children in tow and her belongings dragging behind her in a cart. It was most likely a warning that she was a newcomer to Addison and was potentially a person who would not be able to support herself. Warnings out have a long history dating back to the early days of the American colonies and stemmed from English practice. The essence of the intent behind the system was that the village not have new residents move in who had no means of support.
Caty’s brother-in-law, Samuel Sargent, was “warned out” of Addison in 1812–also in February. It may be that Samuel actually never left and his residence there was the reason Caty moved there herself after her husband died. Maybe. There’s nothing in these records to indicate that however and I’ll need to do more work to determine if Samuel Sargent was still living in Addison at the time when Caty was “warned out.”

These records, like all records, require an understanding of their intent and their implementation. But don’t just assume that your ancestor was “dumped at the village line” as a result of the warning out.

An additional reminder that sometimes just “Googling” to find information on a topic may not be sufficient. My own Google searches for this topic located several online references that provided a very superficial treatment of these records. Understanding the purpose and background of any record is crucial to the interpretation of it. Readers with an interest in the topic may wish to refer to Josiah Henry Benton’s Warning Out in New England (Boston, 1911, W. B. Clarke Company).

We’re working on a longer post with some references and additional readings on these records. Stay tuned.


Aunt Caty Warned Out of Addison in 1814

In February of 1814, Caty Roe was “warned out of Addison, Vermont, and told to “Depart Said Town.”

The order to ask her to leave was dated 14 January 1814 and signed by Addison’s selectmen Gideon Spencer, Levi Hanks, and William Picket. William Whitford, Constable, attempted to serve notice on Caty.

Except she wasn’t home on 14 January 1814 when the notice was served. She was “gon[e] to Burlington and Expected to return tomorrow.” Whitford left the notice with Solomon Crowfoot who was living at her “last usual place of abode.”

What Caty was doing in Burlington in 1814 is another story and one that I don’t know. It is nearly thirty miles from Addison and most likely not an easy trip in the winter for a single woman. What Caty’s connection was to Crowfoot (if any) is not known at this time. Preliminary research does not indicate that he is a member of her extended family, but it is possible.

The warnings out were usually issued to newcomers who were either undesirable or had no means of support. Caty was a widow and her financial situation at the time of her warning out is not known. It’s possible the town of Addison did not want a family without means of support living there. Whether she immediately left Addison is not known, but she is known to have lived in other locations in Vermont.

Her sister, Sarah (Gibson) Sargent’s husband, Samuel was warned out of Addison in 1811. Whether he actually left is another matter.

What I need to check are town vital records to determine where the children of Samuel and Sarah (Gibson) Sargent were born and where Caty Roe’s children were born. The Sargents were having children around the time of Samuel’s warning out. Roe was not. That would help to provide a partial  migration chronology for both the Sargents and for Roe.

They might have been warned out of more than one Vermont town.


The Best You’re Gonna Get in Nebraska in 1858

Sometimes there simply are no contemporary records of an event.

A researcher can cry, whine, beg on the internet for “help” to the end of time and it simply won’t matter.

Some locations have no civil records during the time period of interest. Some people leave behind no probate record which can be used to suggest an approximate time frame. Some people don’t have a family bible that remains extant to the present day. There are no always letters, diaries, or other personal family ephemera that mentions when something happened.

It doesn’t mean that one doesn’t keep their eyes open for such a record. It just means that one has to be realistic.

Such is the case with Harrison Ramsey who died in Saunders County, Nebraska, in 1858. It’s too early for civil records of death. He left no probate and there are apparently no other documents to provide a date on which he died.

Of course he’s dead. That’s not the problem. Anyone born in the early 19th century is dead by 2018.

But sometimes records do exist.

There is an affidavit in the Mexican War widow’s pension application file for Eliza Jane Ramsey, wife of Harrison Ramsey, that gives documentation for his date of death. R. L. and Hannah Warbritton stated that they were present at Ramsey’s death, cared for him, and assisted in his burial in the fall of 1858 in Saunders County, Nebraska.

Eliza Jane stated in her own “Declaration of Widow for Pension” on 9 May 1887 that Harrison Ramsey died on 3 September 1858 in Saunders County. Was she providing the date from memory, a reference in a family bible, or some other sort of record? That is not known as there is no reference in the declaration to her “source” for the date. From the standpoint of the pension office, the precise date of Harrison’s death in 1858 is not really necessary and not the point. He’s dead and has been dead for some time.

I’ll cite Eliza Jane’s declaration of 1887 as the source for the 3 September 1858 death date for Harrison. I’ll also cite the Warbritton’s affidavit for it as well–tying it to a date of death of 1858 and indicating that they indicated he died in the fall of that year. One could debate whether 3 September is in the fall or not, but that’s not really necessary and, in this case, a waste of time. The precise date of his death is not crucial to any other events other than his death.

Now if Harrison showed up in records after 1858–then we’d have a problem.

But he doesn’t–which is good.

Given when and where Harrison died, I’m lucky that there was a military pension that gave information on his death. That doesn’t always happen.


Stumbling Upon Things is Great…But

Sometimes it is difficult balancing genealogical research theory with the way in which some materials are often located.

It is not often really addressed in the genealogical literature, but the research process of what we searched, why we searched it, and how we searched it is integral to our analysis. This is especially true if an exhaustive search does not include everything under the sun (which it sometimes doesn’t). Researchers should not just drop records into an article or a database and say here’s what we found and analyze it. Don’t get me wrong, that analysis is important. It is extremely important. But an understanding of how we came to locate the information we did is integral as well. That understanding does not have to be lengthy, cumbersome, or ladled with minutia about how we determined where to park our car at the library. But an explanation of search method is important.  It can be as simple as “civil death records in Hancock County, Illinois, originally recorded by the County Clerk and Recorder, were searched using Family History Library microfilm for anyone with the last name of Rampley born between 1885 and 1900.” My research report should site the specific records I located, but if I don’t include the time frame of my search how does anyone know? If I don’t say “all Rampleys” were a part of the search, how does anyone know? (The problem of what name is searched for is magnified with it is a common one. Of course anyone reading citations would know from the citations what record was used (at least in that case). But it’s possible I searched other records as well that came up empty-handed.

Search method needs to be a part of the analysis and the write up. Otherwise, how do we know that an exhaustive search was really conducted? How do we know that records were not overlooked? How do we know that there were items that were not explored? We cannot assume.

All of which gets at how accurate we view the author’s conclusions.

Sound research requires that searches be systematic, documented, and reproducible by others. They should be able to find the same thing we did. That’s the main reason I don’t like “fuzzy” searches at any of the “big” genealogy sites. Of course, once I find something, then someone else will have an easier time finding it because of my citation. The problem is when I can’t find things with “fuzzy searches” I don’t know how to refine my searches. And, if I don’t know how the searches are conducted that makes troubleshooting my searches difficult.

And if any part of my conclusion is based on not finding someone in a database or record series and fuzzy searches were used, then my conclusion may change if the fuzzy search algorithm is changed.


Time Stands Still for No Stone

Andrew and Lucinda Trask tombstone Norwood Cemetery, Mercer County, Illinois. Taken 2005 Michael John Neill

I took this cemetery photograph several years ago at the Norwood Cemetery in Mercer County, Illinois not too far from my home.

I’m really glad that I did. It’s one of those stones that weathers somewhat easily.  Facing west on the Illinois prairie, the winter weather probably doesn’t help the inscription to stand the test of time.

But as this stone makes clear, time does not stand still.

Do you have any stones like this for your ancestors?


A Source Within A Source

1929 High School Graduating Class, Bowen, Illinois. Original photograph in possession of Nellie (Neill) Shanks, currently in possession of her daughter. Scan made by Michael John Neill August 2013.

Note: this post is originally from 2015, but we’ve moved it here and combined two posts into one.

There are times when one has no reason to doubt the accuracy of some information one has received. But the problem is accurately tracking the actual source of the information.

Such is the case with this picture. There is the picture and there is the identification of the individuals in the picture.

In August of 2013, I wrote a blog post about a graduation picture I had scanned from the 1929 graduating class of Bowen High School. The scan was from a copy of the photograph in the possession of a first cousin of my father. She had obtained the copy from her mother’s personal papers–her mother was in the 1929 graduating class.

The problem was that there were only two individuals identified on the picture, my great-aunt Nellie (Neill) Shanks and her friend Edith (Stillwell) McGinley. No other names were listed and I certainly didn’t know who any of the other individuals were. My great-aunt attended and graduated from Bowen High School because it was the closest “last year” high school. There were no other close family members of mine who graduated from Bowen High School.

Last week the wife of a first cousin one removed of my father on the other side of the family wrote about the photograph having seen it on my website. She also had a copy of the picture. Her copy had the names identified on the back of it and she graciously sent me a list of the names. Fortunately the two people identified on my picture were identified as the same on hers.


I find myself thinking about how to craft a citation for this photograph and the individuals it pictures. The “information” actually came from two separate sources. The image came from a digital scan of my great-aunt’s copy of the photograph held privately by my father’s first cousin. That photograph only identifies two of the individuals.

The identification of the remaining individuals came from another copy of the photograph held by the wife of my father’s first cousin once removed.

My citation needs to take this into account–the image needs to be sourced separately from the identification.

Once I’ve crafted it to my satisfaction, we’ll have a follow-up post.

Do you have “sources” that are really multiple sources?

I decided on a citation, but I’m not certain I’m overly happy with it.

I do think it is crucial to recognize that the image was made from one copy of the photograph and that the identification of those pictured was made from another.

Source citation:

1. Bowen, Illinois, High School 1929 Graduating Class composite photograph, ca. 1929, privately held by L. Gorrell, [address for private use,] Quincy, Illinois, 2014. Gorrell is the daughter of Nellie (Neill) Shanks, a member of the 1929 graduating class, and the picture was in Shanks’ collection of personal effects inherited by Gorrell upon Shanks’ death. Identification of those pictured in the composite photograph was via another copy of the same composite photograph described in a letter written to Michael John Neill’s father [R. Wartick, Bowen, Illinois, to K. Neill, letter, February 2015, discussing 1929 Bowen graduating class composite photograph; personal genealogy collection of Michael John Neill, privately held by Michael John Neill [address for private use] Rio, Illinois].

Suggestions are welcomed!


Why Original Versus Derivative Matters

On page 24 Elizabeth Shown Mills in  Evidence Explained (2015, Genealogical Publishing Company) defines the following terms:

  • original sources as “material in its first oral or recorded form.”
  • derivative sources as “material produced by copying an original or manipulating its content.”

Reasonable researchers may slightly disagree about whether certain specific sources are original or derivative. And that’s ok. It really is. The genealogy world will not end.



What’s important is that the researcher thinks about the source that they are actually using, how it was created, and how it came to their possession. Did they see the actual deed the owner signed giving their ancestor ownership to a certain piece of property? Did they see the record copy of that deed in the county recorder’s office in the courthouse? Did they see a microfilmed copy at the Family History Library of the record book? Did they use a published transcription of the book made by a local genealogical society? Or did they see an abstract of title for the property in question  which was compiled from extractions made from the record copies of the deeds? Whew.



Making that clear is what really matters.  Letting others know exactly what you used really matters.



I tend to take a conservative approach–original is the first time something is written down and derivative is everything else. Usually original items are a will or deed an ancestor actually signed, the baptismal certificate signed by the pastor, etc. I just find that use of the phrase easier and more consistent. Anything that doesn’t meet this “first time criteria” is derivative. Once I start making exceptions to that “first oral or recorded form,” I start getting confused. I don’t like being confused.


Describing something as original or derivative is not the same as evaluating its perceived reliability. Some original sources aren’t worth a pewter of warm spit and some original sources are highly credible. If your analysis of a source only hinges on classifying it as original or derivative, then you simply need more hinges.


Don’t get me wrong. It’s crucial for researchers to understand the difference between original and derivative sources. But it’s important to acknowledge that reasonable researchers may see a variety of shades of gray between those seemingly black and white definitions.


And that’s ok. If a researcher clearly explains exactly what they used (eg. The Family History Library’s microfilmed copy of the county deed record book) then others can use that to base evaluation decisions.


And if you don’t know what source you used, it matters little whether you classify it as original as derivative.

That’s classified as dreaming!