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Archive for April, 2011

In my most recent post, I mentioned that a probate record I obtained listed the addresses of 6 of the 7 heirs, though the second list, which referenced the first list, included all 7 heirs.  I noted that the record was typed, and late enough that it was possible the typed record was the original; therefore, I wasn’t sure whether the error was in the original, or in a copy, and added that I was sending a letter to the probate court asking whether it was the original or, if not, whether there was another copy they could check for the missing information. The day after I got the probate record, I contacted the county deed registry.  When I’ve dealt with a repository before, if at all possible I like to try to contact the same person I’ve already talked with.  In this case, I had the email address of a staff member at the deed registry, and wrote to her with the legal description of the property as typed in the probate court case (both parties died intestate so there were no wills in the file).  Within hours she responded that she had located three documents pertaining to the property that mentioned the names I’d sent.  She mailed the copies the next day, and I received them yesterday.  They contain a document that is very similar to the one in the probate file that has the list which is missing one name.  The documents are not exactly the same despite being quite similar; the deed registry document is longer and more detailed than the probate one.  And the deed registry document differs in another key way – it contains the heir’s address that was missing from the probate document!

Many researchers wonder whether there is a point in collecting documents from multiple sources that pertain to a single event.  If you already have the cemetery record, why get the death record, or vice versa?  I think this example illustrates quite well what the value is in getting multiple takes on a single event.  You never know what additional information might be contained in the other document.  For the mid-1800’s records, for my lines in Hamilton County, Ohio, the cemetery cards (typed up later, probably from a handwritten book) generally contain more information than the death records, sometimes much more.  And for the children who died young, sometimes these cards are the principal – or even the only – record of their birth, as courthouse fires destroyed many early birth records, and the courthouse relied on people to come in and re-register their own birth and/or that of their child(ren) – but almost no one, understandably, took the time to re-register the birth of someone who had already died.

Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery’s cemetery cards have been digitized and are available, free, on their website, searchable either by name or by cemetery lot.  I wish that all cemetery records were so accessible.  In some cases the cemetery completely refuses to open them to researchers at all.  Since most cemeteries are private institutions, it is their right to do; but it is a great loss for researchers when they choose this option.

I found something unexpected in the deed records.  In addition to the deeds regarding the probate, the envelope contained the deed wherein the couple originally obtained the property that would later be split amongst the heirs when the couple both died intestate.  That part wasn’t surprising, but what did surprise me was that the woman bought the property – it doesn’t even mention her husband, though they had been married over 20 years when she bought it – and that she bought it for $1, even though the name of the grantor was a name I had never come across before in my research.  It got me thinking about how when we are researching people about whom oral histories have been passed down, so much of what we think of them is shaped by those oral histories.  The woman died after several years of illness, being bed-bound by the end.  Most of what I knew of her was shaped by these stories of her becoming unable to care for her family or her home by the end of her life, and of stories about what a good mother, caretaker, cook she was before she became ill.  Having been an American woman at the dawn of the 20th century, it’s no wonder that people primarily defined her by the roles that she was expected to do at this time and place.  But this record shows a whole other side of her, and gives a glimpse into what her life may have really been like, living with a husband who was gone for weeks or more at a time, working for the railroad in varied locations.  No matter what her relatives may have believed or been told, perhaps she was really much more of a complex and independent woman than the oral stories indicate.

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