Sunday, November 4, 2012

Questions About Sourcing Interviews, Proving Wills and Residence Events

Public Service Announcement: Here is a fun blog for you to read. Barking Up the Wrong Tree exposes some of the errors you will find in online trees. It is hilarious! Loretta details what she finds and then there is a link that says Warning: Sarcasm Ahead where she analyzes the data. Here is a quote from the post dated 02 Nov 2012:
"Looks like Big Thunder and his wives are the Native American equivalents of Methuselah. Guess it shouldn't be surprising since his mother married someone 168 years her junior. His wives were pretty amazing since they gave birth across 3 separate centuries. It's a shame the kids didn't get any of the longevity genes though. None of them (of those that have birth dates) made it to 90."

This is a humorous look at a real problem. I have talked about this a few time on the blog. Do not believe everything you read in online trees and really analyze the data before you use the information as a clue for further research.

Question from Ron:
I am just starting out at genealogy. My mother has been the family genealogist for years, so she's guided me somewhat. I'd like to know how I should document things I've found because my mother gave me the clue. For example, my Great-Grandmother, Jane Doe, grew up in a foster family. In the 1900 Census, she's listed as Jane White, which is the surname of her foster family. I would have never found her, but my mother told me exactly where to look and that it was her.
[names changed for privacy]

Your mother is your source! She has unique information that you haven't been able to find anywhere else. Since your mother is still living, I would ask her HOW she knows this. Did she hear this directly from her grandmother or did she hear it from her mother? You will need to make a note explaining why you think this information is credible. Here is how I would source it:

Jane Doe1

1Mary White (Purvis, MS) oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 04 June 2000; Mary relates that her grandmother Jane grew up in a foster home (White family). Her birth surname was Doe. Mary states that her grandmother Jane told her this in about 1975.

You can add explanatory notes to your sources. If I had just put that I got the information from an interview then you wouldn't know how strong the evidence is. If I put in there that the person I interviewed actually spoke to the person in question that gives it more credibility. Even if your mother heard if from her mother that is still good evidence because your mother's mother was Jane's daughter.

Ann asks:
"What does it mean when a will has been proved?"

After the person died there would be a court hearing. If anyone had any objections to the will they would appear and voice their objections. The witnesses to the will would also appear to testify that they did indeed witness the will and that the person was of sound mind. If the will was declared valid (proved) then the estate would go into probate. You have two dates, the date the will was signed and the date the will was proved. Your death date will be in between these two dates. For example, Matthew Patton signed his will on 20 Apr 1799 and the will was proved on 03 Mar 1806 so I know that Matthew died between these two dates.

Roger asks:
"Can you explain a little more about residence events?"

(This is in reference to Dissecting an Obituary)

Here is in excerpt from the obit that I used in the original article:

...Survivors include three brothers, Walter Simmons of Hattiesburg...1

I would create a resident event for Walter Simmons. I would put that he was living in Hattiesburg, Forrest County, MS on 11 Mar 1943 (the date that Walter's brother Jesse died). I want to add a residence event every time I know that Walter was living somewhere. Usually these come from obituaries and city directories. I don't add a separate residence event for things like the census and draft records (the date and location is already listed on those events). When you do this it will give you a timeline. Timelines are important when you are looking for records. If you have a timeline you can look at it and say something like, "Walter should have been in Lamar County, MS when he got married" and then you can try and find a marriage record there. In obituaries specifically, you will find siblings that moved far away. If you didn't know this you might not find a death certificate or obituary for them.

Here is an example. Walter Simmons (the man mentioned above) and his wife Callie were both born in Marion (now Lamar) County, MS, they lived their entire lives there and then died there as did their parents and siblings. This area was very rural, close knit and people usually didn't move away. Walter and Callie had a 9 children and if I didn't have Walter's obit I would have assumed that the children had also stayed here especially since my dad remembered a couple of them fondly from his childhood in Lamar County. Look at the list of Walter's children in his obituary:

...Mr. Simmons is survived by his wife, eight daughters, Mrs. Dovie Ogden, Houston, Tex.; Mrs. Robert Yawn, Mrs. C. W. Cooley, Mrs. Lavelle Reid and Mrs. Curtis Mallotte, all of Pasadena, Tex.; Mrs. Eloise Rapisarda, Baltimore; Mrs. Evon Jones, Purvis; and Mrs. Jackie Stuart, Hattiesburg; one son, L. L. Simmons, Purvis...2

So 6 of the 9 children moved away.

1"Funeral for Jesse Simmons," Hattiesburg American, 15 Mar 1943, p. 10, col. 4.
2"Walter W. Simmons [obituary]," Hattiesburg American, 18 Nov 1958, p. 2, col. 4.

P.S. I am getting better with the footnotes.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Good advice. I've been working with a few obituaries lately, and I suppose I was doing "residence events" without calling them that. Much better to have them formalized. Also new to me is a date for the court hearing that "proves" the will. Don't have any of those dates yet. Family "genealogists" before me have listed death dates but no "proving" the will dates. Maybe some of the 1000 or so leaves I haven't checked on Ancestry yet will provide that source! : ))

  2. I did a post on Boilerplate back in August. It is here

    This wasn't a post on wills per se but it includes a will AND the court document when the will was proved. Look for the section that starts out "Personally appeared in Open court
    Henry Rains and Ignatius Rains Two
    of the subscribing witnesses..."

    If you would like to see images of the original documents just let me know and I will send them to you.


  3. Thanks for the mention Michele but I'm a she not a he ;-)

    Barking Up the Wrong Tree

  4. GASP! I am so sorry! I will fix it immediately! I tried to find your name on the blog but didn't see it so I resorted to the generic "he."