Blog » Site The official blog of Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:46:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Probate in the United Kingdom: An Overview Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:40:39 +0000 Abbie Lee Black Read more ]]> After finding your ancestors in civil registration, census records, and parish registers, there are many different record types that are widely available for the UK. When I’m doing research, I usually look for probate records, and specifically wills, of my ancestors at this stage in the research process.


UK Wills and Probate Before 1858

Probate is the term for how a court distributes the estate of a deceased person. It was not required by law for people to create a will, but quite a bit of the population is covered by wills to make them a good genealogical resource. If your ancestor did not leave a will, there were many other types of documents they could be mentioned in, including letters of administration (gives someone permission to probate an estate without a will), and inventories (itemized list of all the goods the deceased owned).

Wills in England were recorded early into the eleventh century, but most of them didn’t survive until around the fifteenth century. Wills created before 1858 were held by church courts all over the country. Wills and other probate records could be found on any level of jurisdiction in the church courts in England; it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the jurisdictions before you look for a will of an ancestor. One good place to look is, which will show you the probate court for the parish you are searching for.

Wills in Wales were normally written by the upper classes, and would be probated at four different church courts: peculiars, archdeaconry, Bishops’ courts, and Prerogative Court of Canterbury. On FamilySearch a list of Welsh counties and their jurisdictions can be found for further research. All wills proved in Wales are available at the National Library of Wales and can be ordered.

Irish wills proved before 1858 were also recorded within the ecclesiastical courts. Twenty-eight consistory courts were used to record probate, as well as the Prerogative Court of Armagh, which was the highest court. Most wills proved before 1858 were destroyed in a fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin. The indexes did survive, however, which are available at the Family History Library. Scottish probate, or “confirmation” records consisted of testaments, or their equivalent to a will. They were also normally left by the higher classes, but were left by a much smaller population than the rest of the UK. Scottish testaments were proved either at the principal commissariat court in Edinburgh, or at a local jurisdiction for that court.

Richard Knayton Will 1677 (Dorset, England, Wills and Probates, 1565-1858 Ancestry Collection)


UK Wills and Probate After 1858

Wills in England and Wales filed after 12 January 1858 were filed in civil probate courts around the country for the Principal Probate Registry. Irish wills filed after 1858 were held under the Principal Probate Registry, which replaced the church courts previously in place. Scottish testaments, unlike England, Wales, and Ireland, were filed at commissariat departments at the sheriff’s courts after 1823.


What’s in a Will?

As wills will most likely be the record type you are finding for your ancestors, it is important to know what types of information you can find in them. Information found in a will varies greatly from will to will. Some information you could find in a will includes the name of the person who wrote the will, the date the will was written, the residence of the individual, relationships to people inheriting the estate, and an executor (the one who gives out the estate to people named in the will). More information, and even less information can be found from will to will. Try finding some wills for your family, and you will be surprised what it says!


Searching for Wills

English wills before 1858 must first be found at the correct church court before you can get the original record. Many of these are available at the Family History Library. If you cannot find a will at lower jurisdictions, you could search the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records (1384-1858), which are available online for ordering at the National Archives. After 1858, Wills from England and Wales have an index that can be searched on in the National Probate Calendar, which indexes wills from 1858-1966.

Irish wills have an index that can be searched on FamilySearch, which indexes wills from 1858-1920.

Scottish testaments are indexed form 1513-1925 on ScotlandsPeople. The index is free to search, and you can pay a fee to download the image directly from their website. Collections to Start Your Research

Here are a few collections you can use to start testing your new-found knowledge:

Happy hunting!


For more information on ProGenealogists, please visit their website at

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Tattoos: Signs of an “Interesting Past” Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:48:19 +0000 Juliana Smith Read more ]]> Jack London is quoted as saying, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Howley, was certainly no exception. In 1864, he joined the U.S. Navy under an assumed name so his wife wouldn’t find out. (She found out. She was not happy.)

In her Navy widow’s pension application that I found on, Jane reveals, “I do not remember any noticeable marks or scars on the person of my husband, Thomas Howley, only India ink tattooed on his arm consisting of the letters I.H.S. and as I remembered the image of the crucifiction. [sic] My impression is that the marks were on his arm at the time of his enlistment in the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1864.”

When questioned again about the tattoo, Jane tells the examiner I.H.S. stands for “I have suffered.” It was more likely a Christogram, but I’ll probably never know whether she assumed that, or Thomas told her that, or for that matter, whether Thomas knew of the significance himself. In another affidavit, she says it was “done by India ink when he was a boy.”

Not one to pull punches, Jane goes on to comment on him enlisting without telling her, “I felt very sore over it.” In regards to the tattoos on his arms she says, “I told him he was quite foolish to have those marks on his arm and he said when he was a boy, a lot of them had it done so he had it done on his arm too.” At the time of this affidavit, Thomas had been dead 23 years. Jane clearly had opinions.


I love the little insights from the various mentions of his tattoos, and while you might not find this amount of background about a tattoo in most other records, there are some records that will tell you if your ancestor had tattoos, and if so, what they were.

This Seaman’s protections certificate from the collection of U.S., Seamen’s Protection Certificates, 1792-1869 even goes so far as to illustrate a couple of John Seisinger’s tattoos.


Jacob Gaune’s record in that same collection, doesn’t mention a tattoo, but does reveal that he had “both ears bored.”

Declarations of intent to naturalize for some time periods also asked about specific markings. Alfred Maynard Sillence’s declaration doesn’t give us much of a description, but does say he has a “Tattoo on ring finger.”

Of course if your ancestor ran afoul of the law, his (or her) tattoos could be noted in prison records. David Beaudry imprisoned in the McNeil Island Penitentiary (Washington) for three months for “selling liquor to an Indian” and had “Tattooed ‘D.B.’ & “David” on left arm” and “on right forearm “D” & an anchor.”

The words “Hope,” “True,” and “Love” probably aren’t what you’d expect to find tattooed on a “confidence man,” but nonetheless, that’s what we find in the 1906 U.S. Album of Criminals for Harry Homer.

Keep an eye out for notations about your ancestor’s tattoos and unusual physical markings and characteristics. Not only can they help identify him (or her) in other records, they may include clues to their “interesting past.”


]]> 2 Paying Taxes… Or Not Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:54:59 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Genealogists are used to dealing with records surrounding an ancestor’s death, but what about taxes?

Tax Basics

Tax records in many locations date back earlier than vital records. They’re great for our research because they tend to be kept on a regular basis. (Have you ever heard of a government saying, “Never mind. We’re not going to collect taxes this year.”?) Tax records tend to cover a wide range of people, including those who didn’t own land.  Some locations taxed personal property (sometimes called “chattel”). This could include livestock, slaves, furniture, stills, carriages, etc.

Tax lists don’t necessarily prove residency. A person doesn’t have to live where they own land. Generally speaking, real property (land and buildings) is taxed where the land is; personal property and income is taxed where the owner/earner lives. There are always exceptions, but a good rule of thumb is that a real estate (land) tax list doesn’t prove residency, but a personal property or income tax list does.

IRS Tax Assessment Lists has numerous collections of tax lists. One of my favorites is the IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the states and years that are included in this collection.

The Internal Revenue Service (originally called the Bureau of Internal Revenue) was created in 1862 to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government at to pay interest on the Public Debt.” These tax lists generally list the person’s name and residence, the items being taxed and their value, the amount of the tax, and whether or not the tax was paid.

Here is a portion of the record from May 1863 for Wayne County, Indiana. Henry Binkley was taxed on $275 worth of wagons; for this, he was taxed $8.25. Aaron Boyer’s corn brooms worth $27 resulted in a tax of $1.41. (See, I told you people were taxed on more than just land!)


What about A.D. Band at the top of the list? His taxable item was way over on the right hand side of the page under “Class C – Enumerated Articles.” (This is a good reminder to scroll across the page!) His taxable articles: 30,475.95 gallons of distilled spirits, with a tax of $6,095.19.


And a Tax Cheat

On Tax Day, it’s hard not to think about one of the most famous tax evaders of all time: Al Capone. The federal government tried for years to gather evidence to convict him of distributing alcohol during Prohibition as well as the violence that surrounded his Chicago gang. What finally did Capone in was an investigation that connected him to income from a gambling house; though it was illegal, the income was taxable. He was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 and was eventually sent to Alcatraz.

Capone’s indictment and conviction made the front page of newspapers across the country, including this one from the Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, available on

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.



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Research in the Old Line State: Maryland State Guide Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:47:54 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> Maryland flagMany of us (myself included) can trace our roots back to Maryland. The history we can find there is fascinating, both in terms of our families’ and the state’s.

Maryland can be described as a land of contradictions. It was founded in part to be a safe haven for Catholics from England who wanted to settle in North America, yet Catholics were never the majority. Its famed “Act Concerning Religion” (also known as the Maryland Toleration Act) provided religious protections for Christians, but not for Jews and other non-Christians. It was a slaveholding state, but did not secede from the Union.

(As a side note, I haven’t verified it, but “Maryland, My Maryland” might be the only state song that contains the word “minions.”)

Our new free guide “Maryland Resources: Family History Sources in the Old Line State” will help you with an overview of Maryland history and numerous sources to use when researching your Maryland ancestors.

Need a similar guide for another state? You can find all of the guides that have been published here. Don’t worry if your state isn’t listed; we’re going to publish one for each state. Stay tuned!

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Use England Parish Registers To Research Ancestors Pre-1837 Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:51:01 +0000 Abbie Lee Black Read more ]]> Continuing on with my previous post, civil registration and census records are usually the place I turn first when starting my research in the UK. These records can be used together to create an accurate snapshot of a family group in the mid-19th century to late 20th century. Before 1837, parish registers are most commonly used to find the baptisms, marriages, and burials of ancestors.


We will be specifically talking about parish registers created in England, but this information applies to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Parish registers were first created in England in 1538 when Henry VIII established the Church of England. By 1597, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the earliest parish registers were rewritten on vellum, or animal skin, from 1558. This helped protect parish registers and make them available for research today. Many registers before 1558 are lost; they were often written on paper, rather than more durable materials.


Early parish registers were often written in chronological order, including baptisms, marriages, and burials in the same volume. As time went by, many parishes recorded these events in separate books, but it depended on the person writing the registers.


Parish Register Baptism; 1814 Saint Luke, Islington, Middlesex Co


The types of information written in a parish registers varied from scribe to scribe. Usually more information is included on later parish registers. Baptism entries usually listed the name of the child baptized, baptism date, and father’s name. Other information could be recorded, including date of birth, mother’s name, witnesses’ names, or godparents.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812, which required parish baptisms to be recorded on pre-printed forms. These forms included the parish of birth, county of birth, date of baptism, the child’s name, parents’ names (sometimes maiden name of mother), residence of the family, father’s occupation, and the name of the person who performed the ceremony. Sometimes the date of birth was written in the margins; especially if the child was baptized years after the birth.



Early marriage entries usually only included the groom’s name, the bride’s name, and the date of marriage. By 1754, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act required all individuals (excluding Jews and Quakers) to be married through the Church of England. Before this, some ancestors may not be listed in the parish registers due a clandestine marriage (think Fleet Prison).

A lot more information is recorded on marriage entries after 1754, including the couples’ names, date of marriage, residences of both parties, marital status, how the marriage was performed (banns or licence), signatures of the bride and groom, as well as two witnesses of the marriage.

In 1837, printed forms were institutionalized, which new information: ages of the couple, and names of the bride and groom’s fathers.



Burial records usually do not have as much information as baptism and marriage entries. Sometimes only the name and date of burial are listed. If a young child died, you may find a father’s name. Because of Rose’s Act in 1813, the name date of burial, name of deceased, and age were required in the register.


How to Use Parish Registers

As parish registers are a very useful genealogical resource, many of them have been indexed, digitized, or transcribed. The originals can be found in county record offices across the UK. To know what records are available for each parish and where they are stored, you can use The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers.

From the census and civil registration, you will most likely know at least a good idea which parish and county an event took place for your ancestor. You can use the International Genealogical Index, or IGI, which is a large database of indexed parish baptisms and burials in the UK, created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. also has many parish registers indexed available for research. Most notably, the England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 Collection is a great place to start, similar to the IGI. Ancestry also has large collections of parish registers for LondonYorkshire, Dorset, and Warwickshire, just to name a few.


If you can’t find your ancestor in the parish registers, you can look in the bishop’s transcripts, which are records first started in 1598, which required annual copies of parish registers to be created and sent to the bishop of the parish. These records can usually be found from 1598-1837. When used in conjunction with parish registers, an ancestor could be found, as well as extra information written on either of the documents.


Now that you have found census records and have ordered civil registration documents for your ancestors, start looking through parish registers to see what you find!


Happy hunting!


For more information on ProGenealogists, please visit their website at

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Family History Toolkit: Creating Timelines Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:58:06 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more ]]> Timelines are great tools for deciphering all of your family history discoveries. They can help place your ancestor at a given time and help you understand your ancestor’s life and what records, events, etc. you might be missing. Use timelines to analyze the different records you have found and understand where you should be setting your sights in the future. Take a look at expert Juliana Szucs Smith’s presentation on creating family history timelines:

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Well-To-Do or Poor as Church Mice? Figuring Out Your Ancestor’s Wealth Tue, 08 Apr 2014 20:48:12 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> April 5 – 12 is Money Smart Week, designed to help people learn more about their personal finances. Did you know that you can also learn about your ancestors’ financial well-being? You probably don’t have access to their checkbooks (or the jars of cash buried in the back yard), but there are some common records you can use to get a general idea of your ancestors’ wealth.

The 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal census asked for the value of a person’s real estate (land and immovable objects like houses and barns). In 1860 and 1870, the census also asked for the value of personal property. You should take these values as estimates. The census taker didn’t verify the values and it’s possible that the person might have been less than truthful with his or her answers. (Would you tell a complete stranger how much your property is worth?)

My ancestor Samuel Ramsey lived in Hopewell Township, Perry County, Ohio in 1870. According to the census, Samuel had real property worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

1870 census showing Samuel Ramsey had real estate worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

1870 census showing Samuel Ramsey had real estate worth $5,850 and personal property worth $1,000.

That’s good information, but what does it really mean to have $5,850 of real estate in Hopewell Township in 1870? There are a couple of ways you can put this into more context. First, you can convert those dollars into “today’s money” using a inflation calculator. One of my favorites is WolframAlpha. On there, I can type in “How much is $5850 in 1870 worth today.” It calculates that an equivalent sum today would be $109,800.

Another way to look at your ancestors’ property values is how they compare to others in the neighborhood. For my Samuel Ramsey, I looked at the property values of the heads of household on his page and the two pages before and after his. Here’s the rundown of the real estate of those 42 heads of household:

  • 12 had no real estate
  • 5 had real estate valued less than $2,500
  • 5 had real estate of $2,500 – $4,999
  • 12 had real estate of $5,000 – $7,499
  • 4 had real estate of $7,500 – $9,999
  • 4 had real estate of $10,000 or more

The average real estate value of all the heads of household was $4552; the average value among just the landowners was $6,374. So my Samuel and his $5,850 in real estate was above average in one way, but definitely wasn’t among the larger landowners in his neighborhood. Seeing this helps me put that $5,850 in better context.

You can do the same type of analysis and comparison with the values on the agricultural and industry/manufacturers schedules. These can be found for selected states in Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880.

Newspapers can also give an idea of the cost of living. Check out the classified section for the cost of house rentals. Advertisements will give you an idea of the cost of common items, so you can see how far a dollar would have gone.


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What You Might Have Missed: April 7th Edition Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:15:44 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more ]]> Blog Posts
Ancestry.comWWII Government Poster
Fold3 Spotlights Blog Blog


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Genealogy Spring Cleaning [VIDEO] Sat, 05 Apr 2014 16:03:10 +0000 Pam Velazquez Spring is officially here! Join Crista Cowan as she shares tips and tricks for pruning your family tree. You’ll discover ways to clean up, lighten up and freshen up your family history research.

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New State Research Guide: Welcome to Maine, The “Pine Tree State” Fri, 04 Apr 2014 20:52:35 +0000 Juliana Smith Read more ]]> Hemlock Bridge, Northeast Harbor vicinity, Hancock County, METhis week’s dive into the history of the state of Maine was an interesting one and full of contradictions. It is the largest New England state (nearly as large as all of the other New England states combined), and it is also the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi.

It declared war on our neighbor to the north (the only state to declare war on a foreign country), but there were no casualties. (O.K., no human casualties. There are reports that a pig and a cow who wandered into the fray were casualties of the Aroostook War over Maine’s northern border.)

There are even directional contradictions. Coastal Maine from Penobscot Bay east and north to Canada is considered “Down East.” Travel between Massachusetts and its frontier district, that would later become the state of Maine, was easiest by water in early America. Since the ships were sailing downwind and to ports that were to the east of Massachusetts ports, it was considered “Down East.” The return trip was “up to Boston” despite Boston’s location south of Maine.

Want to learn more about the “Pine Tree State?” Check out our latest state research guide—Maine.

(Looking for another state? You can find all the guides we’ve completed to date here. If we’re missing your state, stay tuned. It’s coming.)

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