Holmes County, Florida

Research Tips and Tricks

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FINDING MAIDEN NAMES: From the 1992 Jackson County, Michigan, Genealogical Society: Nothing will give greater clues to maiden names than the witnesses to old wills. In the lower left hand corner on most wills, you will find signatures of two to four witnesses. The first is always from the husband's side. The next is almost from the wife's side and that is to protect her one-third dower right under law. 

        Mortgages:  In the 1800's and before, it was traditional when the daughter married, as part of her dowry, for the father to either cover their mortgage or carry a note for his son-in-law. If you can find to whom their mortgage payments were paid, 70% of the time it will be bride's father.

U S Surname Distribution:  You can enter a surname (last name) into the form on this site and you'll get a map of the US showing the distribution of people with this surname within the 50 states. This map could be helpful when trying to determine a starting point for genealogy projects.

Homestead Entry Act: The Act of May 20, 1862, authorized unrestricted settlement on public lands to all settlers, requiring only residence, cultivation, and some improvement to a tract of 160 acres. Any person was eligible who was head of a family or had reached the age of 21, who was a citizen or intended to become one, and who did not own as much as 160 acres. After living on the land and farming it for six (6) months, he could buy the homestead at $1.25 an acre. But after five (5) continuous years, he could apply for and receive a patent or title to the 160 acres for a filing fee of $15.00.

PASSPORTS: If your ancestor returned to the old country to visit, he needed a passport. The passport applications gives the place of birth, the date of birth and personal description. This is a valuable source of information for the researcher. For passports through 1905 write to:

            Diplomatic Records Branch
            National Archives
         Room 5-E
         Washington DC 20520

For passports issued 1906 and later, write to:

            Passport Office
         Department of State
         11425 K Street, NW
         Washington DC 20520

Be sure to give the applicant's name, residence and the place and approximate date of the application. A charge is made for the search and copies of the records.

MASONIC RECORDS: John S Yates has published a booklet entitled "Researching Masonic Records".  Mr Yates has compiled the addresses for Masonic information in each state. Lineage information is NOT usually included in a man's Masonic records, but clues may be obtained through the location of an individual's membership. If he retained his membership until his death, the records may contain the date of death and burial location. Write to:

            John S Yates
         PO Box 3496
         Wichita Falls TX 76309-3496

CLUES IN CENSUS RECORDS: The National Archives and Records Administration has several articles that provide clues in census records that can be very helpful to researchers working with the federal census:

Information on the Census

Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840 and Clues in Census Records, 1850-1930

British History Online:  BBC Online HistoryUnderstanding your ancestors is more than just having the dates and places of the major events in their lives.  You also need to understand the world in which they lived.  Part of that is geography:  the valleys, rivers, roads, and political boundaries of the places where they lived.  There is also a cultural setting.  What were the religious, economic and political climates like in the place time where your ancestor lived?  You can (and should) study those factors.  But you can also use a quick reference to guide you when the inevitable questions arise.  In your ancestors were British, this website can help.  They have placed a useful and easily used summary of British history on this site.

Postcards From Your Ancestor's Homepage:  You may still be living in the town where you were born and grew up.  But odds are that you can't say the same for every one of the thousands of members of your family for the past 10 or 12 generations.  People move!  That's one of the facts of life.  That is also one of the fascinating aspects of genealogy.  Learning about the places your ancestors lived can be almost as interesting as learning about the lives they led.  The best way to learn about your ancestral homeland, is to visit the area and see it for yourself; however, what happens if you don't have time or money to take the trip?  For decades, family genealogists have considered locally produced photographs to be the next best thing to taking their own.  Photographs can be found in brochures produced by the local chamber of commerce or travel bureau, or they can be found on postcards.  You can write to the local offices of travel bureaus, or you can locate local postcards and other photographs via the Internet.  You can use your favorite search engine to locate websites that have online pictures from the city or region where your ancestors lived.  

NAME CHANGES IN COURT RECORDS:  First the bad news:   You don't necessarily have to go through a legal process to change your name, not in the United States.  And that's exactly what many of our ancestors did.  They changed their names -- either a little or a lot -- and went on their lives.  Maybe Schmidt became Smith, or Tomaso became Thomas, or Blanc became White.  The change was made, the neighbors accepted it, and there it was.

But many of those who did change their names did so "legally", that is, by going to court and petitioning for the change.  It that was the case (no pun intended) for one of your ancestors, you should be able to find mention of it in the local court minutes, usually in a county or city court.

The exact detail depended on the diligence of the court clerk, but the court minutes could include the former name and the new and improved version, the date of the change, the reason for the change, and the residence of the petitioner.  In some cases, the whole family would be mentioned, as a change of surname would affect all of them.  

The ninth edition of The Handy Book for Genealogists contains county-by-county information on the location and custody of court records, and many of them have been filmed by the Family History Library -- making them available through thousands of local Family History Centers.

(SOURCE:  Everton's Family History Newsline, 25 October 2000)

DATING OLD PHOTOGRAPHS, 1840 - 1929:  Family Chronicle magazine recently published an interesting booklet, called "Dating Old Photographs 1840 - 1929".  Some time ago Family Chronicle ran a 16-page article in their magazine on the subject of dating old photographs.  Publisher Halvor Moorshead reports that he was quite surprised at the popularity of that article.  Several thousand people alter requested back issues, and the supply was soon exhausted.  As a result, Family Chronicle has now created a 100-page booklet on the same topic.

"Dating Old Photographs 1840 - 1929" is an 8 1/2" by 11" paperback that consists of a short introduction to the subject of dating old photographs, followed by 88 pages of example photos.  The text discusses Daguerreotypes (used from 1839 to about 1860), ambrotypes (1854 until the mid 1860s), tintypes (1856 to about 1900) and the more modern techniques involved negatives.  The book also discusses topics such as carte-de-visit photos, cabinet card photos, photographers' imprints, tax stamps, picture frames and more.  Of course, clothing styles are also described in some detail.

However, the best part of this book is all the examples.  More than 650 black and white photographs representing typical family pictures fill 88 pages of this 8 1/2" x 11" glossy magazine.  By comparing your unknown pictures to those in the book, you can match up clothing and hair fashion, the poses adopted by the subject, and the background settings in both pictures and estimate the date of your pictures.

Perhaps the most unique photograph in this book is the one found on page 6:  a picture taken in England in 1899 shows 13 girls and women, each dressed in a different style of clothing from the previous 80 years.  Each girl or woman holds a sign listing the year in which her clothing style was in fashion.  This is a sort of "Rosetta Stone" of women's fashions of the nineteenth century.

There are many myths about old photographs, according to Moorshead.  The most common is that people in isolated, rural communities wore fashions that were some years behind those in the cities.  "The evidence does not bear this out," says Moorshead. "People, especially women, would not be caught dead allowing themselves to be photographed wearing an out-of-date fashion.  Our ancestors changed hairstyles and clothing fashions at least as often as we do today."

This is an interesting book.  "Dating Old Photographs 1840 - 1929" costs $12.00 U S funds, $15.00 Canadian.  Those prices include shipping.  For more information, or to safely order online via a secure web site, go to:


(SOURCE:  The above article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (VOL 5, NO 48 - November 25, 2000) and is copyright 2000 by Richard W Eastman.  It is re-published with the permission of the author.)



This page was last updated on: 30 Nov 2007