I've been searching for information about my ancestors for a long time. It never ceases to amaze me how many things I miss. Sometimes we become so focused on validating a single piece of information that we forget that the source of that validation can often supply us with a lot more information.
If you are lucky enough to have an ancestor will or two hanging around, here are some of the things you may find if you take the time to read them thoroughly:
- If you don't have an actual date of death, a will can help you narrow down your search. You can determine a range of time for your ancestor's death - sometime between the date the will was written and the date it was presented to probate. For example: John Doe Smith wrote his will on 6 Feb 1840. His will was recorded in the county in which he lived in November of 1854. John died sometime between 6 Feb 1840 and Novem 1954. His place of death is the county in which the will was presented to probate.
- Where your ancestor lived can often be determined by reading the very first paragraph of the will, which usually reads along the lines of, "I, John Doe Smith, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, being of sound mind ....".
- An indication of what our ancestor owned and the kind of wealth he had can be found in his will. Since the purpose of a will is to dispose of one's assets after one's death, it would stand to reason that the will would include a list of assets and who they are left to, which brings us to
- family relationships. Ancestors commonly name family members in their wills.
- How your ancestor signed his will can tell you about their level of literacy. Did your ancestor actually sign his name - or an "X".
- Lastly, who was named executor and who served as witness(es) will often tell you something about your ancestor's associates.
All of this can serve as clues for further research. If you get a piece of paper in your hands that relates to an ancestor, READ THE WHOLE THING. Don't let any piece of valuable information slip through your fingers.
-- submitted by Denise Doyon