Learn How To Research Your Genealogy
Sandra K. Gorin email@example.com via rootsweb.com (posted with permission)
© Copyright 27 July 2012.
LESSON 9 – OBITUARIES
But first! Our friend Bill Utterback commented on
last week’s post about birth and death
certificates from 1911 on. I thought I would
share this with you. Thank you for this! Bill noted:
There were a fair number of counties which
refused to immediately comply with the provisions
of the 1911 Act, just as they had done back in
the period of the 1852 and 1874 acts. As a
result, it was as late as 1915 before all
counties, faced with the State's threat of fining
them for not complying, fell into line. Because
of that, it is not uncommon for researchers to
still not be able to find a birth or death
certificate for their person under investigation
in that 5 year time period, if the county in
which the event occurred was one of the maverick
non-complying ones. Calloway County did not
comply until 1914. Thus folks should not
necessarily get their hopes up that they will
absolutely, definitely, find a birth or death
certificate in the years of 1911 to about 1915.
Many - probably most - counties complied
immediately with the 1911 Act, but there were
probably 20 or so out of the 120 counties who
tried to hold out against compliance, and some of
them were heavily fined as a result. The 1911 Act
was the first of the several attempts at
collecting VS records which really had some "teeth" in it to insure compliance.
Now, let’s take a look at obituaries. Newspapers
from almost the beginning, published obituaries
but they were far from what we see today. They
have gone through at least four stages.
1 – In the older papers, obituaries consisted of
a brief citation located somewhere between the
hog reports, patent medicine ads and
national/international news. If the individual
who died was a dignitary or wealthy, he might
merit a separate death notice. One has to scan
the entire paper (which wasn’t too large then!)
to see if the ancestor was mentioned. There was no official “obituary column.”
2 – Neighborhood correspondents. Moving forward a
few years, many newspapers had correspondents who
reported on the various areas in the county. This
was almost a gossip column listing who did what,
how the crops were faring, and, if we’re lucky,
mentioning an individual or so who was either
seriously ill or had recently died. It is ironic
that when reporting an illness or an outbreak of
a disease in their area, the correspondent often
made the comment that “he is not expected to
live.” I hope the person referred to didn’t read
that item! Very little information, if any, was
given about the deceased, it was just a passing
news item. Some papers continue this tradition.
It was the fashion for the correspondent to use
an “alias” – some silly name – to disguise themselves.
3 – The era of the fancy obituary. Next came the
resemblance of the modern-day obituary which were
the “flowery” ones. Not everyone’s passing was
noted but when it was, it was done with great
elegance. “They were universally loved”. “The
mourners were of great number.” “The husband
(etal.) and family are in deep mourning.” “She
was loving, caring, never knew an enemy….” One
would think that the heavens were weeping over
the individual’s death. The obituary did not
always, in fact seldom did, include a lot of
genealogical help. The statement was usually “she
is left with a grieving husband and 15 children
to mourn her loss.” No names. It did often name
the minister who performed the funeral and the burial place.
4 – the modern obituary. Now in most newspapers,
there is an obituary section. All recent deaths
since the last publication are listed together in
one spot with the appropriate information we’re used to.
When looking for an obituary that falls into type
1, 2 and 3; there’s no guarantee you will find
one. You will do handstands if you do. Photos
were seldom included unless again it was a person of importance.
Now, we can pick up the paper or go on the web
and find the information. But, as with everything
else, there can be errors! There can be
typesetting errors by the newspaper. There can be
incorrect information provided by the family. How
well I know on the latter when, in shock of my
mother’s passing, I listed her father’s name when
it was her grandfather’s name. Or when I couldn’t
even remember the date of my father’s birth. It
was just grief and shock; I knew both well. Dates
can be off – there is a multitude of errors that
could pop up. We have found where the newspaper,
the funeral home and the tombstone all had conflicting information!
Now, just as an aside. In looking at the older
obituaries which showed the place of burial.
Guess what? The person might not have been buried
there at all or buried at some later date. Why?
Before the era of hearses which transport the
body to the cemetery, most people were carried on
a flat-bed wagon or some other farm vehicle. The
roads were bad. Creeks had to be crossed. Creeks
could be flooded. It could be in the middle of
winter and a grave couldn’t be dug. So sometimes,
a different family cemetery was chosen nearby for
interment. And sometimes, they had to store the
remains in an ice house or someplace until the
land thawed out and bury them later!
LESSON 10 – FUNERAL HOMES
Last week I mentioned funeral home records. In
many communities there were no such things as
funeral homes until the early 1900’s. Until that
time, there were undertakers who handled deaths
as a part-time job, mostly farmers or in towns,
business men. Embalming was known back to before
the Civil War, but the funeral services we know
of today was not found in smaller communities.
Most funerals were held by the family and out of
the home. After a person deceased, the ladies
normally cleaned the body and it was laid out on
a table in the home. People sat up all night
before the service, not so much to be sure that
the person was really dead (though some scary
events did happen!) but to keep insects from
crawling over the body. A local carpenter could
have rapidly built a coffin and the services were
held out of the house. I remember this vividly in
1949 when my Grandmother died, although she was
prepared by a funeral home, the service was held
in the sun room of the farm house.
Newspapers were informed and in larger
communities, invitations were sent to friends and
family announcing the death. They were known as
the “letters edged in black.” The service in the
home was attended by as many as could fit and
there is one story I love to tell of the lady who
supposedly sat up in her coffin. I’ll tell you that sometime!
The funeral procession, with appropriate mourners
(many hired people to cry and mourn loudly to
impress watchers of the importance of the
deceased), headed off to the cemetery. The grave
was normally dug by the family; the final words
were spoken and the deceased interred. Many times
however, there was no service for the public; the
family just dug the grave and buried the deceased.
When funeral homes starting to come into vogue,
many families did not trust them. This was often
a side-business to a furniture store with regular
sales on the first floor and a funeral parlor on
the second. Some funeral homes were too small to
do embalming and had someone else do that for
them. A good example of an early funeral home in
Glasgow, KY can be seen at the South Central KY
Cultural Center. It had a table on which the
casket was positioned, heavy, often red, drapes …
it was rather an unpleasant scene!
Today funeral homes are much improved, have
hearses to deliver the deceased; there are
flowers, music, often video presentations of the
life of the deceased family member. And, there
are records which can hopefully be researched.
Some funeral homes do not like to let someone who
is not a family member look at the records; some
will be kind enough to Photostat the record and
provide it. They are adverse to providing
information about the type of coffin, cost,
whether they were paid for the service,
embalming, clothing, etc. One has to establish a
relationship with the funeral home sometimes in
order to be allowed to see the information.
I have transcribed the records of the two funeral
homes in Glasgow from the beginning until the
1960’s (so far). Both establishments have been
most kind in letting me preserve the
genealogical/family information. Records up to
the time of the computer age were generally kept in two formats:
1 – Huge old ledger books. In the early days
(1899 here for the oldest establishment), there
is not as much information. But, the information
is in chronological order, one burial per page.
As time passed, more detailed information is given.
2 – On 5x7 index cards. These are usually filed
in alphabetical order, most have been re-typed
from earlier records for ease of reading.
Information contained on both styles of records
are marvelous. Normally you will find the following:
Name of deceased
Residence of deceased
Date of birth - sometimes place of birth
Date of death and age
Names of parents
Cause of death – sometimes
How long a resident of the state
How long ill – sometimes
Church membership or organizational memberships
Name of spouse (if applicable) and children
Other family members and often their place of abode.
Date of funeral service
Location of service (could be at
the funeral home or at a church)
Date of burial
Place of burial
If you need to contact a funeral home to find
information, please do it graciously. This is not
their full-time job to track your family members!
I was able to go in person; both funeral homes
knew me and one had buried family members. If you live in a different area:
1 - Explain that you are looking for genealogical information only.
2 – Give them the date or as close to it as you can!
3 – Offer to reimburse them for their time. They
normally won’t take money, but it’s a kind
4 – Include a self-addressed stamped envelope
(SASE), preferably a legal sized envelope.
5 – Thank them in advance for considering your
request. If they don’t do it, they will
normally return a reply in the envelope
you provided, but please and thank you goes a
6 – If they deny your request, let it go … don’t bug them!
Many funeral homes have computerized their
records now and it doesn’t take long to look up a
name. But if they are still using the old books
or cards, it can be time-consuming. If they do
find the record and send it to you, a short
thank-you note will go a long way in case you need to ask again.
LESSON 11 – CEMETERY HUNTING
There are some fallacies concerning cemeteries.
(1) Everyone who died in your county has a stone.
(2) Every cemetery has been recorded.
(3) Information is correct.
(4) Cemeteries are easy to find.
(5) Old stones are easy to read.
(6) Every cemetery has a caretaker.
(7) The cemetery name stays the same.
Let’s take these in order.
(1) Wrong! Individuals who died in the early
days of the county MIGHT have had a stone which
has long since disappeared, or were too poor to
have a stone erected. Many early stones were just
field rocks carved with a pocket knife. Just
because you can’t find a listing for an
ancestor’s stone doesn’t mean they’re not buried there.
(2) Wrong! There are likely hundreds of little
family cemeteries overgrown with timber, covered
with will grasses, sunken into the ground. Just
because you can’t find your ancestor’s cemetery
listed doesn’t mean that they’re not buried here.
(3) Wrong! As I’ve noted earlier, there are
sometimes different dates of birth and death
found in newspaper obituaries, funeral home
records and stone engravings. Sometimes the
stones were erected at a later time with the
dates coming from the memory of the one who
placed the stone. Stone carvers made mistakes and
many people couldn’t afford to have the stone
re-carved. One must compare all records!
(4) Wrong! I thought it was an easy task,
living in the flatlands of central IL. When I
came to Kentucky and started cemetery hunting
with my friend Martha Harrison, I learned a lot
in a hurry! We forded creeks, crawled under
barbed wire fences, fought chiggers, watched for
rattlesnakes and got a lot of poison ivy. City
managed cemeteries are easy … it’s those little
family cemeteries next to where your ancestors
used to live that are a challenge. Overgrown,
stones plowed under, stones broken down by cattle you name it – it happens.
(5) Wrong! Oh, the fancy newer stones in a city
maintained or church maintained cemetery might be
different. But the quality of the stone and the
passage of time makes it very difficult to read
most older stones. Is that an “e” or an “o”? Is
that an “8” or a “3”? Is that a Rodger buried
next to a Roger – is that the same family? Is the
death date under the dirt where the stone has
settled? We’ll tackle reading stones soon.
(6) Wrong! Only municipal owned cemeteries
normally have caretakers. A church cemetery
likely doesn’t – if the little country church has
a full-time pastor or secretary, they may or may
not have any record of who is buried there. And,
of course, old family cemeteries most times don’t
have family descendants still living there – the cemetery is “just there”!
(7) Wrong! Cemeteries change names. It might
have started out as the John Jones Cemetery but
then Bob Smith bought the land around it and
decided to call the cemetery after him. Rule of
thumb used to be (for family cemeteries) is that
it was named after the first person buried there
or the first family buried there. Church
cemeteries are most often named for the church
and seldom change names. Municipal cemeteries can
change names too. As an example. The Glasgow
Municipal Cemetery here was first known as the
Odd Fellows Cemetery as it was owned by the Odd
Fellows. When the city bought the cemetery, it
was changed to Glasgow Municipal. But, there is
an Odd Fellows Cemetery which is now an African
American cemetery! However, city cemeteries are less prone to change.
Now, lets take a look on how to read those old
stones. You should carry some tools with you and follow some rules.
(1) Equipment: A cell phone, bug spray, a bag of
flour, a digging tool (no, we’re not!), a brush
(toothbrush or similar), gloves, a camera, notebook and a mirror.
(2) Wear: Long pants, socks, and possibly a light weight long sleeved shirt.
Why a cellphone? We get lost. We might run into
trouble. We might get hurt! Always let someone
who can drive know where you are going if trying
to find an old farm cemetery. The clothes are for
protection against chiggers, poison ivy and
sunburn. The comfortable old shoes – you might be
walking through some rough terrain; high heels are a no-no!
So, we find the stone and it’s a mess. It’s
overgrown with moss and years of dirt. The
engraving is hard to read. What do we do:
(1) Brush off all the moss and dirt you can; if
you have carried so water with you, you might try to wash the stone down.
(2) Get your hands into that cheap bag of flour
and scoop out handfuls as needed and spread over
the stone, working it into the engraving. DO NOT
USE SHAVING CREAM!!! This is often recommended
but is caustic to many stones. Flour will not
hurt, it just makes the stone look “ghostly”. Tracings? Sometimes.
(3) When you’re able to read as much of the
stone as possible, write down the information.
Include not only the birth and death dates, but
any little “saying” that is so often found, any
symbols (rings, Masonic, Woodman of the World,
etc). If a relationship is shown, be sure to copy
that “wife of”, “mother of”, etc.
(4) Note the location of the stone. Is it in a
row? Stones always face the same direction with
the head of the stone facing east. If it’s in a
row of stones, number each stone in that row and
indicate which row if there is more than one.
Those closest likely are kin. If two names are on
the stone such as husband and wife, note this.
The common abbreviation is OSS – on same stone with.
(5) Take a picture with your camera, hopefully a
digital so you can immediately see if the picture
came out ok. It might be good to take more than
one picture of the stone to be sure one isn’t
blurred. Then stand back and take a picture of
the stone from a distance so the entire row (or a
good portion of it) can be seen. Suggestion: when
downloading the photos, convert them also to
black and white. Black and white photos are more
“crisp”. You can keep a color copy to capture the
scene, but also have a copy in black and white.
(6) If the stone is still hard to read, try this
trick. If the sun is behind you and bright, angle
the mirror so that the sunlight is deflected to
the stone. This will sometime help bring out the
engraving – if not by eye, perhaps by camera.
(7) OK, that leaves the digging tool. I can
really tell you stories about that! But
headstones are known to sink into the head of the
grave. Or, the stone has fallen over face down.
The pry bar or shovel will help upright the stone
or pry it up enough the read the inscription.
(8) If there are stones that are totally
unreadable or have no information on them, note
them and their location to the other stones. It might be a child’s stone.
As you prepare to leave, take some more pictures.
Take a general shot of the entire cemetery, as
many pictures as needed. This will help place it
for later researchers. If you have a GPS, note
the location. If not, give directions such as “1
mile off Beaver Road, in the timber. Entered at a
cattle gate, walked north ½ mile to a clump of
cedar trees. Turned left towards the timber at
the top of the hill and went approximately 100
feet.” You can give the present land owner’s name
or residence as a landmark; a bend in the road;
the type of road (gravel, one lane, after a
curve) – anything that will help others find the cemetery.
And finally! Cemeteries are not owned by the
people who own the land around it. In old deeds,
the family cemetery burial ground was always
noted and excepted from the sale; this has fallen
out of usage in modern times. However, if a man
buys 100 acres of land which contains a family
cemetery, he does not own that portion of the
land. BUT – you have to go across his property to
get to the cemetery most times. Always ask
permission. Close cattle gates. Explain that
you’re not there to report him or anything (oh
those cemeteries with cattle running through it
and knocking down stones, or in the middle of a
pig lot!), you are a historian (or family member)
and just want to record the information on the
stones, nothing else. I know you’d like to report
them, but it’s more important right now to just
copy the stones. I have a few stories on that too!
And, cemetery hunting though not as comfortable
to humans, is safer in cold weather. The snakes are asleep!
I hope this covers most of the important things
about obtaining information first hand and also
lets you know what we cemetery hunters go through!
LESSON 12 - THE FAMILY BIBLE
In times past, names and dates written in the
family Bible could be used as proof for the
births , deaths and marriages of individuals
seeking military pensions or as evidence in a
court of law. Many of our early ancestors did not
have accurate records of their ages or where they
were born. No birth or death certificates were
issued by the county or state, and many times
marriage licenses had been lost. The only way to
prove an event was if the family kept an old family Bible.
A personal story here which might be an
encouragement to those of you seeking the
whereabouts of that family Bible, if it existed.
I had heard for several years when starting my
researching career in 1970, of the “Henry Gorin
Family Bible.” Since Henry was my daughters’
direct ancestor and took the family back to
Virginia, I wanted to see that Bible! Living
close to the town of Decatur, IL at the time, I
knew from the last Gorin’s will there that the
Bible was or had been there in Macon Co IL. I
drove to Decatur several times and hunted in the
logical places. The last owner was a spinster
daughter who died in the 1940’s. Her father and
grandfather, both well known, had been presidents
of the Millikin National Bank and Millikin
University had the Orville B. Gorin Library.
Through much searching by the kindness of the
bank officers and the library – nothing. I gave
up the quest. In 1990, after moving to Glasgow,
KY, I began as the typist for the historical
society quarterly. Several issues later, I
received a letter from the secretary of the Macon
Co IL quarterly. She had just been to a ---- yard
sale! And, wonder of wonders, she happened to spy
a big old book on one of the tables. Oh yes, it
was the Henry Gorin Bible! Within a couple of
weeks, the Bible found its home with me; I paid
her the price she had paid plus postage. It is
cherished and many Gorin kin have visited me just
to see that old Bible. So – 20 plus years of waiting and having given up hope!
That Bible proved the birth, death and marriage
dates down to within 3 generations of my
daughters. But – of course, there could be
errors. This Bible had been presented to the
widow of Henry Gorin by her son, John D. Gorin.
He or someone at the time had entered the
information on all of Henry & Sarah’s children –
it was in a distinctive handwriting and written
by the same pen. But, through the years,
descendants had added information to it. As
grandchildren had been born, then
great-grandchildren, family had died; other
individuals had added information. This was
written in various types of ink, sometimes
pencil. Sometimes, when a family purchased a
newer Bible, they transcribed the information
from the old Bible into the new; I have done this
myself. If all the handwriting is the same from
the 1700’s to more current times, you can tell
that it was copied from another Bible, it is not
the original one. Perhaps information was added
to the original Bible records. As genealogists,
we likely have access to more information that
the people did at the time. We might add death
dates or locations, or add a generation or two.
This would be secondary information – we weren’t
there when the event happened. We also could
accidentally put in erroneous information too.
The only primary source would be the original
Bible written by those who was there when it happened.
Can you find your family Bible if they kept one?
Maybe yes, maybe no. If you read the inventory of
the estates of those in older times, many times
you will see a reference to the family Bible. Not
all people had a vast library (though some did),
but the Bible was treasured. At the sale of the
estate, note who bought the Bible – you might
have a clue to its chain of owners and it was
likely a family member. If the individual left a
will, he often specified who was to receive the
Bible. This is the trail I followed; that
spinster daughter of Orville Gorin supposedly
couldn’t find any more Gorin family (who lived a
mere 50 miles away), so her entire estate was
given to their housekeeper! I guess she didn’t
think of her nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles.
And, for 50 years or so, that Bible was kept and
likely changed hands, ending up in a yard sale.
I am a browser of old books in thrift shops and
flea markets, yard sales, etc. If I see a Bible,
I scan through it to see if there is any family
information written in it. If there is, I buy it
though I likely have no idea of who the family
is. Then I try to find a family member and
present it to them if they seem interested. This
little old Bible (or huge ones of the past) might
be the only documentation of a family that will be found.
LESSON 13 - COUNTY ORDER BOOKS
What’s so interesting about these so-called Order Books. What are they anyway?
Order Books, so called in Kentucky, are the
minute books of the County Court. Often
overlooked for the information they contain, they
can be a treasure chest of information for the
researcher. These are handwritten by the clerk
and housed in most County Clerk offices in those
huge old tomes that are so hard to lift and copy.
Many are in fragile shape and are blessed with
information on many subjects. Some are indexed,
some are not; some have separate indexes in
smaller books housed with the Order book.
Some of the topics you will find therein include:
References to Revolutionary War applications
Appointment of administrators to the estates of those dying intestate.
Licenses for ministers allowing them to preach &
perform marriages in the county
Payments to individuals for keeping the insane, ill or orphans.
Payments to individuals for making coffins for a deceased individual.
Payments for individuals bringing in wolf skins.
Names of individuals who were not required to pay taxes for the year.
Names of individuals appointed to survey lands of deceased.
Manumission of slaves
Establishment of roads or maintenance of same.
Some poor house records.
Guardianship appointments, often naming name of child, age, etc.
Names of those paid for service to the county in elections, road work, etc.
Mill site establishments – viewing of land.
Citations on indenturing of children.
Names of judges, jailers, sheriffs, and other officers.
There are usually separate books also kept for
some of these – administrator and executor bond
books, tavern records, guardianships and
indentures, but these books give a lot of the information not found elsewhere.
If you are able to visit the County Clerk’s
office, take a look for these books. They are still kept to the present day.
LESSON 14 – GUARDIANSHIP BONDS
Many people have a misunderstanding as to what
guardian bonds were used for. Many County Clerk’s
offices have “Guardian Bond Books” and they are
also cited in the Order Books we mentioned last week.
Guardianship did NOT mean that the child
(sometimes a single woman) were “placed in the
custody” or lived with his/her guardian. They
normally remained with the family. If the child
was a total orphan – both parents deceased – then
he/she might live with the guardian’s family.
There were two types of guardianships:
1 – Upon the death of at least one of the
parents, normally the father. You know we frail
women just can’t take care of the kiddos! It was
thought to be in the best interest of the child
or children that a guardian be named, primarily
to watch over the financial affairs of the child.
As heirs of the deceased, they would have
inherited from the father, but being under age,
they legally could not own land or slaves. The
guardian appointed had to keep books, which are
also at the County Clerk’s office, in which he
recorded many items: Income to the child’s
account for rental of the land inherited, income
from the renting of the slaves inherited,
interest on the child’s account, expenses for
clothing, school and medical care. Every penny
had to be accounted for and an annual report
filed with the County Clerk. These large books
are ledger books containing the clerk’s
handwritten report as provided by the guardian.
2 – There was also a guardianship ad litem. That
term means basically “for the term of”. In other
words, the guardianship lasted for a certain
period of time and then ended. This type of
guardianship was usually when an individual was
appointed to look after the best interests of a
minor (or a single woman) in a legal matter. the
parents here might be living and felt they were
unable to represent their child’s interest. Let’s
say John Jones had died and his heirs were
fighting over the division of his land. The child
or children had been left certain acreage but, as
a minor, had no say. The case comes to trial
while the heirs slug it out. What’s the child to
do? A guardian, normally a friend or relative
with no interest in the case – sometimes a lawyer
– is appointed guardian ad litem. He sits in the
trial and represents the best interests of his
“client” – the minor. Sometimes, heirs wanted to
sell their portion allotted by the deceased. Many
times one of the heirs would buy up the land of
his siblings (who often had moved out of county
or state). The guardian ad litem would see that
his client didn’t get taken advantage of by one
of the other heirs and lose his land or interest in the slaves, etc.
If you are in the County Clerk’s office, it is a
good idea to check the Guardian Bond Books. In
most instances, the name of the deceased is
shown, the name of the child, sometimes his age
or date of birth, the original signatures of the
guardian and bondsman/bondsmen. A guardian could
be removed from the Court if he did not perform
his duties as required. If you find a bond (a
pre-printed form), there are likely other old
books on the shelves labeled Guardian Reports or
something similar. You should find then the
annual report from the guardian appointed with a
list of the property, slaves, bills and income. It’s quite interesting.
LESSON 15 – INDENTURESHIPS
Unlike guardianships, indentureships saw the
child or children living with another family. The
causes were normally in two categories.
1 – The husband of the family had died and the
Court felt that the mother was unable to
sufficiently take care of the child(ren). It
could be that both parents were deceased. I have
run across times when the neighbors reported this
situation and ran to the court with a petition
that the children be removed out of the home.
They would present their reasons – the children
were running unsupervised, they looked
malnourished or in ragged clothes, etc. Sometimes
the child(ren) were reported for getting into
trouble and causing problems in the neighborhood.
The parent would be brought into court and
testimony given (or the court would send someone
to the home and take testimony) and a decision
would be made as to whether to remove the children from the home.
2 – A family, normally the father, wanted his
child(ren) to learn a specific trade and he had
no experience in that line. He wished the
child(ren) to be trained by another person who could teach them a trade.
The indenture records were kept in a separate
book in the County Clerk’s office called –
Indentures! It was a prepared form where the
Clerk just filled in the blanks. Information on
the form could include the name of the child, his
age (sometimes his date of birth), the father’s
name, to whom he/she was indentured, the date
when the indentureship ended and what they would
be taught. The bondsmen would also sign. I have
found indentures for infants up through teenage.
Boys being indentured had lots of career paths
for the day. They could be trained to be a
blacksmith, farmer, silversmith, carpenter, work
in a mercantile and many more. The poor girls had
but one choice, a term they called “housewifery”.
I would assume this would include cooking, canning, weaving, sewing, etc.
The individual to whom the child was indentured
was supposed to be educated during the
indentureship. They were to learn especially math
and other subjects taught during those times.
At the end of the indentureship, boys were
normally expected to be provided with a horse or
a saddle, clothes or other payment of goods. The
girls usually received just clothes, perhaps
their bed and bedstead. However, some individuals
thought they could beat the system, this would
have meant a cash outlay for him. Just before the
end of the indentureship, the man (or his wife)
would mistreat the child, possibly beating them
or causing them so much pain or unhappiness that
the child would run away. The man would then trot
himself into the County Clerk’s office and say
something like “well, I did the best I could. I
was ready to provide all that the law required of
me but that ungrateful child became belligerent,
refused to work and now he hightailed it off. So,
I should be released from my obligation to giving
him the things prescribed by law, right?” Wrong!
Well, maybe some got away with it, but the County
was pretty alert to what was going on. The child
was hopefully located safe and sound and the man
to whom he/she was indentured made to pay up.
Both white and black children were indentured;
there was no color differentiation. This practice
was eventually done away with. It is unknown
fairly well how these children were treated
during their indentureship. Hopefully for the
most part they were welcomed into the family and
treated well. But, I am certain that some
suffered during those long years and didn’t receive the best of treatment.
A researcher can also find reference to
indentureships in those good old County Order books I mention so often.
LESSON 16 - FUNERAL HOME RECORDS
Funeral home records are considered private
records and it is up to the individual funeral
home if they wish to release records of the
deceased. If requesting information from a
funeral home, they may or may not agree; most
will provide the information needed if approached correctly!
There were so-called funeral homes in existence
as far back at the Civil War times, but to find
records from then it almost an impossibility. It
was not until the early 1900’s that people began
trusting someone outside of the family to do
their family member’s burial and it was still
spotty. What was called a funeral home prior to
that time was a far cry from what we have today.
On the census records you might find someone
listed as a undertaker as well as some other
occupation, but basically all he did was prepare
the body. Many early funeral parlors as they used
to be called were run in conjunction with a
furniture store where the owner sold furniture on
one floor and had the parlor on the 2nd floor; he
making the coffin. The deceased were transported
to the cemetery on farm wagons or whatever mode
of transportation was available – including the back seat of a car!
You will also find individuals who ran a funeral
parlor but sent the body to a larger funeral
“home” to do the embalming, clothe, etc. They
simply held the service. In Barren County, the
oldest surviving funeral home record is one entry
in 1899. This funeral home, like many others,
changed ownership several times over the years
and locations. Its current location is a legend
in itself that originally was woven into a murder
in Glasgow. Due to the changing of ownership and
poorly kept records, many funeral homes will just
tell you that they don’t have the records.
Now – to the records themselves. I have worked
with both funeral homes in Glasgow and their
records were kept (prior to computerization) in
different ways. One funeral home kept huge ledger
books and thus one entry followed another in
order of death date. The other funeral home went
to 5x7 index cards which are filed alphabetically
by year. These are easier to work with and contain the same information.
What will you find on the records? Of course this
will vary by location and funeral home but
normally: Name of deceased, date of death,
sometimes cause of death, how long a resident of
the state/county, age at death, sometimes how
long ill, address, name of parents, sometimes
parents residence, military service, sometimes
organizations belonged to, names and possibly
residence of next of kin, date of service, place
of service, undertaker, burial location,
sometimes the minister’s name and pall bearers.
Then follows information that we don’t need to
know and the funeral home doesn’t want published
– embalming, clothing, whether the bill was paid
and by whom, if they didn’t pay at all, etc.
When I approached the first funeral home, they
were very reluctant to let me borrow their
records and publish it, even though I was working
on early deaths. So, I went to the other funeral
home and they agreed. When I finished the first
volume, I gave them a copy which they appreciated
and took a copy over to the first funeral home.
They immediately agreed to let me publish theirs.
If you know the funeral home that conducted your
family’s funeral and the home is still in
existence – but at a distance, you may write
them. Explain that you are a family genealogist
and this was your so and so relative. State that
you are not looking for information such as
payment for the funeral or anything of a personal
nature like this. Do NOT give them your family
tree! They really don’t have the time or interest
to read through a pedigree chart. Be brief! You
might offer to remit a fee to them for their time
– though I’ve never found one that wanted
payment. Perhaps in big cities this might occur.
And, ALWAYS include a SASE and thank them! If
they write back and say no, take it graciously
and don’t write them again! If they send you the
information, drop them just a little thank you note or card.
Information is usually correct on their records
but, like everything else, there can be errors. I
know I made an error on my Mom’s records and
called them later and they corrected it. We’re
human and in a time of stress and grief, we can
make mistakes. And of course, sometimes the
individual providing the information made mistakes too.
LESSON 17 – FUNERALS
Though this is not a record you can search, I
thought I’d touch on the old funerals so you may
get a better understanding of what happened.
When an individual died in the earlier days, it
was up to the family to lay out the body. The
women washed the body and dressed him/her. Most
deceased were not embalmed although embalming
does date back to the Civil War times. The wake
then took place. People sat beside the body all
night long – not to see if the person was really
alive and had just fainted – but to keep insects and mice off the body.
Funerals were quite different also. Now a couple
of things might delay the funeral – the weather
and the minister. If the individual had died in
the middle of a hard freeze, there might not be
an interment! The neighbors or family had to dig
the grave and if the ground was frozen, they
couldn’t. Many bodies were kept in an ice house
until the spring thaw! Also, if it was in the
rainy season and the procession had to cross a
creek to get to the family cemetery, the person
might have to have been buried in a different
cemetery that was recorded. Ministers were
travelers and they were not in every area at the
same time. It might be months before he returned
to the home area of the deceased so the body
would be interred, but the funeral not held for some time.
It was the custom in many areas to hire mourners.
If there was not enough family or friends to put
on a proper grieving, the family could hire
people to precede or follow the parade to the
cemetery, moaning loudly and crying out their remorse.
And yes, some people were buried alive. There are
several tales locally where this supposedly
happened and by reputation, a solution was
supposedly reached. A string was fastened around
the deceased’s finger, brought out through the
coffin, up above the ground and the other end
tied to a bell on a pole. Someone spent the night
at the cemetery, alone, not wanting to be
awakened in the middle of the night with the sound of a tingling bell!
Lywood Montell, who I have referenced before, has
a book entitled “Tales From Funeral Homes” which
will tell of many very unusual things that have
happened and gone wrong at funerals over the
years. An excellent book, but don’t read at night!
There were a lot of misadventures over the years
of old wagons carrying the coffin trying to cross
a swollen creek and the coffin washing off and
sailing down the stream; of being met by men with
shotguns who wouldn’t allow the procession to
cross their property to get to the cemetery and many other unusual happenings.
Just a word on the coffins. These changed in
style over the years and at one time it was
fashionable to have ones picture taken with the
deceased. A glass was placed of where the face
would be in the coffin and when the picture was
taken, the coffin, with the deceased, would be
propped up and a photograph taken with the
grieving spouse and/or children standing beside
it. It was also not unusual for a family portrait
to be taken and the photographer would inset a
picture of the deceased in the family gathering.
The original Photoshop? ® Many a researcher has
been fooled when they thought they had the date
of death of an individual but then find a
photograph with him/her in a family photo. Only
by checking the background of the rest of the
family vs the background of that individual, or
the way the person is looking (all looking left,
he/she looking right) can you figure it out!
So, when you find a funeral home record saying
your ancestor was buried in a certain cemetery
and you can’t find him listed there, it could be
that (1) the stone was missed by the individual
transcribing the stones, (2) the stone was
broken/stolen, (3) there never was a stone in the
first place, or (4) he was buried someplace else
due to unforeseen circumstances and the records were not corrected.
LESSON 18 – PROBATE RECORDS
We often assume that after a person died in the
past that their estate was probated immediately
and that was it. Alas, not so. Sometimes it took
months and even years to settle an estate.
You are aware, I am sure, that if an individual
left a will, the wishes of that will were carried
out. He had already designated who was to get
what. These records are of course found in the
will books of the county. What you find is the
handwritten will – in the handwriting of the
clerk; it is not the original document. These
deceased who died living a will was called dying testate.
Then, we have those individuals – seemingly
everyone we’re looking for – that never got
around to writing a will. These people died
“intestate” – without a will. In this instance,
the county had a lot of work to do. They had to
appoint administrators (in contrast to executors
for those who left wills). They were responsible
for the settling of the estate. This could take a
long time. They had to go through the records of
the deceased and see who owed him money. The
administrator(s) would then attempt to contact
all these debtors and call in the money due the
estate. Many times this was a lost cause as the
debtor was destitute of money to do this. Then
the administrator had to go through the records
and find all the bills that the deceased owed.
Depending on the record keeping of the deceased,
this also took time; these bill had to be paid.
Next, the county appointed individuals, normally
three, to go out to the deceased’s property and
inventory everything he had. This would include
not only lands and slaves, but every battered
teaspoon, beds and bedsteads (blankets, sheets,
quilts, etc), bailing wire, cattle, books
…everything the man or woman owned. They made
master lists of every item and its approximate value.
Next, a sale was called. The notice of the estate
sale was posted in various locations where
everyone was supposed to be able to see it. There
might be “criers” hired to encourage people to
come to the sale. And, the people did come.
Neighbors, friends and of course, relatives.
These sales, as many resulted in more than one
sale to raise the funds, were long and emotional
to the family. Many family members bought from
the estate as can be seen from the records. The
administrator had to make a careful list of who
bought what and the price paid as these records
also had to be filed with the court. These sales
offer many clues in the people that attended.
Were they kin? Were they neighbors? Were they
friends or just the curious looking for a bargain?
After all the reports were complete, they were
presented to the County Clerk. From the funds
received and hopefully from some debtor’s bills
paid to the estate, money was taken out to pay
the fills against the estate. This could include
not only money owed on land, but doctor bills, undertaker bills and others.
Next was the giving the widow, if there was one,
her 1/3rd of the proceeds and the land and goods.
This was by law hers. Like the will which
designated certain things to the widow, she
received from the intestate – if there was
anything much. She normally got the house, 1/3 of
the land and livestock, slaves, etc. This was her
dower rights from her deceased husband.
Where are these probate records? They are
normally housed at the County Clerk’s office in
huge old books. In Barren County they are labeled
“Inventories and Estates.” One confusing matter
however. Until about 1835 (can vary), all these
records were recorded in the will books. I didn’t
realize for some time that this was done and was
relying on transcribed records of wills. The
transcriber often just had a note of the date
when such and such was done. Until I looked at
the will books, I didn’t realize that all the
sales, invoices, sales, etc. were recorded there.
Now, these huge old books of inventories and
estates are normally indexed (as well as falling
apart for the older ones) …. but the only name
indexed is the deceased. One has to go through
the entire record to find the other names of
those involved. Each volume covers a certain time
frame and we are prone just to go to the book
that is closest to the date of death. But, we
must look in the next few books too as I noted,
these estates took sometimes years to settle. One
book might have the inventory. Another book might
have the sale and yet another book will show the
closing of the estate. I would advise then, if
you are doing research in person: wear clothes
that you don’t mind getting dirty from the books
and plan on allowing plenty of time! The pages
are large so if they can be photocopied, it
normally takes two passes on the copier to get
the entire page copied and some books are just too frail to be copied.