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Genealogy and Legal Documents

Legal Sources are Not Always Boring!

At college early 1900s
My grandfather at medical school in the early 1900s

Legal documents often supply some missing information not obtained elsewhere.

Many people consider legal documents to be a narrow source for family researching. After all, what is there beyond the standard vital statistics (births, marriages, and deaths), and possibly a will or two?

Such a narrow view can greatly restrict your access to your family's history.

Look beyond the usual sources. Find the other legal papers that may exist for any of your ancestors if you but know what to look for and where to search.

Are there any adoptions in the family? Older members of the family were raised in a tradition of never referring to adoptions, so you may have to hunt out adoptions in earlier generations as best you can.

Were any of your ancestors involved in a divorce? Remember, in earlier days, divorces were considered in many families to be something no one spoke of.

What do the land records tell you about what your family owned? Were they large landowners? Did they rent property to others as a source of income? When did they sell that land and to whom?

It is often the land which was the only asset of any value to be passed on. In many families, therefore, there may not be a will, but land records will show the passing of land from father to some or all of the children in the family.

Did a family member take out a mortgage for a land purchase. Most mortgages in earlier times were recorded in the land record office as well. Also recorded there is the clearing of the mortgage when it was paid off. So don't neglect the mortgage information found there.

Was an ancestor involved in a court case, civil or criminal? What was it about? What was the judgment? Finding court cases can be a big job since there are so many legal jurisdictions in a country to search out. However, you may find very interesting and unknown details about your ancestor's life through reading them.

Did your ancestors leave wills? What did they say? What further insight does that give you into your family dynamics? Where do you look for them? Were any of them contested? All sorts of information about families shows up in wills and the probate of them in the courts.

Failing to check all documents available to you means increasing your chances of missing important information about your family. The watchword here is 'don't give up too easily' despite the hard work it is sometimes uncovering what there is and where it is to be found.

You will need to have some legal document forms on which to keep all the information about these documents you are working on. You will also need some more general forms to keep track of your organization and resources in this area.

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And if you ever decide to discontinue, every issue has a form for stopping the newsletter.

How there's so much free information on this site ...

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