Episode 207 – Interview with Mary Tedesco

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 207

with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode, Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also:

  • FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective);
  • A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research.
  • The premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss

DOUBLE THE FUN WITH MORE GENEALOGY GEMS PODCAST

This episode launches the NEW twice-monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast format. From now on, watch for two free episodes every month, each about 35-45 minutes long.

If you haven’t downloaded the Genealogy Gems app for easier listening on your mobile device, consider doing so now to make it twice as easy on yourself?and get twice the bonus content from now on!

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is?. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

FAMILYSEARCH RECORDS ACCESS UPDATE

ALL of the microfilmed records that have been rented in the past 5 years have now been digitized, over 1.5 million films.

From now on, if you need a film that hasn’t been digitized yet, you can call FamilySearch Support toll-free (866-406-1830) and request it for the priority digitization list.

They continue to digitally scan about 1000 films per day. (That sounds like a lot, but at this rate it will still take them until 2020 to be done.)

New digital images are being put in the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible. This is not the main digital record search area! It will take collections a while to appear here. Instead, under the Search tab, select Catalog, and then search by place and record type or other categories. This is a master catalog of all the Family History Library’s collections, online and offline, and when you click on an item’s individual description, you’ll be able to see a link to its digitized version if it’s available.

If you or anyone else had any films on loan in family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries when the lending program ended, those automatically have extended loan status, which means they can stay there indefinitely unless the management decides to send them back.

If all else fails, you can still go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and order microfilmed records to view, or you can hire someone to do it for you.

FamilySearch Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.

Click here to read or listen to Lisa’s special interview with Diane Loosle of FamilySearch. It goes into much more detail about accessing records on the site, at affiliate libraries and more.

Click here to read the August 30, 2017 update from FamilySearch.

To save 30% off a Care.com Premium membership, visit care.com/gems when you subscribe.

I had so much fun opening the box. They even sent me an apron!

Visit hellofresh.com and use promo code gems30 to save $30 off your first week of deliveries.

 

NEWS: FREE GENEALOGY WEBINAR FROM NYC

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems presents:

Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA & Family History sponsored by Animoto

Saturday, September 23, 2017 11:00 AM EST

 
  • Turn DNA results into your family history
  • Turn your family history into a compelling story
  • Turn your compelling story into a video!

Learn from Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and Animoto’s Beth Forester:

  • Your DNA testing options (there are more than you think), and possible outcomes
  • The best free resources for going beyond DNA, back several generations in your family (quickly!)
  • Creative ideas for filling in the story gaps
  • How to expand your story in ways you never expected by finding DNA connections
  • Share the story you’ve uncovered with the world through riveting video

Lisa chat with Hannah about Hurricane Harvey

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

MAILBOX: KRISTIN’S SUCCESS STORY

“Among the handful of mystery photographs of my grandmother as a child and the strangers who sat beside her, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners, titled ‘Silence is Golden’ and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman with a disheveled Gibson hairdo was attached.”

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches the search strategies you need to do searches like these.

Try Ebay! Lisa found a listing for a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria.

Click here for tips on finding yearbooks and other school records.

Genealogy Gems Premium member perk: Premium Podcast episode 16 has great tips for using Ebay to find family history treasures. Click here to learn more about Premium membership.

 

INTERVIEW: MARY TEDESCO of Genealogy Roadshow

MARY M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow” and Founder of ORIGINS ITALY. Mary speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors.

Click here to watch a free interview with Mary Tedesco with more tips on doing Italian genealogy research.

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski tells the story of the author’s journey to Italy to learn the truth behind the family stories about her Italian ancestors. Tune in to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 208 later this month to hear an excerpt from a conversation with Helene Stapinski. (The entire interview will play in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 151.)

MILITARY MINUTES: DRAFT REGISTRATIONS

INTRODUCING MICHAEL STRAUSS

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

BONUS handout to celebrate this new segment: Click here for a 4-page handout on U.S. draft registration records by Michael L. Strauss.

FREE GENEALOGY NEWSLETTER:

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.

Resources

Download the episode

Download the show notes

Using Wills and Probate Records in Genealogy Research

Using wills and probate records for genealogy can lead to unexpected “inheritances” of your own: clues about relatives’ identities, wealth, personal belongings, and family relationships. Wills can reveal great family stories, too: researcher Margaret Linford entertains her mother with them during trips to the courthouse. Here’s how wills can help your family history—and Margaret’s tips for finding and using them.

Using Wills and Probate Records in Genealogy Research

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” to find out more about your family’s history.

Wills are legal records created to direct the settlement of a person’s property and other final affairs after his or her death. Probate (or estate) records are created after an individual’s death as part of the legal distribution of the estate and payment of debts. You’ll often find wills as one of many kinds of the documents included in probate records.

Wills and other probate records are valuable research tools, but are frequently neglected as sources of genealogical information. People often focus strictly on birth, marriage, and death records when searching out their family histories. If you rely solely on those records, your research will encounter many brick walls in the early 1800’s. 

Probate records and land records were often the only official documents left behind to tell the stories of ancestors who lived prior to the legal requirement for the registry of births and deaths.

Wills of slaveholders can also be valuable tools in conducting African-American genealogical research. Before the Civil War, enslaved people were listed in wills because they were valuable property of slaveholders.

For instance, in the 1863 Smyth County property tax records, it is noted that Abijah Thomas owned 56 slaves, which were valued at $53,800. Some were given their freedom within wills, while others were transferred to other members of the family or sold. For instance, one of the first wills recorded in Smyth County is that of Hugh Cole.

Within his will, he says the following: “I bequeath to my beloved wife Martha Cole a negro girl named Amanda which she is to hold during her natural life.” The mention of an enslaved person in a will—along with any personal description of him or her—may be the only surviving document to mention that person by name.

Within another Smyth County will, recorded on February 20, 1835, a woman named Elizabeth Blessing left the following directive: “I will and desire that my negro woman Betty be free at my decease, and must see to her own support during her life, as I shall not make any provision for her out of any part of my estate.”

Information Found in Wills Varies

You can find just about anything in a will!

One organ, one compass, chain and plotting instruments, two chests, one hat rack, one music rack, one old United States map. These are some of the items found in the appraisement bill of the personal property belonging to the estate of Abijah Thomas, who lived in the well-known Octagon House in Marion, Virginia.

Here is a photo of that home, now in a dilapidated state, from a Wikipedia file image (click image for attribution.)

Octagon12 8 07

Also included in his personal property is a church bell. The story behind the bell is intriguing and illustrates the significance of the probate process.

Abijah Thomas utilized the bell at his foundry works in Marion, Virginia, to indicate shift changes. For decades, the oral history surrounding the bell indicated that he had donated it to the Wytheville Presbyterian Church before he died. The court documents reveal a different story.

court document regarding the church bell

Court document regarding the church bell

Since Abijah died intestate, the court appointed three men to appraise his personal property. During this process, the bell was valued at $75. It was sold on September 1, 1877, to the Presbyterian Church in the town of Wytheville, Virginia, as shown in the above list of items sold from his estate.

This document dispels the family myth surrounding the church bell. This is just one of many examples of the types of stories you find in probate records in courthouses all across the United States.

Genealogical Information May be Found in a Will or Probate Records

Wills and probate records can pass along unexpected genealogical wealth to you. You may find the following information in them: date of death (or approximate date of death), name of spouse, children, parents, siblings and their place of residence, adoption or guardianship of minor children, ancestor’s previous residence, occupation, land ownership, and household items.

Probate records also contain such interesting stories that they can even be read for entertainment!

Whenever I go on a research trip, I usually drag some poor, unsuspecting soul along with me. That person is usually my Mom. While she enjoys the scenery on our drive to different courthouses, she rarely enjoys the time spent at the courthouse.

Some of the research I do requires me to stay at the courthouse for several hours. That has posed a problem in the past since I haven’t known how to keep Mom occupied. But I have found the perfect solution. When we arrive at the courthouse, I find an old will book and let her start reading.

My mom enjoys reading the stories in these old—and sometimes tattered—books. One of her favorite stories came from a will in Henry County, Virginia. It is the will of Addie T. Thornton and reads as follows:

“I also give to my nephew Thomas T. Earles, fifty ($50) in cash to be deposited in some safe Banking Institution, on interest until he arrives at the age of twenty-one (21) years old and then the principal to be invested in a watch and I request that a monogram with both his and my name, one on inside and the other on outside of watch.

Obviously, Addie Thornton cared deeply for her nephew, Thomas, and wanted to make sure he remembered her for the rest of his life.

Here’s part of Addie’s will, followed by a closeup image of the lines about the watch:

Addie Thornton's will

Addie Thornton's will

Stories like these are so much more meaningful than just a date of birth, marriage or death. Wills can help us know who these people were, how they lived and what was important to them during their sojourn here on earth. We can learn of their struggles and their successes. We can tell what their lives were like by reading through the lists of household items included in the inventories that are recorded.

And with stories like Addie’s bequest of the watch, we can also learn about ancestors’ personalities and how they expressed (or occasionally withheld) love for others through the final disposition of their belongings.

How a Will is Created

Before beginning probate record research, it is important to be familiar with the probate process and legal terminology associated with these records. It is estimated that, prior to 1900, about half of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one. Those who died having left a will are said to have died “testate.” Those who died without leaving a valid will died “intestate.”

A typical, legally-recognized will contains certain critical elements. It should be in written form and it must have signatures of the person leaving the will (“testator”) and witnesses, who attest to the validity of the document. A codicil is a document created by the testator to amend the will.

Once the testator dies, the will is presented to the judicial authority by a family member or executor/executrix (person appointed by the testator to see that his/her wishes are carried out), accompanied by a written application or petition for probate.

These petitions include names and addresses of the closest living relatives. The court then admits the will to probate and sets a hearing, providing an opportunity for interested parties to contest the will. The will is then recorded and the executor is given the authority to settle the estate. During this process, an inventory of the estate is made.

Some wills contain detailed information, regarding the testator’s final wishes. At times, these requests will shed light on relationships that might not otherwise be discovered. This was the case for a will on file at my local courthouse. Due to the nature of the requests made by the testator, I have changed the last name of the family to Smith. This wife was, obviously, upset with her husband and the circumstances of their marriage, providing clear details of her grievances for future generations.

“Since my husband has never made me a part of his family and has completely cut me out of ever living in Chihowie, Virginia [the husband’s hometown], or never provided me with a home or paid any of my bills and has broken all marriage contracts that we agreed to—I hereby decree that I be buried in Round Hill Cemetery at Marion, Virginia, where I own a lot—that my body or anything I own or possess will never be taken into Chilhowie or the Smith household.

My husband has never taken me into his own home, and furthermore stated, backed up by his nephew and his wife, whom he turned everything over to shortly after our marriage—that I would never own or live on a foot of the Smith ground, even though I have tried to build or buy or remodel a home in Chilhowie, Virginia, at my own expense.

“I give all books and material things pertaining to books to the Smyth County Library, Marion, Virginia, as I am sure that my family would not want anything to fall into the hands of anyone who has mistreated me.

“My husband has kept our marriage strictly on a time clock basis since his nephew and his wife moved back to Smyth County, and under their influence he comes at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. (whichever is convenient to them) or later, and leaves promptly in the morning by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., never calling during the day or show[ing] any sign of caring. He changed completely after they returned to Chilhowie to break up the marriage. Therefore, if I am still his wife, or otherwise, see that my wishes are carried out and that my remains and possessions remain in Marion.”

Where to Find Wills and Probate Records

The best place to search for a will is at the courthouse where your ancestor lived, if you can reasonably go there yourself.

Since the probate process is a function of state governments, the laws governing the maintenance of these records and their location will vary by state and should be researched before making a trip to the courthouse.

For example, in Virginia, probate records are maintained within the Circuit Courts and independent cities. In Massachusetts, probate records are found in county Probate Courts.

A useful resource for figuring out how U.S. probate records are organized state-by-state is free on the Ancestry.com wiki: Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. Scroll down to click on the name of the state in question. Then go to the right side and click on the probate records link for that state to read about these records.

Once you have determined where the wills for your state/county are housed, the next step in the research process is to locate the Index for Wills. Even–perhaps especially–if you are unsure of the date of death for one of your ancestors, you may want to look through the index of wills (an example is shown here). Even when no specific death record exists, you may be surprised to find probate records that reveal the date of death, a list of heirs and more.

There will, most likely, be several index books, organized by year spans. These books serve as a compass, pointing you to any available probate records that may include your ancestors. The index is divided by devisor (the person making the will) and devisee (any person who is named in the will, as the recipient of property).

The research process will be incomplete if you do not conduct a search for your ancestors among the list of devisees. Even if you fail to find their names among the devisors, they could have inherited property from someone else.

Probate records include more than just the will of an individual. You may find letters of administration, lists of heirs, inventories, bills of appraisement, guardianships and other documents related to the settlement of an estate. In some counties, all these documents are found in the same collection. Other counties maintain these records in separate collections. It is important to understand the manner in which probate records are organized for your particular county.

The probate research process should not be rushed. Valuable records may be overlooked when time dictates the quality of your research. For this reason, it is important that you set aside ample time to comb through the probate records. If you find yourself confused about abbreviations or the location of records within the courthouse, there is usually someone in the records vault who would be happy to assist you. Never be afraid (or embarrassed) to ask for help.

Smyth County, VA courthouse records

Fortunately for many of us who can’t easily get to every ancestor’s courthouse, there are some wills available online on genealogy websites, including two of the genealogy giants, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com.

For example:

  • Subscription website Ancestry.com has made it a priority to curate an enormous collection of wills and probate records from all 50 states. At last count, this collection has more than 170 million records—and they keep adding to it.
  • The free FamilySearch.org hosts millions of probate records from the U.S. and around the world (click here to browse their probate and court record collections). Many of these collections are marked “browse-only,” which means they are not yet searchable by name online. You just have to page through them. Click here for instructions on reading browse-only records on the site (it’s not that difficult—and did I mention they’re free?).

Additionally, libraries or genealogical societies in your ancestor’s hometown or county may have books with abstracts from local wills or other resources related to local probate record research.

General Index to Wills probate records genealogy research

General Index to Wills

Well Worth the Effort 

Finding the will of one of your ancestors is an amazing experience. Walking into the vault of a courthouse sometimes feels like walking into a time machine. As you read through the pages that tell of people who lived so long ago, you feel like for even just a small moment that you have gone back in time. You are sitting with them and hearing their stories whispered through the aging and brittle pages that have been left behind. They are all there just waiting to tell their stories. So take the opportunity to go to the courthouse and “meet” your ancestors through the one of the last—and perhaps one of the most revealing—documents they may ever have written: their wills.

Researching Wills and Probate Records: Your Next Steps

Take your genealogy research to the next level by planning a trip to a courthouse to retrieve records like wills and probate records. These articles and podcast episodes will help you get ready:

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Margaret Linford
Margaret Linford is a professional genealogist who specializes in the Mid-South Region of United States research and has logged over 20,000 research hours. Born and raised in Virginia, she has enjoyed traveling the world, and now lives in her childhood hometown with her husband and children. She enjoys teaching her children about heritage, taking them along on research trips and serving as President of the Smyth County Genealogical Society.

NEW Genealogy Book Club: Here’s a Gem Inspired by You!

genealogy book club genealogy gemsWe’ve heard from you, our readers and listeners that you LOVE to read! Well, we’ve just launched a great new FREE program for you: the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

This is an idea we have been percolating on for quite a while with your encouragement. You regularly send me the names of books you love. I also hear from publishers and the authors themselves. Now we can all come together as a genealogy book club community!

The Genealogy Gems Book Club is a virtual, no-commitment option that features a book every three months that I consider a genealogy gem. We will focus on mainstream nonfiction and fiction titles that explore themes you care about, like family ties, heritage and history. These are books you will want to read for pleasure and recommend to anyone, not just other genealogy lovers.

My favorite part of the Genealogy Gems Book Club is the exclusive author interviews that will appear on the Genealogy Gems free and Premium podcasts in the third month of the featured book (after people have had time to read it). After all, podcasts are all about conversation! I’ve learned in the past that you love interviews with authors, whether you have read the book or not.

genealogy book club

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by award-winning U.K. journalist Emma Brockes. It recounts the author’s discovery of her mother’s traumatic childhood in South Africa. Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor and Book Club Guru Sunny Morton loves this book: This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. It’s also about learning the past from living relatives. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done.”

Here’s how the three-month cycle works for this new genealogy book club:

  • In the first month, Sunny Morton, our Genealogy Book Club Guru will introduce us to a new title on the Genealogy Gems free podcast, the Premium Podcast and on the Genealogy Gems blog. She will share a quick run-down on the book and why she recommends it.
  • In the second month, Sunny and I will discuss a gem from the book, and recommend additional titles in case you are looking for something more to read.
  • In the third month, our featured author will join the Genealogy Gems podcast for an exclusive interview. Excerpts from the interview will run on the free podcast and the entire interview will air on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.

To follow the Genealogy Gems Book Club, go to our home page and sign up to receive our FREE monthly newsletter (you’ll receive my Google Search ebook too as a welcome gift!) Then check in periodically at the Genealogy Gems Book Club webpage, which summarizes all books covered to date and includes additional recommendations. And of course, subscribe to the Genealogy Gems Podcast in iTunes.

Ready to become a Premium member so you’ll catch the full author interviews as well as all the other in-depth coverage on the Genealogy Gems Premium Genealogy Gems book clubpodcast? Click here to learn more.

Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 172 for more details.

See you at the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 248

Free Genealogy!

You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the show notes page here

This episode is brought to you by:

In this episode we cover a plethora of strategies that will give you access to loads of free genealogy records and resources. We cover:

  • How to follow the path of least resistance to find what you need for your genealogy research.
  • The best ways to find free genealogy records online.
  • What you need to know about the genealogy industry that will help you save money.
  • How you can bee-line your way to the free records that are to be found at each of the big subscription genealogy websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast).
  • Two Google secret searches that can help you locate free genealogy resources.
  • How to search online to find free records offline.
  • A clever way to get free help with your genealogy brick wall.

Companion Video and Show Notes

This topic comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisa episode 21. You can find all the free Elevenses with Lisa videos and show notes at https://lisalouisecooke.com/elevenses.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members have exclusive access to the 5-page downloadable show notes handout in the Resources section of the Elevenses with Lisa episode 21 show notes page here.

Premium Members also have access to all of the archived earlier episodes. To access the Elevenses with Lisa Premium Member archive, log in to your membership at https://genealogygems.com and under in the main menu under Premium go to Premium Videos and click on Elevenses with Lisa.

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 – Free Genealogy! Watch the video and read the full show notes here.

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member

Premium Members have exclusive access to:

  • Video classes and downloadable handouts
  • The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast
  • Elevenses with Lisa downloadable show notes PDF

Become a member here.

Stay Up to Date with the Genealogy Gems Newsletter

The Genealogy Gems email newsletter is the best way to stay informed about what’s available with your Premium eLearning Membership. Click below to sign up today.

Follow Lisa and Genealogy Gems on Social Media:

Getting Your Old Home Movies Digitized with Larsen Digital

I use Larsen Digital and have been extremely pleased with the service and results. The folks at Larsen Digital have put together special and exclusive discounts for Genealogy Gems listeners and readers. Click here to learn more and receive exclusive discounts and coupon codes.

Podcast Resources

Download the episode mp3
Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21

 

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU