Monday, October 12, 2015

Now I'm Three!!!

photo by Debbie Chialtras,

Today is my blogiversary. Three years ago, I decided to start writing a genealogy blog, and I'm still at it, two hundred and fourteen posts late.

Looking back over the past year, I am glad that I took part in Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over, being part of Round One. Through participating, I found that I have developed some new habits that have led me to be more focused in my research. I am also glad I chose to focus the GD-O on researching my Norwegian ancestors. Otherwise there would probably still be many blank areas in that section of my family tree.

Another side benefit of the GD-O came through the numbers of you who read my weekly posts on aspects of the GD-O. In terms of readership, this year's Top Five Posts were:

  1. Nana, Why Do You Write Stories About Dead People? explaining genealogy to a grandchild
  2. No Need to Stop Fueling the Find participating in FamilySearch Indexing
  3. Getting Ready to Get Started GD-O
  4. Dealing With All Those Bookmarks GD-O
  5. Tracking My Research GD-O

This year I also found myself working on several series of posts. In addition to my posts related to the GD-O, I had another series of posts titled "Did You Hear the News?" This gave me a way to focus on how much information can be gathered by reading newspapers articles. Now, I'm constantly finding new treasures as I explore various wills and probate records which I am finding online. I'm all for trying to learn more about an ancestor's life, more than just the Birth/Marriage/Death records.

I truly appreciate all of you who follow me, who read my posts, and who comment on them. Thanks for being part of this with me. Now, I'm off to read another ancestor's will and plow through some probate documents ...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Learning Even More About Lemuel Dean

Will of Lemuel Dean, signed 28 Feb 1879 (1)

Just when you think you have a good picture of an ancestor, along comes another resource that adds a few more brush strokes to the picture. The Will and Probate Records accessible through and continue to provide a number of genealogy nuggets that merit closer examination. That was certainly the case with the will of my 3 GreatGrandfather Lemuel E Dean.

Lemuel Dean was a complicated individual, and his will supported the impression I have of him. The first part of my closer look was to transcribe his will using Transcript 2.5 software. This made it much easier to read the terms of his will.

Item One of his will gave his home property and twenty acres of farm property to his wife Nannie E Jones Dean. It was helpful to note that his will described the exact location of his home property and described the area of the farm property. Nannie was also to be provided with furniture and household goods as well as a cow and cattle. These were for her use until she died or remarried. This was a fairly standard directive found in wills of that day.

Item Two stipulated that all his real and personal property be sold. Because Lemuel owned extensive property in Atlanta, in Fulton County Georgia, and in other areas of Georgia, I now better understand why it took so many years for his estate to finally be settled. After all his debts were paid, the proceeds of the sales were to be added to any money due him and the resulting fund divided into seven equal shares. The shares were to go to his four living sons, one share each to two of his grandsons, and the remaining seventh share to be divided among four other grandchildren. Nothing ever seemed simple with Lemuel. At least, though, I had the names of six of his grandchildren and more information to add to my family tree.

Item Three was filled with directions should his wife Nannie die or remarry. In either event, everything left to Nannie was to be sold then distributed into the seven equal shares. This part wasn't so unusual but what followed was something I had not seen in other wills. The will also gave very specific instruction as to how his two youngest sons would be living in the care of their mother, his "beloved wife Nannie E Dean" unless his two older sons acting as his Executors felt it was necessary to remove the younger boys should "their welfare require it". That one sentence suggests there is surely an interesting backstory to that stipulation.

In Item Four Lemuel appointed his two older sons as guardians of the property for the two younger sons and five of his six grandchildren until each reached the age of twenty-one. One grandson, however, was to be allowed to select his own guardian.

After reading the will, I took a closer look was to see if any of his children had been left out of Lemuel's will. Lemuel Dean and his first wife Elizabeth Howard had 11 children. Seven had verified death dates prior to Lemuel writing this Last Will and Testament, two sons were named as the Executors, and the grandchildren named in the will were listed as children of two deceased daughters and one deceased son. Lemuel's second wife, Nannie C Price Jones Dean had two sons, both of whom were named in the will. No mention was made in the will of Nannie's three children from a previous marriage. At least all 13 children born to Lemuel were accounted for in his will.

A fun part of looking at Lemuel's will was trying to locate his property on an Atlanta map. Using Google Maps, I found the approximate location of his home property on the present day map shown below. It dawned on me that I have probably driven right past the property while hunting for a parking place near the Georgia Aquarium. Small world.

Approximate location of property at the corner of Marietta Street and Jones Avenue today
located using Google Maps Engine Lite

Trying to locate Lemuel Dean's home property back in 1880 was a little more difficult. Using an 1888 city map of Atlanta found on Wikipedia Commons, I think I tracked down the location of Lemuel Dean's home. The orange block shows the approximate location of the property given to his wife. Because this is Atlanta, after all, I made sure that two of the many Peachtree Streets were visible on the right side of the map.

Atlanta Street Map, 1888, from Cram's Standard American Atlas
source: Wikipedia Commons

I was not as successful trying to locate the 20-acre farm located "in said County of Fulton on the Water of Procter Creek and known as the "Dunahoe Mill Place".(1)

Looking closer at this will provided me with a variety of information. The will gave a more detailed property description than I had seen previously in census records or in city directories. It also sent me looking for past and present maps of the area. Also, the will listed the names and parents of six of my First Cousins, 3 times removed. And finally, it added more questions as to the complexity of Lemuel Dean and his family's relationships as he expressed concern about the possible welfare of his younger sons being raised by their mother after his death. Some stories just never seem to stop.

(1) Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992, Fulton County, Wills, Book A, 1854-1882,  p 400-402, Lemuel Dean will, signed 28 Feb 1879, accessed on

Friday, October 2, 2015

Where There's a Will, There Might Be a Way ...

Will of Elijah Ragsdale(1)

When I first started looking through the collection of wills and probate records available on and, I was anticipating that it would be very dry reading. Instead I've discovered what a wealth of information might be found in a close reading of a will. Just looking at the will of Elijah Ragsdale, my 4GGrandfather, provided a way to find things such as ...

1. approximate date of death. Many of the wills I have been reading from the mid- to late-1800s start with a paragraph mentioning "being of advanced age and knowing that I must soon depart this life" and end with the date the will was signed. This can help to establish an approximate date of death. In this case Elijah Ragsdale would have died on or after 16 Apr 1858.

The next step is to locate the document in which someone had filed the will for probate or applied for letters to administer the will. The next page after Elijah Ragsdale's will was the probate filing. That document contained the reference to "Elijah Ragsdale, late of said county deceased" and had a filing date of 7 Jun 1858 written at the bottom of document. This provided the second part to bracketing Elijah Ragsdale's date of death. Using the date from his will and the date the will was recorded for probate established that Elijah had died between 16 April and 7 June of 1858. Having a narrow time frame is a plus when a grave marker has only the year of death.

2. spouse's name and date of marriage. Here again, I love the flowery language used in many 19th century wills. In the will, Elijah mentioned his "beloved wife Mary with whom I have lived in strictest quiet for fifty-nine years". This sentence points to a probable marriage date sometime in 1799. The information in the will also corroborated what I had read previously in a Ragsdale Family History book.(2)

3. specific property owned by the deceased. Item Four of Elijah's will left property to his wife Mary. The lot is described as being "Block C, no. 15" in "Dallas, Paulding County, Georgia" and "containing 40 by 80 feet".

Probate records sometimes include estate inventory reports. It is one thing to note on a census record that an ancestor's personal estate is valued at $400. The inventory reports provide a much more vivid picture of the deceased and his time period as it lists each piece of furniture, numbers of books, descriptions of guns, the family Bible, a looking glass,and other items which comprised the personal property of an ancestor.

4. family relationships. In the his will, Elijah names two executors, his wife Mary and his son Sanders W Ragsdale. I've read other wills listing an individual as a son-in-law or the child of a daughter who was deceased or other similar descriptions.

And sometimes you find other interesting information in a will including ...

5. names of other friends, neighbors, and relatives. One interesting part of seeing an actual will (or copy of it) is noting the names of the witnesses to the signing of the will. Sometimes they fit Elizabeth Shown Miles' FAN principle of Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. Four men witnessed Elijah sign his will, John Jensen, Duncan Bohannon, John H Williams, and Jeramiah Weisner. With this will, the four witnesses remain strangers to me. They weren't census neighbors, spouses of relatives, known business partners of this farmer, or otherwise easily connected to Elijah Ragsdale. In other family wills, however, the witnesses were census neighbors, relatives not named as heirs within the will, or individuals appearing on the same church membership register as the deceased.

Because my husband and I both have deep North Georgia roots, I was not surprised when I saw my husband's  3GGrandfather Samuel Hillhouse, along with his 2GGrandfather Elijah Hillhouse, and two Hillhouse aunts listed as witnesses on the will of my 5 Great Uncle Richard Ragsdale. Small world.

6. tidbits of family history. I've come across family wills that make a distinction in the amount of money or property to be given to different children based on having given one child part of the inheritance previously. And sometimes you come across instances in which the deceased sought to speak from the grave, chastising a child for past sins, or giving very specific instructions as to a redistribution of property should the surviving spouse ever remarry.

Other wills contain the provenance of family items, describing a piece of furniture as having been made by a relative or mentioning that a coat with brass buttons has been worn during the Revolutionary War. Because I have been examining a number of wills from Georgia, I have read several wills that contained references to slaves of the deceased. Some even contain very specific instructions that a certain male and female slave were to be kept together as a family and were not to be separated from each other or from their children.  It is all part of a family's story.

If you have not taken a look at wills and probate records, I urge you to consider exploring these resources. Examining a will might provide you with another way to learn additional information about an ancestor or relative.

(1) Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [database on-line], "Paulding County, State of Georgia, Will Records and Estate Records, 1850-1877", accessed on
(2) Van Leer, Mrs. Blake Ragsdale. The Ragsdale Family in England and America. Canton, GA : Industrial Printing Service, 1975.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Those Places Thursday : Resaca Confederate Cemetery

The Resaca Confederate Cemetery is not like the huge military cemeteries I had visited before. Hundreds or thousands of white crosses placed in straight lines. Names or numbers on each cross or marker. Instead, this cemetery is a small, quiet place located just a few miles off I-75 in Georgia about midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga. There is no sign at the exit to let passersby even be aware of its existence. It is also the place where I found a story, just not one I had expected to find.

During a recent trip to Georgia, my husband and I made a short visit to the cemetery. It was a familiar place to my husband; after all, he had told me about his walking around the cemetery grounds to gather information for a high school project years ago. Plus, a brother-in-law had mentioned that their grandmother had relatives buried there. A beautiful day provided us with a good opportunity to visit the Resaca Confederate Cemetery.

The cemetery itself is small and covers less than three acres. The picture above shows almost all of the cemetery's property. Resaca Confederate Cemetery contains less than 600 graves, a combination of short upright markers, flat ground level markers, and a few more ornate monuments. Fewer than 150 are marked with a name, initials, or any personal information. The remainder of the graves, 424 of them, have only simple markers to the unknown Confederate soldiers who were buried there.(1)  Today small Confederate flags or single artificial flowers decorate most of the graves of the unknowns.

Signs on the archway to the cemetery and inside the cemetery tell the story of what may have been the first confederate cemetery in the country. The cemetery is located on property that once belonged to the Green family. Following the Battle of Resaca, the family returned to their home and found that some of the soldiers killed in the battle had been buried on their family property. One of the family's daughters, Mary J Green, helped by a sister, buried two more soldiers there. Later Mary Green, with the assistance of others, moved the make-shift burials into a flower garden near their home. Green then started a move to honor these soldiers with a proper burial in an actual cemetery. Her efforts involved letter writing and fund raising, all with the goal of establishing an official cemetery for the soldiers buried on the family property. In 1866, Mary's father, Col. Green, gave her two and a half acres to be used for a cemetery. The property became where the bodies were finally laid to rest in an orderly arrangement in an actual cemetery. The cemetery was officially dedicated on 25 Oct 1866.(2)

Posted on the information board at the entrance to the cemetery are lists of the known soldiers buried there. I took pictures of the lists and once back home, tried to see if I could find the names of any of my husband's relatives. FindAGrave has 141 interments listed for the cemetery, a few more names than are posted at the cemetery, but no names listed were those of relatives.

I searched through the Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, 1861-1865 which I have in my Civil War Collection on HaithiTrust. I was able to use their "find in text" feature to look for "Resaca" information. The roster provided information concerning soldiers wounded in the Battle of Resaca, those transferred to the field hospital in the Resaca, and some listed as being buried at Resaca. Although I did find a few new names listed in the rosters as having been buried at Resaca, I was not able to find any relative's name using that resource. Perhaps the relatives who may be buried at the Resaca Confederate Cemetery are among the 424 unknown soldiers.

This genealogy trip did not lead me to any new family links. What I did find, however, was the story of Mary J Green. Her desire to honor the dead and provide a proper burial for them shows how one person's efforts can make a difference for many others. That's a story worth celebrating.

(1) "Resaca Confederate Cemetery",
(2) "Honoring the Fallen", The Civil War in Georgia,