Probate Files: Little Things Add Up, Pt. 1

At long last, I had an opportunity to sit down with some of my own research. How did I spend most of my time? With a fellow named Garret Staats, who is collaterally related to my 5th great grandfather, of course! Garret’s probate file1 is a splendid example of what you can find when you look a little closer.

The probate file is a total of seven pages (if you don’t count the document jackets). It contains an administrator’s bond, an inventory, a list of notes held, and a settlement account. For a short document, it’s long on information.

Let’s start with the Administrator’s Bond2 . Here’s an abstract of that bond:

Know by all men these presents that we, Abraham Staats yeoman, and Gideon Emory esq., both of Appoquinimink Hundred are held and firmly bound unto the State of Delaware, in the sum of One Thousand Two Dollars…this seventh day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight…the condition of this Obligation is such, That if the above bounden Abraham Staats next of kin, and administrator of all singular the goods and chattels, rights and credits of Garret Staats of Appoquinimink Hundred in the County of New Castle..”

Signed, sealed and delivered                                                      Abraham Staats [seal]
in the presence of                                                                        Gideon Emory [seal]
Thos. Gregg
Jas. Booth

First of all, notice that Abraham Staats is named as “next of kin” in the bond. There are a couple of Abrahams running around. Which one is this? Fortunately, I have the original probate file, as well as the original files for several other related folks. I have something to work with. One key is the fact that the documents within these files are signed, and are signed in hands that are clearly different from the clerk’s own hand. Let’s look at a few signatures of Abraham Staats.

Here is his signature on this bond:

 

Signature of Abraham Staats as administrator of the estate of Garret Staats3

An Abraham  Staats also signed documents in the estate of John Gythen in 1791. Here is his signature, as it appears as a witness on the statement of renunciation of the widow’s right to administrate the estate. There is a variation in the beginning flourish of the “A” but otherwise appears to be the same:

1791 signature of Abraham Staats in the estate file of John Gythen.4

 

Lastly, here is another signature – this from the 1788 estate file of Abraham Staats, administered by widow Sarah Staats and Abraham Staats :

1788 signature of Abraham Staats, administrator of the estate of Abraham Staats. (New Castle, Delaware, Probate Files, Abraham Staats (1788), administrator’s bond, 24 Oct 1788.))

 

For the sake of comparison, here are two of the other Abraham Staats signatures – and they appear on one document. One is the signature of Abraham Staats, Sr. The other is Capt. Abraham Staats:

Signatures on the administrator’s bond in the estate of Ephraim Staats in 1784. The top signature is Abraham Staats, Sr, The second, Capt. Abraham Staats (who consistently made his mark with this characteristic “A”)5

 

How does this fit with what we know from other documents? Let’s compare this with an Orphan’s Court entry, a petition for partition by Elisha Staats asking for the partition of property of Abraham Staats, Sr.:

“Upon the petition of Elisha Staats…setting forth that Abraham Staats was in his lifetime and at the time of his death lawfully seized …of a tract of land…and being so seized died intestate…leaving to survive him a widow named Sarah who is since dead and five children namely Abraham Staats his eldest son, Garret Staats, Elizabeth Staats who married with John Gythen who is since dead [goes on to explain that Elizabeth remarried and names issue from both marriages]…Ephraim Staats, and Elisha Staats the petitioner”6

I’d say that fits pretty well. Comparing the Orphan’s Court information with Garret’s and the other estates above, the relationships are logical and the signature on this bond helps to tie them together. That’s not to say that I’ve “proven” these relationships, but it has established a working assertion to try and debunk. In order to be comfortable meeting the exhaustive search requirement of the Genealogical Proof Standard7 , I still have more digging to do, but here’s a review of the assertion our analysis of the bond has established:

  • Abraham signed the administration bond of his father’s estate in 1788
  • In 1791, the same Abraham witnessed and signed the renunciation submitted by his sister, Elizabeth Gythen, giving up her right as widow to be the administrator in the estate of her deceased husband John Gythen (he also signed the administrator’s bond in that estate). Elizabeth named her other brother, Garret, as administrator in that renunciation.
  • Finally, in 1798, Abraham is the administrator for his brother Garret’s estate.

It’s easy to assume that “next of kin” or “heirs” means a parent/child relationship, but that’s not necessarily so. In fact, looking at Delaware law tells us a little more about Garret, given Abraham’s “next of kin” relationship: “And in case there be no wife or child, then the personal estate of the said deceased to be distributed to and amongst the brothers and sisters…”8There is no evidence of a widow’s renunciation. In lieu of a widow or child, next in line would be brothers and sisters, making older brother Abraham the “next of kin” and proper administrator.9

So now we know a little bit more about Garret and his family.

  • We can estimate that the eldest brother Abraham was likely born sometime in the late 1750s to mid-1760s.10
  • Given that Garret was the second child, he was likely born somewhere in that range also.
  • Sister Elizabeth was married by 1791, so it’s reasonable to assume a birth date in the vicinity of 1770 or so.
  • Brother Ephraim is somewhere in between Garret and Elizabeth
  • No guardianships were filed for children of this family, so Elisha, the youngest brother was presumably of age at the time of settlement.11
  • Garret died single (or a widower) and without any living children, probably somewhere around 30 years old at the time, leaving only his brothers and sister as heirs.

In Part 2, we’ll look at Garret’s inventory to learn more.

  1. New Castle, Delaware, Probate Files, RG2545.001, Garret Staats, (1798); Delaware Public Archives. Files are arranged alphabetically, indexed by name and year(s) of probate proceedings. []
  2. ibid., administrator’s bond, 7 Mar 1798. []
  3. ibid. []
  4. New Castle, Delaware, Probate Files, John Gythen, (1793-1794), renunciation of administration of Elizabeth Gythen, 1 Nov 1791. []
  5. New Castle, Delaware, Probate Files, Ephraim Staats, (1784-1785), administrator’s bond, 2 Feb 1784. []
  6. New Castle, DE, Orphan’s Court Records H: 269, petition of Elisha Staats, 6 Mar 179x; FHL microfilm 0,006,547. Year is not stated in the entry, nor any of the entries included with the copy. Book H ends in 1799. Exact date to be determined the next time I get a chance to review the film. []
  7. For an explanation of the Genealogical Proof Standard, go to http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html []
  8. Delaware, Laws of the State of Delaware from the Fourteenth Day of October, One Thousand Seven Hundred, to the Eighteenth Day of August, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Seven,” (New Castle: Samuel & John Adams, 1797), 287; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=dMpJAQAAIAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false: accessed 20 Nov 2011). []
  9. ibid., 284-285. []
  10. As administrator of his father’s estate, he would have been at least 21 in 1788 so was born before 1767. See also: Ruth Bennett, Naudain Family of Delaware (Geneva, Nebraska: self-published, 1941), 26. Rachel Naudain, Abraham’s wife, was born in 1765. []
  11. Birth order is assumed from the order the names are listed in the Orphans Court petition of Elisha, starting with “Abraham, the eldest son” []
Posted in Family Findings, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

Startling Delaware Probate Discovery

New Collection Gateway search interface.

It’s not very often that I’m glad I woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep, but this is one of those times. I learned something, entirely by accident, and if you are battling a stubborn Delaware research problem, you’ll want to hear about this.

I’ve posted before about the Collection Gateway, where you can search all of the indexed collections at the Delaware Public Archives in one fell swoop. It’s a pretty nifty search tool. You can also search an individual collection separately. I may have done this in the past, but I’m pretty sure I’ve always used the main search box. This morning, for some unknown reason (probably sleep-deprivation) I clicked on the probate collection. The probate index has been on the site for years, although not in the new format.

 

It was the old-style search feature that resulted in me owning copies of every Staats estate file from the beginning of time through about 1800. Or at least that’s what I thought until this morning. When I clicked on the probate link on the new gateway, up came an alphabetical listing of all 110,000+ probate files in their collection. The listing was alphabetical by last name, which means the first page was….any guesses?

If you said “A,” you would be wrong. The first page contained probate files that had no indexed last name, just first name, year, and county. So did the next several pages. In fact, there are 439 Delaware probate files that have no surname associated with them in the index. Being the geek that I am, I created a spreadsheet containing the names, sorted them by county and then by date. In New Castle County alone, out of 130 total probate files with no surname, there are over 60 dating between 1684 and 1800. This could be a game-changer in my early Appoquinimink research. Even if it’s not for me, I hope this discovery may help some of you.

The next time I wake up at 4:30am, it had better be to hop in the car and head to Dover to dig into this new find!

***UPDATE***

I’ve figured out what has happened here. By going back to the old search and searching by first name and year, I am finding all the surnames that aren’t listed in the new search. In each case, the old-search result has an alternate spelling for the surname in parenthesis within the surname field. Apparently, any record with the parenthesis in the surname field returns that record as having no associated surname.

For example here is a new search result: FIrst name = “Elisha”, no surname, year=”1747″, and is in New Castle County. Going back to the old search and searching for “Elisha” and “1747” gives this result:

Name Date Race Location
Rogers (Rodgersk), Elisha 1747 New Castle County

Having searched for about 10 others, each returning parentheses in the surname field can only lead me to assume that the results in the new search with no surnames are a database/front-end error. While not quite as exciting as I had hoped. There is still some value here. Searching for the alternate spellings inside the parenthesis still yield no results – even on the old search. So there may be names that you’ve searched for and not found that may actually be lurking between those parenthesis as an alternate spelling.

Posted in How-To | 2 Comments

Researching Collateral Lines: A Visual Aid

I’ve started walking every morning. Today, I happened to pass this tree and thought it was a poignant lesson in genealogy. This tree shows the results of focusing our research exclusively on our direct ancestors and ignoring collateral lines. Doing so might fill in a little green around the trunk, but the leaves don’t reach as high as they otherwise could, and it sure doesn’t make for a very complete picture.

Posted in Fun!, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

Lessons From Ephraim Cutler’s Store Ledgers

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to get to the Marietta College Library’s Special Collections department to do some research on my old friend (and 4th great-grandfather), Elijah Staats. I had been tipped by another researcher that there was a receipt in one of their collections from Elijah, given to Ephraim Cutler in 1798.1 My hope was that I could uncover some business or other relationship between Ephraim Cutler and Elijah Staats that might explain why Elijah had come to Marietta or perhaps who and what he was involved with there.

Here is that receipt:

1798 receipt bearing the signature of my gggg grandfather, Elijah Staats

 

I emailed what I was looking for ahead of time, and the extremely helpful Linda Showalter had the receipt pulled and ready for viewing, as well as several letters from Benoni Staats (son of Elijah) to William Cutler (son of Ephraim, and a state representative at the time).2 Unfortunately, the receipt was just that. However, on the back of the paper was written, as you see in the image above (click for full size), “Elijah Staats” and what appears to be “Rent”. While this could also be “Rec’t”, the “Rec” combination does not appear to be the same as it appears on the front in “Rec’d.” This was a curious development. What was he renting from Elijah? Land seemed the most likely, as I knew that Elijah at that time owned three 100-acre lots purchased in 1797.3 Linda Showalter informed me that Ephraim operated a number of stores in that time period.

I asked whether there were any store ledgers, and there were two. They were not even cataloged yet, and my eyes lit up at the romantic idea of finding answers to mysteries in an uncatalogued store ledger from the 1790s, Bingo, right? Not exactly. I combed them for any trace of Elijah or other names I might recognize, and found none. They were clearly for two different stores: one appeared to be in Waterford Twp, Washington, OH4 , the other was possibly from Ames Twp5 , in what is now Athens County, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

I never did quite figure out how his accounting worked, but there were long lists of items people purchased: bear meat, whiskey, wheat, gunpowder, and various other necessities. At Waterford, there was a mill nearby, and the ledger included a list of people who worked “on the mill” and “for the mill”. There were also labor agreements between Ephraim and other individuals, stipulating how long they agreed to work and how much and when they would be paid. On 27 Feb 1804, William Green contracted to work for eight months. He would be paid a total of $100 in three payments. He must have done a good Job, because on 2 Jan 1805, he signed a one-year agreement worth $150. Mixed in were some Justice of the Peace proceedings.6

So I drove three hours to see a receipt I already knew about. I looked through two ledgers that didn’t contain my ancestor. Then I drove three hours back home.7 You may be thinking it sounds like an interesting waste of time – an unsuccessful search. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, It gave me some perspective on the $15 receipt. While not an enormous sum, it was substantial. If an average worker almost ten years later only made $12.50 a month, a rental payment of $15 in 1798 was not exactly chump change. And from what people purchased at the store, I could see that this was a pretty rough-and-tumble frontier area. Gunpowder, bear meat, and whiskey? I mean, c’mon, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

Second, and more importantly, it piqued my curiosity. I googled “Ephraim Putnam” and “store”. It brought up the free Google book below8 . Take a read through the 20-30 pages in which Ephraim Cutler describes his difficult journey with his family from New England to Ohio. Read about his landing at Marietta, subsequent move to Waterford, Ames (which confirms my thoughts about the second ledger), and Olive Green. Read his descriptions of the people, places and events.

This guy came here at almost the exact time my ancestor did. This guy KNEW my ancestor. So go ahead. Go ahead and read Ephraim’s story – a rich, first-hand account of life where my ancestor lived that transports me to that time and place. Add in the things I learned going through the ledgers. Add on the fact I now have a document (or at least a copy) written by Ephraim Cutler and signed by my ancestor. Go ahead, Go ahead and tell me it was a waste of time. I didn’t think so either. Plus, I still have a mystery to solve, and that keeps me going.

 

  1. Elijah Staats to Ephraim Cutler, receipt of payment, 19 Mar 1798, Ephraim Cutler Family Collection; Marietta College Library Special Collections, Marietta, Ohio. []
  2. Benoni Staats to William P. Cutler, 17 Sep 1860- 24 Apr 1862, Ephraim Cutler Family Collection; Marietta College Library’s Special Collections, Marietta, Ohio. Seven letters petitioning various causes. []
  3. Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:7, Isaac Johnson, Sr. to Elijah Staats, 28 Aug 1797; Washington County Courthouse, Marietta.   Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:113, John Miller to Elijah Staats, 29 Aug 1797.   Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 5:114, Rufus Putnam to Elijah Staats, 20 Apr 1797. []
  4. “Ephraim Cutler, 1790-1820,” uncatalogued manuscript collection, store ledger and account book; Marietta College Library’s Special Collection, Marietta, Ohio. []
  5. “Ephraim Cutler, 1797-1823,” uncatalogued manuscript collection, store ledger and account book; Marietta College Library’s Special Collection, Marietta, Ohio. []
  6. “Ephraim Cutler, 1790-1820,”  William Green agreement, 1804-1805, unpaginated. []
  7. not entirely true – I made another stop on the way home at the Noble County Genealogical Society’s open house in Caldwell. []
  8. Julia Perkins Cutler, and E. C. Dawes, Life and times of Ephraim Cutler: prepared from his journals and correspondence. (Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co.1890), 17-51; digital images, Google Books (http://http://books.google.com: accessed 6 Jun 2012). []
Posted in Family Findings, Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

Big Genealogy Doings In Tiny Caldwell (OH).

As long as I’ve been doing genealogy, there has been no active genealogy group in Noble County, Ohio. Many times, I thought about trying to get one going, but living over two hours away was a bit of an obstacle. Recently, though, thanks in part to genealogy classes held at the Caldwell Library by Deb Deal, the Noble County Genealogical Society has experienced a rebirth. Tomorrow, there is an open house – not only for the genealogical society, but also to celebrate the opening of the Caldwell Library’s new genealogy room.

I will be heading down, and will definitely join the group, even though I’ll likely never make a meeting. I just want to be sure to support something that was a long time coming. A little late notice, but come on down and join me!

Event info from the Caldwell Library’s Facebook page:
“The Noble County Historical Society and the newly revitalized Noble County Chapter of Ohio Genealogical Society have planned an Open House for Tuesday, June 5th, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 p. in the Hospitality House at the Ball-Caldwell Homestead, located at 16 East Street, Caldwell. A tour of the Historic Home and The Barn will begin at 7:00 p.m. The official opening of the Barnhouse Genealogy Research Center and introductions of special guests will be the highlight of the evening will begin at 7:30 pm. Prior to the activities at the Open House, a visit to the new Genealogy Library (former bookmobile garage) at the Caldwell Public Library Annex, 517 Spruce St, Caldwell has been scheduled for 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Anyone interested is encouraged to participate in this part of the evening’s events. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the Christopher Barnhouse book or some of the DVDs, you may contact the Noble County Historical Society at 740.732.5288 or stop in at the Historic Jail Museum, located at 419 West St., Caldwell, on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.”

 

And hey – here’s a map for readers who might be wondering where Noble County, Ohio is located:

View Larger Map

Posted in Events, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

Update – “CSI: Euclid – Disappearance of a Cemetery”

About a year ago, I posted about a cemetery once located a half a mile from my house that seems to have disappeared. Yesterday, I bumped into someone – completely at random – that confirmed my findings. Here is the cemetery in question:

Cemetery on the north side of Russell Ave - exactly where the park is now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a break at yesterday’s Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak seminar, a woman came up to me and introduced herself as one of the early editors of the East Cuyahoga Genealogical Society newsletter that I now am the editor of. I’m not sure how it came up that I live in Euclid, but it turns out that she lived literally around the corner from me for years. As we talked, I remembered this story and asked her about it. She knew quite a bit about the history, and knew that there was a family cemetery where the park now sits. She couldn’t remember the family name, but when I mentioned it, she recognized it right away. According to her, some of the stones from the cemetery were claimed by family. And some were used in rock gardens in the area. It doesn’t seem that any of the folks buried there were ever moved. This DEFINITELY needs more investigation now, and it certainly seems that the things in these photos taken in the 1950s are most likely the stones there at the time:

Tombstones? Or something else?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for further details!

Posted in Misc., Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

Finding Your Ancestors Titanic-Style

Yes, folks, I’m afraid it’s true. I’m here to make another analogy – the latest in a long line of analogies: puzzles, jalopies, basketball…and now sea exploration.

Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic in 1985. He produced a documentary, “Save the Titanic” timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of its sinking. To promote the show, he appeared on the Colbert Report, which you can view below. I found his description of how he found the Titanic, the approach he used — particularly applicable to our field of genealogy. The interesting part starts at about 1:45. On a side note, I’ve also used diversionary tactics very similar to the one he describes in the video. I pretend to be going someplace for one thing, when I am really going there for genealogy. Except in my case, I am trying to fool my wife, not the Russians.

I thought the “following the debris trail” comments particularly appropriate. Too often in genealogy we are anxious to find “more about John Doe.” This vaguely defined goal leads us to a series of criss-crossing, double-tracking searches that waste much time and effort and often result in not finding what we are looking for. If instead we start at the first clue, which is often a death record in our case, and methodically work our way through the “debris trail” – the records left in reverse chronology by our John Doe, seeking and noting patterns and tendencies, we are more likely to arrive at the correct origins of our John Doe than had we suddenly started running in mad circles once we found our first clue.

And the deer hoof print comments? Brilliant. Kinda sounds like using indirect evidence to find your ancestors, doesn’t it?

Leave your a comment below about your thoughts on the comparisons (genealogy to ship-finding, not the Russians to my wife).

Enjoy!

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

In Which I Appreciate What I Have and Forget About What I Don’t

There will be some genealogy here. Bear with me a moment…

I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago when I  stopped for a lengthy traffic light. It was one of the odd, tropical 80+ degree days we’ve had this spring, so the windows were down and neighborhoods buzzed with activity. I sat across from a driveway where there was a boy and girl playing basketball. I assume that they were brother and sister, maybe 9 and 10 years old or so. It was a small driveway on a slant to the road. The boy was playfully talking smack to his sister, who had the ball: “What’s the matter, you scared of me”, “You’re not getting past me, girl”, “Let’s see what you got.”

The girl tried to dribble around him and he poked the ball away, which rolled dangerously close to the street – the girl chasing after it. She gathered up the ball and put it back in play with the word anyone who has ever played backyard basketball knows, “Check!” She bounced it to the boy, who bounced it back to her, and the game (and smack-talking) was back on. The girl tried a different tactic this time. She turned her back to the boy and started backing in, dribbling carefully out of his reach. She tried to turn first to the left, then to the right, but the boy was faster than she was, not letting her turn far enough to face forward.

This girl was smart, though. She took a quick backward step causing the boy to react quickly backwards. While he was still off-balance she turned and shot in one quick movement. It was a high, arcing shot – mostly of desperation. Both of their heads turned, following the path of the ball to see the result. I leaned over towards the passenger seat so I could see it, too. This was her big chance to shut her brother up with one clean swoosh of the net. The shot fell short and went bouncing around inside the garage.

Only then did I notice that there was no rim on the garage. There was no backboard, nothing. Just a garage. And they could have cared less. Their enjoyment of the game wasn’t dependent on having a backboard and rim. They simply enjoyed playing the game and made do with what they had. The boy ran to get the ball as it caromed back out of the garage, down the sloped driveway, and towards the street again. “Check.” It was his turn now, and he was going to how his sister how to play the game.

I was deeply moved by all this. My first thought was to wish I had enough money to buy these kids a backboard, rim, and portable fence to keep the ball from going into the street. Shouldn’t they have one? I could buy it and send it anonymously. But of course, I don’t really have the money, and who knows if they even lived there?  I just sort of carried this story around with me since, thinking about it now and then.

The past few days, I have been griping about not being able to attend the 2012 National Genealogical Society conference being held in Cincinnati. I initially planned to go, but could not afford to go to both NGS and GRIP later this summer. The deal was sealed when the day job said no more time off for this school year. So I was salty. All my genea-friends are going, there are some terrific speakers and programs, and here I am stuck in Cleveland. Why don’t I have all the money I want to go to all these events like all the other kids do? Why do I have to work instead of travelling to these things? Why, why, why?

And then I remembered the basketball story, and it helped me to realize that focusing on what I don’t have, can’t do, dislike…is such a huge waste of time and energy. I’m choosing to focus on positive things – like the fact that I will get to go to GRIP this summer for a week-long intense learning and networking experience. Sure, it would be great to do both, but shouldn’t enjoy whatever it is I am able to do rather than fret about those things I can’t? This is what I learned from those children.

So this week,  I’m off to do what I love. I have some client research to finish up and a report to write (okay, so maybe I don’t love the report part quite as much). I have an article to write – for an actual magazine! I have two lectures I need to begin developing, and also a few other things going on genealogically this week. I’m gonna smile, trash-talk, and appreciate the fact that I get to do these things, even if only part-time for now.

Check.

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 3 Comments

StaatsofOhio: What’s in a Domain Name?

When I decided to start learning about website creation and design, the first thing I did was set up my own domain name. The initial site’s purpose was to talk about what my immediate family was doing, post our vacation photos,etc. I tried to register several variations of my name and found them all taken – even the unlikely combination of our surnames, StaatsSzaraz.com. Seriously? I finally  settled on one I liked and was available, staatsofohio.com.

As time went on the site developed and interests changed, and it eventually became the home of my genealogy blog. Last year, I felt I needed to condense all of my professional and personal genealogy activities into one site. Seeing as I could not come up with an abbreviated domain name for “Staats Genealogical Services” that rolled off the tongue and stuck in the mind, I merged that site into this one. Staatsgen was close, but sounded a little too much like something from a Terminator-type movie, where I would be the evil company producing toxic chemicals or nuclear warheads. I figured the name staatsofohio told people who I was and where I was. It would be easy to remember. Looking at the search terms people use to find this blog, I guess I was right, as that term shows up regularly.

But here’s the thing: all but those who know me personally are probably saying this clever domain name wrong. Not only that, but in any post that I use “Staats” in a rhyme scheme, people probably don’t quite get it. And people HATE half-rhymes. After 40+ years of defensively stating, “This is the way we pronounce it,” I am finally willing to admit this simple fact: my branch of the family is “doing it wrong.” We say it “States”. In order to get the (admittedly lame) double-meaning of the domain name, you need to say it “States of Ohio”.  Similarly, when I post a title such as the State of the Staats Estate, you have to say it wrong, too, in order to get the assonance…and don’t even think about referencing that word in your comments!

Where does this mispronunciation originate? It’s hard to say for sure, but all of the descendants of my gg grandfather, Dr. Alexander A. Staats say it this way1. The real reason for this post, is that I would be extremely interested to know if there are any other branches of any of the various Staats families2 that pronounce it the way we do.

I’ve seen it written “States” as far back as early 1700s Delaware, but of course, that’s not really evidence of pronunciation. On my research trips to Delaware, where a few Staats still live, they pronounce it more along the lines of the its original Dutch origin3, as in “Stotts or “Stauts”. All of the West Virginia branch that I’ve run into pronounce it “Stats”. I’ve never come across anyone outside my family that says it the way we do. If there are any descendants of Elijah Staats (the Elijah who died in Monroe County, OH in 1844)4 , I’d love to know if this mispronunciation goes back a few more generations.

So there you have it – the correct incorrect pronunciation of my name and this site. I just wanted to clear up the record, and make it easier for you to see just exactly how bad some of my wordplay really is. And if you happen to be a Staats, do any of your Staats families “do it wrong”?

  1. except for one, who finally gave in and now pronounces it “”Stats” []
  2. the inter-relatedness is a subject of much debate, but large groups existed in Delaware, Albany, Bucks County (PA), and New Jersey. []
  3. of course “Staats” means States…isn’t this all so confusing? []
  4. Washington, Ohio, Deed Books, 40: 302, Elijah Staats Heirs to Benoni Staats, 29 May 1848; Washington County Recorder’s Office, Marietta.  This deed includes a dower release from Elijah’s widow Margaret, in which she states Elijah’s date of death as 27 Sep 1844. Forget the other dates you find on the internet, please. []
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Fixing Your Genealogy Jalopy: A Metaphor

One of the things I’ve discovered over the course of my many life adventures is this: poverty is a wonderful motivator and teacher. During those lean years, I learned to do a number of things I might not have otherwise, simply because it was the only way it was going to get done. Being broke and needing to replace my recently-deceased car was a doubly bad situation. Repair bills finally exceeded the point of making it worth keeping on the road. I couldn’t afford to get a new car, or even a late-model used vehicle with a warranty. My only option was to try and buy the best car I could afford and keep my fingers crossed that it kept running.

Inevitably, things started to go wrong. The brakes needed replaced in the front. Never having worked on a car in any real mechanical sense, and not having the ridiculous amount of money that a brake shop charges, I only had one option: learn how to do it myself. In that pre-internet time, I went to the library and found some books on auto repair. I learned some general things about cars and brakes from those books, but looking at the books and then looking at my car, I needed some more specific information. I went to the auto parts store to get a repair manual for my particular model of car which would tell me step-by-step how to fix my brakes. I read it, and then I did it.

The next thing that happened was that the rear brake line began leaking at the caliper. Hmm… the tips and tricks necessary to remove the bleeder screw from the caliper without breaking it off were not discussed in my manual. Neither did it really discuss how to bend the brake tube around the myriad of things it wound around on its way from the master cylinder on the engine to the brake caliper on the wheel. I needed to hear from someone experienced who’d done this a thousand times before. So I talked to a mechanic friend of mine about how to get that bleeder screw out successfully and how to bend and attach the brake lines. I listened, and then I did it.

There were a variety of other things I learned to do mechanically with my car. The more I did them, the more confident I became in my ability to tackle new and more challenging repairs. With a few exceptions, each repair became easier and faster. Even when I couldn’t necessarily afford to fix things the way they really should be fixed, I was able to come up with ways to work around the problem, ways to keep it on the road. My car had a fancy rear fiberglass spring that went from axle-to-axle. It had little rubber boots on each end of it where it connected to the axles. Those boots wore out, and of course you can’t just buy those boots – you have to replace the whole assembly at great expense. Not having a spare $500 at the time, I figured out that a piece of heavy-duty truck mudflap bolted to the ends of the spring served exactly the same function and cost me nothing but a few minutes of time. I had to replace the pieces of mudflap a few times, but I never did replace that spring over the several years I continued to own the car.

Not that everything I did was successful. On the contrary: I broke things,I hurt myself, I made many things worse before I figured out how to make them better. But those mistakes were a HUGE part of the learning process. The process of learning about mechanical repairs started with that car, but extended well beyond it. I worked on my wife’s car. I worked on the next several cars that we owned. The process for working on different cars was pretty similar, but each had its own quirks, methods, and tricks to make things easier to accomplish.

Genealogy is no different. It is a hands-on activity. Education is paramount, to be sure. You have to read some books, articles, wikis, and other resources to get a general understanding of the basics of genealogy. Eventually, you will use those same resources to acquire specific knowledge about research areas, resources, or other topics not covered in that general material. All along the way, you are going to talk to people who know more about genealogy than you do who will give you guidance and help in your research. You’ll probably go to a class, conference, or institute. You might take part in study groups or other guided learning. You’ll probably follow the latest developments in the field online.

Here’s the catch: it’s easy to do all of those things, and still not be a successful researcher. Why? Because you have to actively apply what you’ve learned. In order to be successful, you need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. You can read all the repair manuals you want – but if you don’t pick up a wrench and dive in at some point, your genealogical jalopy is still going to be sitting broken-down in your driveway. If you never go to a courthouse, never actually take the time to look up particular statutes that apply to a record of interest, don’t go to a distant archive to see read through that manuscript, or don’t order microfilm to bring that distant record where you can reach it — you won’t learn what you need to know to be successful.

You need to have those physical records in your hands rather than an abstract concept in your head. You need to try and read and interpret them, to figure out how different records can work together to provide the most accurate picture of your ancestor. I’ll go so far as to say you need to have the opportunity to MISinterpret those records. If experience is the best teacher (and I think it is), and making mistakes is often the most memorable experience (and I think they are); then the experience of making mistakes teaches us in a way that is often better than any other method. Mistakes force us to take a closer look at how things work. In order to fix our mistake, we need to come to a much more in-depth understanding of something than if we’d just unknowingly stumbled through it correctly the first time. It requires us to disassemble things into their various parts in order to understand the whole, which then gives us the proper understanding to reassemble things correctly.

So, yes, read books articles, blogs and wikis. Go to educational events, talk to other folks, and find a mentor. It all starts with education. But be sure to set aside time to actually do the things they suggest. Even if the entire process doesn’t quite click when you read or hear it, get out and try to work through it. The more time you put in under the hood, the more sense the repair manual starts to make. The flip-side is also true. The brain feeds the hands and the hands feed the brain. Genealogy and auto mechanics are both skilled-labor endeavors, the success of which is a combination of both knowledge and experience.

One final note: if you see a genealogist broken down at the side of the courthouse, make sure to stop, get out your repair manual and toolbox, roll up your sleeves and help out…but that’s another post for another day.

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