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John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Writing a Research Report; or the Story of How We Didn't Really Find Out Anything, Part One

Poem from Jeremiah and Mary Ann Hilyard's gravestone, digitally enhanced; what do you think it says?

Last month I met with a local registrar from the Daughters of the American Revolution, a service organization made up of women who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution. I have about a dozen ancestors I could use to sign up, but I want to join under my ancestor Thomas Hilyard, who is not currently listed as one of their patriots. To do this, I have to show he served in the Revolution. This isn't a problem; I showed her my documentation and she said that part would be easy.
Then comes the hard part. To qualify, I have to prove each link in my line from me back to Thomas; proof that one generation came from the previous one. From me, that is seven generations back.

Base of Jeremiah and Mary Ann Hilyard's gravestone

With birth and death records, I was easily able to go back four generations. Then a little snag. Or maybe a large one, as it turns out. I needed to prove that Thomas Hilyard (of the Civil War) was indeed the son of Jeremiah and Mary Ann (Valentine) Hilyard. I know he is. But my personal conviction doesn't withstand the scrutiny of the DAR.

Jeremiah Hilyard gravestone full-length

So, how could I prove it? No birth or death records exist from that far back. No obviously available will. A trip to Allen County, Ohio was in order. I called my cousin and partner-in-genealogy-crime and we set a date. Allen County, Ohio is a three hour drive for me, so we were able to plan a day trip, but organization was important to make best use of our time. I decided to use a more formal format and create a research report.

I know it might sound pretty stuffy to make a report, but I can tell you from experience, it is a great way to get organized and stay focused. I have looked back on reports I wrote from 10 or more years ago, and can't believe how much of the content I had forgotten. I thanked my younger self for taking the time to write.

I'll show you the sections of the report here, with some commentary on my thought process.

GOAL:  Prove Jeremiah Hilyard is the father of Thomas Hilyard.
1850 Census Allen County, Ohio; unfortunately it does not specify relationships.

This is important to maintaining focus. When you get started looking at an index for your ancestor, and all of a sudden see another familiar name, you have to remind yourself of your goal. Stay focused!!

In the next section, I tried to identify all the facts I already had going into the trip. This is to keep from duplicating efforts I've already made, and to show me where there are gaps that I might be able to fill in with my research.

  1. Jeremiah Hilyard married Mary Ann Valentine on March 14, 1839, in Fairfield County, Ohio. 
  2. Jeremiah Hilyard is in the 1840 Federal Census for Fairfield County, Ohio.
  3. Jeremiah and Mary Ann Hilyard are in the 1850 census for Allen County, Ohio with a child living with them named Thomas of the right age to be mine.
  4. Jeremiah Hilyard died in 1855.
  5. Mary Ann Valentine Hilyard married Samuel Neely in 1856.
  6. Samuel and Mary Ann Neely are in the 1860 census in Allen County, Ohio. There is a "T" Hillard of the correct age in the household.
  7. I had a deed for Jeremiah Hilyard purchasing land in Allen County from the State of Ohio in 1850 but it has no source information on it.
It isn't much. Three census records, two marriage records, and an unsourced deed. No wonder the DAR would scoff at that!

Next, what did we want to accomplish on the trip? Time was limited so we needed to make sure to visit the most important places first. Paramount was a trip to the courthouse, so that was stop number 1. There, we needed to check land records, to see if there was any record of Jeremiah's land being divided among his heirs after his death. Also, I needed a source for the deed that I already had. In addition, we wanted to see the probate records "in person". We were fortunate in that Allen County, Ohio probate records are available online at But it's nice to see the originals, and just make sure we weren't missing something.

Before any trip, you need to do some homework. Learn as much about the area and facilities as you can before you go. For this trip, I checked out Allen County's local government site, got their business hours, and made sure they weren't closed the day we planned to go. While googling, I found several pages relating to Allen County genealogy. Browsing through these, I found reference to the Allen County Museum, which included a research library. I was able to email the librarian from their website and let her know we were planning to visit and what families we were interested in. She wrote back, informing me they had family files on all my surnames of interest, and looked forward to seeing us.

Lastly, time permitting, I wanted to visit the Allentown Cemetery and obtain some better photographs of headstones, and pay my respects. So, this was how the itinerary looked:

PLAN: Travel to Allen County, Ohio to research the family
  1. Land records
  2. Probate records
  3. Allen County Museum for family files
  4. Allentown Cemetery to obtain better photos of stones
We were off!

First stop was the County Recorders office, where the staff was most helpful. We were allowed to search the computerized indices and pull books without asking for permission.

We easily located the source of the deed I had in my records already, obtaining the book and page number.  From this deed, I had the physical description of the property. With this, you can look up the property in what are called Tract Books, and follow the chain from one property owner to the next for any given piece of land. This can be very helpful!

Abstract Record Book 30, Amanda Township Tract Book

In a nutshell, the land Jeremiah Hilyard Sr. purchased from the state of Ohio eventually passed down to his son John, then to John's children in 1914. Importantly, we found two references to the property describing an "undivided 1/7 share" in it. This would indicate that when Jeremiah died, he had seven heirs, plus his widow who had  her dower right. This follows with what I knew, that Jeremiah had seven children who survived to adulthood. 

But the problem still existed: why was there never any probate record to show this division of his property?  Grrr. We checked and doubled checked every index to probate records we could find. All references to Jeremiah Hilyard were actually to the son of our subject, Jeremiah Jr. Even though he left no will, he had a neat and tidy, properly administered probate following his untimely death at age 27.

As for looking over probate at the courthouse, we asked and were permitted to see Jeremiah Jr.'s estate packet. I had all the information from it, but again, it's meaningful to me to handle these old documents.

Our work at the courthouse was done, so we moved on to the Allen County Museum's library. What an enticing rat's nest! There was a main reading room that looked like a proper library, but in the back--oh my! Shelves, filing cabinets, no seeming rhyme or reason to anything, and a librarian that could lay her hands on anything in there without having to consult a computer or book of any kind.  As wonderful as it was, we found nothing new there either. The Hilyard folder was full of old correspondence that had my name all over it. I had written to a researcher in the early 1990s, and all of her old files had found their way to this spot. Reunited with my own letters, over 20 years later.

Next time, what we found and where do we go from there.


  1. I'll take a stab at the inscription. "Forever Father and Mother dear, you are not dead but sleeping here". Looking forward to part 2!

    1. Oh, I think the first word is "farewell". What do you think about that?

  2. Thank you Laura! I'll include that on the next post.