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Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 3/15/2000

Going…Going…Gone! Sale Bill Genealogy

On a cold Illinois February morning, many of the effects of my great-great-grandfather were sold to the highest bidder. The sale bill announcing the sale contains many clues to more traditional genealogical records.

The Sale Bill


at the John M. Trautvetter farm, 1 1/2 miles west of Tioga and three miles northeast of Lima, on Wednesday, February 27th commencing at 10 o'clock a.m. the following property:

1 10-year-old mare, 1 5-year-old mule, 23 head of cattle, 1 Black steer, 4 2-year-old steers, 2 3-year-old steers, 4 1-year-old steers, 1 3-year-old bull 2 old cows, 2 3-year-old cows, 1 2-year-old cow, 3 1-year-old heifers, 3 calves


1 one horse grain drill, 1 cultivator, 1 stalk cutter, 1 wagon, 1 truck wagon, 1 bob sled, 1 corn planter, 1 disc, 1 hog rack, 750 bushels of corn in crib, barrel and half of sweet cider, lot of junk, also household furniture and other articles too numerous to mention. About two dozen chickens.

TERMS OF SALE--All sums of $10 and under cash. On sums over $10 a credit of 6 months will be given, purchaser giving bankable note before removing property, notes to bear 6 per cent interest from date.


ERVIN LUNT, Auctioneer


Clerk Lunch Served by Ladies' Aid of Tioga Evangelical Church

The analysis

Who would have thought a sale bill would contain clues to genealogical research? Despite all the potential clues, there are two glaring omissions from the document. The year of the auction and the state in which it takes place are noticeably absent.

In reality, the researcher likely knows an approximate year of the sale. In this case, it was around the beginning of World War I. Obtaining a perpetual calendar, either via an encyclopedia, a software package, or a Web site should indicate which years near the start of World War I had a February with the 27th on a Wednesday. Perpetual calendars can be helpful for many situations where the year of an event is not known, but the day, month, and day of the week are.

There are two towns listed, but no state. The researcher may have an idea of the state, but it's still a good exercise to determine it. Operating under the assumption that the place names are still in existence, search for them at the USGS Geographic Names Information Server site ( or Topozone ( Both of these sites will indicate the states that have these towns and then a comparison can be done to determine which states have both.

Readers who can interpret latitude and longitude quickly may be able to tell in which state the towns are in close proximity. Otherwise, using the driving directions between the two towns using ( or another online directional site may provide the actual location. While these sites do not always give the most direct route (especially for rural out-of-the-way places), the maps the sites generate should make it clear if they are located near each other or not.

Normally one could compare the counties the two towns are located in to do the proximity analysis. In this case the two towns are located in two different adjacent counties. The assumption was also made that the two towns would be in a current map database. This may not be a valid assumption to make and the 1895 U.S. Atlas Site ( could be referenced in order to potentially locate the villages.

There are many other clues contained in this sale bill. Most notably, they are:

1) Mention of the John Trautvetter farm most likely indicates property ownership. A search of local land records for John may be in order.

2) Once the state and county in which the sale took place has been determined, a search of a county plat book or atlas for the area near Tioga may show the exact location of John's farm.

3) John is most likely deceased. A Henry Trautvetter is listed as "Adm," indicating he was the administrator of an estate, probably John's.

4) Henry Trautvetter is likely a relative, especially given his capacity as administrator and the uncommon nature of the surname.

5) Probate records should be searched for an estate of John Trautvetter.

6) The family may have attended the Tioga Evangelical Church as the Ladies' Aid from that church was serving lunch. Records of this church may yield additional information.

These suggestions are the most likely ones based upon the document. One should take care to avoid reading too much into any one piece of paper. There may be more far-flung scenarios, but research is better served by following up on these six leads rather than creating a list of numerous "soap opera-like" situations. This is especially true in this situation since the six suggestions are all reasonable and several could result in the location of significantly more information.

Oh, for those of you who tried to determine the state of the sale, it was Illinois. At least four states have a Lima and a Tioga, but only in Illinois are they in close enough proximity.

Good Luck!

Copyright 2000, Michael John Neill. Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his Web site at:

Used by the Author on his website with permission.

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