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30 September 2009

How portable was your ancestor?

Think about your ancestor's career or occupation. How portable was it? A landowning ancestor who farmed might have moved, but it likely wasn't every two years and moving took a little bit of time and planning. If your ancestor had a small business, he might not have moved around too much, especially after he got himself established.

However, if you ancestor had a skilled trade, he might have been able to move more quickly, assuming he could find work.

And your day laborer ancestor (like a few of mine), might have moved all the time.

Think about your ancestor's job, career, or employment and how easily it might have been for him to be portable.

29 September 2009

Agreement doesn't mean they are right

Just because two (or even more) records agree on a fact or a date, it does not mean they are correct. It just means they contain the same information. It could still be incorrect, especially if it has been years since the event which the documents talk about took place.

A death certificate, a tombstone, and an obituary may all provide the same date of birth. The reason most likely is because the informant was the same person.

And doctors even give wrong dates of birth. It does happen.

28 September 2009

Is your first guess wrong?

The subject line to the mailing list was "old Danish."

Since I've been gluten free for two years, a good ol' pastry was the first thing that popped in my mind. What the poster meant was the older style of the Danish language and handwriting.

In this case, the first guess just might have been because I have an odd sense of humor.

But have you guessed at something and has your first guess been wrong?

27 September 2009

Pre-1850 Census Analysis at Casefile Clues

Casefile Clues just sent out our 9th edition since we began distribution on our own website. This week's article focuses on the analysis of several pre-1850 census entries for a family in rural Kentucky. Interpreting these census records correctly is not terribly difficult, but one does have to be careful so that mistakes are minimized.

There's more information on Casefile Clues on our sister website.

And we'll be getting back to more tips!

Is that middle name a last name?

Is your ancestor's "middle" name one that could be construed as a "last" name? If so, have you searched for him (or her) in all records where he is "missing" with that middle name as his last name?

Might be the trick to finding him.

26 September 2009

Write down every assumption

Have you gone through your information on a family and written down every assumption you made about them? This basically covers every thing you don't have a document for.

Assumptions are not necessarily wrong. You just need to remember that you made them and determine what your reason was for making them.

25 September 2009

Write it.

I've mentioned it before, but repeating it might not be a bad idea.

Consider writing up one of your ancestors or families you've "finished" or think you are reasonably close to finishing. Write it and explain your reasoning and methodology. I virtually guarantee you that in the writing you will notice something you neglected to do, an assumption that you think now might not be correct, or an error in your reasoning.

And if you don't, then get it published!

Since I've been writing Casefile Clues I have really noticed a few things of this kind in my own research and it's forced me to pick up the loose ends, organize, etc. Even if you have no intention of publishing, putting it together as if you are can be a very good thing.

24 September 2009

Jumping the Pond too Fast

Are you trying to cross the pond too fast? Sometimes frustration with a "I don't know where to reseach my German/English/Irish, etc." ancestor is because the homework has not been completely done.

Have you looked at EVERYTHING in the area where your immigrant ancestor settled? Everything means everything, even things you think might not help. You never know what a document will say until you look at it. Clues can be in the most unexpected of sources sometimes.

Then research his or her children completely as they might have left clues as to their parents' origins.

Don't start your German/English/Ireland research the minute you learn your ancestor was German/English/Irish. Do your complete homework first.

23 September 2009

Look at all those page numbers

When downloading a census page or viewing census on microfilm, look at the page numbers that are written on the page. There might be more than one. View the previous image on the website or the microfilm roll. View the one before that.

How many different page numbers are written on the census page/image?

An 1810 census entry from Bourbon County, Kentucky indicated three sets of page numbers. One was stamped, one was written in ink (apparently) and another looked like it was written in pencil. And sometimes the page numbers are one every other "page."

22 September 2009

Is it alphabetical?

Look at that census or tax list? Do the names on the page for your ancestor all begin with the same letter? If so, the collector or census taker tried to sort the names. Good for him.


Bad for us as it strips all sense of neighborhood.

21 September 2009

Track their Literacy

Various census records indicate if your ancestor can read or write. Have you thought about tracking the literacy of various members of your family? There might be some interesting trends and patterns there.

20 September 2009

Not Everything has page numbers

Old documents usually have pages (except for tombstones), but they might not have page numbers.

Church records are especially notorious for this, especially in the days when records were kept in ledgers without printed forms. To keep track of where you got it, at least indicate the year of the record and what type of record it was (christenings, funerals, marriages, etc.). The name of the church and the location should also be included as a part of your source, but the year and type of record are essential to know where you got the information.

Genealogy Tip of the Day On Facebook


I have added a "fan" page for Genealogy Tip of the Day on Facebook.

Actually I added it twice and am trying to figure out how to get rid of the other one.

If you are on Facebook, do a search for "genealogy tip of the day" and choose the the Fan page that has the lovely image you see on this post.
I am working (again) getting caught up on "tip of the day." Stay tuned and feel free to interact with us on Facebook via our Fan Page.

19 September 2009

Evidence Explained not just about citations

Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills is not just about citing sources. The first two chapters are wonderful genealogical lessons on methodology and sources in and of themselves.

Before discussing how to cite a specific type of record, Mills briefly discusses that record, providing a wonderful overview. While Mills' book is not for the new genealogist, this not-so-new genealogist finds its discussion of sources an excellent quick review and primer when I need reminding.

And then there is the other 80% of the book, which is about citati

18 September 2009

Subscribe to Casefile Clues now and get issues 1-7 free!

Our 8th issue of Casefile Clues goes out on Sunday. To anyone who subscribes before 8 goes out, I'll start your subscription with issue 8 and send you issues 1-7. Anyone who started subscribing after issue 1 and would like the issues they missed should email me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

Not digital, not filmed, not transcribed

When was the last time you accessed a record that was not on microfilm, not in digital form, not published and not indexed?

Remember that there are millions of documents in courthouses, archives, etc. that only exist on paper. Is the answer to your question written on a piece of paper that you or someone else will have to actually see face to face to get a copy of it?

Not everything is on film or on computer.

17 September 2009

Is it time to hire someone?

Recently I needed 8 land entry files from the National Archives. I knew some of these files would not contain very much information at all, perhaps just a few sheets. There were three that had the potential to contain valuable information as they were homestead and preemption claims.

To order the files direct from the National Archives would have cost me $320. I hired a researcher to go to the Archives and copy the files for me. Her fee was approximately 1/4 of what the archives would have charged me.

Is it possible that hiring someone at the remote record site is the way to go?

16 September 2009

The Names the Same

Just to confuse genealogists, some states have towns that are not located in the county with the same name.

Des Moines, Iowa, is not located in Des Moines County, Iowa.

Keokuk, Iowa, is not located in Keokuk County, Iowa.

It's not just an Iowa thing. This can happen anywhere. Make certain your place descriptions are complete and not misleading. I always use the word "county" just to keep things clear.

15 September 2009

State versus Federal Land States

State land states are those states where the original "seller" on the first deed was the state--actually the colony. This is generally the 13 colonies and a few states that border those states.

Federal land states are those where the original "seller" on the first deed was the federal government. Usually areas settled after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, but not always.

State land states usually describe their land in metes and bounds. Federal land states usually use base lines and meridians.

14 September 2009

Were they really from the same village?

My wife and I both have a set of ancestors who were immigrants and I think the groom wrote back and said "I need a bride." One might be tempted to think that the bride and groom were born in the same village.

In both cases, that's not what happened.

In the case of my ancestor, her father was a "windmill mechanic" and moved occasionally for his work. In the other case, the bride was working as a hired girl in the village where the groom was born and raised.

Sometimes romantic visions of our ancestors need to discarded. It makes for good fiction, but not necessarily good genealogy. And oftentimes the real story is more interesting anyway.

13 September 2009

Now Wife

If your ancestor uses the phrase "now wife" in his will, it does not mean that he was married before.



If Johann gives his farm to "his now wife and after her death to my children," it means his wife at the time the will was written. This was done to see to it that if this wife died and the testator remarried that the children and not the current wife inherited the property. Without the word "now," "wife" is vague. "Now wife" was done to clear things up, but it has confused many genealogists.

12 September 2009

Naming Patterns are Guidelines, not Law

The first son was named for this, the second son was named for that, etc.

Keep in mind that these patterns are trends and social customs that your ancestor might have followed. They are not law.

Your ancestor does not have to follow any of these "social mores." What your ancestor does have to do is:

  • Figure out how to get born.
  • Figure out how to get married (or at least reproduce)
  • Leave behind at least one record

Dying usually happens whether your ancestor planned for it or not.

11 September 2009

Does the answer to the past lie in the present?

My wife's great-grandfather William Frame Apgar was born William Frame in Chicago around 1888. Around 1918, he disappears, estranged from his wife---my wife's great-grandmother. Perhaps he enlisted in the war, perhaps not. None of my wife's immediate family knows what happened to him.

It is possible that his siblings might have known what happened to him and passed that information down. My answer to where William Frame Apgar went might rest in the descendants of his siblings.

10 September 2009

Work out the entire family

Look at that brick wall ancestor. Have you completely documented all of his or her children and grandchildren? Doing so may solve your own specific problem. Or it may help you locate a relative who knows the answer.

09 September 2009

Learn about your ancestor's occupation

What do you really know about your ancestor's occupation and how he or she probably lived their life? Learning about the tools of their trade or what life was like for the typical cotton warper, mill worker, tailor, etc. may give you some additional insight into your ancestor's life.

Even if you think you know, you might not.

I grew up on a farm, but farm life when I grew up was different from when my father did (we never had horses for one), and it was certainly different from when my great-great-grandparents were farming. The first time I read of a "stationary baler" in a pension file, I did not know what it was. Hay balers, as far as I were concerned, were never stationary. Then it dawned on me, in 1900, they would have taken the hay to the baler. Hence the term, stationary baler.

If you read the term "stationary baler" as an item in a 1900 era probate file would you even have known what it was? Sometimes google helps with these things and sometimes it doesn't.

08 September 2009

Help someone you aren't related to

Has someone posted a question to an email list that you can answer? Has someone requested pictures at a cemetery near where you live?

Give back just a little and help someone else out. You never know when you may be in a position to need help.

And sometimes when thinking about someone else's problem, you have an idea about your own. That may be a selfish reason to help, but sometimes it really happens.

07 September 2009

Write down everything

You will forget.
You will not remember it. And you will wonder where you put it or where you found it. Write it down.

Do not use little pieces of paper. They get lost and you will lose your mind looking for them.

06 September 2009

Did Great Grandma Really Say That?

On my great-grandmother's 1935 marriage application, her place of birth is given. The problem is that it is different from places listed on other records. Why did she list that location?

I'm not certain why and I'm not even certain she actually gave the information.

Remember, her husband was there too and it is possible that he gave information on his wife. I wasn't there when great-grandma got married to witness the giving of the information. The form doesn't really say WHO provided WHAT.

Keep that in mind.

Things Get Filed Incorrectly

Keep in mind that records do get misfiled. Packets of court papers do not get put back in the correct numerical order. Case numbers get written incorrectly in indexes. Page numbers get transcribed as they are typed or entered into an index.

It will happen. Think about how something could get misfiled when you cannot find it in the place where it is "supposed" to be.

05 September 2009

Transcribe it as it is

Do not correct documents when transcribing them. Copy them verbatim.
If you must make comments, do so within brackets [] or use an asterisk and include your comment at the end. Don't correct an 18th century document when transcribing it.

04 September 2009

Disbanded Churches?

If your ancestor's church disbanded, there are several places the records might have gone:
  • the local dump
  • the family of the last minister
  • a local church of the same denomination
  • a regional or national church organization, synod, assembly, diocese, etc.
Contact local historical or genealogical societies, local churches of the same denomination, and regional and national archives (or governing bodies) of the denomination and see if they know what might have happened to the records.

03 September 2009

Did they change churches?

My ancestors on my mother's side of the family have been members of the same denomination since the Reformation. I was floored when I read the obituary for two of my great-great-grandparents and it said the funeral was at the local Presbyterian church.

The small town they were in only had two churches. Neither was of the desired denomination. The Presbyterian church was "closest," so that was it.

It is possible that necessity caused your ancestor to attend (and leave records at) a church other than the one you think he always attended?

02 September 2009

They weren't asked how to spell it

When I got married, one of the questions on the license was mother's maiden name. I knew I was going to have to spell it, after all, I wasn't getting married in the small town where I grew up.

I had to spell it three times before he understood--and it was only five letters--Ufkes.

Chances are your ancestor was not asked to spell the information he provided on a record. And if you think he did spell it to the clerk, how can you really be certain? After all, you weren't there when the clerk ask great-great-grandfather for the information on his marriage.

And if you were there---there were a lot of questions that I bet you wish you asked ;-)

01 September 2009

Grandma Gave the Wrong Date Because She Thought it was Right

Did Grandma give the "wrong" date or place of birth for herself? Did she possibly do it because she actually thought that is where or when she was born?

Keep in mind that on many records where our ancestors provided information on themselves that they were not actually asked for proof. The clerk just wrote down what they gave.

My own Grandma, who would have been 99 today, always gave the same place as her place of birth. Problem is, her birth certificate and other contemporary records give a different location. Grandma just had a misconception about where she was born.

Sometimes errors are actually mistakes, not intentional lies.