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31 August 2012

They Had Little To Prove...

Your ancestors did not have to "prove" anything when the census taker came to the door. They could get by just answering the questions and if the answers were totally wrong or just a "little off," the census taker might not even know.

This does not mean that every census enumeration is wrong or that everyone lied on the census. But it does mean that an age that is slightly off or a birth place that isn't quite right is not usually enough to throw an entire theory out the window.

But then again, there's always that chance that great-great-grandma fudged the number of years married to make a few things fit--for those census records that asked that question.

30 August 2012

When You Were Wet Behind the Ears

When was the last time you reviewed material or information you obtained in the early days of your research? Did you neglect to indicate where something was originally located? Did you simply copy something from a website or book without considering that it could be wrong?

Most of us did those things early in our research--but are there still items of that type lurking in your files or database causing those "brick walls" we all complain about?

Now that you're a little more seasoned, review what you did in the early days and see if you still agree with yourself.

29 August 2012

State Institution?

Was your ancestor institutionalized for a short time or for the last few years of their life? If so, they might have died a distance from where they actually lived. Records of the actual institution may be closed, but there might be local court records of the institutionalization. People who were sent to institutions weren't always "crazy," but might have simply needed more care than the family could give.

And they might have been buried on the grounds of the institution--leaving no tombstone behind either.

28 August 2012

Where Could Record Copies Be?

Genealogists usually never look for original deed records--instead we utilize record copies at the local county courthouse.

If you can't find marriage and other records of your ancestor, is it possible that "copies" of these records had to be filed elsewhere? Official copies of marriage records often appear widow's pension applications. Official copies of naturalizations appear in homestead records.

Ask yourself, "would my ancestor have had to prove" a marriage, naturalization, etc.? If so, where might those records be?

27 August 2012

Half-Off Genealogy Webinar Sale


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Periodically Ask Yourself...

Are there any relatives you have not talked to since you've made "discoveries?" Sometimes new information gives you ideas for new questions to ask family members you have already interviewed. And sometimes a new last or first name helps jog someone's memory and gets them remembering things that they could not recall before.

And sometimes it irritates them and they "clam up." But then again, that's always a clue too!

26 August 2012

Uncle's Ed's Obituary Reminded Me That...


Might does not make right. The obituary appears in three newspapers. Just because his mother's name is the same in all three doesn't mean it's "right" because it appears the same in more than one place.

But you still need to look in multiple newspapers for obituaries (and other items) because what one paper published may be different from what another one published.

25 August 2012

Don't Hire a Professional Genealogist If...


  • they promise to solve a problem--no matter what
  • they guarantee an answer within a set number of hours
  • they refuse to give any physical address or references
You can still have problems, but these things are red flags for me. Professional researchers promise to diligently search specific records and interpret their findings. They don't guarantee to find anything. 

24 August 2012

They Might Not Be Buried Where They Died

Do not always assume that someone died near where they are buried. It is very possible that they died while travelling or living a distance away with a relative and were returned "home" for burial.

That death certificate or death record may be several states away. I recently located a man who lived the last few years of his life in California, but had spent the previous thirty years in Nebraska. Nebraska is where he was buried, but California is where he died and where his death certificate was filed.

23 August 2012

Finances Dictate Records

The more money a person had, the more records they tend to leave. An ancestor of mine appeared in several lawsuits, land records, and other dealings in Kentucky and Virginia between roughly 1790 and 1825. Then nothing. Nothing at all.

A closer reading of one of the later court cases in which he was involved indicated that he was "nearly insolvent."

That might explain why there was no probate for him upon his death. Sometimes a close reading of what documents you are able to obtain explains why more aren't available.

Was There A Chain of Migration?

Your family might have emigrated to the United States over a series of generations. My ancestor's brother Tonjes Jurgens Ehmen immgirated to the US in the 1860s, leaving behind one brother who stayed in Germany, married and raised a family.

That brother had 11 children of his own, all born in Germany. All but two of those children immigrated to the United States between roughly 1870 and 1890. One of the children who stayed in Germany and had several children of his own--including one who came to the United States in 1910.

For three generations, some members of the Ehmen family immigrated to America while others stayed behind in Germany. The immigrants originally settled where they had relatives, later moving on to other areas of the United States.

Were your ancestors part of a multi-generational chain of migration?

22 August 2012

Surnames as Middle Names Might Not Be Maiden Names

Do not assume that an ancestor who has a surname as a middle name got it because that was his (or her) mother's maiden name. Henry Johnson Smith might have gotten his middle name from a non-relative whose name was Johnson.

And George Washington Jones' mother probably was not a Washington.

Surnames as middle names may be clues as to connections or they may be something else altogether.

21 August 2012

Use Names, Not Just Relationships

When identifying people on pictures, writing about them in your research notes, or asking someone about them, try and avoid only using a relationship to describe the person.

Writing "John's Grandma" on the back of a picture is helpful, but still pretty vague. Who was John and which Grandma is it?

When asking your own Grandma questions, asking her to tell you something about "Grandma" may result in her not talking about who you think she is talking about. Ask her about a specific person--referring to them by name.

When I asked my Grandma questions, I was less confused if I said something like "tell me about your Grandpa--John Trautvetter" instead of asking about "Grandpa Trautvetter." When I asked about "Grandpa Trautvetter" it took me awhile to realize she was talking about her dad who was my dad's Grandpa Trautvetter.

Try and avoid creating more confusing and don't refer to people only by their relationship.

20 August 2012

Check It Over One More Time

Even if you are certain about a transcription or an interpretation of something, it never hurts to let it "sit" and check it over again one more time. Especially when it's had a chance to "sit" and is cold.

This is a great way to catch omissions and mistakes. And reviewing "old material" is a great way to use time when you can't think of anything else to do, but want to do something.

19 August 2012

That Little Tract

Deeds to seemingly small pieces of property may hold more genealogical clues than one realizes.

A deed for a comparatively minuscule portion of the property may have been drawn up to clear up a property line or  a title. Deeds for fraction portions of property may also have been drawn up to settle an estate.

If great-grandpa owned several hundred acres, don't ignore those deeds for a couple of acres. They may contain more clues than you think.

18 August 2012

Finding US Passport Applications

Based upon yesterday's tip about US passport applications, we've created the following blog post on our sister site--http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2012/08/finding-us-passport-applications-1795.html

Early 20th Century Passport?

Did any relative in the United States obtain an early 20th century passport? Applications for passports in this era frequently included information on where the person was born as well as where the person's father was born and whether or not the father was a United States citizen.

17 August 2012

Read the Whole Stone

When personally visiting a cemetery, make certain you read the entire stone for clues--front, back, left, right. Sometimes there may even be a symbol engraved on the top--that could be a clue as well.

16 August 2012

Make a Cheat Sheet

Keep a running list of terms and definitions for those words you encounter in your research but cannot remember. It will save you the time of looking them up and failing to know the correct meaning of a word or a phrase can seriously hinder your research.


15 August 2012

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Link expires 48 hours after this post goes live at 10:54 PM Central--15 August 2012.

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Look Near All The Children

If great-great-grandma "disappears" after her husband dies, search near all her children. There's a good chance she is living with or nearby one of them.

14 August 2012

What Way Do You Weigh the Evidence?

Generally speaking, genealogists should give the most weight to the information or the evidence that comes from the source that is considered the most credible. 

And the credibility of sources should not be determined based upon whether or not the information they contain agrees with what the researcher "hopes" to prove.

13 August 2012

Been To Your Local Library?

When was the last time you visited your local library? Are they able to subscribe to any databases that could help you in your research? Do they have any genealogical materials in their collection? Are they able to obtain materials for you via interlibrary loan?

Even if you have no ancestors where you currently live, your local library may be able to provide some assistance with your research.

Alternate Spellings On the Same Page

Do you always carefully read every document on your ancestor for potential clues regarding alternate spellings or pronunciations of the name?

The Declaration of Intent for John Schleicher lists his name as John Sliger in one location on the declaration, with "Sliger" crossed out and "Schleicher" written above it. Everywhere else on the document the spelling of Schleicher is used. If I was unaware of how German names were pronounced, the Sliger spelling would have helped me as that's likely very close to how John actually said his name.

And of course, that spelling may be used in census and other records.

12 August 2012

What's In Your Filter?

Try and avoid as much as possible, interpreting your ancestor's actions in twenty-first century terms. Remember that your ancestor lived in a different time than you and probably in a different location. Laws might have been different, commonly accepted behaviors might have been different, educational levels might have been different, religious beliefs might have been different, etc.

Interpreting events in your ancestors' lives as if you were the one living through them might be your problem.

11 August 2012

Handwritten Does Not Mean Original

Just because something is handwritten does not always mean that it is the original. Many older courthouse records are handwritten transcriptions of the original documents-commonly referred  to as the record copy. This is especially true with deeds before other reproductive techniques were developed.

Some wills were copied by transcriptionists into record books as well.

It is not bad that something is a handwritten copy, but bear in mind that you could be looking at a handwritten reproduction of the original document.

And some handwritten documents are the original document.

10 August 2012

Search For the Boarders

Are there boarders, hired hands, hired girls, etc. living with your family in a 1850-1940 census? Do you know who they are? Try looking for them in earlier or later census records--you may find there is a connection to your family.

Or you may not.

But you will never know if you don't look.

Never ignore a name that could be connected to your family of interest.

09 August 2012

Did that Middle Initial Become a Prefix?

It took me awhile to find this marriage record in Ancestry.com's database of Missouri marriages.

The reason was that Harrison M. Kilgore became Harrison M. McKilgore. I'm not certain why they used the "M" twice--but it is easy to see how a fancy "M" as a middle initial, written closely to the last name, can be interpreted as a "Mc."


08 August 2012

Use Notepad to Strip Formatting

If you need to copy and paste text from one program into another, consider pasting into a basic text editor (such as Notepad) as an intermediate step. That will strip formatting and make it easier to paste "clean" text into the document on which you are really working. 

I've also used this trick to clean up text in Word that somehow got formatted incorrectly. 

07 August 2012

Accuracy May Be Limited

In some locations and time periods, it may be impossible to determine the precise date when someone was born. Records may only allow you to ascertain the year or even just a narrow range of years. Don't expect to always have a precise date and never claim a date is precise when it actually is an estimate.

06 August 2012

Create a Dummy Database

If you're just getting started with a new software package or consider trying features of your current program that you've never used before, considering doing the experimentation on a "dummy" database.

Then if things do not work correctly or you mess things up entirely,  you still have the original.

Make A Chart or A "Tree"

For some of us, paragraph after paragraph of names and relationships can be confusing. To help yourself and others with whom you are sharing information, make charts or "trees" showing the relationships. The chart can contain a few key details (place of birth or death) on each individual, but leave the details somewhere else.

Sometimes when researching keeping the relationships straight is difficult--but crucial. A chart or "tree" can help you to do that.

05 August 2012

Never Reproduced

We've said it before, but it is worth repeating:

"Do not rely only on online sources or printed material. The solution to many problems rests in material that has never been transcribed, copied, microfilmed, or digitized and exists only in its original format."

04 August 2012

Always Look for Residential Clues in the Census

Those of us looking for rural ancestors sometimes ignore the census information regarding addresses that's contained in the far left hand side of more recent census records (1930 and 1940 for example). That would be a mistake.

I located an uncle in the 1940 census for Lima Township in Adams County, Illinois. The "address" indicates he was living on the Adams-Hancock County line road. That was a good clue which told me that he lived along the extreme northern edge of Lima Township.

03 August 2012

Do You Have a Goal?

Are you gathering information without any specific goal or question in mind? Having a specific goal or question in mind allows you to focus on that goal or question instead of gathering whatever "comes your way."

Setting a research goal or having a specific question lets you think about the sources that might answer that question--some of which are probably not online.

02 August 2012

Where Were The Neighbors Born?

If your ancestors are enumerated in a census that gives places of birth and they are not living in the state of which they are a native--look at the places of birth for their neighbors.

Are many neighbors born in the same location? If there are not many, those neighbors who were born in the same place and are living near your ancestor may have some connection to him.

Of course, this approach will not work for your Illinois born ancestor who is still living in Illinois at the time of the census!

01 August 2012

If You Have Been Helped, Do You Say Thanks?

If a library, researcher, or someone else goes out of their way to help with your research, or makes copies at no charge, etc., do you remember to thank them?

First of all, it's just nice to do it. It also helps "pave the way" for the researcher to help others. And sometimes it even helps you as well. That person may run across something else on your family (particularly if it's someone who researches a lot in local records) and if you've thanked them, they are more inclined to send you something else and more inclined to remember the names on which you were working.