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21 September 2014

Settled Where the Wagon Broke Down

Is it possible that your migrating relatives simply settled someplace that was "on the way to where they were actually going?" While "settling where the wagon died" sometimes is used as a joke, there can be some truth to it. It might not have been the wagon that died, but the death of a parent on the "way to somewhere else," may have caused the family to put down roots where they did not intend to--and where they didn't have any family or connections.

20 September 2014

Do You Look For Context?

No event happens in a vacuum.

For years, I knew my great-grandparents move from the church to a half mile away to one six miles away was due to the them wanting their children to learn English. When I reviewed the christening places of their children, I realized that my great-grandparents probably waited to leave the nearby church until his father had died.

Do you always try and put events into the life chronologies of your ancestor's relatives?

19 September 2014

Did Grandma Translate Those Names?

My relative wrote a letter to one of her in-laws in the 1880s. I thought originally that the only people to whom she was referring were fellow German immigrants. After all, everyone in the letter had German names. It took me a little while to figure out that my relative had translated the "English" names into German when writing the letter. Many of the people she wrote about were not German at all.

18 September 2014

One Document Is Not Necessarily Proof

Genealogists usually do not say that one document is "proof." One document provides information and a "proof" is usually an analysis of that document and what it says (which can be short and to the point--your discussion of why you think a record is correct does not need to be overly long).

Even if you don't write proof arguments for every genealogical statement you make (and many people don't), remember that one document may not totally make your case--it can be incorrect. But make certain that you have a source for statements that you make--so that others can see where you obtained a certain fact and so that you can review it as well if needed.

17 September 2014

Manual Search the Census on Non-Name Columns

If you "know" where an ancestor should be living in post-1840 United States census and can't find their name easily, try searching the place of birth column for locations that match the probable place of birth. This won't work for someone living in Ohio born in Ohio, but in rural areas if the person was born somewhere outside the area where he or she lived, it may help you to locate the person of interest.

16 September 2014

Neighbors in Another Census

Years ago I spent some time trying to find my relative in the 1840 census, using indexes and manual searches of the county where I thought he was. No luck.

Then I went back and searched for his 1830 neighbors in the 1840 census and looked very closely at the other names on the pages where they were listed in 1840. There was a name that was his--written in a way that was difficult to read with a name that was spelled incorrectly. I'd probably seen it before, but until I knew that I was in  "his neighborhood" I didn't look at the entry as closely as I should have.

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15 September 2014

Not Everyone Has One

Some people simply don't leave certain types of records. I have a relative who died in the last ten years for whom there is no death notice, no obituary, and no estate settlement (despite having children and grandchildren and sufficient personal property). Some people live as husband and wife and never actually "get married," so there is no "marriage record." Others avoid the census taker at one or more times in their lives. Sometimes it is worth contemplating that the record for which you are looking simply does not exist.

Because some people for a variety of reasons choose to leave no records behind of certain events. 

14 September 2014

Manual Searches of Indexed Records?

If you are fairly certain someone should be in a certain place for a specific census year and you cannot find him in the census index, search manually by reading the portion of the census for that locality.

Names sometimes get indexed incorrectly, transcribed wrong, and written in way that cannot be easily read or interpreted.

And you may discover some additional relatives as well.

13 September 2014

Female's Name at the Time

Records on female relatives in most areas of the United States will use the name they had at the time the record was created. If you can't find a female relative in a place and time where you expect to, is it possible they had a marriage you are not aware of?

12 September 2014

Ethnic, Religious and Other "Non-Typical" Newspapers?

Is your ancestor's obituary or writeup hiding in an ethnic (often in a foreign language), religious, trade, or other "non-typical" newspaper? Obituaries for immigrant ancestors may be more detailed in a local foreign language newspaper, and a notice in a religious or trade periodical may provide information not given in the local newspaper. Local libraries, historical or genealogical societies may be able to provide information about newspapers of this type.

11 September 2014

Need Those US Census Questions?

Interpreting US Census enumerations is sometimes easier if one has a list of the questions that were asked during the enumeration. This page on the US Census Bureau website has a list of all questions asked in census records from 1790-2010.

10 September 2014

What Does It Really Mean?

Try and avoid reading clues into a document that are not supported by the actual item.  A recent posting on Rootdig mentioned how an address on a post card doesn't mean the address was actually correct. A witness on a document doesn't have to be related to the person signing the document. Just because a person dies in a certain location doesn't mean they lived there very long.

Think about what you have assumed from a document.

Are all of those assumptions valid?

09 September 2014

Derivative Citizenship

If your immigrant ancestor has a "derivative" citizenship, then what likely happened is that they were a minor when their father naturalized or they became a citizen upon their marriage to a man who was already a citizen.

Naturalization law is complex and slightly confusing, but if your immigrant ancestor indicates in a census or other record that he was naturalized and you cannot find a record of his or her naturalization, consider the possibility that they obtained citizenship status through the father's naturalization or their marriage.

And naturalization law and procedure has changed over time--make certain you know what the law and procedure was at the time your ancestor was alive and naturalized.

Of course, like everything else...there are exceptions. 

Primary May Not Be Good and Secondary May Not Be Bad

Primary information is typically defined as information that was provided by someone who had first hand knowledge of the information. Secondary information is typically everything else. I can provide primary information about my date and place of marriage and secondary information about my date and place of birth as my knowledge of the marriage is because I was an adult when it happened and hopefully was aware that it was taking place.

My knowledge of my birth is because I've read it somewhere and have been told it.

Just because information is primary does not mean it is correct--I could have my anniversary wrong. And just because information is secondary does not mean it is wrong.

The correctness of information has more to do than whether it is primary or secondary.

07 September 2014

What Records Could Answer That Question?

Think about what you piece of information you would like to know about your ancestor and then think about what records may contain that information, either directly or indirectly. When brainstorming don't worry about whether the sources are original or derivative or whether the information is primary or secondary. Just think about what sources you should try and access.

The analysis can come after you actually find something. 

06 September 2014

Is That First Letter Optional?

Some last names have initial letters that are silent and occasionally get left off records. "Hanson" can be written as "Anson," Knight" as "Night," etc.

Could your ancestor's name be missing a first letter?

05 September 2014

Hiding Before 1850

Older family members may be "hiding" in pre-1850 United States census records in the household of a child.  Only heads of household are named in pre-1850 census records and Grandma, Grandpa, or both may be living with a child and only appear as a tick mark indicating an older adult.

04 September 2014

Name Change--No Paperwork

In some locations and time periods, it was relatively easy to "start over" with a new name, particularly if a person moved to a new location. Some individuals went through the legal process of changing their name, but many others did not. In the 20th century this was not always as easy to do as it was in the 19th century and before.

03 September 2014

That Youngest Child?

If there is significant gap between your ancestor's "last" child and the one before that, consider that the mother could have had several miscarriages, the last child could have been a "surprise" or that the last child could have actually been a grandchild.

2015 Carl Sandburg Institute of Genealogy

Michael John Neill of Genealogy Tip of the Day is involved in this project, so we're posting this notice here for those who may be interested. Those interested in further updates should use the contact methods listed below to learn more as details are announced. Mark your calendars.

From 28 May through 1 June 2015 the first Carl Sandburg Institute of Genealogy will be held at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Four tracks of study over 4.5 days are scheduled. Nationally-known genealogical-research experts will present the following tracks:
     Refining Internet and Digital Skills for Genealogy
(coordinator Cyndi Ingle of CyndisList)
     Advanced Methodology and Analysis
(coordinator Michael John Neill of Genealogy Tip of the Day),
     The Advancing Genealogist: Research Standards, Tools, and Records
(coordinator Debbie Mieszala, CGSM),
     Germanic Research Sources and Methods
(coordinator Teresa McMillin, CGSM).

Getting to Galesburg is easy. Galesburg is:
     located on Interstate 74,
     one hour from Moline or Peoria airports,
     two hours from Springfield, and
     has four daily Amtrak trains from Chicago (and direct routes from many locations including Denver, Omaha, Kansas City, and Salt Lake City).
Registration opens in September and will be announced on the website ( and on social media, including the CSIG Facebook page ( Email Michael John Neill at to be added to mailing list for announcements. Hotel and meal plan information is forthcoming.
Carl Sandburg College is located in the heart of the Midwest and has received national accolades for its innovative use of technology and state of the art instructional facilities.

CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

02 September 2014

Name Split in Half?

Are there any of your ancestral surnames that could be "split" in various records and finding aids? Fitzgerald could easily have been entered as Fitz Gerald--two separate names with Fitz as a middle name and Gerald as the last name.

There are other names for which this is a possibility as well.

01 September 2014

Non-Genealogy Items in Old Newspapers

Take some time to read those old newspapers instead of just searching for names. A recent gossip column for a newspaper in the 1870s discussed how cattle were transported to Chicago for butchering and the ease with which children on the orphan train were adopted by couples waiting at the train station.

31 August 2014

1925 Iowa State Census

Do you have ancestors, aunts, uncles, or cousins who were living in Iowa in 1925? The 1925 Iowa state census asked questions about religion, education, and names of parents--in addition to other items. It might be worth a search. FamilySearch has microfilmed copies of these schedules and has them indexed and online in digital format.

30 August 2014

Hopping on a Train?

How easy was it for your ancestor to hop on a train to get to the next county, state, etc.? Before automobiles and highways were the preferred method of transportation, it may have been easier than you think for your ancestor to take the train to the next county to marry, look for work, escape from creditors, etc.

29 August 2014

Employment Records?

Did your ancestor have a job that would have generated employment records that are still extant? Historical societies, regional archives, libraries and other facilities may have old, no longer-needed employment records from active and inactive companies.

Many of these records have been destroyed, but it is always possible some records are still in existence.

28 August 2014

One Word Wrong?

When analyzing a document or record, ask yourself:

How would my interpretation change if one word in this document was wrong?
Is it possible that one word of what you think is right is incorrect?

From Our Sponsor GenealogyBank

GenealogyBank, sponsor of Genealogy Tip of the Day is offering a free ebook on genealogical research for new subscribers to their service during August. Take a look at their offer here.

27 August 2014

Bride and Groom Have Same Last Name?

While it doesn't happen too often a bride and groom can have the same last name. I had one cousin who died relatively young under the same last name with which she was born. I assumed she was not married.


She had married a very distant cousin with the same last name and her last name never changed.

26 August 2014

Look at Solved Problems?

Sometimes genealogy research can seem like a walk in a permanent fog. One helpful approach is to find journal, blog or other well-written articles that describe how someone attempted to solve (or hopefully solved) a similar problem.

While the family will be different, looking at a similar family in the same location and time period may give you insights into your own problem.

25 August 2014

Ignoring the Little Snippets?

Do you have a short period of time in your relative's life that you know where they were but have not investigated because "it probably won't tell you anything?"

Take a look at those time periods. One of my ancestral families spent about five years in Kentucky after immigrating from Germany only to leave for Illinois where they permanently settled. Records on them in Kentucky provided several key details about their relationships and life that were not answered in records in Illinois or Germany.

Those little gaps of time may be crucial.

24 August 2014

Did An Illness Change the Situation?

Even if an illness or injury didn't cause your ancestor's immediate demise, it could have thrown the family into a difficult situation, both financially and emotionally. Families may have had to split up because the father could no longer work and and support all the children or children may have had to quit school early in order to support the family.

Sometimes there are family stories of these situations and sometimes there are not.

23 August 2014

Shades of Literacy

The question of your ancestor's literacy may not be as simple as he was or wasn't. There is the ability to write a name, speak the language, read the language, and write in the language. And even within those abilities, there are ranges of abilities.

And your ancestor may have been "literate" in one language, but not in the language of the country to where he immigrated.

Some aspects of our ancestors' lives can't be answered with a simple yes or no.

22 August 2014

Those Three Dots

When transcribing legal documents, researchers sometimes leave out lengthy portions that are repetitive or do not contain any detail they feel is relevant. When leaving something out of a transcription make certain to use ellipses (...) to indicate that something has been left out.

That way someone else will know that something has been omitted.

And you will also know you've left something out if you go back and review your notes long after they've gotten cold.

21 August 2014

$5 Webinar Sale Back until 25 August

Due to popular demand, we have brought back our $5 webinar sales now through 25 August. If you've not seen our list of topics, a complete list and ordering instructions are available here.

We have a variety of topics and our presentation is informal with a focus on increasing your skill level and knowledge.

Download is immediate and you can view the presentation as many times as you want.