Discover Your Ancestors in Newspapers 1690-Today!
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21 July 2014

Out of Order Recordings

Record offices usually record items in the order in which they are brought into the office, not the order in which they took place. For this reason a variety of records may be recorded out of chronological order. When manually searching birth, marriage, deed, death, and other records, look a little after the time when you expect to find it.

It may have been recorded several months (or longer) after it happened.

20 July 2014

They Are Not As Interested As You Are

Not everyone who submits DNA to the "determine your ethnicity" type of sites or databases is really interested in the details of their heritage beyond generalities. You may find that "matches" on those websites simply do not contact requests.

Just like some submitters to trees do not respond either. For some people, work or obligations involving living family members, have to take priority.

And for others the interest in their history is fleeting.

19 July 2014

Would Those Wrong Names Be Right in Another Place?

Those "wrong" names may simply be in the wrong place. One branch of one of my families has mixed up the maiden name of the mother with the married surname of the daughter. The confused branch descends from one of the mother's later marriages and had little contact with this daughter. They remembered the last name but put it in the wrong place.

18 July 2014

Residential Clues in Deeds

When reading that deed where your relative sold real property, pay close attention to where they acknowledged the deed to be their own true, lawful act. The text of the deed may (or may not) list where the resided when the deed was drawn up, but the acknowledgement will indicate where that acknowledgement was made.

And that can be a clue.

17 July 2014

Census Dates Matter

While any census can contain incorrect information, keep in mind that census questions were to be answered as of the date of the census, commonly referred to as the "census date."

The 1910 census for your ancestor's residence may have been taken on 11 May 1910, but the questions were to have been answered as of 15 April 1910.

Some censustakers were more concerned about accuracy than others and some informants may have understood the "census date" versus "actual date" better than others.

16 July 2014

About Where Did You Get That?

If you enter in your genealogical database that a relative died in "about 1847," put down something in your sources or notes as to how you arrived at that approximate date.

There's a place for random dates and it's not genealogy (grin!).

15 July 2014

Appraised in Old Ten

Clerks love to abbreviate. Sometimes those abbreviations are common and sometimes they are not. The phrase "Appraised in Old Ten" appears in the 1756 estate inventory of Ephraim Puffer from Stowe, Massachusetts. The reference likely is to "old tender," referring to the money used to value the property.

It does not mean that all the property was in an "old tin" shed (grin!).

14 July 2014

Security at the Courthouse

If possible, find out what level of screening is required before entering a courthouse to search local records. You may save yourself some time and frustration if you prepare for any screenings before you leave your car.

And while you are at it, find out what hours the facility is open, and whether cameras and personal scanners can be used to copy documents.

13 July 2014

Without that Umlaut

German words sometimes contain letters ä, ö, or ü. Sometimes when the umlauts are not used an additional "e" is used, resulting in "ae," "oe," or "ue." Because of this Müller can be styled as Mueller.

Keep this in mind when researching those German last names.

12 July 2014

An Estate for Life

If your relative's ownership in a piece of real property is referred to as a life estate, then typically that means they could use the property during their lifetime but could not sell, mortgage or bequeath the property. Usually someone who holds a life estate estate in property cannot transfer that ownership to anyone else.

11 July 2014

Grandma's Funny Words...

When writing your "notes" about relatives that you remember, write down those words they said that "weren't quite proper," like "et" for "ate" and "het" for "heated." If Grandma had an unusual way of pronouncing a certain word, make a note of that--but do so in a kind way without being judgemental.

Grandma always said "bullnozer" for "bull dozer" and "manure" was always "bnure."

And even more importantly, record or note the way Grandma said certain family names. That can be a direct help to your research.

10 July 2014

Ask When You Know the Answer

Sometimes genealogists want to get as much new information as possible when interviewing relatives. That's fine, but asking questions when you "know the answer" is a good idea as well. You may trigger memories that might not have been triggered in any other way.

And it may turn out that you really don't "know" what you think you "know."

09 July 2014

Some Context?

Before asking some one to help you figure out what something means or says, ask if you are giving them enough to help you. That usually means a copy of the entire document (not just the one little word you can't understand), what the document is from, and where you located it.

I had an individual in a seminar quote 3 words from a 18th century deed and ask me what it meant. I nicely responded that without some more information ("context") that it was difficult to interpret or easy to give the wrong answer.

Help people who can help you by providing them with adequate detail.

08 July 2014

What Have You Written Lately?

If you have been accumulating information and records, when was the last time you stopped gathering and wrote about what you have located? Don't forget to include where you obtained the information, a transcription or detailed summary of it, and a discussion of what you think it means.

You may be surprised what discoveries you make when you really get into writing up what you already have.

07 July 2014

Don't Just Download

You found an image of a document on a website--it looks like a copy of an original document and it very well may be. But....ask yourself:

  • just what is this document?
  • is it a county, state, federal, or other type of record?
  • could I find it again if I needed to?
There are a variety of other questions as well, but these will get you started.

And make certain you save it with a file name that makes sense. 

06 July 2014

Looking At Page Numbers

Microfilmers and digitizers are human. When "reading" books or other printed material online or on microfilm, I always look at the page numbers to make certain they are sequential. I discovered a certain website that missed one image out of a thousand page book--of course it was the page I needed. When reading from one image to the next, it did not make sense.

Sure enough a gander at the pages indicated one was missing.

It happens.

05 July 2014

Could a Modern Directory Give You an Old Clue?

If the last name on which you are working is not all that common and you can't find where the family was from, have you considered searching a modern directory to see where that name is clustered today?

That's not evidence that your ancestor was from that area, but it may give you a place to look for your missing ancestor.

04 July 2014

Jump Your Research With Newspapers

Our sponsor, GenealogyBank,  is offering a discount for new subscribers. Take a look and see what newspaper discoveries await.

The Purpose of the Record

The first time you use any "new" record, ask yourself:

  • what was the purpose of this record?
  • who was the intended audience?
  • how necessary was it for the information to be accurate?
Maps, directories, newspapers, and other items are all materials that genealogists use and ones that we sometimes think were created only for us.

They weren't.

03 July 2014

Is the Time Period Correct?

I recently purchased a post card on Ebay of a church my family attended. When it arrived, I realized that my family probably wasn't attending at the time the picture was taken. The building has not changed much and it's still a great picture.

The point is that when researching always ask yourself if the time period is right and if you are correctly aware of the historical events taking place. Sometimes being a few years off doesn't make a difference, but sometimes it does. Churches merge and split apart, county lines change, streets get renamed, etc. 

And if you never stop to think "is this right for the time period," you'll never know.

02 July 2014

Is That a Modern Translation of a Not-So-Modern Word

Online translators serve a purpose, but remember that the documents genealogists usually use are not modern documents. There may be terms in the document that are no longer used or no longer mean what they used to mean. If a translation doesn't make sense, or even if it does, consider having a human who is familiar with older terms translate the document as well.

01 July 2014

Success in the Margins

Even if you've read the transcription, the original image may contain more clues as this 1940 census enumeration shows.

Some clerks and enumerators love the margins.

30 June 2014

What Happened to Your Ex-Step-Grandmother?

Genealogists typically research those "step" ancestors to whom their biological ancestor remained married until death, but what about those whose marriage ended in divorce?

Is it possible that researching that "former" relative could help you research your actual ancestor?

29 June 2014

How Fixed Were Last Names?

Once research into your family's past progresses to before 1900, your ancestor's last name might not be as "fixed" as we think of last names being today. In certain regions of Europe last names changed from one generation to another or were tied to the property on which an ancestor lived (particularly in certain rural areas).

Don't assume that your ancestor's name was "fixed."

And don't assume that it changed either.

Learn about your ancestor's country of origin and determine what the common practices were in that region.

28 June 2014

Did My Ancestor Live With Their Guardian?

If your ancestor was a child when their parents died, one or more guardians may have been appointed. One guardian may have been for the child's inheritance (or estate) and the other guardian may have been  for their person (the one who had physical custody). In many cases, one guardian served both purposes, but there may be instances where two separate guardians were appointed.

And things can be different if only one parent dies--especially if the mother survives.

Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne Research Trip

Join me for 3 plus days of research at one of the largest genealogical libraries in the United States, the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in August of 2014. Additional details are on our web site.

See you there!

27 June 2014

Write Down What You Haven't

Don't neglect to write down the stories of your immediate family and yourself and include those as a part of your family history. Those unwritten stories are just as fragile as other items we spend years to locate.

Most of us wish our ancestors had left such stories behind. Pay it forward and leave some yourself.

26 June 2014

Could An Old Index Help?

FamilySearch,, and other sites create their own indexes to certain records. There may also be "older" or "original" indexes to these same records. The National Archives created many card indexes to certain records, particularly in 1930s and 1940s. FamilySearch has digitized some of these card indexes and put them on their website.

Passenger lists for Philadelphia are an excellent case in point where there are "new" indexes and "old" card ones:

The first two are older indexes. The last two are newer ones. 

25 June 2014

Get It From All Sides

Yesterday's Tip ("Flip It") generated quite a few comments.

One was that tombstones need to be photographed or viewed from all sides--not just the front. There may be inscriptions on more than one side. Don't just get a picture of the "front" and assume that you are done.

Oh, take a look at the top as well.

24 June 2014

Flip It

Do you look at the reverse side of every document used in your research? Newspaper clippings can have clues as to the date and place of the paper. Court documents can have clues as to when a statement was recorded or filed. There's a back side to every piece of paper.

Make certain you are using it.

23 June 2014

Widows May Not Be

There was a time when a significant social stigma was attached to being divorced. It is very possible that a relative who is listed as a widow in the 1900 census was not a widow at all, but perhaps either separated or divorced from their spouse.

22 June 2014

Heirs and Legatees

Legal definitions can sometimes be difficult to pin down as they can change over time and can vary from state to state.

However, usually heirs of a deceased person are related to them by blood or legal adoption. The legatees of a deceased person are given property in that deceased person's will.

State statute in effect at the time the reference used should clarify if there is any ambiguity.

21 June 2014

Are You Using Multiple Sites?

If you rely on one or two sites for your "online genealogical information" consider branching out. Searching on a limited number of sites can really limit your research. When was the last time you looked a at a "new to you site" for your research?

20 June 2014

Use a Map as a Memory Prompt

I've been looking at the 1900-1940 US census enumeration district maps that were recently released on FamilySearch. When I located the maps for where I grew up I realized that the maps would be  great way to start a conversation. For the rural area where I grew up, I was trying to think who lived in what house. The only problem for me was that my memory doesn't go back to 1940.

But printing out a map for where your relative grew up or lives could be a great way to jog their memory.

19 June 2014

Did That Marriage Actually Take Place?

Just because a couple took out a marriage license does not mean that they actually were married. Make certain that the license was returned along with complete information regarding the date and place of the marriage. Some licenses were not returned because the marriage never actually took place.