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19 October 2014

A License Gives Permission

If the marriage license is the only information indicating that a couple married, keep your mind open to the possibility that the marriage may never have actually taken place. A marriage record documents the actual marriage, a license documents the intention to get married.

18 October 2014

Try Writing Out Transcriptions

I was having difficulty transcribing a rather difficult to read 18th century will from Massachusetts. Instead of typing it on my computer, I wrote out my transcription by hand. It might not have been the fastest method, but it slowed me down and forced me to concentrate on what the words actually meant instead of seeing how fast I could type it. And thinking about the words helped to interpret some of the hard to read phrases.

17 October 2014

Failure to Mention Does Not Mean Failure To Exist

Your relative may not have mentioned all his children in his will. Some wills will include a statement naming specific children who have been "left out" of the will saying they receive nothing or only giving them a token amount--which serves the purpose of indicating that they were not forgotten by the parent. But other wills will include no such clause mentioning "disinherited" children. They may simply be not listed because there was a falling out with the parent or the child had already received their share.

Don't assume that your ancestor named all his children in his will. It's possible that he didn't. 

16 October 2014

Tools of the Trade

What do you know about the tools of your ancestor's trade or occupation? Learning what tools were commonly used in your ancestor's occupation may help you to interpret estate and other records correctly. I'm reasonably familiar with most types of farm equipment based on my own background, but other occupations sometimes leave me confused.

A recent blog post involving one of my ancestors who was a weaver reminded me of the importance of learning about the tools your ancestor probably used.

Our Ten Most Popular Tips

These are the ten most popular tips since Genealogy Tip of the Day was started in December of 2008:

15 October 2014

There's More than One Context

When you find a person of interest in a census, do you look at all the contexts in which that person appears? There are not as many details in pre-1850 census records, but for enumerations after that date, do you look at how many of your ancestors neighbors are from the same state or country as he? Do you look and see how many homes in the neighborhood are rented, owned or mortgaged? How common is his occupation? How common is it for the wife to have an occupation outside of the home?

Not all census enumerations provide these details, but there are multiple layers of context that can be easy to overlook.

14 October 2014

Get Beyond the Abstract

Are you using an abstract or a summary of a document? Abstracts and summaries by their nature leave out details. The 1716 will of Thomas Sargent of Malden, Massachusetts, mentions all his children by name. But it also indicates why he gave his children what he did, what he had already given them, and a few other details about their life than an abstract may not include.

Abstracts and summaries are meant to give researchers an idea of what is in a document or record. Sometimes there's more information hiding in there.

13 October 2014

Do You Collect Ancestral Signatures?

This is the 1716 signature of Lydia Sargent of Malden, Mass., There are times when comparing signatures can help to connect two individuals with the same name in different locations. And there are times when it is simply interesting to have an image of an ancestor's signature when pictures of that person are not available. Not all of our ancestors were literate, sometimes illiterate people left behind marks or signatures, and ancestors with no property likely didn't leave behind a signature at all. But it's worth a look.

Registration for CSI-Genealogy 2015 Begins on 13 October

Registration for the 2015 CSI-Genealogy being held at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois, begins on 13 October. Registration details are here. More information on CSI-Genealogy can be found on our site.

12 October 2014

Language Borders are Fluid

Did your ancestor speak more than one language or is it possible that he spoke the language you didn't "expect him to?" Political borders in Europe changed frequently for some time and the borders in regards to the spoken language are even more fluid--despite what the official language of the area is.

Some borders are more fluid than others. Language and cultural practices don't often change immediately when a political boundary is crossed.

11 October 2014

Have You Written Your Own Stories?

In addition to documenting the lives of your ancestors, have you written down information about yourself? Not just the bare dates and facts, but more personal details about yourself-things you wish your ancestors had written about themselves.

It can be a good activity when you're stuck on a brick wall.

And your descendants will thank you for it.

10 October 2014

Siblings of the Immigrants?

Two of my wife's ancestors immigrated to the United States as adults with young children, settling in Chicago. For some reason, I never thought to look and see if either of them had siblings who immigrated to the United States. After some additional searching, I discovered that one brother of the wife also immigrated to Chicago--and died without children. 

It's possible that his estate settlement will mention some relatives that I cannot locate. 

09 October 2014

Local Records at the State Facility?

When was the last time you checked the appropriate state or provincial website to see if they had compiled indexes or finding aids to records you could use?

Many state or provincial level archives have created finding aids or partial indexes to records in their collection.

Some of these are indexes to state or provincial records and some are indexes to local records that have been deposited with state or provincial authorities.

08 October 2014

No Junior Here

Some families use "senior" and "junior" to distinguish between older and younger individuals with the same name. Don't assume that the "senior" is the father of "junior." Don't assume either that just because a father and a son had the same name that they had to use "senior" and "junior" to distinguish between them. Some families didn't.

07 October 2014

High School Graduation Pictures in Newspapers?

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 1932  

Paper: San Francisco Chronicle;
digital image from

Some newspapers published pictures of local high school graduates. While the pictures in newspapers are not always the best quality, it may be the only picture a researcher has. Some small town papers may even put post-graduation goals of students in the paper as well.

06 October 2014

Is There a Letter from A Great-Grandchild in the Pension File?

Pension files for American Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans frequently contain letters from descendants looking for information on their military ancestor. While the content of these letters can vary and may be inaccurate, they can provide some sketchy information on grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the veteran, including their name, address and relationship to the veteran.

And some were trying to get bounty land that their ancestor didn't claim. Those attempts usually failed.

An Offer from Our Sponsor-GenealogyBank for $4.67 a month

Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank . We thank them for their continued support. They are offering an annual subscription at a price that works out to $4.67 a month. I use my GenealogyBank subscription daily

05 October 2014

Was it Germane?

When considering the reliability of information in any record, court testimony, deposition, or affidavit, consider what aspect of the information were really important to the case or situation at hand and which aspects were not. If a couple has been married for over ten years and is getting divorced, does the judge really care if they were married in April of 1823 or March of 1823? If the couple had no children until June of 1824, whether the date was in April of March of 1823 really doesn't matter to the court. It may matter to the genealogist, but that's a separate issue.

CSI-Genealogy 2015 Registrations Begin 13 October

Michael John Neill, the person behind Genealogy Tip of the Day, is one of the four course coordinators for CSI-Genealogy, being held in May/June 2015 in Galesburg, Illinois. More details can be found on our web page.

Registration begins on 13 October.

More Than One Relationship?

Is that son-in-law of your ancestor also his cousin by marriage? Is the Justice of the Peace who attests to your ancestor's signature on several documents the man of the same name who was his neighbor thirty years ago in a different state? Is your ancestor's first cousin also his third cousin on another side of the family? Just because two people are related in one way does not mean that they are not related in another.

Those relationships may be biological, by marriage, or through some other connection.

Never assume there is just one.

04 October 2014

No Punctuation

Many old documents contain little, if any, punctuation. When an item contains a list of children, make certain you are interpreting names correctly and ask yourself  "is there another reasonable way" this document could be interpreted?

03 October 2014

They Can Drag On

Court cases can drag on for years and in some locations are filed when they are settled. This may take place after some of the original litigants have died. I knew my one ancestor died by 1812 and a case involving him in Virginia drug on until 1827--which is when it was indexed. Had I assumed my guy couldn't be mentioned in an 1827 court case, I would have missed the reference.

02 October 2014

Put Aside the Compilations

I'm working on a family from 18th century Virginia. Some compilations on this family have directed to me to original records such as deeds and wills. However, in reviewing the conclusions that have been made from these materials, lifespans do not quite fit, people are having children at unusual ages, and people are signing legal documents before the age of majority.

It's time for me to put aside the compilations and conclusions that others have reached and work with the original materials from scratch. I'm thankful that the compilations directed me to a variety of original records, but I need to quit trying to make the documents fit the conclusions that others have made.

Could it be time for you to do that on a family as well?

01 October 2014

Front and Back

When you are making digital copies of loose papers from a court packet, pension file or similar document, do you indicate what image is the front and back of the same piece of paper?

Later it can be difficult to know "what goes with what" if you simply make images and don't make it clear what was the front and back of the same piece of paper.

30 September 2014

Civil War Era Federal Taxes

If you don't find your ancestor as having paid an income tax in the Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for 1862-1866, don't be surprised. The annual income necessary to pay the tax was $600. There were taxes on a variety of other items as discussed briefly in the National Archives finding aid to these materials here on FamilySearch.

29 September 2014

Children's Civil War Pension

Do you have a relative with minor who died in the US Civil War while fighting for the Union? Records of that child's pension based upon the father's service can provide significant information on the child which may include date of birth, name of mother, and other key information.

The children's pension would only have been received by the child while he or she was a minor, but the application and documentation could be key to your research.

Our Sponsor GenealogyBank

Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank . We thank them for their continued support. They are offering an annual subscription at a price that works out to $4.67 a month. I use my GenealogyBank subscription daily

28 September 2014

Giving Credit

Do you give credit to others who have helped you with your research--perhaps someone shared information with you, gave you valuable research suggestions, or shared family ephemera with you? It's the right thing to do and it makes these individuals more likely to help or share with you in the future. 

27 September 2014

Do You Look for a Deed After the Widow Dies?

One of my ancestors died in Maryland in 1817 leaving some real property to his wife. It dawned on me today while looking for information on other family in the same area that I should look for some sort of quit claim deed executed by her heirs after her death. There may not have been a probate, but her heirs may have quit claimed the property after she died.

Meyers-Orts Webinar Released

We've just finished processing the recording on my presentation the Meyers Orts gazetteer. It's aimed at those who have been hesitant to use this finding aid to 19th and 20th century German places because of the language and the type.
Meyers-Orts entry for Wiesens.
 Image courtesy of 

Our approach is down-to-earth and hands-on. We don't expect you to learn German to use this gazetteer, but we will show you how to find out where the local post office was--and the nearby church and other villages.

The presentation can be ordered here--download is immediate.

26 September 2014

Was It the Start or the Finish?

A newspaper may mention that your ancestor's divorce was being heard at the current term of the court. Do not necessarily conclude that they were divorced. Just because the divorce was filed or proceedings had begun does not mean the process was completed and the couple actually divorced. 

There are other times where a notice that something is going to happen does necessarily mean that it will happen. 

Sort of like how not everyone who gets a marriage license gets married either.

25 September 2014

Do You Read All Those Estate Receipts?

Reading through estate accountings can be boring at times. However, one never knows when a comment about a bill or account balance will be genealogically significant. One 1880 era estate settlement contained a reference to a doctor bill for "attendance at birth of child." 

There was no name or gender listed, but at least it confirmed the birth. 

24 September 2014

My "Now Wife" Doesn't Mean There Were Two

If a male relative uses the phrase "my now wife" in his will, it does not necessarily mean that he was married more than once. A will may indicate that property is only to go to the wife at time the will was written. Frequently the phrase is used so that if for some reason the will signer's current wife dies and he marries again, the subsequent wife does not inherit the property in question.

Often this is done to guarantee the property goes to the first wife or the children the testator has with her instead of a second wife and her children (who may not be children of the testator).

23 September 2014

The Vague Nature of Relationships

In some families, it can be difficult to remember exactly how someone is related. When you are analyzing statements made by someone you have interviewed, keep in mind that your informant may have gotten confused about which grandparent a certain neighbor was related to, whether the relationship was by birth or by marriage, or whether it was the husband or wife in a certain family who was the actual "relative."

22 September 2014

Are They Dependent?

Always contemplate the probable informant on any record or document you obtain. You may have five different documents that indicate Riley Rampley was born in 1835 in Coshocton County, Ohio, but if those different documents all had the same probable informant, you have "different" documents that were all dependent on the same person.

In which case they really may not be as different as you think.