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Last Name

18 April 2014

Those Blasted Abbreviations and Scribbles

Don't neglect to copy or scan those "marks," "wiggles, and "annotations" that appear to be doodles on a document or a church record. They could be an abbreviation or annotation that has significance. Try and get the entire page from the book or other records that have the same or similar markings.

Then see if you can find someone to help you interpret those markings. They may be scribbles or they may have some meaning. Doodles aren't always doodles.

17 April 2014

Is Your Only Source An Online Tree?

If your only source for a statement is an online genealogy "tree," it's best to consider that statement as tentative and determine what original records are suggested by that statement.

Searching FamilySearch Webinar Released

My recent webinar on FamilySearch focused on using and interpreting databases versus image sets, navigating images, and search techniques. It's geared towards advanced beginners and intermediate researchers, or anyone who has used FamilySearch some, but is uncertain that they're searching correctly or wondered if there were other ways of doing things. The download of the presentation is only $6 (there is no handout).

Note: If you were in this presentation or registered for it and missed it, please let me know (  if you did not receive a complimentary download link. That's something registrants for the "live" session get at no additional charge.

16 April 2014

Dating Deeds and Deed Dates

There may be several dates associated with the land record for your ancestor. Make certain you understand which is which and how they fit together:

  • Date of execution--the date the deed is signed.
  • Date of acknowledgement--the date the deed is acknowledged--usually in open court.
  • Date of recording--the date the deed is recorded.
Significant gaps may indicate something--or may just indicate your ancestor took a while to get things done. In some cases, there may not be a date of acknowledgement. 

15 April 2014

All Those Marriage Dates

There may be several dates associated with a "marriage." There may be a date of the license, the date of a bond, the date the license was returned, the date the license was recorded, and the date of the marriage.

Not all locations have all these records, but make the distinction between them so that you are clear. Getting the bond or getting the license does not guarantee that there was a marriage---just that there was an impending marriage. Things can happen to cause a marriage not to take place.

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Good luck with your research

14 April 2014

If There Was a Mortgage, Do You Look for a Release?

If you find a record that your ancestor mortgaged property, do you look for a release indicating that it was paid off? Sometimes these releases are recorded in a separate series of books just for this purpose, sometimes they are recorded along with the deeds, and sometimes an annotation is made on the original record of the mortgage that it has been paid off.

13 April 2014

Lookers Have More Luck

Sometimes finding things isn't so much luck as it is the fact that some people just keep looking. A relative died in 1902 and I thought I had finished researching her years ago. In working on other families, I discovered an online newspaper index for a town twenty-five miles from where she died.

Sure enough, there was an obituary for my ancestor who died in 1902 which I did not expect. Interestingly enough, searches for twenty-five other relatives turned up nothing.

Sometimes the fact that we keep looking makes it seem like luck when it's actually just perseverance.

12 April 2014

Is There More Than Just a Will?

Early in my research, I quit when I found an ancestor's will. That was a big mistake. There can be accountings, inventories, petitions, and a variety of records that were created in the settlement of an ancestor's estate.

Don't stop when you've found the will. That may be just the tip of the iceberg.

11 April 2014

Get Beyond Your Little Circle

It is difficult when your research moves into a new area and a new time period. But when it does, realize that laws, sources, culture, and other things may change. If you're up to speed on Illinois research in 1850, it's a different world researching in Virginia in 1750.

Don't be afraid to learn about new areas but find out what is similar and different between the areas instead of assuming it.

10 April 2014

Men In the Paper Long After They Are Dead

A widow can be listed as Mrs. Thomas Smith in a newspaper or other published reference, even after his death. Don't stop searching for a man's name in published newspaper accounts after his obituary, death and probate notices have been published. His wife could very easily be referred to as Mrs. Thomas Smith fifteen years after his death.

09 April 2014

Down a Rabbit Hole?

It is easy to get sidetracked when searching for information on an elusive relative. And while it is important to locate information on the extended family, if you are really stuck on great-great-grandma spending two days on her fifth cousin twice removed probably is not going to help you on her. There's extended family and then there's extended family.

Concentrating on her relatives that are a little more closely related may help.

08 April 2014

Are Your Wheels Spinning?

All of at some point in our genealogical lives have "gathered everything" we could on a last name or a person. But at a certain point, one has to stop gathering and start asking:

  • do I have the same person?
  • are these materials consistent?
  • what other records do these items suggest?
  • what are my research goals?
Sometimes when it feels like you are spinning your wheels, it's time to stop gunning the motor, get out of the vehicle, and see if there's some way to dig yourself out.

Hitting the gas again may just get you deeper in that spot. You may not have a brick may have  mud hole. 

07 April 2014

Our Sponsor-GenealogyBank

A big thanks to our sponsor GenealogyBank. We appreciate their continued support of Genealogy Tip of the Day!

Imperfect Citations are Not the End of the World

It is easier for you to analyze information and determine how reliable it probably is if you know from where you got it. All data comes from somewhere. Your citation should get you back to the specific item from where you obtained the information. It is not the end of the world if you don't have the form "correct" or if you include too much in your citation. 

As long as you can easily get back to that page in the census from what you have written down, not having the enumeration district is not the end of the world. 

And if you need help with citations, try asking a more experienced genealogist for help or posting to a message board or genealogy page on Facebook.

06 April 2014

No One Else May Have Solved It Either

You can search compiled trees all you want. You can Google search until your fingers bleed. You can search, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank,, and every other site and not find the answer to your problem.

It maybe that no one else has solved your problem and that the answer rests in an unpublished courthouse record someplace.

Sometimes no one else has solved it because the answers not easy to find. And sometimes no one has solved it because the answer is offline.

05 April 2014

New Webinars-Illinois, FamilySearch, Migration Trails

We are offering three new webinars over the next two weeks: Illinois, FamilySearch, and Migration Trails.Details are on my site.

List Your Assumptions

Assumptions serve purposes in research, but if not careful they can cross the line from being an assumption to becoming a fact. If you are stuck on an ancestor, write down everything you know about him from memory (place of birth, place of marriage, place of death, occupation, educational level, social class, religion, etc. etc.) without any references to anything.

Then go back and see what you have some documentation for. Statements for which you have no documentation may very well be assumptions about the ancestor that are incorrect.

04 April 2014

Moving Away for a Short Time?

My wife's family came to Rock Island, Illinois from Belgium just in time to be listed there in the 1880 census. The family is enumerated in that county in every extant federal census taken before their deaths.

For some time I assumed they always lived in Illinois. It turns out they lived on a farm across the river in Scott County, Iowa, for a few years in the 1880s.

Never assume that people didn't move just because they are listed in the same location in two consecutive census records.

03 April 2014

Where Did Grandma Get Her Information?

Grandma "knew" where and when she was born because she was told by someone, not because she remembered.

That's something you should remember every time you see a place of birth given for someone that's provided by someone who was not there at the birth.

And it can be even worse if the person providing the information on Grandma's place of birth wasn't even born until Grandma was near middle aged.

02 April 2014

Guardianship for Child Does Not Mean Parents are Dead

Your relative leaves his grandchildren $200 each in his 1824 will, naming an apparent neighbor as their guardian, pending approval of the court. You cannot assume that the parents of the grandchildren are deceased. It could very well be that the grandfather did not trust the father of the children to "do right" in regards to the children's inheritance and naming the guardian served as an "end run" around the son-in-law.

01 April 2014

Picture Provenance

Before posting those digital images to your website, blog, or online tree, consider including some source information as an actual part of the image. Metadata can be ignored. Filenames can get changed. Including the source as a part of the image makes it easy for those who want to be conscientious about their sources to do so.

There's an example here.

31 March 2014

Were Those Adopted Children Related?

Don't always assume that "adopted" children were unrelated to the family. There could have been some relationship between the adopted child and the parents. The child could have been the grandchild of the couple or a child of a sibling or other family member. But there's also nothing saying that the adopted child was related either. It's just something to think about.

30 March 2014

Genealogy Lessons From the Dog

Sometimes we need to be persistent in our research--like the dog that just won't let go of a bone.

However there is a flip side to that--when the dog refuses to let me trim off those little mats of hair she gets. Sometimes there my be an idea or an assumption that is near and dear to us, but is in the best interest of our research to let go.

It's fine to go at your research like a dog goes after a bone. Just don't hold on tightly to things that you really need to slough off.

Our Sponsor: GenealogyBank's Offer for Fans/Readers

A big thanks to our sponsor GenealogyBank. We appreciate their continued support of Genealogy Tip of the Day!

29 March 2014

Estate Inventories As Clues...

Inventories of your ancestor's estate can not only give you an idea of his worth at the time of his death, but they can (among other things) tell you who his associates were (look at who owed him money or whom he owed money) and what his probable occupation was.

Inventories are more than simply lists of items.

28 March 2014

Iceberg Genealogy

View every document or record that you find as an iceberg where the item you have located is only that portion which is viewable.

Underlying every document is a series of events that lead up to its creation. Think about all the events that had to happen to cause that record to have been created. Did those events create records or suggest details about your ancestor's life?

You've got the tip of the iceberg. Just don't forget that portion of it underneath the surface.

Online Search Strategies Webinar Released

We are very excited about the release of our webinar that had the largest online attendance ever: "Online Search Strategies." The presentation focuses on organizing your search process to avoid repetitive searching and for more effective troubleshooting. Visit this blog post for additional details.

27 March 2014

Get All Your Soundex Codes At Once

This site is one of the few that will allow you to enter in a list of surnames and generate a table of codes for those names. Neat little page.

Heirs and Assigns Forever...

"I give this property to John Smith and his heirs and assigns forever."

The phrase "heirs and assigns forever" means that John can "assign" (sell by deed or give by will) the property or, if he has not done that by his death, then John's heirs will have title to the property (depending upon state statute and common legal practice at the time). 

That's a rather simplified version of "heirs and assigns" forever, but "heirs" and "assigns" mean different things.

And the genealogist who doesn't concern themself with the definitions runs the risk of drawing conclusions that are not necessarily true.

26 March 2014

Not Just the Same Last Name

When looking for possible relatives of your ancestor who appears to have simply been dropped off of a UFO into Ohio in 1814, keep yourself open to the possibility that he may have traveled to that location with:

  • his mother's relatives
  • his wife's brothers
  • his sister's husband and their family
All of these individuals would have had a logical connection to your ancestor and different last names. The problem is that these last names are often ones that we do not know.

What's Primary or Secondary?

In current genealogy terminology, we say that information is primary or secondary. Generally speaking primary information is provided by someone who has firsthand knowledge of the "item" and is in a condition to accurately remember the information.

Otherwise it's secondary.

Classifying information as primary or secondary is no guarantee of whether it is accurate or not accurate. That's why we analyze and interpret what we find.

25 March 2014

Ignoring Informants?

Do you pay close attention to the informants listed on death certificates and other records that include this information? Many times the informant is a relative whose relationship is clearly know. Other times it may be a neighbor, long time friend, or someone else.

If your relative died in a place "all alone," take a close look at the name of the informant if you have not already done so. Research that person. They may be someone totally unconnected to your family.

Or there could be a connection of which you are not yet aware.

24 March 2014

Crossing the Line From Assumption to Fact

On your "brick wall" problem, have you written down things which you have assumed and those things for which you at least have one source? 

One source doesn't mean something is correct, but when we don't realize that assumptions are assumptions and start to believe them, then we've got the makings for a "brick wall."

23 March 2014

Have You Considered the Geography?

Two dimensional maps have the limitation of being two dimensional. Would your ancestor have gone to do business in the town that was closest on the map or that other town five miles further away that did not require a trip over the mountain, across the river, etc.

You live in a three dimensional world. Your ancestor did, too--in more ways than one.