Discover Your Ancestors in Newspapers 1690-Today!
Last Name

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.

20 August 2014

Get the Fragile Stuff

We have mentioned it before...but it is worth repeating.

Have you accessed and utilized the most fragile sources of genealogical information there are? Human memories are the most fragile of sources and often the ones most likely to contain information not written elsewhere.

Ask those questions before it is too late.

19 August 2014

Guardianships With Probates?

This file is in the probate records for Middlesex County, Massachusetts. It's actually a file with guardianship information on Jonathan Puffer and his siblings (hence the &al reference). Sometimes guardianships are filed in a separate series of record and sometimes they are grouped with probates for deceased people.

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.

18 August 2014

Use the Census to Transcribe Names

I'm working on transcriptions of pardon records for two men who were incarcerated in the Joliet, Illinois, prison in the 1850s/1860s. There are signatures that are somewhat difficult to read. In an attempt to get a better read on the names, I've searched for them in the census using the parts of the name that I can read. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean I have the right person or the right name.

But when I can't read the name of the person spearheading the pardon request and I find a name "close" to that in the census enumerated as an attorney, there's a good chance it's the right person.

17 August 2014

My Blogs

For those of you who did not know, this is not my only genealogy blog. Here's list with the links. Enjoy!
You can subscribe to any of the above blogs for free.

A Source You Don't Often Use

Are there sources you avoid using because they are "difficult" to use, interpret, or access? Is it possible you are hampering your research efforts by doing so? Is there a way to learn about the records you don't understand or another way to access them?

16 August 2014

Did Your Relative Do Time?

A stint in prison can explain why your ancestor is not enumerated with his family in the census. Court records or newspapers may contain additional details about why your ancestor landed in prison. State prisons (or the state archives) may have additional records. And, it is also possible your relative ended up divorced over his incarceration--resulting in more records.

15 August 2014

Were They As Illiterate As You Think?

Don't assume without some conclusive evidence that your ancestors were illiterate. A relative of my wife's was in an Illinois prison in the early 1860s. Records indicate he was a farm laborer and a carpenter. There is his pardon file was a four page letter he had written to his brother.

If I had never seen the letter, I would have assumed he was illiterate. Apparently he wasn't.

14 August 2014

Does the State Archives Have Some Military Records?

US researchers typically think of the National Archives as being the place to obtain records related to military service. Some state archives also have records related to your ancestor's military career. Don't let you search stop in Washington, DC. The appropriate state archives may have some enlistment materials, muster rolls, etc.

Never hurts to take a look.

13 August 2014

Prison Records

If your ancestor was in a state prison, have you looked at the state archives to determine if they have records of former prisoners. The prison itself may have records as well, but older materials may have been sent to the state archives.

12 August 2014

Saying Uncle

Some terms used in family history discussions with relatives may not be as specific as we would like. Be careful before becoming one hundred percent convinced that there is a biological relationship between two individuals. Referring to someone as an "uncle" may mean that the "uncle" is:

  • the brother of the person's mother or father
  • the husband of a sister of the person's mother or father
  • the brother of the person's grandmother or grandfather (or great-grandparent)
  • the husband of a sister of the person's mother or father (or great-grandparent)
  • a close male friend of the person's parents

11 August 2014

A Brown Crown

The probate for Ephraim Puffer in Stow, Massachusetts, makes one reference to the last name of his widow Mary's new husband:  Crown. However, when viewing the records of the widow's father's probate settlement it become clear the last name was actually Brown.

I spent too much time looking for Crown because my research was based solely on the probate of her husband. When I decided to quit looking for Crowns and went back to researching the widow and her family of origin, I found the other reference.

Sometimes you have to look for someone else to find who you actually want.

10 August 2014

Have You Shared What You know?

Genealogists often require help (in large and small amounts) from other genealogists. Sometimes it is a quick lookup in a record and sometimes it is a more extensive "look" at a problem in order to get some advice.

Remember that the sharing goes both ways. Offer to help someone with a research problem, to take a picture of a tombstone, or to make a copy from a book that you have. 

Getting away from your own research problems and looking at someone else's often gives you insight into your own.

09 August 2014

Only For a Few Years

A couple of interest were first living as a married couple in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in the 1820 census. The wife's family is difficult to trace and no one of that surname is listed in the 1820 census in the location.

It is very possible that the bride's family lived in the county for a few years and then moved on, only staying in the area long enough for their daughter to meet and marry a local boy.

A Free E-Book from 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.

08 August 2014

What Made That Happen?

When a relative appears in a record or a document, determine what might have taken place to cause your ancestor to appear in that document or record. Would that event have caused other records to have been created?

For some records this may be obvious (for a death record--someone died). A search on GoogleBooks indicated a relative was pardoned--his name appears in a list of pardons granted during the year. But there may be an application for his pardon or other paperwork in order for the pardon to be approved. And that paperwork may contain more than his name and date which is all that appears on the list of approved pardons.

07 August 2014

Did They Move Back?

19th century migration in the United States is not always about heading west. Some families headed west only to return from whence they came. Some immigrants did not like the new area or found the connections to home strong enough to take them back.

One relative of my wife moved to Illinois in the 1840s with all his adult children and their families. After the Civil War, two of his sons returned to Ohio where they remained until their death.

06 August 2014

Contacted Smaller Libraries?

The problem many genealogists have with digital newspapers is that small papers are often not available in digital format. If there is a specific item of interest for which you have a date, have  you considered seeing if a local library in the area where the newspaper was published has the newspapers on microfilm and will search them for you?

They'd need a narrow estimate of a date, but some may respond to these requests via US mail or email. Google the name of the library and see if you can find contact information on their website.

05 August 2014

Is It A Signature or a Transcription?

There are times where a comparison of signatures is part of our analysis to determine if two people are the same person.

When such an analysis is a part of your research, make certain that what you think is the ancestor's signature is actually his signature. Is the signature you are looking at a transcription of part of a deed in a record book? Record copies at the courthouse in records before some type of image duplication was used are probably the clerk's rendering of the signature.

Two signatures you have for your ancestor may be an actual signature and the other may be a transcription.

04 August 2014


A twitter follower reminded me of another excellent tip in addition to "reading and thinking." Reading something out load may cause you to notice things that simply don't cross your mind when reading silently.

03 August 2014

A State Act Mentioning Your Ancestor

Is it possible that there was a special act of the state legislature involving your ancestor? Up through the 19th century, it was not uncommon for the state legislature to mention acts regarding specific individuals-perhaps granting them a divorce, citizenship, name change, or other "relief" they could not get through some type of court action.

GoogleBooks has digitized many of these pre-1900 acts--an example can be found here.

02 August 2014

Do You Map Out Their Farms?

If your ancestor was a land-owning farmer, have you mapped out the property he owned? Can you find the current location on a map? What are the nearest churches, cemeteries, schools, etc.? If you don't think about where the farm was at, you may overlook some records or research strategies.

01 August 2014

Don't Just Read--Think!

It is easy for eyes to glaze over when reading the text of a document, particularly if one is looking for a specific word or phrase that will immediately solve a specific problem.

Take time to think about what you are reading, looking for things that may be missing, phrases that are unusual, or anything else that seems "out of whack." 

An 1867 act incorporating a railroad in Illinois granted townships the power to purchase stock in the railroad. When I took a closer look at the list of townships, approximately half of the ones through which the railroad passed were granted this power. If I had skipped over the list or mindlessly read it, I may not have noticed the omission. 

Reading without thinking may cause you to overlook subtle clues--often the biggest clues of all. 

31 July 2014

Court Fights Over Estates

Quite a few genealogists overlook court records. Doing so can limit your research and create artificial brick walls. Testimony and depositions can contain a variety of information, sometimes unexpected and sometimes with indirect clues. Don't overlook these records when searching for your ancestor.

And look for cases involving siblings and other relatives of your ancestor--he could be mentioned in a case even if he was not an active participant.

30 July 2014

Ephemera on Ebay

Even if you don't purchase anything, Ebay can be a virtual treasure trove of images for your genealogical research. While finding a picture of your ancestor doesn't happen too often, you may find postcards with pictures of where your ancestor used to live, attended church, went to court, etc. And there can be a wide variety of other ephemera for sale on the site. A sampling of items I've purchased recently can be found here

Even if you aren't able to purchase the item, images can be saved. 

29 July 2014

GenealogyBank's Offer for Tip Readers Ending!

Our sponsor, GenealogyBank, has a special offer for our fans/readers that ends on 31 July. Don't wait! We appreciate their continued support of Genealogy Tip of the Day.

Do You Have To Be Alive For That?

A patent for a federal land purchase was issued to Clark Sargent of Winnebago County, Illinois on 1 March 1848.

This is not evidence that he was alive on this date--it's the date the patent was issued by the Bureau of Land Management. He could have died while the paperwork was being processed. He was alive on the date he made the land purchase. But one cannot assume just based on this piece of paper that Clark was alive on 1 March 1848.

28 July 2014

The Longer You Wait...

The longer you wait to type up or organize your onsite research, the colder it gets and the more likely you are to not completely remember what you wrote down.

It has been two weeks since I did some onsite research in Rockford, Illinois, and my notes while written neatly, are not as clear now as they were the day I took them.

Don't wait to write up that research.

Cold notes are not as good as fresh ones.

27 July 2014

What's Old Hat to You May Be New to Someone Else

Our daily tips come to me as I'm doing actual research. That's why sometimes it may appear there are certain geographic or other themes. Old tips are not copied and often they are things I've known for a while but simply forgotten.

That said every tip won't be new information to everyone. For those who have more research years under their belt, we hope to at least remind them of something they may have forgotten. Failing to remember something or making an incorrect assumption can happen to all of us.

Thanks for your support of Genealogy Tip of the Day over the years. It is appreciated.


Tax Sale?

If you can't find a deed of sale for your ancestor's real property, consider the fact that he didn't sell it. If your ancestors taxes became sufficiently delinquent, his property would be sold to pay those taxes. In the United States these sales are usually indexed under "Sheriff" and not the name of your ancestor.

Unless your ancestor was the sheriff.

26 July 2014

Handle With Care

photo of Michael John Neill, (c) 2014
Do you handle original documents and photographs carefully while scanning, photographing, or copying them?

Oil in your skin can potentially damage items and "manhandling" them or removing them aggressively from their backgrounds can do permanent damage as well.

Take care when reproducing your family's ephemera.

25 July 2014

Cleaned Your Genealogy Work Space?

When was the last time you cleaned your genealogy "space?" Are there items buried at the bottom of a pile that you found a long time ago and never had time to look at further? Cleaning your stacks can be a great way to rediscover records, clues, and pieces of paper (or digital files) that somehow got lost in the shuffle.

When did you last go through your stacks of genealogy stuff?

24 July 2014

What State Am I In?

Laws and statutes differ from one state to another. State and local taxing procedures, intestate probate practices, local record requirements, and other legal processes may vary slightly from one location to another. 

Don't assume that what was true in Indiana in 1850 is true in Virginia in 1800, Massachusetts in 1750, etc. 

While this seems obvious, it is easy to forget it we aren't careful.