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31 July 2009

Problem-solving in a nutshell

If you are stuck, you should decide what the problem is, what the sources are, how those sources are organized, and how those sources are searched. Search those records, track your search, and evaluate the results. A broad overview, but this will get you started. Don’t forget to learn about your ancestor’s social group and about the history of the area where he lived as well.

30 July 2009

Do you have the correct location?

Is it possible that the town name is right, but the name of the state is incorrect? Is it possible that part of the name is right, but the remaining portion has been spelled or pronounced incorrectly? Did your ancestor give the name of the closest “big town” instead of saying where he was actually from?

Tips are coming

I am working on adding tips to the site and am currently just about done with June. Updates will be posted as they are completed. Genealogy Tip of the Day will continue as it has in the past.

Readers are encouraged to subscribe to my weekly newsletter "Casefile Clues" which is available via subscription at $15 per year. That turns out to approximately 29 cents a week.

Genealogy Tip of the Day will continue to be free and hosted at http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com. Suggestions for tips can be sent to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

Thanks for all the encouragement.

29 July 2009

Why do early naturalization records contain little information?

Because the law did not require it. In 1907 there was reform of immigration and the naturalization process, which resulted in more paperwork and more detail. Consequently the records after that reform are more detailed. If your ancestors naturalized shortly before 1907, determine if there were relatives who might have naturalized after the reform that might have left more detailed records.

28 July 2009

It will conflict

Sooner or later you will encounter conflicting information in your research. Record the information as it is provided on each source and put any analysis in your notes. Do not change, correct, or modify the information from an actual record. Your job is not to edit. If there are obvious errors, indicate that in a comment, but do not “fix” the record.

Casefile Clues Moving

It is not a tip of the day, but this partially explains why the tips have been on the short side for the past month. I invite regular tip readers to subscribe to Casefile Clues on my other website. Tips will continue to be posted here as well.

For over ten years, I have written regular columns about my research experience, first for Ancestry and most recently for Dick Eastman. Starting this week, my weekly "how-to" column "Casefile Clues" will be available exclusively through subscription through my website http://www.casefileclues.com/. I am very excited about the move.

Subscribers can expect the same quality and content they have come to expect over the 400 how-to columns I have written. Content focuses on families from many areas and time periods in the United States and several foreign countries. The emphasis is not on the latest "whizbang" technology, but rather on locating, analyzing and interpreting records. Technology is used but it does not overpower the genealogy. We will continue researching the exploits of the various members of the Trautvetter clan, including Philip's world travels, arrest in Boston and his trial in Colorado. Our work on English families will continue, as will our work in land records in metes and bounds in Kentucky and Tennessee, Bureau of Land Management records, and my search for the mental health records of my nineteenth century ancestor. We will also continue our discussion of research strategies both in actual records repositories and via the Family History Library. My children have ancestors in fifteen states and seven European countries and I will continue to explore that ancestry weekly via my column. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for research ideas to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

"Casefile Clues" will be published at least weekly, with distribution taking place over the weekend. There may occasionally be additional columns published midweek as well, particularly if some followup is just begging to be written about. "Casefile Clues" readers can expect analysis of documents and research suggestions based upon that document. "Casefile Clues" is not a genealogy "news" ezine. You can find that elsewhere on the internet and I would rather devote my time to research and sharing that research experience with readers. Readers can continue to find Michael's analysis and insight that they have come to expect from his columns. Movement to our own website gives Michael the complete freedom to write about whatever topic he wants when he wants.

"Casefile Clues" is not just about the one record I've found. It is about what the record means and how it was used in order to help researchers get motivated to continue their own research. Annual subscriptions are $15. Subscriptions can also be obtained on a three month basis for $6. Payment can be made through PayPal with major credit cards or check (PayPal account not needed). These methods of payment are preferred, but other arrangements can be made by contacting Michael at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

27 July 2009

Checked all Jurisdictions

Have you checked for potential records at the town or village, township, county, state and federal level? Focusing on just one level of records may cause you to miss vital sources. This is true for the United States and Europe as well. The names of the jurisdictions may be different, but remember that any one physical location may be a part of several levels of government.

26 July 2009

Early Conclusions?

When was the last time you reviewed records and conclusions made early in your research? Is it possible that mistakes made early in your research are giving you problems today?

25 July 2009

Proof Yourself

Are you reviewing and re-reading what you transcribe or what you put into your genealogy database? Is there the chance you might have made a mistake? It might happen rarely (grin) but sooner or later, we all make a mistake.

And if I had a dollar for every time I posted a blog entry without a title.....

24 July 2009

Sort the tradition

Family traditions can run the gamut from comical to depressing, from reasonable to completely outrageous. Wherever they fit on the scale, they likely are not entirely correct. After all, nothing is. What I like to do with family traditions is to sort the facts they contain into facts that might have generated records and facts that probably did not generate records.
And then get to the research.

23 July 2009

Get Religion?

If your ancestors were a member of a denomination over any significant length of time, learn something of their history. A broad understanding of the history of your ancestor’s denomination may provide you with insight into their life, what might have motivated and why the church kept the type of records that it did.

22 July 2009

Get out of your vacuum

Are you in isolation in your research? If there are not relatives (close or distant) working on your same line, consider joining a mailing list at Rootsweb (http://lists.rootswebcom). Roots-l and Gen-Newbie are two good lists to join that are worldwide in their scope, but there are other regional lists devoted to countries, ethnic regions, counties, etc. Even if you don’t find a relative, someone working in the same location as you can be an excellent resource.

21 July 2009

Laws change over time

We all know this, but forget that sometimes it impacts our genealogical research as well. Early in my research, I was surprised that when my uncle died in 1907, without any children that his wife did not automatically inherit his entire estate. She inherited a part of it as his wife, but the balance went to his heirs. In this case, his siblings and some nieces and nephews were also heirs to his estate besides his wife. It made for an interesting court case.

20 July 2009

You can still go page by page

Back in the “old days” of research, page by page was often the only way to find someone in a census record. With the advent of every name indexes, “point and click” research is a real option. However, there are times when it just not the successful approach. And there are times, where if you know where your ancestor lived, that “traditional” approaches may be faster. And reading the census page by page for where your ancestor lived, may give you a broader understanding of his neighborhood.

19 July 2009

Census should be a bridge to something else

For every census listing you have for an ancestor, think of other sources and materials that it suggests. A value of real property in an 1860 census indicates land and property tax records, a personal property valuation in an 1850 census suggests personal property tax records. An occupation may suggest local county records or occupational records. And children with different last names in the household suggest multiple marriages or extended family who may have been living in the household at least temporarily.

18 July 2009

Get every census

Do you have your ancestor in every extant census in which she would be enumerated? Skipping one because “it won’t tell you anything” is never a good idea. One ever knows what surprising information may be lurking in a “routine” census enumeration.

17 July 2009

What makes a source citation?

I’m not going to summarize Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “Evidence Explained” in one tip, but generally speaking a source citation should provide enough information to allow you or someone else to get back to the actual record you used to cite a date or an event. That citation should also information in regards to the provenance of the source, its perceived reliability, and whether it is an original or some type of derivation from the original.

16 July 2009

If you can’t go up, go down

If you have gotten stuck in extending your family back to earlier generations, consider tracking the descendants of that earliest “unknown” ancestor. Perhaps one of his other descendants has information, sources, or family mementos that you are unaware of.

15 July 2009

Get a research plan

Don’t just research mindlessly. It is bad in more ways than one. Decide what you want to know, determine what you already know and learn about ways to get there. Research plans need to be more detailed than this obviously, but don’ t do your research in a haphazard fashion.

14 July 2009

Know the Terrain

Learn about the geography of where your ancestor lived. It might explain where they later settled, how they travelled, or where they went to church, got married, etc.

13 July 2009

Learn how to text

There are days when I’m out of town that I am in a library all day, largely because I don’t live near a large genealogical library and I have to make the best possible use of my time. Consequently I do not want to be running to another area to have phone conversations when not necessary. Instead of using the cellphone for the occasional “emergency” back home, we text instead. Texting allows us to communicate with each other as necessary without me disturbing others in the library. And if a phone call is needed while I’m in the library, I get a text indicating that. This allows me to communicate with home with as few phone disturbances as possible.

Behaving at the research facility?

Remember that at the library there are other researchers. Be considerate of them. I’m fairly patient, but here are a few things that have given me cause for frustration lately:


A gentleman having a cell phone conversation in the library about going fishing. He was yelling into his phone. It was all I could do to concentrate.


Two researchers lamenting the destruction of tombstones in an Alabama town. While I understood his frustration, his twenty minute diatribe about the injustice of it all was highly distracting. I was at the library to actually do research. They could have easily taken their conversation to another area.


Be considerate of your fellow researchers. You may one day be at the library trying to read illegible script when someone sitting next to you is carrying on very loudly about the latest injustice your son-in-law has inflicted on your daughter. While it does sound like he’s a lout, the discussion can be had elsewhere.

12 July 2009

Do you know when civil registration starts in your areas of research?

If you do not know when civil registration starts in the jurisdictions in which you are researching, find out. And if you don’t know what civil registration is, then there’s even more work for you to do.

11 July 2009

Does paying property tax means grandpa lived there?

Keep in mind that paying property tax only indicates an individual owned property in a location. It does not mean that he necessarily lived there. Paying a personal property tax usually indicates residence in the area in which the tax was paid.

10 July 2009

Why does great-great-grandma have no naturalization?

Before 1922, most women derived citizenship from their husband or their father. Before women had the right to vote, citizenship was not as critical as one may think. Women in many states could own property whether or not they were a citizen. Few women before 1922 bothered to naturalize.

09 July 2009

Those records can’t help me

Never assume a record set won’t hold the answer to any of your genealogical problems unless you have learned about those records, know what information they contain, and know what types of individuals are likely to be in those records. And then you still may want to search them anyway.

08 July 2009

The importance of endogamy

Many genealogists are not familiar with the word, but they should be familiar with the concept. Endogamy is the practice of marrying within the social group. Greek immigrants to Chicago tend to marry other Greek immigrants (or children of Greek immigrants). Missouri settlers from Tennessee tend to have children who marry into other nearby families of settlers from Tennessee. While individuals can easily marry “outside” the group, a shared heritage (be it from across the “big pond” or across the creek) can be big factor in the eventual choice of a marriage partner. It explains why half my own ancestors are Ostfriesen even though my families had all lived in the United States for nearly 100 years before I was born.

07 July 2009

Are you only using one source for every event?

Different records for the same event may provide different information. While it is not always possible to “doublecheck” everything try and obtain multiple sources for events and “proofs” whenever you can. One record can easily be incorrect.

06 July 2009

Using “blank” as a surname?

If you do not know a maiden name or a first name of an individual, leave it blank. In your notes and or sources, indicate how you know the individual exists and any relevant explanations. When in doubt, leave it out.

05 July 2009

Should you ever use a nickname as your ancestor’s given name?

Purists would tell you that you should use whatever is on a birth certificate as an individuals “given name” in your genealogy database. Sometimes I think some discretion should be used. My great-grandmother’s birth certificate lists her as Francis Rampley. However, every document she signed from her marriage document through records settling her husband’s estate lists her as Fannie Neill (her married name). Her tombstone even has Fannie Neill listed. Consequently in my database her name is listed as Fannie as apparently that is what she wanted to be called. In my notes there is information about her birth certificate and the name it actually lists.

04 July 2009

Check Before and After

If you find an ancestor's deed in a land record book, check the pages before and after. It was not uncommon for individuals to record documents in "groups" and more than one record may have been filed at the same time.

03 July 2009

Stop and Organize

I've been working on my wife's English lines lately. Some have been fairly easy to research and I have been accumulating quite a bit of information, digital copies, etc.

There comes a time when one has to stop and really put together and organize what one has. I have many copies and notes, but I have not put the information into my database where I can see what families I have information on, etc. Not to mention it is all starting to run together.

The research is fun, but every so often you need to stop gathering and start organizing. If for no other reason than to not completely confuse yourself.

02 July 2009

How did they say it?

Do you really know how your ancestors pronounced their last name?

Taliaferro and variants are often pronounced to sound like "toliver"

Beauchamp may have been pronounced to sound like "beecham"

Have you considered pronunciation variants on your last name?

01 July 2009

Census Search Trick

If you can't find your ancestor in the 1840 census and you think he really should be there, look for his 1830 neighbors in 1840 or try looking for his 1850 neighbors in 1840. No guarantees, but worth a shot.