Discover Your Ancestors in Newspapers 1690-Today!
Last Name
GenealogyBank.com

31 March 2011

Place Names Spelled Correctly?

Do you have all place names spelled correctly in your genealogical database? I'm not talking about the German village that you can barely read on great-grandma's death certificate. I'm talking about places you know where they are and can easily verify the spelling. It never hurts to check and you may find that you have overlooked some records in the process.

30 March 2011

Reading It Cold

Remember that in many cases, the indexer indexing the record you are using was not familiar with the names in the area where the records were created. In most cases, they are reading the names "cold." Keep that in mind when formulating searches and contemplating alternate spellings. You may know what it says. Someone else may not.

29 March 2011

Tools of the Trade

Are there occupational clues hidden in the inventory of your ancestor's estate? Sometimes it can be difficult determining what your pre-1850 ancestor's occupation was. The inventory of the personal items in his estate may hold a clue. Be careful about drawing conclusions though and compare to other inventories to see what makes your ancestor's different--every one had kitchen utensils and a chamberpot.

28 March 2011

Why Was That Record Created?

The vast majority of records genealogists use were not created for genealogists. Probate records were created to settle estates, land records were used to document land transfers, census record were used to collect statistical information about citizens (and in the US to apprortion representatives), church records were kept to document that certain sacraments had been performed, etc.

If you don't know why a record was created--find out. Learning why may help you understand and interpret the item you have found.

27 March 2011

Did It Say That Or Did You Calculate?

If you arrived at a person's date of birth from a date of death and an age at date of death then the resulting date of birth should be indicated as one that was calculated, not one the record actually stated. There are two reasons for this--1) never indicate a record says something it didn't (the birth date was not actually written on the record) and 2) who ever calculated the age might have done so incorrectly before it was written on the record or put on the stone.

Genealogists often use "Cal" for such calculated dates and your source for that calculated date should indicate the document that provided the specific age and the date the person was that age.

26 March 2011

Books on Collateral Families

Is there a book on a collateral branch of your family that may provide information on your direct lineage? My great-grandfather's sister married a Henerhoff. A genealogy of the Henerhoff family contained significant information on my great-great-grandparents whose only connection to the Henerhoffs was that their daughter married one. It pays to look.

25 March 2011

Middle Name as a Last Name?

If you can't find your ancestor in a census, consider that he or she might have been listed without their last name. My ancestor in 1870 is listed as Henry Jacobs. His actual name: Henry Jacobs Fecht. The census taker dropped the last name and Henry's middle name became his last.

24 March 2011

Did They Appear When Someone Died?

If there is a relative who "disappeared" after a certain point in time, determine if there were any estates they might have inherited from after they disappeard. Was there a parent who died after the "disappearance?" Would the disappearing person have inherited part of an estate after they went "poof?" If so, the settlement of that estate would have required that they be found or at least their absence be explained. A cousin died in the 1940s with no children, and court records go into details about the searches made for his brother who went "poof" in the 1920s.

23 March 2011

There Are No Secondary Sources in Genealogy

In current genealogy practice, the adjectives primary and secondary refer to information. Primary information is given by someone who had first hand knowledge of something. Information provided by others is considered to be secondary.


Any source can have primary and secondary information, depending upon who provided it and how they came to know it. If I am with my grandmother when she dies, I may be the informant on her death certificate. The information I provide on her death would be primary information--I have first hand knowledge. The information I provide on her parents would be secondary as I do not have first hand knowledge of her birth---I wasn't there.

22 March 2011

Copy All Those Column Headings

In any record, make certain you take note of all column headings. This is particularly true when taking screen shots of record images or taking digital pictures. One does not want to interpret information incorrectly and that can easily happen if column headings are not recorded or transcribed when you originally view the record.

Also saves the time of having to go back!

21 March 2011

Heard It When a Child?

Is that story your aunt Gertrude told you one she heard when she was a small child? Sometimes children only hear parts of things and make up other details to complete the story. Is it possible that's what aunt Gertrude did when she first heard the story sixty years ago?

Not to mention the fact that sixty years have taken place since she first heard it.

20 March 2011

Power of the Widow?

This phrase generally means that a widow had more legal powers if she stayed single than if she married after her husband's death. Back when a husband controlled his wife's property, a second husband could have done whatever he wanted with his wife's real estate--including selling it.

But as long as the widow remained single--she dictated what happened with the farm. Often her deceased husband would give her a life estate in that property and that she lost it if she married. One purpose this served was that any "new" husband's would not get control of the wife's real estate.

19 March 2011

Changed Denomination Late in Life?

Does your ancestor "evaporate" from church records late in their life? Don't assume it is because they died--perhaps they changed denominations. Grandpa might not always have been a Methodist and Grandma might not have always been a Catholic. Change does happen.

When they retired, a set of ancestors changed churches and switched from Lutheran to Presbyterian. The reason? The town they retired to had two churches: Roman Catholic and Presbyterian.

18 March 2011

Search Ledgers and Not Just Packets

In courthouses that have them, genealogists often focus on the packet of papers--court papers, probate papers, etc. Don't forget that some information may be recorded in court ledgers, registers, etc. The packet of loose papers is great, but don't forget that some details may only be in the record books.

17 March 2011

Surplus Consonants?

Is your ancestor enumerated in a census or other record with an extra consonant at the end of their name? Emma Sargent is enumerated as Emor, Emmar, and several other spellings ending with an "r," likely because of how she pronounced her name.

Could a name for which you are looking have a consonant added at the end?

16 March 2011

Look Before and After

When you locate a deed for an ancestor or relative, look a few pages before and after to see if others documents were recorded at the same time. Going to the courthouse might have been more than a day trip and your relative might have "grouped" his courthouse work.

15 March 2011

Consider Something You Don't Need

Sometimes it might be worth it to order a record you "don't" need. My grandmother's brother died in the 1930s with little estate to settle up (except for a car and a small amount of cash). On a whim, I ordered a copy of his estate record. There was a paper in the file signed by all his siblings and his mother, waiving their inheritance. It didn't provide me any "new" information, but it was neat to have the signature of my grandmother, her five siblings, and her mother all on one document.

And if I had not already known he was divorced, the fact that he had "no surviving spouse" would have been a big clue too!

14 March 2011

Abbreviations Can Change

There was a time when "Ia" stood for Indiana, not Iowa. While today the letters "Ia" usually refer to the state of Iowa, there was a time when it did not. One can find census references, particularly some 1860 and 1850 where "Ia" refers to Indiana.

Abbreviations can change over time .

13 March 2011

Search for Locations-Not Just Names

Are you searching a digital version of that county history, biography book, etc.? Try searching for locations as well as names. It can be a great way to see what other biographies and similar material in the book mentions locations where your ancestor was from. A search of an Illinois county history for "coshocton ohio" located several references to people from that county--besides my ancestor. A great way to get names of potential former neighbors, associates, and possible relatives.

12 March 2011

Get Genealogy Tip of the Day In Your Email

We've activated an email subscription service for those who'd like to get Genealogy Tip of the Day in their email. This link will take you to the signup page. Genealogy Tip of the Day is free. If you need to ever deactivate your subscription and are unable to do so, email me at michael.john.neill@gmail.com. Thanks!

Multiple Handwriting on One Document

Look carefully at that next original document you see. Does it appear that the handwriting was all done at the same time by the same person? Or were things written over time. My grandfather's 1903 birth certificate was filled out at three different times. One person apparently wrote the bulk of the document when it was recorded in November of 1903. Someone else wrote his last name in later--the handwriting is different. Someone else wrote in his first and middle name--the ink color is slightly different as is the handwriting.

11 March 2011

Could that "l' be a "t?"

Think about that letter you think is an "l." Could it actually be a "t" that simply didn't get crossed? Even if the creator of the record crossed every other "t" he could have left one uncrossed. And Soundex searches won't catch it when a "t" and and "l" have been switched.

10 March 2011

Top 40 Casefile Clues Offer

We are excited about Tip of The Day making the Top 40 Genealogy Blogs of 2011. The offers originally here have expired, but it's not too late to get Casefile Clues.

We had to have something with the number 40 in it.

Thanks for your support of Genealogy Tip of the Day--please vote for us again next year!

Search for Name Abbreviations

It was late and I was trying to search for a person I knew I had found in an 1860 census--William Brice. After several attempts, there he was listed as Wm. Brice. Don't forget that some individuals may be enumerated under abbreviated names. Wildcard searches do not always catch these alternate names. Will* certainly would not catch Wm.

09 March 2011

Were They Dead Then?

A gentleman bemoaned the fact that he could not find his ancestor in the 1880 census. When he asked for help, I asked to see what he knew about the ancestor to help formulate a search. Reading the obituary, it was clear the ancestor died in 1875. That would explain the absence from the 1880 census.

Make certain your ancestor would reasonably be where you are looking for him before you spend too much time. And if she died in 1902, search the 1900 not the 1920 census.

08 March 2011

Track When You Searched That Online Source

Online databases change--sometimes they add data or make corrections. Part of your tracking your search should include the date an online database was accessed. Then you can compare the date of an update with the date of your search and know whether you need to search the database again or not.

07 March 2011

Google Maps is Not Perfect

Google maps does not always get every location correct when you see it marked on the google map. Some cities had renumbering or renaming of streets and there is always the possibility that a house number from 1880 is not the same as the house number today.

06 March 2011

Omission Means Nothing

Remember that your ancestor might not have named all his children in his or her will. They might have had a falling out with some children or had already given them their inheritance earlier. Unless the will says "my only children are" and then names them, don't conclude a will lists the testator's entire family.

05 March 2011

Don't Grab the First One

I was lucky that an ancestor married in October of 1870 a few months after the census. Finding her parents was a little more difficult. I searched for everyone with her name in the 1870 census, searching the census in a circle with a 15 or so mile radius of where she married in 1870. Then I researched every person with her name in 1870 and eliminated those that couldn't be her.

The key was that I didn't just grab the "first one" I found and that I also used variant spellings even after I had a match on the "right name," just in case.

04 March 2011

Look It Up!

If you don't know what it means, look it up. Misinterpreted terms can create even bigger brick walls for yourself and other researchers. And make certain you know key dates in local history for the locations where you are researching. When were counties formed, when were streets renumbered, when did the courthouse burn, etc.? Don't guess.

Once in a while our lack of knowledge can aggravate the problem.

03 March 2011

Were They Really Alone?

Your female ancestor marries for the first time in her late teens or early twenties. The marriage takes place apparently several states away from where she was born? Have you looked very carefully in the area where she married for relatives of hers? Keep in mind her relatives might not be listed under her maiden name if her natural father died and her mother married again.

02 March 2011

Homestead Proves Citizenship

Keep in mind if your foreign-born ancestor proved a homestead claim in the United States, he had to prove citizenship. What this means is that there should be a copy of his naturalization papers in his homestead file. Where that naturalization took place could be a clue if the place is different from where the homestead was located.

01 March 2011

Is There Yet Another Marriage?

My ancestor's second wife disappeared after his death in the 1880s. Apparently dropped off the face of the earth. Turns out, she married after my ancestor died, thus changing her last name. If a woman "disappears," remember that she could be right where she always was, just living with a new husband and a new last name.