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28 February 2009

Can You Take Your Cell Phone in the Courthouse?

Find out the security policy of the courthouse before you make a trip there. I am in the habit of sometimes making notes about what to research in the notepad feature of my phone. Some courthouses will not let you bring your cell phone into the building. Find out any security issues before you leave.

It is also a good idea to find out what kinds of electronic equipment generally are allowed. Best not to find out restrictions at the last minute.

27 February 2009

Every Link in the Chain

Make certain you really research from the most recent and work your way to earlier events. For years, I assumed (incorrectly) that an uncle by marriage was only married one time--to my ancestor's sister. Turns out she died young and he remarried shortly after her death and had the children with her instead of my aunt.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the first marriage took place after the 1880 census and no vital records were kept and both wives were dead by the 1900 census.

26 February 2009

Remember they are transcriptions

Virtually any pre-1920 deed or will written in a book at the courthouse is not the original. The grantee got the original deed and the courthouse made a handwritten copy. As technology developed, microfilm copies, photostatic and other kinds of copies were made. But that deed from 1850 that you found in a book with all the others, it was a handwritten copy and could contain an error or two.

Wills recorded in a will record book are the same way. Of course, the original will may be in the packet of estate papers, but anything "recorded" before photocopies and the like was a handwritten transcription. Just a little something to keep in mind the next time you make a copy of a will from 1820.

25 February 2009

Did you jump to a conclusion?

It has been about ten years, but there used to be a local band named "DOS GUYS." There were three ways one could take this:

  • DOS Guys meaning 2 guys from "dos," Spanish for two.
  • DOS Guys as a way of saying "those" guys, "dos" as a slang way of saying "those."
  • DOS Guys, meaning guys who were still using the DOS operating system on their computer.

Is there something that could be interpreted more than one way? Have you "jumped" on one interpretation that may be the wrong one? It may be that you are creating your own brick wall by doing so.

24 February 2009

Go Back and Browse

With more and more records being indexed, it is tempting for some to quit searching when the index fails. Keep in mind that there are times where manual searching of a record is necessary. Indexes are not perfect and sometimes writing is extremely difficult to read.

The census is a good example. If you know where your ancestor lived and the index does not quickly locate him, search manually. If the relative was in a rural area, it may not take very long to page through a township or two in an attempt to find him. And in searching page by page, you may find other relatives in the process. In urban areas, you may be able to pinpoint your relative's location down to a handful of enumeration districts. And learning more about where your ancestor lived and tracking his residences may help you research more than just locating him in the census.

Those of us who researched in the days before census indexes relied on manual searches when we first started.

23 February 2009

Try Google Alerts

Sometimes I am behind the times. I will admit it. I finally set up google alerts for some of my more unusual surnames and for some names of ancestors. These can easily be done using your account at google (or signing up for one if you do not have one). This way instead of you searching for things, google lets you know when it has found them.

To be certain, Google is not the only search engine out there, but this is a nice tool to add to your list.

22 February 2009

Pause and Reflect for just a Minute

Think for just a minute before making that post to a mailing list or asking that question to a friend. Is there a chance you are overlooking something obvious?

It is also good to give yourself sometime to let a conclusion "sit" in your mind before publishing it or posting it. Sometimes our first, "off the cuff" reactions are correct and sometimes they aren't. Haste may cause you to create a brick wall where none existed.

I almost assumed a relative had military service based upon his WW2 era classification record. Turns out that the classification he received meant something different during war time than during peace time and the chart of classifications I was using were peace time classifications. When I looked at the appropriate set of classifications, what I tought was unusual was not.

Sometimes a little reflection answers our questions.

20 February 2009

You Cannot Copyright a Fact

A complete discussion of copyright law is beyond our purpose here at "Tip of the Day," but suffice it to say that a genealogical fact cannot be copyrighted. Your cousin in Arizona cannot copyright the fact that "John Smith was born in Maryland in 1783."

What he can copyright is a report he compiled showing why that year of birth is correct. The report he would be within his rights to lay copyright claim to.

Of course, if he spent years uncovering a fact and you use that fact in a compilation, it might be nice to give him credit for "finding" that fact. If you don't, he might not share anything with you again!

19 February 2009

Do You Need to Research the In-Laws?

Sometimes a researcher is tempted to "ignore" the "in-laws" or "step" relatives because they are not "really relatives." However, this can be a big mistake. Your relatives interacted quite a bit with these individuals and there is a chance a record on them could provide information on your ancestor. It is always possible that these indivduals have known your ancestor long before they became related by marriage.

Your ancestors did not live in complete isolation. Researching their close acquaintances may provide information on your direct line ancestors.

18 February 2009

Could it Be in Another Place?

Official or unofficial copies of documents may be located in places where you might not think to look. My ancestor's declaration of intention from Illinois is contained in his Nebraska homestead application. Another ancestor's naturalization is contained in his homestead file as well.

Chicago voter's registrations give years and places of naturalization for those who were not native born citizens.

Widow's applications for pension may contain certified copies of their marriage records.

A cousin who got married in Illinois and divorced in Florida filed a copy of his Florida divorce decree in the Illinois county where he was married.

And the list goes on.

Where might your ancestor have had to record a copy of a document? It might not be in a place where you think.

17 February 2009

Does the Family History Library Have Everything?

In a word, no.

Salt Lake City's Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org) is a wonderful library in which to research. Their collection of genealogy materials is the largest in the world.

But remember that they do not have everything.

For many Illinois counties, the Family History Library does not have personal property tax records from the mid-nineteenth century and later. While most genealogical problems do not require the use of these records, there are times when these records are helpful in placing a specific person in a specific location at a specific point in time. There are other counties where court case packets have not been filmed and where tract indexes to land records are still accessible only at the courthouse.

The Family History Library is an excellent place to work on your research. But do not assume that because you have searched there that you have accessed everything.

16 February 2009

Do you Understand the Index?

A few things worth remembering:

  • Indexes to courthouse records are not always strictly alphabetical. Sometimes they are indexed only the first letter of the last name.
  • Some indexes are partially by last name and then by first name.
  • The Mc and Mac names can be at the front or the end of the "M" section.
  • Not every party in a lawsuit appears in the defendant or plaintiff index.
  • Indexes can be incorrect or missing.
  • Courthouses may have indexes to records that were not filmed by the Family History Library.

A good idea is to ask a local person from the area who is familiar with the records. These people can be an excellent resource.

15 February 2009

Does it Make Sense?

Before I say this, let me say that copying someone else's data into your database is not advised at all.

But at least make certain it makes sense before entering it into your database. I saw an online family tree where the mother and father died before their children were born and another couple who had their children before they (the parents) were born. Woah!

And if your database indicates someone died in 1742 and served in the American Revolution something is decidedly amiss.

14 February 2009

Are You Looking At What is Missing?

Are there time periods in your ancestor's life that are not accounted for? What was he or she doing during those periods? Where was he or she living? The first five years of my ancestor's life in the United States were a complete mystery to me. John Ufkes came to the United States in the spring of 1869, settling in Illinois. He cannot be found in the 1870 census and there is no record of him until his marriage in 1874. His life is well documented after then until his death in 1924. There are a variety of land, court, census, church and other records fairly clearly documenting his life in Adams and Hancock County, Illinois.

I realize five years is not a long time in the life of an adult, but the gap in information always bugged me. Since the time period was short and other items were more pressing, I really never worked on those five years, but they were still in the back of my mind.

A cancelled homestead claim in Franklin County, Nebraska, indicated that John spent at least one of those five years in Nebraska. That was NEWS to me and explained the "gap."

13 February 2009

Grantor versus Grantee

Do you know what the difference between a grantor and a grantee is? A grantor is someone who is selling or transferring their ownership in property to someone else. A grantee is someone who is purchasing property or is having property transferred to.

One joke I make during many lectures is about the genealogist who spent hours looking for a deed when her ancestor purchased land. Her time was spent looking in the grantor indexes. Of course, looking for when her ancestor purchased land should be done in the grantee indexes.

It can be easy to get the two terms mixed up. Make certain you are looking in the right index.

12 February 2009

Google Books

We don't normally feature websites, but I have been locating so much information on Google Books that I thought it worth mentioning.

Google Books has digitized thousands of books and allows users to search them using OCR (optical character recognition) technology. I've found many pieces of information I was unaware of, including the fact that a great-great-grandfather's brother-in-law was a chronic alcholic and that his son was mentally incompetent, but I digress.

I have been searching http://books.google.com for either some of my more unusual last names or just typing in ancestral names. Not all books are completely online, but there will be links with citation information so you can try and get a copy of the book yourself, either by purchasing it or obtaining it on interlibrary loan.

Of the books that are completely scanned and on Google, you can download them as a PDF or text file. I prefer PDF. But keep in mind, the "search" in Adobe Acrobat Reader is not the exact same search as in Google books. Google books found "troutfetter" in a book (and I saw it, so it was there). I downloaded the book and then viewed the PDF file and had that program (Adobe Acrobat Reader) search the file. Adobe didn't find it. So now I'll make certain and make notes about the page numbers before downloading the entire file to my computer.

11 February 2009

Do those search boxes on GenWeb Pages get everything?

Many county USGenWeb pages have search boxes that allow you to search the entire site. Keep in mind that sometimes they don't work.

As an example, a search for "ufkes" on the Franklin County, Nebraska, USGenWeb page


resulted in no hits.

And yet there are two pages with that word:

The last page was located doing a search for "John Ufkes" at Rootsweb.com (http://www.rootsweb.com). The first page I located using a long trial and error process I won't go into here. I think there is a problem with the linking, but it is just something to keep in mind.

10 February 2009

Look for Divorce or Separate Maintenance

Never make the assumption that "our family" never had any divorces. Married couples have had difficulty getting along since marriage began.

Divorce is not one of those stories that always gets passed down in families. It is easier to "not pass" the story down if the marriage does not result in children or the divorced parties do not remarry. My third great-grandmother was divorced twice. My great-uncle was divorced from his wife and no one ever told anyone about it. I never would have thought to look for a divorce record except his death certificate indicated that he was divorced.

Divorce records are usually kept with the county records. Give them a look. You never know what you will find out. And remember, even a divorce record on an uncle or aunt may provide testimony from their siblings or clues as to where the family lived previously.

09 February 2009

Update Your Old Message Board Posts

Have you posted to the message boards at Ancestry/Rootsweb or other genealogy sites and not looked at your message in a while? Have you gotten a response? Remember that even if the site allows you to be notified of a response, that response might have gotten stuck in your spam filter.

Also some users don't view the "old" posts because they are concerned that the emails are out of date, etc. Consider re-posting messages to boards with updates in your information, etc. New people are getting into genealogy every day and there may be new relatives just waiting to be found on the message boards.

08 February 2009

Review Your Early Findings

Have you reviewed information you found early in your research? Perhaps you entered data without really analyzing it or copied only parts of a document or a book without realizing that there was more?

Are there any conclusions you reached early in your research that you are "sticking" to, even though you should go back and analyze them now that you know more?
I have copies of court records in my files, where I now realize that I only copied part of the record, what I thought was important when I was first starting my research. Now I realize that there might be more.

If you have not done it, it may be worth your time to revisit some things you "discovered" when you first started.

07 February 2009

Is the Database Complete?

Some online databases are "works in progress." Ancestry.com, Footnote, GenealogyBank and other sites offer wonderful data, but some databases are not complete before they are posted.

Ususally this information is somewhere on the site, but it may not be obvious initially. Footnote.com is pretty good about showing users their "green status bar" that indicates what percentage of records have been uploaded. Ancestry will usually show what areas and records are in a database, but one has to scroll past the search screen to get to it.

FamilySearch also indicates when databases are incomplete.

Make certain you know how complete something is before searching it.

06 February 2009

Should You Import Data From Online Trees into Your File?

It can be so tempting. A search for your ancestor on a website turns up with his ancestry back five generations. There it is all compiled and easily downloadable in a file that can be imported into our own database.

In a word, no.

I have located many ancestors in these online files with generations of their ancestry. In some cases, I use this files as clues. Not as facts. If I import someone's information into my file, separating the information out is nearly impossible. Not all submitters are careful about the accuracy of their information.

Just this week I found an online compilation with the ancestors of a first cousin of my great-grandmother. This compilation contained people dying before they had children, parents who with birthdates after their children died, and ancestors who trotted the globe having children in several states and foreign countries. While this example may be extreme, it still makes the point that integrating someone else's data into ours may end in more of a mess than we had in the first place.

And using any website's "automatic" search feature can lead to false positives. I've seen those sites suggest parents for children where dates of birth and death violated laws of biology.

05 February 2009

Look for a Partition

If you cannot find deeds or records of an estate settlement for your ancestor, look for a partition suit. These suits were filed usually when the heirs could not agree on how a farm or piece of real estate could be equitably partitioned out amongst the heirs. These court cases will be filed in the county courthouse with other court records.

They typically show how the deceased obtained their property, when they died, and who their heirs were. All are good clues for the genealogist.

I always look for partitions, but they can be particularly interesting if a relative died with no descendants. That's when all the relatives come out of the woodwork.

04 February 2009

Transcribe those Digital Images

No doubt a good digital image is a great rendering of a document that may be difficult to read. However, it still is to your advantage to transcribe documents if at all possible, even if you have digital copies.

Transcribing a document forces you to look at every word, perhaps a word you overlooked in quickly reading the document. And there are still times where sharing a typed up transcription may be easier than an image.

When you type that document, think about what every word means. Think about what every phrase means. There may be a term upon which your research may hinge. And when you do not know what a word means, look it up. It may make all the difference.

03 February 2009

Writing Your Own Story?

Have you written your own story? Many genealogists spend so much time obtaining information on dead relatives and interviewing living ones that they neglect themselves?

Think about the things you wish your ancestors could tell you? Why they moved; why the voted; what they thought about certain events in their lives.

And when you have a list of things you wish your ancestors could tell you....answer those questions about yourself. Or at least the ones that apply to you.

If you describe your Civil War service to your descendants they might not be inclined to believe much of what you say about anything else (smirk).

02 February 2009

Get out of your Comfort Zone

Are you only using certain records in your search? Are there souces you do not use because you think they are too difficult to use or because you are unfamiliar with them? If so, you may be limiting the amount of information you find and leaving a significant part of your ancestor's story untold.

Ignoring deeds if your ancestors were farmers is a mistake, land records may provide migration and other clues not evidenced in other records. Even city dwellers might have owned a small city lot and how that lot was dealt with after the owner's death could provide you with good information.

And assuming your ancestors weren't the kind of people to end up in court records is a bad one to make. Over half of my great-great-grandparents were involved in some type of legal action.

Ignorance may be bliss, but may also cause you to miss things in your research.

01 February 2009

Working with the Family Tradition

Some family traditions are more true than others. The problem is proving them. My usual approach for dealing with family traditions is to break them into the things that (if true) might have created a record or document and those things that probably did not leave any record.Then I focus on trying to prove or disprove the parts of the story that I can.

Often the family tradition is mostly false, but sometimes there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. I find that breaking it up into "possibly provable" and "probably not provable" a good way to start working on the tradition.

There is an old article on the Ancestry.com site I wrote on this topic.