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31 March 2009

Sometimes an Error is an Error

A 1907 era court case involves the children of my ancestor as defendants. They are all listed correctly with the right first names in virtually every court document.

Except one.

On the deed where the judge is selling the estate, William Rampley is listed as Wilbur Rampley. William's middle name was not Wilbur and he never used that name as a nickname. What happened? Most likely a simple transcription error. When every other reference to him in the records is William and one out of thirty lists him as Wilbur, it's easy to realize that sometimes an error is just that, an error.

The problem is that when we have just one reference to an individual it can be difficult to know if a name is simply an error or something more.

Just a little something to think about.

30 March 2009

Is it Complete?

Before using any online database, determine whether or not it is complete. Many times, vendors will release "part" of a database, hoping to generate publicity and new sales. The problem is that many times users do not read the details of the database enough to find out.

Before you spend hours searching that database, determine how complete it actually is.

29 March 2009

Spell Check Doesn't Always Work and Computers don't think.

Don't rely on spell check when typing anything. Read it for yourself.

Remember your genealogy software doesn't correct your logic or fix your conclusions, that is up to you.

If you can't find the typo on this brochure...well I'll just say that it's the very top line and spell check obviously did not catch it.

28 March 2009

Before You Do Data Entry

Some families are a little bit complicated. And if one is not careful it can be easy to enter the incorrect relationships in our genealogical database. What I do in these situations is to map out the relationships on paper first in an attempt to get a broader view of the family and in an attempt to understand the relationships correctly.

Once I think I have the relationships down, I begin my data entry. Wasting time "fixing" relationship mistakes is time I could spend doing actual research.

27 March 2009

Can You Concentrate?

Having difficulty staying focused on your research? Perhaps working on your computer is part of the problem. Recently on a four-hour flight, I realized I got more work done in those four hours than I had in the previous four days.

There were no instant messages, no emails, no phone calls. Admittedly the plane was a little cramped, but not having constant distractions helped me to organize my research and decide where I could progress next.

Sometimes when we get an idea about a family history problem, it is tempting to go to a website right away, do some research and get sidetracked. The next thing you know, it is several hours later and you barely spent five minutes on what you really wanted to research.

26 March 2009

"Paper or Plastic"

It is not really a "tip," but I thought it interesting nevertheless:

In a banquet speech that must have been at least ten years ago, I made the following comment (which is fiction, by the way):

"After Smithton County had their county marriage records digitized, the county board contemplated what to do with the originals. In an effort to conserve space, save money, and express concern for the environment, they decided to submit them to the local paper recycling center. Board President Wannabee Paula Tician commented 'this allows us to reduce county expenses and even lets dead people help with recycling.' The next time you get to 'choose' between 'paper' and 'plastic,' your great-grandparents' marriage license might literally be 'in the bag.'"

25 March 2009

Does One Letter Make a Difference?

How would one letter change that name?
The omission of one letter changes "Orange" to "range." Quite a difference.

How would the omission of one letter from the surname for which you are searching change it? Would the soundex code be the same? Would the name even be pronounced the same? Would the error be easy to find in an index.

Think about one letter being dropped. You might be surprised at the variants you come up with.

24 March 2009

Read the Page Before and After

This is always an excellent idea when an ancestor has been located in a census record as relatives could always appear on the page before or after your ancestor. At the very least you may see names you recognize from other documents on your relative, perhaps as witnesses or bondsmen.

If you locate a deed, view the ones recorded before and after as well. Sometimes deeds were recorded in groups and several might have been filed successively.

This may be helpful in court and other records as well.

Usually not helpful with birth records unless there were twins!

And deaths are another story.

23 March 2009

Are Your Maps Contemporary?

Genealogists need maps to oragnize information geographically, know where to look for records, and have an idea of how their ancestor's residences fit into the larger area as a whole.

One key is that the maps be contemporary to when your ancestor lived in the area. Modern maps can be helpful in finding current locations of cemeteries, but many other times our research requires contemporary maps.

If you are stuck on a forebear, get a contemporary map of his or her area. Perhaps that map is just the one you need to get your around or over that brick wall.

22 March 2009

It Is Relative

Never use the word "Grandma."

My daughter set up "accounts" for the family to use on her laptop. One evening I needed to use it and it asked me for a password. My "generic" password did not work and upon the submission of an incorrect entry it gave me a hint:

"Grandma's maiden name."

I immediately entered in each of my grandmother's maiden names. Once in lower case and once in upper case. I was just about to get irritated when I realized that my daughter had meant HER grandmother, not mine.

Two seconds later, the password let me in.

Avoid using words such as "grandma," "uncle," or "aunt" without more information. Even Grandma Neill can be confusing. After all, whose Grandma Neill is it? Records are confusing enough sometimes without us making things more confusing in our comments, notes and transcriptions.

21 March 2009

Drop the Last Name When Searching?

Have you considered dropping the last name when searching for an ancestor in a census or other record? This is especially a good idea for a relative who went by three names and whose middle name closely resembles a surname.

John Michael Trautvetter could have been enumerated as John Michael.

My ancestor Henry Jacobs Fecht is listed as Henry Jacobs in the 1870 census. Took me a while to find him listed like that.

Just something to consider if the usual search attempts do not pan out.

20 March 2009

What is a Homestead?

The word homestead can mean several things.

It could mean a "homestead" claim that was filed under the Homestead Act of 1862 (and which was amended). These claims usually were 160 acres and the in Great Plains and points west, but the amounts can vary depending upon the location and time period. Claimants would be deeded the entire homestead if they lived on the farm for a given number of years and improved it.

A "homestead" also could be referring to that portion of a family's farm containing their actual home and surrounding buildings that often was allowed to the widow if her husband died. This homestead was usually protected from creditors in the event of her husband's death. Sometimes the residence and her actual "dower" would be lumped together as her right of "homestead and dower." The technical definition can vary from state to state--refer to applicable state statutes for a precise definition.

19 March 2009

What is a Witness?

A witness to a document is stating that the individual who signed the document looked like they were of sound mind and it appeared that they were acting of their own volition and not under any influence of another person or substance.

Witnesses to a document may have known your ancestor.

Witnesses to a document may have been related to your ancestor.

Witnesses may have been just another warm body in the Justice of the Peace's office at the same time as your ancestor.

Witnesses do not have to be related to your ancestor and they don't have to be "friends" with your ancestor. They could be, but they do not have to be. Keep that in mind.

18 March 2009

What is an Infant?

An 1830 document indicates your ancestor is an infant and has a guardian appointed for him. The next year the ancestor marries. What gives?

What gives is that an "infant" in the legal sense is someone who is under the age of majority. While that can vary from state to state and has changed over time, it typically is 18 for females and 21 for males.

So your ancestor could be 15 years old and be an infant.

Just something to keep in mind.

17 March 2009

Keep Your Perspective

Locating a divorce record gave me a new spelling for my grandmother's maiden name of Trautvetter. The new (to me) variant is "troutfitter." I performed a google search for the name, finding many references. Most of the sites had to do with fishing and I was initially confused. It took me a few minutes before I realized most of the "troutfitter" references were a play on the words "trout" and "outfitter." Then it made sense, but I also realized that for the majority of the pages I located "troutfitter" was not based upon someone's name. Oh well.

Remember that there is a word outside of genealogy. I will still look for Troutfitter (and Trautfitter) references, but won't assume they all have to do with with the last name.

And my google searches will be constructed to not include webpages that have references to "trout" or "fish."

16 March 2009

Re-interview Relatives

You interviewed great-Aunt Myrtle five years ago when you first began your research. When was the last time you asked her questions? Maybe even discussing with her some of what you have found will cause her to "remember" things she never would have thought of if her memory had not been jogged.

15 March 2009

Post to the Message Boards

Is there a brick wall you have been stuck on for a long time? Is there a message board you have not posted to about that problem? Think of the counties where the person lived and post your query to one of those boards.

There are message boards at Ancestry-- http://boards.ancestry.com
There are more at Genforum-- http://genforum.genealogy.com

A researcher in a workshop was stuck on a family and one of my suggestions was that she post her question about the confusing deed extract to that county's message board. My hope was that a "local" could help her. She got two responses. One was from a researcher of the same name and another offered to help with the extract. All within 24 hours.

No guarantees, but might be worth a try.

14 March 2009

Check out Your Local Library

Does your local library have access to any database or sites that could be helpful in your genealogical research? Many libraries subscribe to a variety of databases including magazine and journal articles, historical archives, etc. Of course you should find out what genealogical databases your library has access to, but there may be variety of other databases in the reference section that could provide useful to your research.

Nearby university libraries may be a gold mine as well. Even if they don't have a genealogy collection.

13 March 2009

Do You Know the Soundex Codes for Your Surnames?

Many database searches allow users to perform soundex searches. This allows users to look for names that "sound like" the name that was entered in the search box. This is great as long as you are aware of this and do not overlook reasonable variants of the last name in the process.

For this reason it is good to know the soundex codes for your last names and their variants. Not because you need them to search, but so you know what names you need to perform soundex searches for in order to not miss any results.

The last name Demoss occasionally gets written as Demop (because the "ss" is made like a "p" sometimes. A soundex search for Demoss will not bring up Demop because the two are not Soundex equivalent.

Demoss has a soundex code of D520
Demop has a soundex code of D510

Of course, Demos is a variant too, but since a double letter is omitted, there is no difference. Searching for "Demoss" with soundex turned on will not bring up any Demop refererences.

Rootsweb has a feature that will find the soundex code for your last names.

12 March 2009

Cut off the Name

Have you tried searching for that ancestral last name by cutting off part of it? Perhaps "De Moss" was entered as "Moss." Perhaps Van der Walle was entered as just "Wall." Goldenstein might have been entered as "Golden."

The list goes on. Consider what might have happened if someone dropped the first syllable or two of your ancestor's last name.

Then try the same for the last syllable or two.

You might be surprised at what you find.

11 March 2009

Tried the State Archives?

In some states, older county records have been placed at the state archives. The state archives may even have created indexes to some of these older records. For any state where you have relatives, locate the website for the state archives (a google search for "yourstate state archives," where yourstate is the state name will probably do the trick).

You may be surprised what you find there. I located the divorce for my globetrotting relative Philip Troutfetter at the Colorado State Archives and am waiting for a copy. Never hurts to try.

10 March 2009

Clean it Out?

They put new carpet in my office at work. The drawback was that I had to take everything out. The upside was I "found" folders and papers I had forgotten about or mislaid. Do you have stacks of copies in your genealogy workspace that have been neglected? So you even know what is in those stacks?

Go through and clean up your genealogy work area. At the very least you may be more efficient. At the very most you may find something you completely forgot you ever had.

09 March 2009

Help Someone Else?

Have you considered helping someone else with their genealogy? I'm not suggesting spending months of intense research. But have you considered:
  • Offering to take pictures of stones in a nearby cemetery? This offer could be posted to a Rootsweb mailing list. Best to start with a small cemetery.
  • Performing lookups in a book you have at home?
  • Answering a query on a mailing list that does not relate to one of your families?

Sometimes it feels good to just help someone else with their research. Sometimes it generates good "genealogy karma." And sometimes when you help someone else, you learn something that later helps you with your own research.

08 March 2009

Do You Just Need Some Advice?

If you are stuck on an ancestor, you might consider hiring a professional to solve it for you. Sometimes this is cost prohibitive. Professional genealogists have bills to pay too and need to charge for their research services. However, some will do consulting work--where they read over your organized material and make suggestions. Sometimes that is all you need--suggestions of what to do next.

I did this recently and it was exactly what I needed. Also I really just needed another set of eyes to look over what I had and make certain that I had not overlooked something.

One warning. Organize your information first. Any professional receiving unorganized information will need to organize it. That takes time and increases the number of their billable hours.

A plumber will charge me for his time if he spends fifteen minutes cleaning out the cabinet under the sink before he can actually do any work. It is the same when a professional genealogist has to begin work with your unorganized information. She needs to clean first. That's usually something you can do yourself and save a little money in the process.

07 March 2009

Ask Yourself Why?

Genealogists should be asking themselves "why?" whenever they locate a document. Sometimes the answer is easy. Death certificates are created because someone dies, marriage certificates are created because someone was married. Of course, vital records (and some other records) are kept for reasons somewhat unrelated to your ancestor's existence.

Wills are recorded because someone died and the estate needed to be settled.

Guardianships are recorded because a parent died and left an estate and minor children.

Deeds are recorded because land was sold. Sometimes deeds are recorded because the surviving spouse died and the property needed to be transferred. Sometimes this fact will not even be indicated on the deed.

Anything that falls "outside normal parameters" should really cause you to ask "why?" My wife's Roman Catholic ancestor waited until two of her children were in elementary school to have them baptised. This is unusual. The likely reason? She had divorced her first husband and was "getting things in order" to marry her second and baptizing her children was one of those "loose ends" the church needed tied up.

Don't be overly cynical and dream up things for which there is no reason, but keep thinking about what was the reason and what was the motivation behind an event or a document.

06 March 2009

Look at More than One Newspaper

Do not limit your search for obituaries to just one newspaper. Your search may start with the newspaper closest to where your ancestor lived or died, but it should not end there. If your ancestor lived in an urban area, consider looking at other papers or suburban newspapers near where the ancestor lived. If your ancestor was in a rural area, look at nearby papers and always look at the newspaper from the county seat.

Also consider foreign language or ethnic newspapers if your ancestor was an immigrant or the child of immigrants.

Different newspapers do not alway give the exact same information.

05 March 2009

Update Your Spam Filters

I do not have too much of my own ancestry posted in the public trees at Ancestry.com because I do not have time to answer all potential inquiries. However, I do have information posted in two public trees on two of my more problematic families. My hope is that the automatic search at Ancestry will locate something I have overlooked, or that a relative crawls out of the woodwork and contacts me. I’ve already had two relatives send me e-mail messages.

The problem is that my responses are apparently not getting back to them. I have had three messages from different relatives in response to one of my trees. I sent return e-mails almost immediately. No response. Two replied to my tree again a few months later. Again I immediately replied. No response to my reply.

The likely problem? My replies are getting caught in their junk-mail filter. Messages sent in response to trees and messages sent in reply to these responses are not sent directly from the user's email. They are instead sent a Connection Service at Ancestry.com. If you have public trees posted or have responded to any trees you can't just sit and wait for a response and assume that it will automatically get to you. These messages are "automatic" and could get caught in many junk-mail filters.

Messages in response to trees typically come from connectionservice@cbsvc.myfamily.com and replies to a connection request would come from the domain cbreply.myfamily.com. Make certain you have allowed these addresses in any filters you have. If not, you may miss replies to your trees or replies to your inquiries--and we wouldn't want that to happen!

Note: this is reprinted from a tip I wrote for Ancestry.com in December 2008. I'm using it again because I recently had the same person post a message to me and apparently not get my reply.

04 March 2009

Read and Review

There is a "game" going around on Facebook where you pick the book nearest to you and type in the 5th full sentence on page 56.

I learned something when I did it. The book I grabbed was Echo King's Finding Answers in British Isles Census Records. King mentioned that in the 1841 UK Census enumerators were not requried to give full Christian names. I probably knew this at one point in time, but the remembering did not hurt me.

While I'm not going to spend all day picking out pages at random to read, the exercise did remind me that every so often it is a good idea to pull out one of those references we have not read in a while and review a chapter or two.

We may learn something. I know I did.

03 March 2009

Another Reason to Search Every Record

Sometimes we can be tempted to not look at every record, thinking that we do not need it or that information it provides will only be the same as what we already have.

Once I almost neglected locating a 1930 census entry for a family because "I didn't need it." Turns out I was wrong. It listed the "birth" name for a daughter, which ended up being a clue as to the name of the father's mother.

You just never know. And don't assume that you do not need a record just because you "know everything."

02 March 2009

Exhaust One Place Before You Venture Out

I was researching a relative in Champaign County, Illinois. A vertical file on the family contained a death notice from an undated, unsourced newspaper that indicated the relative was killed by a train.

The only problem was that the newspaper clipping was a photocopy of the original. There was no reverse side I could look at for clues. There was just the clipping. I was concerned I would have a difficult time locating the person with just a clue that he died in Indiana.

Then I remembered the deceased had an interest in an estate in the county where he lived. Researching court and probate records located a file settling up his estate. Included in those court records was a transcription of the coroner's report from the Indiana county where he died. Problem solved without looking in one Indiana county after another.

You can't solve every problem this way, but exhausting all sources where you know the person had been may give you clues to help you pinpoint those other areas.

01 March 2009

Are You Checking to See if there is a Gap?

Originally I somehow overlooked 1 March 2009 when creating these daily posts. The tips are written in bunches, I don't sit down every morning and crunch one out.

However for some reason I originally overlooked 1 March 2009 and it brought something to mind:

Are there gaps in a series of records you are using? Besides looking for a certain name, are you paying enough attention to make certain that there are entries for every year the records supposedly cover, every region, etc.?