Sponsored By GenealogyBank

30 April 2009

Is there another index?

Never let someone tell you there is no index or there is just one index to something. Determine if there is another index or if an index was created and published privately.

There were a series of land records I was searching for in a county in Illinois while at the Family History Library. They only had indexes to each volume, compiled separately in the front of each one.

What they did not have was another index to the land records that was created and maintained at the courthouse. That index had not been filmed and consequently was not at the Family History Library. Using that index took 5 minutes to find the deeds I needed. Going through the volumes' indexes one-by-one would have taken me at least 3 hours.

28 April 2009

Ask for Ideas?

Consider asking someone unrelated to your family to look at a document or a record that confuses you. Going to your local genealogical society meeting can be one way to do this. Another is to scan the document and post it to a blog and mention it on an appropriate mailing list. This can be a good way to get short documents translated or at least to have someone look at a word or a phrase that is difficult to read.

To see an example of how I did this on my website visit here:


27 April 2009

Read the Description

Always make certain you read the description of a data set before searching. This allows you to see whether or not it includes the information you need.

The Family Search site includes some Ohio Tax records. I was excited as both my wife and I have early Ohio ancestors. Unfortunately at the time I visited the site, only a few counties were included. They will add more, but READING what areas are included before I search a database saves me time if the locations I need are not yet included.

26 April 2009

Turn it All Off?

Stuck on a certain problem or document? If your computer is always "online," consider temporarily turning off your internet connection while concentrating. Maybe even turn off the cell phone.

Recently I was working on a christening record from the 1870s. It was written in German and mentioned two families. The temptation was to start surfing for information on the families before I really completed my attempt to translate the document.

Sometimes it is good to brainstorm and jot down ideas one after the other when you cannot immediately do some of them. Being able to search immediately can easily get you distracted and cause you to lose focus on what you were originally trying to figure out.

Without constant interruption or the temptation to be distracted I was able to concentrate on my document, read it as best I could, and make a long list of ideas for how to follow up on what it told me. Then, when I was out of ideas, I got back on the computer and started working on my list, one item at a time.

It helps a lot to be focused.

25 April 2009

Doing the Math Right?

Are you subtracting correct when taking an age and calculating a year of birth? It might pay to doublecheck your computations so you do not create errors in your own records.

It seems like a simple thing, but a subtraction error, especially if done in your head late at night while on the computer, can easily happen.

And a year of birth calculated as 1802, when it should be 1812, might make all the difference in interpreting other records correctly.

24 April 2009

One Good Reason to Make a Blog

There are many reasons a genealogist should create a free blog. One is that it can be used to post images of documents you cannot read. I am a member of several mailing lists, one of which has several members who are good at reading German script.

Occasionally when I have something where I cannot read a word or two, I put the image on my blog and then post a message to the mailing list about the document I cannot read and then tell them where I have posted the image.

This makes it easier for them to try and help me figure out the document.

One recent posting can be viewed here:

I usually only post small things where I have a word or a phrase I cannot read. If it is a three page document, I usually try other options including professional translators.

23 April 2009

Was Grandma Mixed Up?

Sometimes errors in genealogical records are unintentional. Census and christening records indicate my grandmother was born in Wythe Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Grandma always thought she was born in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois-in nearby Walker Township. On every record from her marriage through her death, Grandma's place of birth was put down as Tioga--because that is what she thought it was.

The error wasn't intentional, but rather was based upon her belief as to where she was born.

I have noted the discrepancy in all the records and made a note about what Grandma thought in her file so that someone else will know why there are the differences in her records.

Errors happen for a variety of reasons. I was lucky in this case because I knew how the errors got there. That does not always happen.

22 April 2009

Discrepancy Charts

Genealogy information does not always agree. Several years ago I wrote an article for Genealogy.com on discrepancy charts that can be used to organize inconsistent information. That article can be viewed here:


Too long for a "short tip," but it's worth taking a look at. I have linked to the printer friendly version.

21 April 2009

Using All the Indexes

In some cases, there may be several sites that index the same set of records. Consider using other indexes when available and when one index does not help you to find the desired person. Another person making their own index may read something differently than did the first person. Don't assume someone is not in a record because one index fails to include him. And remember that a manual search of the records may be necessary.

20 April 2009

Can You Undo It?

If you have an original copy of a document or photograph, do not do anything do that paper or photograph that cannot be undone.

Putting it in a frame or an envelope (usually) is one thing. Taping it in a book is another.

19 April 2009

Get all the Maps You Need

Make certain you have maps of all the areas where you are doing your family research and that those maps are contemporary to the time when your family lived in the area. County lines change as do other political jurisdictions. Modern maps are a good idea too, particularly when trying to determine where the farm is today or where that cemetery is located.

18 April 2009

Learn the Foreign Language Script

Remember that there is more to reading records in a foreign language than simply learing the vocabulary. Foreign language records are often written in a different script and that letter that looks like an "L" may actually be a "B." There are script guides on a variety of how-to websites. The Family Search Site (http://www.familysearch.org) has online images to scripts from several countries in their section of research helps. Checking out the appropriate country's page on Cyndislist (http://www.cyndislist.com) or her page on handwriting may also locate links to pages to help you read the handwriting.

17 April 2009

Review on Birthdays

Here's an off-the-wall idea--but some days I find writing tips a little difficult.

Make a calendar with your ancestor's dates of birth on it. Then on the ancestor's birthday, review the information you have about that person. This might help you find something in your files that you had forgotten.

Today would have been my great-grandmother Ufkes' birthday--she would have been 114. She was born Trientje Marie Janssen on her parents' farm near Basco, Hancock County, Illinois.

16 April 2009

Return Trips

Did your ancestor make a return trip home to visit family? It was not unheard of for 19th and 20th century immigrants to the United States to make one or two return trips home to visit. Records of their arrivals on these subsequent ocean crossings may provide more details on them than their original entry records do.

15 April 2009

Look at the Eternal Neighbors

When you locate that ancestor in a cemetery, look at the neighboring stones. There is a reasonable chance they are relatives. At least copy down the names and information (or take pictures) while you have the chance. Five years later (when you have discovered their names in other records) it may be too late to get information from their stone.

14 April 2009

Get a Legal Dictionary

For many genealogists, a legal dictionary is a great help. This is especially true when analyzing court and probate records where legal terms may be used profusely. I picked up on on Ebay several years ago. A current in print one is not necessary and may be beyond your genealogy budget. Mine dates from the 1980s and serves my purpose well. In fact, I may pick up a few more from earlier time periods if I happen to spot one at an auction.

13 April 2009

How are they Organized?

Some records are organized geographically (census), some records are organized chronologically (vital records), and some are organized by name (indexes). Learn how a record series is organized before you use it. That will help you glean as much from it as you can.

12 April 2009

Preserve Your Originals

Never take your only copy of a document with you on a research trip. You may use it. Never put the original copy of a document out for permanent display. Sunlight will permanently fade it. Use copies. Save yourself the pain of losing or destroying the only copy of something you have.

11 April 2009

Places of Birth at the Time of the Record

Remember that birthplaces in census and other records may have been written down as they were at the time the record was created, not the time the birth took place. At different times, my ancestor indicated she was born in Prussia, Hanover, or Germany. This was because of who was "ruling" the village where she was born at the time of the census or other record. It may just seem like great-great-grandma was confused when she really was not.

10 April 2009

Nuncupative Will

A nuncupative will is a will that is orally dictated by the testator. These are typically deathbed type wills. This will is to be written down as soon as possible by the witnesses and presented to the court within the time allowed for probate. Not all jurisdictions have honored these as valid.

09 April 2009

Search Collateral Lines for Pensions

Miltary pensions, especially if the widow survived and claimed her pension, may provide information about more than just the veteran and his widow. Relatives might have had to testify to the marriage of the veteran and his wife, their residences, their children and other information in an attempt to document the pension. These documents are more detailed if the widow cannot find her marriage certificate or the courthouse burned. Relatives who were present at the marriage or who knew of the couple's marriage might have testified. Wonderful records these are.

My ancestor's Civil War pension provided information about the wife's family, including her siblings. She also indicated who was at her 1867 wedding and the sister-in-law who was present at the birth of one of her children.

08 April 2009

Too Many Mailing Lists?

Are you on too many genealogy mailing lists? I was beginning to think I was. Reading the constant barrage of messages was taking time from my research. In my case, I set up email filters so the mailing list messages go into separate folders insted of my main inbox. Then I can read the messages when I want to and not have them coming in every hour or so.

And there were a few lists I unsubscribed to. One only has so much time.

It might be worth your while to be selective about what lists you are on.

07 April 2009

The Fragile Human Mind

Write down your own life story and ask those interview questions you have been putting off. The human mind is the most fragile repository we use. Don't waste it and don't miss an opportunity.

06 April 2009

Record those stones now

A few months ago I stopped at a cemetery where several ancestors are buried. I had not been there in years. The stone whose information I had recorded had fallen over and was not nearly as legible as it had been ten years ago when I was there last.

One of my summer goals is to visit every nearby ancestral cemetery and get pictures and information off those stones. One day it may be too late.

05 April 2009

They Don't Film Everything

Just remember, even if it appears that the Family History Library has a great deal of information on your county or locality of interest, there probably are more records actually in the area that were not filmed. LDS films quite a bit, but they don't always get every piece of paper in the courthouse.

And some courthouses don't let them film everything, either.

04 April 2009

Checked out pilot.familysearch.org?

I don't check it daily, but every month or so, I visit the Family History Library's website http://pilot.familysearch.org. They are periodically adding new information and many times there is something "new" that can help me in my research. If it has been a while since you looked at the content on this site, give it a go.

All information on http://familysearch.org is free.

03 April 2009


Is there something you think you know but for which you have no real proof other than you have always believed it?

While it doesn't have direct genealogical bearing, I have been reading "Pillars of the Republic" by Carl F. Kaestle. One thing I learned while reading the book is that there were many schools in the 1820s-1840s that enrolled children as young as 4. This trend changed in the mid-eighteenth century. I just always assumed that there was no schooling at all for children that young until the 20th century. I never read that anywhere, I just assumed it.

Is there some "fact" in your genealogy research that you never read, never heard, but just assumed? And is it causing that brick wall in your research?

02 April 2009

Did Grandma Even Say it Right?

Years ago in an article, I referred to a "birder house." I was mentioning in passing the little shed where my Grandma Neill had kept her baby chickens. She always said it like "birder house." And it seemed like a logical name for a building that kept little birds. What she actually meant was "brooder house."

Referring to a brood of chickens, not a "bird."

Is there a name, a word, or a placename that you heard "wrong" from a relative? Is that the reason you cannot find it? Perhaps Grandma was pronouncing it in her own way. If no one else used that pronunciation, you may have difficulty in finding the correct location.

Grandma always said she was born in "Tiogee" but that's another story for another tip!

01 April 2009

Relationships are Given to Head of Household

Remember that relationships in the census are given with respect to the head of household. They may or may not be the children of the spouse in the household. Don't draw conclusions that are not supported by the enumeration.

Of course in many households the husband and wife are the parents of all the "children" listed as the head of household's children. But sometimes they are not.