Sponsored By GenealogyBank

31 May 2009

Start A Blog

You may think that the world doesn't need any more genealogy blogs, but here's a reason to start one:

A relative might contact you.

My recent postings on www.rootdig.com about my findings at the Family History Library in Salt Lake brought about a reply from a researcher in Scotland who descends from my wife's 4th great-grandparents. I searched for these ancestors in several online databases, all to no avail. Despite this lack of any luck, within two weeks of my posting about the family, there was an email in my inbox.

I'm not saying you have to blog every day, or even every week. Personally I'd rather do actual research and analyze what I have. But an occasional entry about what you have found might bring another relative out of the woodwork.

I use www.blogger.com for mine, but there are other sites /software that one can use.

30 May 2009

Don't Judge, Instead think Why?

Upon occasion, one hears fellow genealogists being slightly judgemental about a specific ancestor. Instead of getting bogged down in that line of thinking (which doesn't help your research any), think "why?"

Putting yourself in your ancestor's shoes gives you a different perspective. If you were twenty-six years old, widowed, the mother of two small children, unable to speak English and living where you had no relatives, what might you do? You might marry the first German speaking single male around--one who would not have been your choice if you were twenty years old and still living at home with no children to support.

If your great-grandfather "disappeared" consider where he might have gone and what he might have done in an attempt to find him. Was there a war he might have enlisted in? Did he have some type of psychological problems? Maybe it was even better that he left, despite the disruption it caused in the family.

If you never personally knew the ancestor, leave the judging to someone else. Focus instead on your research.

On the flip side of this, I know one researcher who thought it was "romantic" that her great-great-grandmother found the "love of her life" and left her husband and headed out West on some grand adventure. The researcher was completely enamored with the story. Now if HER mother had done the same thing, I'm certain her response would have been somewhat different.

29 May 2009

More than Birth and Death Dates

Are you working to get more than just birth and death dates for your ancestors? After a while, lists of names and dates get a little dry for even the most serious genealogist. Consider fleshing out other details on your ancestor. County histories, newspapers, and court records are all great places to get beyond the bare facts.

In lectures, I refer to my ancestor's 1850 era Mississippi River tavern as "Barbara's Bar and Grill." The local newspaper referred to it as a "house of ill repute." You never know what you will find until you look. I still don't have Barbara's date of birth, but I know a lot about her from court records and newspapers.

28 May 2009

How Was Life Different?

Have you really thought about how your ancestor' s was different from your own? Things have changed since your deceased ancestor was alive. Some changes are big and some are small. I haven't used directory information for years, if I need a phone number for a business I simply "google" it on my blackberry, click on the phone number and dial. Ten years ago I couldn't do that.

And maybe when you think about how your ancestor's is different from your own, you will realize there is something about that ancestor you have overlooked.

Salt Lake City Research Trip 2010

Ok, so it's not an actual tip of the day, but I am pleased to announce we have set the dates for the 5th annual Rootdig.com Salt Lake City Family History Library Research Trip in 2010.

The dates of our trip are 27 May-3 June 2010. This includes Sunday, but we either use that day for rest, siteseeing, or additional consultations with Michael in the afternoon.

Enrollment is limited and $50 will hold your spot until the complete registration is due. For more information visit our site or email me directly at mjnrootdig@gmail.com. We would love to have Tip of the Day viewers join us in 2010.

Back to writing more tips...I am a little bit behind--fortunately because I spent an extra day at the FHL and did a little bit of my own research.

27 May 2009

Are you Backing Up?

One never knows when the hard drive will crash. Are you backing up your genealogy files on a regular basis? Remember, it's not whether your hard drive will fail, but when it will fail.

26 May 2009

Did they Reuse Names?

Yesterday's post mentioned men who might have had wives with the same first name. Keep in mind that in some ethnic backgrounds "reusing" names of deceased children was a very common practice. One of my Ostfriesen couples had four daughters named Reenste born within a ten year time span. The first three died shortly after birth. The fourth one grew to adulthood.

And my genealogy software program thought I was nuts to have a family with four children with the same name. But it can happen.

25 May 2009

Wife with the Same Name

There is a tombstone in the local cemetery. I can't remember the husband's name, but he had two wives, both were named Mathilda. One can only imagine how confusing this might be for his descendants.

Usually a new wife has a different name. If I researched this individual, the age of his wife might change significantly in census records, her birth place may suddenly be different, or other pieces of information may be inconsistent. Keep in mind that if the details on a spouse are different, it might because there was a different spouse--just one with the same first name.

24 May 2009

What are you using?

Do you know what kind of record you are using and are you entering the information correctly into your computer database? I have one distant relative who when using records of infant baptisms enters those dates as dates of birth. The church record does not include the date of birth and most baptisms were normally done within a few days of birth. However, dates of baptism are not dates of birth. Fortunately I discovered his penchant for confusing the two before I used his information. All of which points that getting to the actual record is just as important as ever. His transcriptions were accurate---except for saying baptismal dates with dates of birth.

23 May 2009

State Censuses

Many states took state censuses at some point in their history. Consider expanding your search of census records beyond federal census records. State censuses were often taken in off census years, that is in years not ending in a "0."

22 May 2009

Calculated Dates of Birth

If you have an age at death, keep in mind that the resulting birthdate (calculated from the age), may be slightly off. First it required the informant to know the exact date of birth and also required them to make the calculation of age correctly. Without knowing the birth date they used to determine the age, there is no way of knowing if the birth date is correct or not.

Always put the qualifier "calculated" in front of these dates of birth. If the person was "older" at the death, the age is a secondary source for the date of birth and should be treated as such.

21 May 2009

Check out the County Seat

Before making a trip to that out of the way county courthouse, find out a few things about the county seat:
  • Is there someplace to get lunch?
  • Should I stay at the motels?
  • Can I use a digital camera?

We were in a very rural county seat several years ago and the town only had a post office. There was no restaurant, no motel, etc. Consider posting a query to the appropriate Rootsweb mailing list/message board about your trip to find out these things before your arrival.

20 May 2009

Get the Real Deal

Remember when requesting copies of vital records to get an actual copy of the document, not just a "proof." Genealogists usually need all the information on the original document in the original handwriting. When I got a copy of my daughter's birth certificate, they brought out a typed copy that basically just gave her name, date and place of birth. While it worked for non-genealogy purposes, I want the "real deal" for my records.

My original birth certificate has my mother's signature on it. A transcription won't.

19 May 2009

Avoid Court Day

If your summer genealogy travel plans include a trip to that local county courthouse, consider avoiding court offices on "court day" if possible. Some county courts don't meet every day and if you are trying to use records on the one day a week court is in session, you may get less help than usual.

Try and find out from the local office if some days are "better" than others to come in and do research.

18 May 2009

Are You Really Working the Chain of Migration?

I'm a big believer in chains of migration, but while working on my wife's Frame family I completely ignored it. My theory was that since the 1869 era immigrant went to Chicago and was a painter that he simply settled there because he thought he could find work.

When searching for all his family's US census entries, I noted that one child was born in Pennsylvania. When searching UK census records on his in-laws, I noted that his wife had nephews in the UK who indicated they were born in Pennsylvania. Hmmm.

Maybe there was a chain of migration after all and I need to remind myself to look at the in-laws too!

17 May 2009

Updating Your Email?

Have you updated your email address to those old posts you have made to message boards? Is it possible that there are old messages you have sitting out there with your old email attached?

While you can't change the old posts, you can post new messages to the same board or list, restating your problem and including your new email. That way someone who finds the old post and your old email address can then search and find your new one.

I searched for one of my old email addresses and got over 1,000 hits. Some are for articles I wrote years ago, but a few probably are for posts to message boards on family members. Try searching for your old email address and see how many times it comes up. Have you posted updates to those boards?

16 May 2009

Clues in the Inventory?

Does your ancestor's estate inventory give an idea of his occupation? Many of us researching ancestors before the 1850 census don't have a record that spells out an ancestor's job. However, the record of your ancestor's personal estate might give an idea as to his occupation. Keep in mind that there are some items that most households in 1830 had, so be careful drawing conclusions and compare your ancestor's inventory to a few others just to see what items distinguish one from another.

15 May 2009

What Have You Ignored?

For a long time, I never really used the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the FamilySearch site very much. Most of my ancestors were German, Irish, or Early American and I just never found anything that I didn't already know and filtering through all the erroneous entries diverted me from more productive pursuits, in my opinion.

However, when I started working on my wife's English immigrants I've had to change my tune. The IGI includes significant extractions from English parish records and they have helped me refine my searches. Keep in mind that the IGI is a secondary source and that in the cases where I was working they usually didn't extract deaths, mainly births and marriages. And one should not assume they have every parish. And they don't extract father's occupation and specific residence which may also be on the original record. The IGI is not an end in and of itself and information it contains should be verified with actual sources.

Is there some source you've been in the habit of ignoring that perhaps you should start checking?

14 May 2009

Is Your Name on Your Flash Drive?

Many of us use flash drives in our genealogy work, particularly as we travel and take pictures, scan documents, share files, etc.

Your name may be on your flash drive and it may have a key chain or lanyard with your name on it. Another approach is to have a file in the main directory (preferably a plain text one) with your phone number and email address. That way if the finder is inclined, they have a way to reach you.

13 May 2009

Are You Logging Off?

Genealogists occasionally use someone else's computer to log into one of their various email or database accounts. Some genealogists use their own personal Ancestry.com accounts when at a library or Family History Center (it makes it easier to put things in your own "shoebox.").

Are you logging off when you get done? If you don't the next person could be accessing things you don't want them to.

12 May 2009

Historical Context?

Have you put your ancestor's life into the appropriate historical context? As mentioned in my earlier post, a relative "disappeared" ca. 1918. While there are many things that could have happened to him or places he could have gone, given the era it is always possible that he enlisted in World War I and died overseas. That would explain quite a bit about his disappearance.

Of course, if I'm working on this theory I also need to keep in mind his age at the time. That impacts the liklihood of his enlisting as well.

11 May 2009

All the cousins?

If you are at am impasse, have you actually located all the possible relatives who might be able to help you in your search?

My wife's great-grandfather "disappeared" ca. 1918. I'm not certain if he was in World War I or not, but I do know that it is possible that a descendant of one of his five siblings might have heard what happened to him. My wife's family does not know. However, it is possible that years after he left, he made some contact with a sibling and that information was not shared with this great-grandfather's children.

So my search for him is not complete until I have worked on locating the descendants of his siblings.

10 May 2009

Think "Who Gave it?"

If you are confused about a document, consider who gave the information and how they came to know that information. While your speculation may not be correct, it may get you to thinking about the perceived accuracy of the information. And THAT may be helpful.

09 May 2009

Write it Yourself

If you are having difficulty reading handwriting in a foreign language, after you've located a script guide (try Cyndislist- http://www.cyndislist.com or google for "german script," etc), try writing it yourself. Practing the script is an excellent way to "get it in your head."

08 May 2009

Look for the In-laws

If your research has hit a brick wall, make certain you have completely researched the in-laws. It may be that a record on one of them provides the missing link to your direct line ancestor.

07 May 2009

Google that Minister

I finally located the marriage record for an ancestor of my wife. It was the first marriage for him and the one from which my wife did not descend. However on a whim, I "googled" the name of the minister. Turns out he was well known in his area, founded what is now nationally known university, and involved in many activties in the mid-nineteenth century.

Also because of googling him, I learned the name of the church and found the email of the church archivist.

I think I'll be googling more minsters. I won't hit paydirt everytime, but one never knows.

06 May 2009

Base Lines and Meridians

Need help with base lines and meridians in federal land states?

Here is a map:


The "Visitor Center" at the Bureau of Land Management Website has excellent information as well:

05 May 2009

Needing a Project?

If you need a change of pace, determine those ancestors for whom you have a copy of their signature.

Remember, most recorded deeds and wills do not contain original signatures.

Searching for signatures may cause you to locate records for which you never thought to look.

04 May 2009


Have you tried to learn the occupation of each one of your ancestors? Knowing how your ancestor supported his family may provide suggestions as to what kinds of records he might have left behind.

It might also explain migration patterns, family social status, etc.

And if you know what your ancestor's occupation was, have you learned about that occupation during the time he or she lived? That too, may provide you with more insight into your ancestor's life.

03 May 2009

Just Read a Newspaper

A great way to get a perspective on your ancestor's time and place is to read an issue or two of their hometown paper while you are searching for that obituary. In addition to the national news, there will be local news.

Reading the paper will give you a history lesson in microcosm and may make you aware of things you never learned in history class. It might give you an entirely different viewpoint on your ancestor as well.

And being familiar with the newspaper's layout and general style never hurt either.

02 May 2009

Clues in Metes and Bounds Descriptions

Sometimes the uninitiated is not aware of the neighborhood clues that are contained in a metes and bounds property description from state land states. These descriptions are the ones that give the boundaries of the property by listing the points, the angles, and the lengths of each side. Frequently these descriptions will mention by names the other owners of properties that border the property being transferred.

This can be a great way to get names of neighbors of your ancestor.

01 May 2009

Jumping to Conclusions

Don't jump to conclusions. Your first response to a record or a document may be incorrect.

I posted to my facebook account that I had been in the courtroom in the Hancock County, Illinois, courthouse in front of the judge. One can draw several conclusions from that.

The reality is that I was there for a wedding.

Find out more before you reach a conclusion.

Don't assume it was my wedding either. My statement never indicated in what capacity I was there. Be careful reading more into a statement than is there. It may cause you to go off on a completely incorrect research tangent.