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30 April 2010

An Error May be an Error

Before you overly analyze that incorrect marital status in a census, before you get all "fussed up" over an incorrect place of birth, consider the possibility that what is wrong is simply an error.

Sometimes our ancestors do lie.

But sometimes people just make mistakes.

We were not there when they gave the information and when it got written down. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.

Something to think about before we go making up some grand reason behind the discrepancy.

29 April 2010

Did the last name get dropped?

Does your ancestor have a middle name that is also a last name? Is it possible that he cannot be located in a census or other record because the census taker left off his actual last name and used his middle name as a last name?

It might explain when Henry Jacobs Fecht is enumerated in the 1870 census as Henry Jacobs.

And if you don't know that middle name it's going to be even more difficult to find him.

28 April 2010

Using Maps with the Census?

Are you using a map when you search the census for your ancestor? If you don't have appropriate, contemporary to your census problem year maps, you could easily be making mistakes or looking in places that are not quite right.

With indexes, manual searches of the census are not always necessary (but sometimes they are). Maps though, are not optional. You need to know where locations are and how they fit together. Even if you think you know the location, get a map. In fact, making assumptions about locations can create a few brick walls.

27 April 2010

Get a Perpetual Calendar

They are all over the internet. When using any document or record that refers to dates, particularly one that says last Thursday, two weeks ago, etc. use a perpetual calendar. A simple google search will locate them. It will make you determination of the date a little easier. I found one helpful when analyzing obituaries for a recent Casefile Clues column.

26 April 2010

Be Specific

Whenever you are writing or talking about a person be specific. First names are rarely specific enough, particularly in some families. First and last names are best, perhaps combined with a date of birth or date of death.

My mother has three Aunt Ruths. It usually took more than just "Aunt Ruth" to know to whom someone was referring. Sometimes it was clear from context, but not always. Don't create additional confusion in the records you leave behind. Be specific.

25 April 2010

Take A List

If you are going to do any research in records where the use of terms is important, land records, foreign language church records, etc. take a "cheat sheet" of key terms or words and what they usually mean. It will help.

For example a sheet for land records should include grantor, grantee, quit claim, etc.
A sheet for foreign language work should contain the main genealogy words in that language at the very least.

24 April 2010

Look at the Search Boxes Carefully

When using online search interface, make certain you are interpreting all the search boxes correctly. It is very easy to get "ahead of the game" and waste time because you are not putting the correct things in the correct boxes. If you first do not find what you think you should, look at each search box and make certain you have (if appropriate) put in the correct item.

23 April 2010

That Newspaper is Secondary

Remember that newspaper accounts of events can easily be incorrect and that every detail should be verified with other records if at all possible. Newspapers can easily get details of current events incorrect. I've seen obituaries of the same person in different papers conflict with each other over current details. The chance for error is even greater when dealing with the details of some person's life in an obituary.

22 April 2010

Google that Occupation

Is there a census occupation you can't quite read or can read, but think someone dreamed it up? Google the word. You may find your answer.

21 April 2010

Would One Missed Word Make a Difference?

Take care in transcribing documents and in using transcriptions. One missed word can make all the difference. While it is not a genealogy example, the following makes the point.

"I put money in the envelope" means something different from "put money in the envelope." Think about those transcriptions you are creating and using. If someone missed a word, it could make all the difference.

20 April 2010

When Was the Last Time You Looked?

More and more unindexed records are going online every day. When was the last time you looked to see what was "new?"

My most significant breakthrough came when I searched a previously unindexed state census that had just been released on Ancestry.com. Boom! There was a likely match on a person I was struggling on.

I had not used the records before as I could not search the entire unindexed state.

When was the last time you looked to see what was "new?"

19 April 2010

Geography is Three-Dimensional

"Low is south and high is north." It was the essence of a misunderstanding another genealogist and I had. I referred to my "low-German" ancestors and she thought they lived in the southern part of Germany, perhaps because that was "lower" on the map. In this case, the "lower" part of Germany is near the sea.

Are you interpreting things correctly?

And remember, geography is three dimensional.

17 April 2010

It is not all digital

Just remember that not every source genealogists use is online. Many books and materials have been digitized, but many have not. Make certain your search also includes materials that are only available in their original format.

16 April 2010

Don't Forget the State Archives

You ancestor could easily appear in records in the state archives for the state where he or she lived. Sometimes we forget that states kept records too. In some cases the State Archives may copies of county records as well. Make certain you have included the State Archives in your searching.

15 April 2010

Want to Join Michael in Salt Lake this May?

Anyone who wants to join me in Salt Lake at the Family History Library in late May...check out my group trip page:


Do You Know Your Geography?

Do you really know the geography of the area in which you are working, or are you "working" from assumptions?

Best to get maps, modern and contemporary, just to be certain.

14 April 2010

What is the front and what is the back?

If you are using any reproductions of original documents, be it microfilm, digital images, or photocopies, do you know what images came from the same piece of paper?

It is not always clear what "front" should be paired with what "back." And sometimes it makes a huge difference in how you analyze documents.

13 April 2010

Proof Yourself

Are you doublechecking information as you enter it into your genealogical database? Are you making certain those transcriptions are done correctly, word for word?

12 April 2010

Are you proving every relationship as best you can?

You should have some documentation, or at least a verifiable reason for every relationship between two individuals in your database.

"Thinking they are related" isn't a reason.

11 April 2010

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I will be making the following presentations at the following upcoming conferences/workshops over the next several months:

Topeka Genealogy Society Seminar, 24 April 2010
  • The Oft-Married Sarah
  • Female Ancestors: After the Marriage
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls
  • Widows Denied-Pensions for Widows and What they Can Tell You

Southern California Family History Jamboree, 11-13 June 2010
  • Restacking the Blocks: Organizing Your Information
  • From New Jersey to Ohio: Establishing an Early Nineteenth Century Migration Trail
  • Pig Blood in the Snow: Court Records Can Solve Problems

Family History Expos-Loveland, Colorado 25 & 26 June 2010
  • Searching Tips and Tricks
  • Where Did the Farm Go
  • Where Do I Go From Here?
  • Restacking the Blocks: Organizing Your Information
Cleveland, Oklahoma Summer Seminar, 24 July 2010
  • Using Probate Manuals and State Statute
  • Barbara, Nancy and Antje-Three Midwestern Women and Their Records
  • Pig Blood in the Snow-Court Records Can Solve Problems
  • Organizing Your Information
More workshops seminars will be announced as they approach and as they are scheduled. If you are in the area, please consider attending! And if you'd like to bring me to your seminar or workshop, please contact me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com for details.


Act Professional

Going to that local courthouse to do some family history research? Know what you are looking for and look presentable. Staff will take you more seriously if you act like you know what you are doing and are dressed reasonably well.

10 April 2010

Newspaper Writeups

Don't look for just births, marriages, and deaths in newspapers.

Were your ancestors married fifty years or more? Did one live to be hundred? Were there other events that might have warranted mention in the newspaper? Search for these events as well. One-day those newspapers may be digitally scanned and full text searchable, but until then this approach might work.

09 April 2010

Do You Have the Name at Death?

If you are looking for that female relative in a death record, Social Security Death Index, probate record, etc. remember that you need to have her last name on the day she died. If she married shortly before her death, that might be a problem. Make certain you really know the name under which she might be listed in those records created after her death.

08 April 2010

How off are all the ages?

Look at every age of your ancestor in every available record? How consistent are they? Compare each and every one of them, creating a range of years in which your ancestor could have been born. Making a chart could be helpful in analyzing what appears to be inconsistent years of birth.

Such a chart was helpful in working on a person of interest in this week's issue of Casefile Clues.

07 April 2010

Identify People on Pictures Now!

Are there old pictures you have not "gotten around" to identifying? Are there people you haven't asked that might know who is in those old pictures. Ask now, before it's too late. Other information will be around in a week. Aunt Myrtle might not.

06 April 2010

Make it Clear, Never Assume

I was helping a high school classmate with her son's 5 generation genealogy project. In one communication with her, I asked her if her Dad's family lived in or near Tennessee. After I hit send, I realized I should have clarified which Tennessee I was talking about. There is Tennessee the state and Tennessee the little town in the adjacent county.

Are you being precise in your use of locations?

05 April 2010

Casefile Clues

A notice to our new followers and fans on Facebook---"Genealogy tip of the Day" is sponsored by Casefile Clues, my weekly genealogy how-to newsletter. Every week we analyze a document, record, or "problem" focusing on method and procedure. Several brick walls are updated on a regular basis, letting readers see how the research progresses. More information is on the Casefile Clues website.

Ask for Help

Whether or not there are "stupid questions" is debatable. However, if there is something about a record, a resource, or an ancestor you do not understand, consider asking someone. They may be able to point out some nuance that you overlooked that even seasoned researchers don't always see. And if it turns out you are missing something obvious, you probably won't die of embarrassment. And if you do, well then you can ask your ancestors those questions personally.....

04 April 2010

Go to a Seminar

Is there a one-day genealogy seminar or workshop near you? Consider going. Even if the topics do not necessarily seem like they will interest you, you might learn something. Workshops are often a good way to network with others before the lectures, during lunch, etc. And you can always volunteer to help with future workshops and maybe help choose the speaker, topics, etc.

03 April 2010

Is the Answer in a Whole Different Record?

If you can't find an ancestor in a specific record, go back and review his entries in other records or consider searching in different materials altogether. It may be that in working in those other materials that you find the clue that explains why the ancestor is "missing" in the record that had you stymied.

That's how I found an ancestor in the 1840 census, by looking in non-census records I got my answer.

02 April 2010

Dates of Execution versus Date of Recording

Remember that the date a document is signed is the date of execution. The date a document is recorded at the appropriate office is the date of recording. There is a difference. Not every document was recorded promptly. Wills are usually recorded after someone's death. Deeds may not be recorded for years, but most are. Sometimes deeds will finally be recorded when the purchaser wants to sell the property and realizes the deed of purchase was never recorded.

01 April 2010

Census Relationships

Remember--census relationships are always given with respect to the head of household. In some cases, the wife may not be the mother of all the children. And "children" of the head of household may actually be step-children.