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31 May 2010

Before You Make Copies from that Book

Don't just copy the page on which your relative's name appears. Copy sufficient preceding pages so that the information is not viewed out of context. It may be helpful to copy the preface. And always copy the title page so you know where you obtained the material.

30 May 2010

We don't have any relatives

Don't assume those stories about having "no relatives" are true. One family insisted our branch was the only one to come out west from Ohio. Turns out there were three first cousins and two aunts and two uncles who also came to the same area from Ohio.

Why descendants insisted we were the "only ones" is beyond me, but they were incorrect.

29 May 2010

Temporary Landing Spot

Did your immigrant family have a temporary landing spot when they immigrated? Even if they lived in one state for thirty or forty years after their immigration doesn't mean that was where they originally settled.

I had one family where many extended family members immigrated over fifteen years. Almost all of them spent a few years in Kentucky before settling permanently in Illinois. I just assumed all their United States records were in Illinois, which was incorrect.

28 May 2010

No Homemade Abbreviations

Abbreviations should be used in your records and transcriptions very very rarely. Will anyone else know what they mean? Will you remember them in five or ten years?

27 May 2010

Not Always Obvious

Just remember that what is obvious to you might not be obvious to everyone else. And that what is "obvious" to you might not even be true!

26 May 2010

Was that their Real Last Name?

Is the last name you think is your ancestor's last name the last name of his father or his step-father?

Perhaps the mother's remarriage is creating a roadblock for you.

25 May 2010

Who Paid the Taxes?

If you are looking for when an ancestor died in an era before good death records, consider looking at property tax records if the ancestor owned property.

If the ancestor suddenly is listed as "deceased" or "the estate of," that could be a big clue as to when he died. The estate may be paying taxes for several years before the property actually changes hands.

24 May 2010

Are You Using only Records that have Everyname Indexes?

Keep in mind that there are a variety of records that might mention your ancestor and that are not everyname indexed. Court records, estate records, and other records usually are not FULL name indexed, unless they have been abstracted and published.

It may be necessary to get away from indexed records in order to solve your problem. The difficulty is that unindexed records take longer to search.

23 May 2010

Make A Chart

Some information lends itself to making charts--some doesn't. Regardless there may be some way to organize information in table format. Doing so may help you to notice trends that have someone passed you by or catch omissions in your research. Either is a good thing.

We use a fair amount of charts in Casefile Clues--because it helps organize information for readers and is good for the researcher as well.

22 May 2010

Same Old Sources?

If you are stuck on an ancestor, are you using the "same old sources" you always use? Are there records you avoid because you don't understand, they are "difficult" to access, etc? Some individuals avoid land records, court records, and other records for these reasons. Are there un-utilized sources that might have the answer to your problem?

21 May 2010

Alternate Surnames

If the last name is MacDonald, look for Donald. If the last name is DeMoss, look for Moss. If the last name starts with an "O," drop it. Try looking for Wall instead of Van de Wall.

And on the reverse side, if the last name is Neill, you might want to try O' Neill or McNeill. Just in case.

20 May 2010


A wife's dower is that portion of a man's estate or possessions that the law assigns to his wife. Typically a third, it was determined by state statute.

19 May 2010

Femme Sole

Historically a woman who was authorized by law to manage her own affairs. She might have been single, a widow, an abandoned wife, or in very unusual circumstances, a married woman.

18 May 2010

Femme Covert

A femme covert is a married woman whose rights are incorporated into those of her husband. She doesn't have legal rights of her own.

17 May 2010

Going to the Remote Courthouse

Of the things to do when visiting that distant courthouse-remember that the purpose of the office is to do the daily business, which often is not to assist you with your research. Be polite, be patient, know what you are looking for and don't come across as the "tourist genealogist" who thinks they "know everything."

Your goal is to get records--remember you most likely don't know anyone there, aren't a local taxpayer, aren't a local voter, etc.

You'll have more luck with a softshoe approach than a brash one.

16 May 2010

Have You Considered More than One Relationship?

Is it possible that two individuals who were first cousins were actually cousins on another side of the family as well? It happens.

Keep in mind that individuals may be related in more than one way. Or that individuals who are related by blood may have additional relationships too, either by marriage, employment, etc.

Sometimes the connections are not entirely crystal clear and may be multi-layered.

15 May 2010

How did they say it?

Do you really know how your ancestors said their last name? I always thought I knew how my grandmother's maiden name was said, until I saw it in an 1870 census with a "new" spelling. I asked on an German research list how the last name was likely said by a low-German speaker and was given a pronunciation slightly different from what I had always used. Then the alternate spelling made perfect sense.

Do you know your ancestor's name was said?

It can make all the difference.

Subscribe to Casefile Clues and see how it helped with the family I was researching for issue 42.

14 May 2010

How is it Similar--How is it Different?

When a record is located, try and compare it to other records of the same type or in the same series. How is the record for your relative different from other records? How is it similar? Some differences, such as name, date, etc. identify the record as being for your ancestor as opposed to someone else.

But make certain the "boilerplate" of the document is the same as others in the series. Differences, such as a phrase or word that does not appear in other documents may indicate a clue.

Analyzing a record in comparison to others is especially helpful when looking at church records which often are kept in loose paragraph format before standard forms were used.

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13 May 2010

Pensions of Siblings?

Did any of your ancestor's siblings receive or apply for a military pension? If so, there's a chance your ancestor provided testimony as to service, marriage, or other information.

12 May 2010

Don't Rush to Enter Family Structure

Filing quickly is good--things get misplaced. However rushing to do you data entry may not be a good idea. Some records do not clearly indicate relationships precisely. Most genealogical database programs require specific type of relationship--you can't just say "related."

Analyze what you find. Draw conclusions and determine the family structure. Then put the relationships in your database. You can enter individuals in a database program without indicating the relationship.

11 May 2010

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We would love to have you use the tips, just please credit them. Credit helps us to keep generating more tips.

Look with the kids

If you cannot find an older relative in a census, make certain you have looked with all their children. They may be hiding there, perhaps with an incorrectly spelled last name that you have not thought search for before.

10 May 2010

Never Correct an Original

Don't correct an original when making a transcription. Copy it as it is written. If you know spellings, etc. are wrong--comment on them separately and clearly indicate that the comments are yours.

09 May 2010

There Might not be a Record

While you should always keep looking, keep in mind that there are times when no record exists for an event. The earlier in time you get, the more likely this is.

08 May 2010

Take A Break

Have you been working for too long on one family or one problem?

Let it sit for a while, perhaps a week or two and work on something else. A month away may allow you to come back with a different perspective and notice something you did not notice before.

07 May 2010

There may be more than one way

It is possible that there may be more than one way to get at the same information. This can happen in two ways--copies of the original were made and reproduced, much like microfilmed copies of records may provide duplicates in several different areas.

More than one organization or group may have recorded the event. Death certificates, tombstones, and obituaries provide dates of death. Civil and church records may provide the date of a marriage.

Ask yourself are there duplicate copies of a record?

Ask yourself if there are multiple record creatores who might have created duplicate records of an event.

06 May 2010

Pension Payment Cards on Archive.org

NARA M850--Pension Payment Cards are completely online at www.archive.org. Great free resource--I blogged about it here, with details on how to search them as there is no finding aid for them at www.archive.org


05 May 2010

Never One Hundred Percent

Keep in mind that you can never be one hundred percent certain that any one record is one hundred percent correct.

There is always the chance of an error.

Never "fix" what appears to be an obvious error either. Transcribe exactly as written and put your commentary elsewhere.

04 May 2010


Anglicization is the process of translating a name into English. Many immigrant Anglicized their names after arrival--but rarely at Ellis Island.

Remember that some non-English names could be translated. The Swedish Anders became Andrew, as did the Latin Andreas. For non-standard names or those that had no real translation, the ancestor might never have Anglicized or might have simply taken an English name that was "close." Focke may have become Frank or Trientje might have become Tena. Trientje actually has a root similar to Katherine, but most of my Trientjes who Anglicized their name opted for Tena instead.

Remember that your ancestor was not a linguist--so don't over analyze that translation of his name.

And problems with Anglicization is part of the thing that was the issue with the family I'm working on for issue 41 for Casefile Clues.

03 May 2010

Early Years of a County

Did your ancestor live in a county in the first years after it was formed? Is it possible the boundaries were somewhat in flux in those early years? You still might want to check the records of the "old county" for a few years after the new one was formed, just in case.

02 May 2010

How much difference does a letter make?

Remember that a "one-letter" typo can make all the difference. An "a" at the end of Johann can make it Johanna, not only changing the name but also changing the gender.

01 May 2010

Could A National Event Explain Your Problem?

My wife has an ancestor who "disappeared" ca. 1918 shortly after he and his wife had marital problems. It is possible he changed his name. It is also possible he enlisted in the service during World War I and never returned to the area where he was from (either because he died or he simply chose to live somewhere else).

Another ancestor of my wife's died in his early 30s in the early 1860s. It is too early for a death certificate, but I do have his estate records. Now I am wondering if he died in the Civil War.

Keep in mind the time frame. Was there some national event that could explain your ancestor's absence or demise?