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31 July 2010

Does it Apply Everywhere?

When someone gives you advice, make certain it is applicable to where you are actually researching and the time period in which you need.

Recently a poster to a mailing list made generalizations about a certain type of record. What he said is true about New England, but it's not true about points west of the Northwest Territory. Consequently if I were researching in Kansas and used his approach, I would be confused.

The problem is that some people don't know their knowledge only applies in certain places or are unwilling to admit that they don't know everything.

30 July 2010

Widows versus Veterans

Widows of the War of 1812 were allowed to apply for bounty land in the 1850s, but not a pension until much later. If your veteran survived until the 1870s, he might have applied for a pension. Two bounty land acts in the 1850s gave most veterans a total of 160 acres and their widows during that era, if they were married long enough.

I've been working on a bounty land application for a Kentucky widow in the 1850s whose husband served. The actual property was patented in Iowa and Illinois by men who purchased the warrant from the widow after it had been issued.

Casefile Clues subscribers will see the bounty application in issue 51.

29 July 2010

Spell it Right

Remember when entering your place names to spell the names of standard locations correctly. Names of towns may change and may have occasionally an alternate spelling, but for counties, try and get them correct as there often are not multiple versions. There are plenty of online atlases and maps that can help you out with this...remember:

It is Culpeper, not Culpepper; Fauquier, not Fauquire; and Harford (MD), not Hartford.

If your spellings of standard locations are incorrect, some may wonder about other details you have in your records.

28 July 2010

Where Spouses Come From

The majority of times (especially when transportation was limited), marriage partners came from
  • church
  • neighbors
  • others in same social class
  • same ethnic/cultural group
While there are always exceptions, the majority of times husbands and wives shared some of these characteristics. Keep this in mind when trying to locate spouses and marriage records of family members.

27 July 2010

Don't Correct

Never correct a document when transcribing it.

If you must, make an annotation separately, clearly indicating it is your annotation and not a part of the original. Don't add to the confusion. What you think is wrong may be right.

If you have the urge to correct errors there are better places to do it.

26 July 2010

Is State Law Playing a Role?

Remember that state statutes dictate how inheritances work, particularly when a person dies without descendants of their own. What happened in 1920 might not be what happened in 1820 even if your family lived in the exact same location.

Reading up on state statute, or asking someone with more experience with the records may be in order.

25 July 2010

Frontier Research is Different

Research in the early days of settlement of any area is difficult. Mainly this is because
  • fewer records were kept
  • people were more mobile
  • people were concerned with SURVIVING, not leaving a record behind of their existence

As a result, frontier research requires more analysis than later research, more patience, and that the researcher locate just about everything they can get their hands on.

Nothing is 100% complete

Just remember, no series of documents is perfect. People die without death certificates, individuals are omitted from the census, records get filed incorrectly.

And some records have more problems with accuracy than others. Keep this in mind when using any series of records.

23 July 2010

Before Hiring A Professional

Before hiring anyone to do any research for you, make certain you have thoroughly reviewed and organized what information you have.

You may find you already have the answer or realize where you need to go without hiring someone. And if you do hire someone, they'll want your material organized anyway.

22 July 2010

Have You Reviewed Your Proof?

Is there a family or a problem you "solved" a while ago? Have you looked at it since? Is it possible that you were wrong, your research was incomplete, or you were just in "la-la-land" when you reached your conclusion?

Keep in mind that everyone is wrong once in a while. A distant relative made me go back and re-visit some research I did years ago and while I'm not 100% certain what's "right" yet, there are some holes in what I did.

It doesn't hurt to occasionally go back and review what you thought was "done."

My review of my problem will appear in an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues. Bits and pieces of the research may appear as a tip, but the whole thing is far too long for a tip .

21 July 2010

24 July (Saturday) Norman Oklahoma Seminar

There's still time to attend the Cleveland County (OK) Genealogical Seminar that I will be presenting in Norman this weekend on Saturday the 24th.

I'll be talking on:
  • Court Records
  • Using Probate Manuals and Guides to enhance your research
  • Organizing Your Research
  • and more
There is more information on the society's website.

Feel free to forward information to other lists and those in the area who may be interested.

There is no such thing as Completely Consistent

Records will not be entirely 100% consistent. This is particularly true for records that provide "extremely secondary information" (eg. places of birth for parents on their child's death certificate when the child dies at the age of 80).

One must aim for relative consistency and when there are discrepancies, try and find an explanation for them. In the case of birthplaces, it often is because the family lived there for a time, the boundaries were changing, etc.

Or the informant was clueless and just made it up.

20 July 2010

Abbreviated Names

Don't forget when searching indexes to enter Wm. for William, Jno. for John, Th. for Thomas, etc.

Once in a while you will encounter these abbreviations in addition to the census enumerator (and others) who also liked to use initials.

19 July 2010

Get Multiple Versions

Verifying family stories can often be difficult and the best advice is to record them as "stories" and indicate who said them. Remember though to get as many different perspectives as you can. Even in one family, different children had different experiences and may remember things differently. And their mother (or father) might have shared stories with one child and not with another.

18 July 2010

Study the Church

We're not trying to convert readers with this tip, but what do you know about your ancestor's religious affiliation? For some of our ancestors, the church was extremely important and influenced many decisions in their lives--who they married, where they settled, etc.

Is your ancestor migrating with members of a specific denomination? Are all of your ancestors associates members of that denomination? There could be clues there....

17 July 2010

Look for the hidden clues

Does a person providing testimony in a court case indicate that he has known your ancestor for fifteen years? Have you thought about where your ancestor was fifteen years before that date? Do you know where he was? If you can't find him, look for the person providing testimony.

Always think about the implications of any statement you read. There may be more there than just what it says "on the surface."

16 July 2010

Transcription or Extract?

Do you know the difference between an transcript and an extract? A transcript copies information or a record verbatim. An extract takes out what the extractor sees as key points.

If you are using published records, do you know if you have an extract or an abstract? It does make a difference.

15 July 2010

Tracking How You Search

Don't forget to keep track of how you formulate you searches of online databases. It's impossible to tweak your searches if you don't.

I've become increasingly aware of the importance of this while tracking Benjamin Butler from Michigan to Missouri between 1820 and 1870 for a series of articles in Casefile Clues.

14 July 2010

Just Initials?

If you can't find your ancestor in the census with names, have you tried just initials? That's how my ancestors are listed in 1880...

13 July 2010

Did you Proofread?

Always double check those transcriptions you create of handwritten records. There's always the chance you could make a mistake.

This tip came about after reading tips for the past two weeks--I found two typos!

Note: the proofreader for Casefile Clues does not proofread Tip of the Day...errors here are completely my fault.

12 July 2010

Try a Different Site

I've spent some time trying to find a "new" ancestor in any census before 1870. After a while of using Ancestry.com, I searched for him on the FamilySearch site. An 1850 census reference was located.

It still may not be my person, but it was a "hit" that for some reason did not turn on up on Ancestry. Different sites have their own indexes. If someone cannot be located in one index, determine if other indexes have been created.

11 July 2010

Whose Side?

Whose version of a story are you getting? Grandma most likely is telling you the version of events through her eyes. If she was personally involved in the events, could she possibly be tweaking a few details?

If your great-grandfather is suing his wife for divorce his story is obviously being told from his vantage point.

Keep that in mind for any record you use.

10 July 2010

Does the Site Have an Agenda?

Keep in mind the purpose behind any website or source you use for your family history research. Is it possible that the accuracy of the site and the information is influenced by something other than accuracy?

Is the site's as much information as possible, just to generate traffic and ad sales?
Is the site's goal simply to make information more accessible?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell. But any site's information should be compared with other records (particularly if the site's information is transcribed).

I have seen County GenWeb sites where names of cemeteries were wrong, locations were incorrect, and transcriptions were incomplete. And I've seen ones that were highly accurate as well.

09 July 2010

Warrantee Search on Bureau of Land Management Web Site

Remember when searching the warrants at the Bureau of Land Management site that locations are not all that important. The individual who received the warrant might never have set foot in the state where the warrant was issued. This is especially true for those who received warrants for War of 1812 service and sold them to others who actually received the patent.

Your ancestor's widow may have received a warrant for his Virginia service while she was living in Kentucky. The patent may have been issued in Nebraska.

08 July 2010


Remember that in census records, relationships are given in regards to the head of the household--typically the husband. His children may not all be children of his wife.

And individuals listed as children may actually be step-children.

So relationships in one census may be tenuous and not entirely clear.

07 July 2010

Sometimes Different Names are Different People

Years ago, I had a researcher search for the marriage of William Newman and Rebecca Tinsley in Rush County, Indiana. The couple married there in the 1830s. The researcher sent me the marriage record of Thomas Newman and Polly Tinsley who also married there in the 1830s, telling me that often times people used nicknames and that since the last names matched it was the same couple.

Being young and inexperienced (I was probably 14 at the time), I believed her.

Later I found out that Thomas and Polly were a separate couple, but the researcher was close. Thomas was William's brother and Polly was Rebecca's sister.

Remember in genealogy sometimes "close" isn't close enough.

06 July 2010

A Grain of Salt

Just a reminder to doublecheck any information you find on the Internet. Anyone can post anything. Same thing goes for "free" advice, articles, etc. Sometimes it may be on the mark and other times it may be woefully incorrect.

05 July 2010

Anyone Can Have It

Is there a family bible or other heirloom you'd like to at least see from your family's past?

Keep in mind that any of your great-great-great-grandmother's descendants could have it? Things didn't just pass to your immediate family.

So get out and get looking. There may be thousands of people who may have what you are looking for.

04 July 2010

DId History Make Your Ancestor Move?

The American Revolution caused some residents of the United States to move to Canada. While not all of us have Loyalist ancestors, it is important to remember that historical events of all types might have caused our ancestors to move.

And our ancestors didn't have to be politically inclined for historical events to cause them to move. All kinds of things might have brought about your ancestor's migration.

03 July 2010

Remember the lines

Do you know where the lines are?

The county line, the property line, the village line? If you aren't aware of where the various lines are located, are you certain you are looking in the right place?

And remember that the lines can change, especially in frontier days in the early days of settlement.

02 July 2010

Can you take off your 21st century glasses?

Every record you read, every clue you interpret, every family you analyze is done through your own modern-day perspective.

Have you tried and thought about how your ancestor's life experience might have impacted his decision making? Have you thought about how your ancestor's educational level might have caused her to react to a certain situation?

Have you thought about how your ancestor's childhood might have skewed his vision?

But when you do all this thinking, don't forget that you might not really be smarter than your ancestor.

We may live in different times, but we might not always be smarter.

Just something to think about. In some ways our experiences may be different than our ancestor and in some ways they might not.

01 July 2010

Infant is

Legally an infant is someone under the age of majority. That frequently is 18 for females and 21 for males.

So a legal document refers to a male as an "infant," he could easily be 21 years old.

We've used this tip before, but it bears repeating and remember---in legal documents words are used in their LEGAL context (and based upon specific legal definitions), not necessarily the way we use them in everyday conversation.