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31 January 2011

Check Yourself

Years ago, I made an extract from a document and incorrectly typed the year as 1850. I've repeated that year numerous times. For an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues, I retrieved the original document and in reading it realized that the year of the record was actually 1852. As the document is the first one that places the person in his "new location," the year is crucial.

Because I corrected myself, I have to go back and re-evaluate some conclusions that hinged upon the 1850 year.

It pays to periodically review your own extracts and transcriptions.

30 January 2011

1860 Census Marriage Clues

Don't forget that the 1860 US census asks individuals if they were married within the census year. This might be a clue if there are couple with the same name or if you are unable to locate marriage records.

29 January 2011

One Day of No Research

Consider a day (or two) of no actual research to locate new information. Instead, organize and enter into your database information you have already located.

You may even make some discoveries in the process.

28 January 2011

Is the Title Misleading?

The first time you use a database or website, make certain you know what you are using and understand where the data is from.  Titles can be misleading.

I thought a reference to a relative in Canadian border crossings was wrong because it was from the St. Alban's, Vermont district. The person I was looking for landed in Vancouver. Turns out the St. Alban's district extended from Vermont all that way.

27 January 2011

You May Have to Let It Go

Consider how much time you have spent trying to locate that one record. It might be time to work on something else. I have a relative for whom their life from 1847-1855 is documented in several records, marriage, land purchase, declaration of intent, 1855 state census, probate, and guardianship for children. Yet, I cannot find him in the 1850 census.

In this case, it might not be worth it to spend days searching for him in the 1850 census. Just a thought.

26 January 2011

If the Sources Don't Match

If the sources don't match, don't assume that the information they provide is incorrect. If you have two different dates of birth, is it possible there were actually two different people? There are many reasons records can give differing information, but keep yourself open to the possibility that records you think are for the same person are actually for two different people.

Don't force everything to match. There may be two individuals hanging out in the same location at about the same time who are about the same age.

This is a topic we occasionally visit in Casefile Clues in more depth than we can here in a tip.

25 January 2011

Are Three Sources Enough?

There is an old adage in genealogical research that "three sources are proof." Not so. Remember that three "sources" of the same information may actually come from the same source--think about who likely provided information for the death certificate, the obituary, and the tombstone. They probably were the same person.

Try (where possible) to get information from sources that likely had different informants. While that's not always possible, three sources agreeing is not magic.

24 January 2011

Reading the Name Again

Years ago a distant relative interpreted the name of a child of an ancestor as "Pine." Decades later another relative viewed the original record and determined that the old script did not read "Pine," it actually read "Jane."

Needless to say, there are still databases today that insist the child was named Pine. Sometimes it pays to go back and doublecheck--even someone who you think knows what they are doing.

23 January 2011

Naturalization Through the Father

Generally speaking, in the United States before 1934, when a father naturalized his minor children automatically became citizens as well. Children who were over 21 did not become citizens through their father's naturalization and would typically have to naturalize on their own.

This might explain why some individuals have no naturalization records and yet appear as "naturalized" on census and other records.

This is a topic we occasionally visit in Casefile Clues in more depth than we can here in a tip.

22 January 2011

Image Copy, Transcription, Extract?

When you are obtaining a "copy" of a document or record, are you getting an "image copy" which usually means a digital copy or a photocopy, a transcription which usually means someone handcopied or typed up the whole document, or an extract which copies relevant parts of the document?

The three obviously are not the same and if you have an extract or a transcription and things are not clear you might want to obtain an image copy if at all possible.

This is a topic we occasionally visit in Casefile Clues in more depth than we can here in a tip.

21 January 2011

Is the Original Unclear and Easy to Misinterpret?

I've changed the names and location, but here is part of a birth announcement I read recently: "...paternal grandparents are Jim and Lori Smith of Dingdongtown. Paternal great-grandparents are Susan Smith, Plowville, and the late Bubba Smith and Ken and Susan Markle of Allentown."

The question is: are Ken and Susan alive or dead?

Of course people living today know what the paper intended. What would someone in fifty years think?

20 January 2011

They Didn't Always Require Paperwork

Wonder why great-great-grandma's age changes so much from one record to another? One reason could be that she wanted to shave a few years off her age. Life was also different. Great-grandma might not have been concerned that if her age didn't "match" in various records that there might be a problem with her pension, passport, insurance, credit bureau file, and other records. Life was in some ways very different in 1880 than it is today.

19 January 2011

Do the Math

Does a document or record indicate how long someone has known your ancestor? Subtract back and see just when the two individuals met? Does it mean they knew each other "somewhere else?" Maybe that was back east, back in Europe, etc.

Testimony in court records, affidavits in pension files, passport applications, and other materials may include such statements. Always think about the time frame they suggest and see if there may be subtle clues you haven't fully used.

18 January 2011

Court Those Newspapers

If your ancestor was involved in some type of "sensational" court case, check out the newspapers around the time the case was heard in court. A local newspaper may mention the case and provide details not listed in the actual court records. Of course newspapers don't always get all the facts right, but there still may be nuggets of information in the papers that do not appear in the actual court record.

17 January 2011

Female Obituaries that Never Mention Their Name

Remember that obituaries for women may never mention their name. It may be necessary to search for husband's names in newspapers long after they are dead. I spent hours searching for the obituary of a Belle Shaw, who died in 1945. Her obituary in the Zanesville, Ohio, newspaper listed her as "Mrs. Louis Shaw." Her first name is not even mentioned. Shaw himself had been dead several years by the time his wife died.

16 January 2011

US Passport Applications for Sisters-in-Law

Passport applications for married women in the United States in the early 1900s included information on the citizenship status for their husbands or fathers (depending upon the marital status of the applicant). If the wife of your ancestor's brother applied for a passport during this time period, she might have given information on where and when her husband was born. Wives of two uncles applied for passports in the 1920s and gave detailed information on their husbands.

US passports from 1792-1925 are at Ancestry.com and at from 1795 to 1905 at Footnote.com.
Remember that only the passport applications for about the last twenty years provide information on the husband and that Footnote's really don't go recent enough to show husband/father information in most cases.

15 January 2011

Are Soundex Searches Right for Your Last Names?

Soundex searches are options on many online search interfaces to databases and finding aids. Keep in mind that Soundex generally works best with names of Engilsh or Germanic origin. Soundex searches for Neill, bring up results of Newell, Neal, Nial, Neel, Nowel, Neil, etc. Some are more reasonable variants than others, but Soundex works fairly well on this last name.

There are problems with non-English names when Soundex searches are used. A Soundex search for Robidoux will not locate Robido, a very reasonable variant. French names are a good example where Soundex searches are sometimes week. There are other languages that present similar challenges to Soundex based searches.

Is the Soundex search option limiting your search?

14 January 2011

What Were They Smokin' When They Gave That Information?

Let's face it, sometimes information on a document is flat out incorrect. It may be that the ancestor outright lied, someone misunderstood something, etc. but the fact remains. One document can be completely wrong on one item. It happens.

When you think you have a situation like this, organize all your documents and outline your reasons for why you think the one document is wrong. That will help you make your case and allow others to see if they agree with you or not?

And once in a blue moon, I think someone just gave a "funky" answer to a question on a record just to be clever. And that's what confuses some of us today.

13 January 2011

Ask A Local

Sometimes the best advice is actually gotten from someone who lives where the records are and has actually used the originals on paper. Digital copies and microfilm is great, but sometimes a person needs at least the advice of someone who is very familiar with the originals. An organizational structure that makes sense onsite might not make sense in the two-dimensional digital or microfilm version. And there might be records that for some reason were not filmed or digitized. If you're using records from BlahBlah County and have never been there, never viewed the records onsite, you might want to consider contacting a local person with some questions you may have. A local with years of experience with the records may be more helpful for your specific problem than a professional living hundreds of miles away.

12 January 2011

Was He Missed By the Census Taker?

It is possible that your ancestor was missed by the census taker, but make certain you have truly looked first, including a manual page by page search if necessary. It is possible too, that your ancestor lived somewhere else for a short time, perhaps even some place of which you are not aware. People do occasionally get overlooked by the census taker, especially if they are people who move around a lot in the first place or otherwise live a lifestyle that puts them at risk for being overlooked.

11 January 2011

Watch the Genders on Those Foreign Language Names and Records

Are you making certain you have the right gender for the ancestor in that baptismal record? A researcher connected a baptismal record to her one ancestor. One problem, the name on the record is male name in the language in which the records are written and the record clearly uses the word for "son" and not "daughter."

If you don't know the language, find out. The mess you end up with otherwise could be of your own making.

10 January 2011

Loose Ends

 For those who don't know, Tip of the Day can be received on your Kindle if you have one.
Sample copies of my newsletter can be received by sending an email to samples@casefileclues.com.
Old tips are housed at http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com.

And don't forget my two favorite tips:
"identify people on pictures now" and "talk to any relatives who may have information--NOW before it is too late"

Heirs-at-law versus Legatee

The "heirs-at-law" of a deceased individual are usually those who have an inheritance interest in the estate. Spouse and children are the typical heirs-at-law. Depending upon the family structure and what other relatives are also dead, it can include cousins, siblings, nephews, etc. State statute also plays a role. A legatee is usually someone mentioned in the will of a deceased person. A legatee can also be an heir-at-law, but doesn't have to be.

09 January 2011

Before Going to the Courthouse

As we eventually work our way into warmer weather, genealogists start to think of making research trips to far-off courthouses. Here a some quick thoughts before heading out (pre-planning is always advised):
  • Make certain of the courthouse's hours
  • If you'll be using court records, in court in session a certain day of the week (which you may want to avoid)
  • Can you bring a portable scanner, can you take digital pictures? What other options are there for making copies?
  • What records can you access yourself and which ones have restricted access?
  • Is there a local historical or genealogical society who may be able to give you specific research advice?

08 January 2011

Are the Witnesses Just Neighbors?

When genealogists look at their ancestor's will, they usually pay attention to the witnesses. They should as those names can be clues. However, witnesses are not necessarily related to the deceased. They may simply be neighbors. An ancestor wrote her will in 1902. The witnesses were not relatives. When I looked them up in the 1900 census, the ancestor who wrote the will and the two witnesses were all enumerated on the same census page.

Just remember--the witness should not be named in the will. That's usually considered a conflict.

07 January 2011

Scanning Works Wonders

I usually use scanned copies of documents to transport them, save them, and enlarge them. I don't often have cause to do much more. However recently, I received a copy of a letter where only the front had been copied. The letter had been folded in thirds with something being written on the back. Luckily it bled through. Scanning it, rotating it, and flipping it horizonally made it easy to read.

A mirror would have worked or I could have held it up to the light, but this was much easier. Here is a blog post showing both images and how it worked.

06 January 2011

Pick Out Every Date

Sometimes when I'm stuck in analyzing a document, especially one that is lengthy and may mention several events or dates, I pick out every date and put the events in a chronology. I look also at statements that don't mention a "specific date" and ask myself if those statements suggest a date or time frame. You might be surprised at what you realize you have overlooked.

05 January 2011

Purpose of the Record

Remember the purpose of the record when analyzing the information it contains. A birth certificate really is about the birth and minor errors in where the mother was born (if the certificate even contains that information) might not have been considered material. A probate judge was concerned that a person was dead and that probate proceedings should start, but might not be overly worried about the person's precise date of death.

A census was to count people and provide other certain statistical information for the government. The enumerator might not have been overly concerned if occasionally he confused a few children with step-children.

04 January 2011

Write it or Type it

You won't remember that fact, where you found it, where you put it, or who is in that picture. Write it down, type in your genealogical database, identify the picture, etc. You will not remember and the only thing you will remember is that you wished you had written it down.

03 January 2011

Searching for Place Names?

A great place to start that search for that "old" place name is the USGS GNIS http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/.

02 January 2011

How Precise Is It?

If Aunt Margaret tells you someone is her "cousin," what does she really mean? First cousin, second cousin, etc.? To the genealogist it makes a difference because first cousins (who share grandparents) are different from second cousins (who share great-grandparents). First cousins once removed are of different generations from the common ancestor--the grandparent of one was the great-grandparent of another.

It's not necessary to confuse Aunt Margaret. Instead of getting her to tell you the precise word, have her explain the way they were related, generation by generation, or ask her about how they were related. You can figure out the precise word later. And asking those questions may elicit more information anyway!

01 January 2011

Citing the Source

Genealogy software programs can help genealogists cite their source. Whole books, such as Evidence Explained, have been written providing guidelines for tracking where information was located. Remember that if nothing else, a citation should provide enough detail to get you back to the page in a book or piece of paper that provided you some information. If it doesn't, it's probably not adqeuate.

A relative said, "a newspaper in 1909 mentioned" a certain relative. At the very least, the name of the paper, date of publication, and whether it was the print, microfilm, or digital version would have been helpful. It's not always necessary to be 100% in the form of your citation, but it should allow someone else to re-find what you found--even if that "someone else" is you. After all, once in a while we need to review things for an additional viewing.