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28 February 2011

You Won't Always Find Everything Precisely

There are things that researchers will not be able to pinpoint precisely. No record might exist that provides great-grandfather's exact date of birth--and March of 1874 may be as specific as you are going to get.

Keep perspective though. Bigger concerns are that you have this ancestor tied to the right parents, sibling, spouse, children, etc. A date of birth that is not specific is not always the end of the genealogy world.

27 February 2011

Is the Wife Listed First?

I've seen quite a few deeds in my genealogy research. Recently I located one where the wife was listed first, instead of the husband. What it likely means is that the money to buy the house in Chicago was hers, in this case likely an inheritance from her father.

It is rare to see a woman listed first in a legal record when she and her husband are listed. If she is listed first, see if you can determine why.

26 February 2011

Only On Paper

More material than ever is available in digital format, either free or on a fee-based site. Remember that a significant amount of material exists only in paper form, in the original location where it was recorded. You are missing out if you only access digital images and microfilm.

25 February 2011

Call Before You Go

Planning a trip to a remote courthouse or archives this summer? Do not assume they will be open just because you are coming. Offices have temporary shutdowns for a variety of reasons. Find out before you go--not when you are at the office door.

24 February 2011

Farmed Out At A Young Age?

You've found your ancestors in the 1850 census, but there appear to be gaps in the ages of the children. It is possible that some died and it's possible that some are living with neighbors or other family members, perhaps helping out with children, farm work, etc.

It is also possible that great-great-great-grandma didn't have any children between Henry in 1832 and Sarah in 1840, but there might have been ones in between that are either deceased or just are not in the household. 

23 February 2011

Left Out Doesn't Mean Not A Child

Just because someone is left out of an ancestor's will does not mean they were not the ancestor's child. They might have received property earlier or might have had a falling out with the parent and been left out of the will for that reason. 

Sometimes a will will mention the child and give them a dollar or a mere pittance so that they cannot say were left out, but that doesn't always happen. 

The 1850 era will of Thomas Chaney in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, only mentions a handful of his ten known children. 

22 February 2011

Did They Get Off a Line?

Is it possible that the census taker got off a line while writing up the actual census that we are using? It is possible that he got the ages off and didn't even notice it. This image from 1870 in Nebraska shows a census entry where it was realized that a mistake was made--but it's always possible the enumerator didn't realize or care that he made a mistake.

21 February 2011

Do You Need to Insert Some Sicness in Your Transcriptions?

Remember when transcribing any document items should be copied as is. If you see an obvious error, you may wish to insert [sic] after it to indicate that the mistake was not yours.

20 February 2011

If One Thing Were Not True

Think about all that you know about your "brick wall" ancestor. Now, cross one of those "facts" as being not true--even if you really think it is. How would your research approach change? What would you do differently? Where else would you look?

Now, is it possible that one or more "facts" aren't true?

19 February 2011

Read the Whole Page

When finding anyone in a census record, remember to read the entire page. There may be notations in the margin and at the very least those columns on the "edge" sometimes do mean something. Remember that some early census records are spread over two pages. There may be clues lurking off to the side.

18 February 2011

Did Any Aunts Get a Widow's Pension?

Did any of your aunts receive a Civil War pension, Revolutionary War pension, etc.? Don't think it couldn't help you in your research. If the aunt tried to qualify for a pension, she would have had to have proven her marriage--that place alone could be a clue because if your ancestor's sister was living there, other family members could have been too.

And if the aunt couldn't find paper proof of her marriage, she might have had relatives provide affidavits testifying to the date and place of marriage and perhaps your ancestor made out one of those. Neat way to get information and an even neater way to get a signature.

17 February 2011

Multiple Databases for the Same Thing?

Don't just use one database when performing searches. If there is another site that indexes the same data, their index might allow for different searches or might have included transcriptions done differently. You might not have to subscribe to one of the pay sites "forever," but make a list of things you can't find on the free sites and consider subscribing to a pay-site for maybe a month and doing your searches and then let it expire.

But never rely solely on one site for all your indexes.

16 February 2011

To Whom Was the Quit Claim Made?

If you see your ancestor as a party on a quit claim deed, pay close attention to whom he was buying land from or to whom he was selling it. A high proportion of quit claim deeds are among relatives, generally to clean up an inheritance. Not always--but it's worth a clue. A quit claim means you are giving up your claim, something that heirs are likely to do among themselves after the owner passes away.

15 February 2011

True, False, and Somewhere in Between

When analyzing any record, remember that it may be partially true and partially false. Most documents contain several statements. Rarely is a document entirely correct. One part may be true, other parts may be false. Some parts could be partially correct--the year of an event may be right, but the month may be wrong. The state may be correct, but the town may be incorrect.

Keep an open mind to the very real possibility that most documents contain true statements, false statements, and statements somewhere in between.

That's why it is important to transcribe each document as it is written and do the analysis elsewhere. Don't play proofreader when transcribing a document. The changes you make may not be the right ones.

14 February 2011

Non-Facebook FanPage Ways to Get Tip of the Day

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Is That Tax List or Census Alphabetical?

Take a good look at that tax list or pre-1850 census on which you found your ancestor. Are the names written in rough alphabetical order? Those people didn't only have neighbors whose last name started with the same letter as theirs; the enumerator was attempting to organize the information. The end result is that some of the sense of neighborhood one gets from a tax record or census is lost.

13 February 2011

What Does It Mean When I Say I'm 50 Years Old?

Assume your ancestor is correct when, on 5 January 1850, he says he is 50 years old. What does that mean?

He could have just turned 50 that very day, meaning he was born 5 January 1800. That would be the very youngest he could be on 5 January 1800---50 years and no days.

He could turn 51 the very next day, meaning he was born 6 January 1799. That would be the very oldest he could be on 5 January 1800 and still be 50, one day shy of his 51st birthday.

12 February 2011

Middle Names That Are Last Names

Some descendants of Thomas Johnson Rampley assumed his middle name was his mother's maiden name. While sometimes middle names that are "last names" are the maiden name of the mother, that is not always the case, the last name could have come from a neighbor, another family member, or a famous person. I'm not certain where it came from in Thomas' case. Middle names that are last names may also be a patronymic name, one based upon the father's first name as in the case of Anke Hinrichs Fecht whose father was Hinrich Fecht. Middle names that are "last names" can be clues to research--but don't take a "clue" and make it a "fact" without something with which to back it up.

11 February 2011

Not Every Immigrant Naturalized

If you cannot find a naturalization record for an ancestor, keep in mind that he might never have naturalized. If your ancestor did not want to vote, he might not have found being a citizen necessary. Back during the time when being an "alien" wasn't so much of a problem, "aliens" could own land, sell it, bequeath it, etc. If economics were the main reason for immigration, your ancestor might not have become a citizen.

10 February 2011

Don't Grab the First Match

Remember that there might be more than one person who fits the details of the person for whom you are looking. I was working on a George Butler, born in 1848 in Michigan, the son of a Benjamin Butler. Turns out there were two completely unrelated George Butlers born in Michigan in 1848, sons of Benjamin. To top it off, the Benjamins were born in 1820 or 1821 in the same state.

Look around when you locate a "match" and make certain there is not another "match" nearby. You may end up researching the wrong person if you are not careful.

09 February 2011

Grandma Is Human & So Are You

Remember that any relative, even the most well-meaning and reliable one, can occasionally tell you something that is incorrect. Verify everything Grandma (or Uncle Herman, etc.) tells you, using other sources as much as possible. Well-intentioned informants can be incorrect and the very process of verifying what they tell you may cause you to locate information you never dreamed of.

People tell me that "I didn't look at that record because I already knew what was on it." You don't know what is on it until you actually look at it. You may think you know and you may be correct. But there's always the chance that you were wrong.

08 February 2011

How Old Should They Have Been?

We all know that census records can contain incorrect ages. When searching online databases, besides having the years of birth for people I am looking for, I have their approximate age in 1850, 1860, etc. This helps me eyeball if I might have the correct people or not. Having only the years of birth in front of me is helpful, but having the approximate at the time of the census saves me a little bit of time and reduces errors because I "subtracted" wrong in my head.

07 February 2011

Does Your Own Handwriting Give You Another Variant?

In reviewing handwritten notes for an article, I looked at the way I had written the last name "Butler." If I had not known what the word was, I really might have been inclined to think it was "Beetler."

I remember a time when someone told me that they way I wrote my last name made it look like it was "Neice."

Maybe if you are not having luck with spelling variants, try writing sloppy and have someone else read it!

06 February 2011

Multiple Records of Same Event

Always keep in mind that there may be multiple records that may provide information on the date of an event. The date of your ancestor's death may be in a county book of death records, an obituary, a church register, a tombstone, the family bible, his pension record, etc. There may be a note that he is deceased in a deed, a tax roll, or a probate journal.

Not all of these records are equally reliable. Just remember that an event may be recorded in more than one place.

And don't neglect to check records just because "I already have that." One never knows what additional information a similar source may provide.

05 February 2011

Similar Names May be Different People

Just because names are the same does not mean it's one person with a variant name. My ancestor was Nancy Jane Newman. She had a first cousin Nancy Elizabeth Newman. To further confuse the issue, they married brothers.

Researchers are frequently confusing them. It can be easy to do, but remember--just because you think the names mean the people are the same--check. Do your research and take care before determining you have the same person with two slightly different names. You may have two very different people with similar names.

04 February 2011

Be Negative and Record It

Are you keeping track of the people who "weren't" the right ones and WHY they weren't the correct ones? Often a person will run into the "same wrong" people over and over. Tracking them in at least outline form and having that information handy may keep you from researching the same people over and over only to learn you already eliminated them a long time ago.

And if it ever turns out that they are distantly related, you've already got some of the work done.

03 February 2011

Those Boarders Might not be Boarders

Is there one or two "boarders" with your family in the census? Just because they are listed as a "boarder" doesn't mean that they aren't related. Boarders could easily be nephews, nieces, or other family members temporarily staying in the household. They may be a clue. Try and find them ten years earlier or ten years later and keep the names in case they appear in other documents.

02 February 2011

Write Down Your Thought Process

This has been a tip before, but it bears repeating.

Sometimes in our haste to gather information, we fail to record why we did certain things and what led us to certain conclusions. Our reasoning may have been correct, or maybe not. If you don't write down what you were thinking and your reasons as you do it, duplication of research is impossible and sooner or later you will wonder why you did what you did or someone else will ask how you arrived at that conclusion.

Writing in my research notes why I did what I did as I did it reduces the chance I make mistakes along the way. It also makes it easier to review my thought process later and see how I was wrong---or how I was correct.

01 February 2011

Does That Document Allow You to Estimate Age?

Remember that in order to do certain things, get married, write a will, buy property, vote, etc. a person had to be a certain age.

Is an estimate of your ancestor's age, hiding in a document because you didn't make the connection?