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30 September 2011

Does Your Library Have It?

Check with your local library and determine if they have access to subscription databases that may be helpful in your research. There are obvious ones like Ancestry.com, Fold3, HeritageQuest, but also academic databases, periodicals, etc. may be useful in your research. Academic journals may contain historical articles related to the area where your ancestor lived and while they may not mention your ancestor specifically, the history may be helpful. And these articles often contain references that may provide additional information.

29 September 2011

Do You Have the Right Address at the Right Time?

In some cities, streets have been renamed and renumbered. If your family lived in the same house from 1880 through 1930, make certain the address didn't change during that time period. Chicago had major changes to addresses in 1909, and other cities did as well. Before you type that 1890 address into Google Maps or another modern map site, make certain the address hasn't changed.

28 September 2011

Do You Need More Than Just That One Page?

I was working with tax lists while at the Family History Library in May. In my excitement over finding relatives  in a 1831 tax list, I almost neglected to copy the headings for the tax lists. The headings were on the first page, not the page I copied. Fortunately I copied the page with the headings as well. If  had just copied the page with the names I wanted, I would have been out of luck. The page with the names I need is posted here (without headings)

Always make certain the headings are on the page you have or get them if they are on a previous page. It may be a cliche, but haste can make waste.

27 September 2011

Are They Hiding Right Next Door?

If you have lost a female relative, have you considered whether or not they are really lost at all? They may simply be "hiding" under a new last name due to a marriage. If the time frame is after the 1850 US census, or any census that names all household members, look at the wives in nearby households. Is there one that has a female with the name of the "missing" person who has the age to be the missing person.

It may be that what you are missing is simply the marriage record.

26 September 2011

Cleaned Up Your Files?

Have you gone through your computer and paper files and organized them lately? Do you have multiple copies of the same things? Do you have stacks of papers or files on your computer you have not organized and completed data entry on? A good task would be to organize information in that "pile," before you forget why you saved or copied it and before something happens to it.

25 September 2011

Look It Up!

If you are not certain how to spell the name of a location, do not know where it is actually located, and have never seen the place on a map, look them up.

Knowing the actual spelling, knowing the actual location (township, county, etc.) and seeing it on a map can cut down on "brick walls."

24 September 2011

Are You Looking Before and After?

When you find a deed for an ancestor in a record book, be certain that you look a few pages before and after the located record. People could not easily get to town to have legal documents recorded and materials might have been recorded in batches. There could be several of your ancestor's documents filed and recorded together.

23 September 2011

One Good Deed May Deserve Another--Record That Is

If you have found what looks like a deed where heirs are settling up real estate after a death, try and access other records if at all possible. Deeds are notorious for not clearly delineating relationships--after all, the people in the deed know the relationship and the purpose of the deed is not to leave a complete and accurate genealogy. Sellers on a settlement deed may be children and grandchildren, or nieces and nephews/great-nieces and great-grandnephews, or all cousins of varying degrees of relationships.

Try and access court and probate records along with other materials to refine relationships that are hinted at in what appears to be a deed settling up an estate.

22 September 2011

When You Think You Know Everything You Sometimes Don't

Sometimes it pays to get that document or record when you "think you know everything." One reason is that you might be incorrect in what you "think" you know. The other is that the record may contain an uncommon notation or comment providing information you never even thought about it providing.

Sometimes the greatest discoveries are in those records where we think we "don't need that record" because we already know what's on it.

You may be surprised.

21 September 2011

Descriptions Are Not Always Correct

Don't get me wrong, I love the materials that the Family History Library has on microfilm and in digital format. But the individuals who enter in the catalog descriptions are human and sometimes are not intimately familiar with the materials they are cataloging.

Once in a while years of items will be slightly off. I've seen records that indicated the materials ended in 1915, but the index was also filmed and it went through the 1930s. I've also seen church records where the first few pages of the communion registers contained a brief handwritten history of the church.

Sometimes you'll make unexpected finds in records that the LDS Family History has on microfilm. Use the catalog descriptions as a guide, not as script set in stone.

20 September 2011

Records at All Levels

Don't forget that records regarding your ancestor might have been created at several government levels:

  • local--such as town, city, or township records
  • county level records
  • state level records
  • federal level records
The importance of searching all jurisdictions is applicable anywhere, not just the United States. The names of the government levels may be different, but the layers still exist.

And don't forget church records, which also may have local records and records at a national level---usually records of former churches or parishes that have been transferred to an "archives" for preservation.

19 September 2011

Court Records Have Minimal Indexes

When searching local court records, remember that they typically appear in the plaintiffs' index once and in the defendants' index once. Cases involving several people will not usually be indexed under every name of every party. For this reason, it is imperative you search for all family members in court record indexes as the case will not necessarily be indexed under your direct ancestor's name.

The days of full-name indexes to court records are far away-if ever. Until then, these search techniques are still necessary.

18 September 2011

Webinars Start Today!

Don't forget our webinars that start today!


Moved Away For a Few Years?

Even if you think your ancestors never lived anywhere else, consider the possibility they were somewhere else, even if for a short time. A young married couple may have left "home" for a few years, only to return and stay for the rest of their lives. A couple with young children may have homesteaded for two or three years, only to decide it "wasn't for them."

Keep in mind these stories of being "gone" for a short time don't always get passed down and sometimes even get forgotten by the time someone's asking questions about family history.

17 September 2011

Page by Page Search

I've been using the 1865 Illinois State Census at FamilySearch. Between the poor handwriting, the faded ink, and the non-English names, it has been easier to search page by page to find the people I am looking for.

If you have people you cannot find in a specific record and you have a reasonably good idea of where they were living, go back and manually search the records if at all possible. I've found quite a few of my 1865 people in the Illinois State Census--most of them by searching one page at a time. Sometimes that's what has to happen.

And the guy in Chicago I may never find.

We've mentioned this before, but the need to sometimes manually search is one that most of us need to remember from time to time, myself included.

16 September 2011

I Have Known You For Some Time And That's A Clue

Court cases and pension applications often contain affidavits and statements from witnesses. Sometimes these statements will indicate how long the person providing testimony had known the applicant or one of the parties involved in the case. Think about how long that was. Was it when the parties involved lived somewhere else?

Maybe if you can't trace the person of interest back in time and place, you can trace the witness to a previous residence and then may find the person of interest hanging out in the same location.

15 September 2011

Your Ancestor's Dates of Execution

Remember that the date your ancestor "executed" a document is usually the date he signed it. It is different from a date when the document might have been proved in court by witnesses or recorded in a record book by a clerk. Depending upon the type of document "proof" dates or "recording" dates might be dates on which your ancestor was deceased. Dates of document execution are usually dates when your ancestor was alive.

Dates of execution for criminal offenses may refer to a death date, however (grin!).

14 September 2011

Your Reason for Estimating Was?

Often it is necessary to estimate a date of an event. If you have to approximate a date of birth, marriage, or death, indicate your reason in your notes or sources. If you are estimating a marriage at twenty-one and using that and the year of marriage to arrive at an approximate year of marriage, indicate your reasoning as a part of your "source" for the birth year. Otherwise what was a "guess" can easily become a "fact." If you are using the date of execution [MJN note: this should have been "proof or recording" see note below]of a will as a "dead by" date, you still need to indicate what made you think it was a "dead by" date--and don't confuse a "dead by" date with an actual date of death.
The date of execution is the date the will was SIGNED by the testator--which would be a good "last alive" date. The original blog post contained a typo that was not caught in editing and thanks to our readers for pointing it out--Michael.

13 September 2011

A Few Short Thoughts on Blogging

I'm not going to make a 3,000 word long essay on starting your blog. Blogging is best done by learning. After you've made a few posts, messed around with a little bit, then you'll be ready to get more out of detailed suggestions, guides, etc.

Here's my things to think about before putting anything in a blog post:

  • Once you have put it online, you essentially have "lost control." Someone else can use it, etc. You do have copyright to your paragraphs and pictures, but in some cases enforcing this will be difficult.
  • If it is going to upset you that someone else took "your" birthdate for great-grandma and put it on their website without crediting you, don't put it on your blog.
Your blog posts:
  • Should include enough information so that someone could retrieve the source you used. Precise bibliographic style is not necessary (in my opinion). However, you should indicate what the record is, who originally created it, where it is now housed (if known) and what website you obtained it from (if applicable) and the date you obtained. it.
  • Should include enough information so that someone interested in the person or place, etc. could Google those words and get your site. Specific names, places, dates, etc. in the post itself will make that happen. Titles of posts probably should include at least a name or a location.
  • You may wish to tag posts with topics. 
Experiment. You are not going to break it. 

Blogging and writing your research for someone else to read is an excellent way to see gaps or omissions in your research. Once in a while someone will offer a research suggestion or be related. Do NOT expect immediate responses from distant relatives in far-flung locations. Writing about your research usually improves your research as well. 

Have fun!

Blog sites to start your own:



Are You Remembering Point of View?

The informant on any record or document has their own perspective, their own agenda, and their own set of biases. Always be aware of this when analyzing information on any document. And if the informant is not specifically stated, and most are not, try to consider who the likely informant was. Remember that for most records, "proof" of information was not required and details were not cross-checked or referenced to other records.

12 September 2011

Where to Start Your Blog

Many have asked about starting your own blog for reasons discussed in today's tip.

You can create your own blog at Blogger for free on Google. The directions are fairly easy--and frankly, you'll learn more just by starting, doing, and experimenting. We'll post a followup in a few days with addition suggestions and ideas.

Why You Should Create a Blog

Creating a blog is easy. It may also help you to break down brick walls and make connections with others who could help with your research. Creating short posts about various ancestors, mentioning names, dates, places, and other details helps others to find your information.

There are people interested in their genealogy who don't post to message boards, don't create trees at Ancestry.com, Geni,com, or the other sites. They simply put some names in the search box at Google or another search engine and see what comes up. Your "trees" on one of the tree sites probably won't come up.

Your blog just might. Some people will see your information and use it without contacting you. And others will contact you--just like at any other site.

In the last month, I've had three relatives contact me simply because they found an old blog post of mine.

Consider creating your own blog. You can post weekly or monthly--daily is not necessary.

11 September 2011

Yearbooks May Have Clues Besides Pictures

Several years ago on a trip to Missouri, we stopped in the town where my mother-in-law was born. The local library didn't really have any genealogical materials, but they did have old high school yearbooks. I decided to look through them for a few of the older siblings who graduated from school there before the family moved to Moline, Illinois. I was really just hoping to get a few pictures.

Imagine my surprise when in the "biography" of one of the older brothers it stated he attended part of his junior year in a Chicago area high school. I had never thought to ask this question  might never have if it had not been for the yearbook.

Leads turn up in the most unusual of places.

10 September 2011

Sponsor Mine and I Will Sponsor Yours

If your ancestor was a member of a religious denomination that practiced infant baptism, look at the names of the individuals who were sponsors for his or her children. In some ethnic groups and faith communities, sponsors were usually family members.

Remember that it's not just who the sponsors of your ancestor were, but also if there were any children for whom your ancestor was a sponsor. Finding those children may require a manual search of all the sponsors listed in a series of church records, which usually are organized by date of christening.

09 September 2011

You Never Know What You Might Stumble on in the Cemetery

A visit to a rural cemetery to visit my grandparents' graves recently caused me to stumble a cross a couple who were using the back of the cemetery for an unintended purpose. In my case the encounter was harmless. Just remember that some cemeteries, particularly urban ones, may be in areas that today are unsafe. Find out first if the cemetery you plan to visit has any such issues. Is it better to visit in the day time? Is it wise to be there by yourself, etc.? Most cemeteries are safe places, but you never know. And always let someone know where you are going and have you cell phone with you, in addition to your genealogy supplies.

08 September 2011

They Don't Put Those Back In Order

Microfilmed and digital copies of court packets usually contain the papers in the order they are when they were filmed or digitized. They may not be organized before filming of digitalization begins. Make certain you analyze the papers in the order they are dated or created. It will make more sense, make your analysis easier, and reduce the chance you misunderstand some things.

07 September 2011

Have You Considered the Consideration?

The consideration in a land transfer is the money or other item that has been used to pay for a piece of real property. If it is a token amount, such as $1, or "love and consideration," consider that there is a relationship among the buyers and sellers, even if a relationship is not stated. The relationship does not have to be stated for the document to be binding. And remember, the purpose of a deed is to transfer title to land, not leave a record of a family relationship.

06 September 2011

Share Tip of the Day With Your Friends

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Thanks--we appreciate the help in getting out the word!


An administratrix is a female administrator of an estate. The term has fallen from use and is rarely used today. If you have a female relative as the administrator of an estate, see if certain women are unqualified to be administrators. In some time periods and locations, married women could not be appointed administrators of an estate.

05 September 2011

Do You Have Every Ancestor in Every Census?

Every so often I review various relatives and realize that I'm "missing" one or another in a certain census record. Sometimes I still don't find them, but other times I discover that when I originally looked for them I must not have really looked all that hard.

04 September 2011

03 September 2011

Look at the Entire City Directory

Don't look at just the alphabetical names in a city directory. There may be directories of businessmen that could provide more detail about your ancestor who owned a small shop, was a tradesman, etc. Rural directories may list owners of specific types of livestock in special sections and some even list who owned what type of automobiles.

City directories may also have reverse directories in the "back" of the book. The point? Get away from the alphabetical list and you may learn even more about your ancestor.

02 September 2011

You Have Perspective-Admit It

The marquee said "DOS GUYS" in all capital letters. I never went to hear them perform, so I cannot really be certain what the "DOS" meant. For the longest time I thought it meant 2 guys--the "DOS" being the Spanish word for two. Later it dawned on me that "DOS" could have been an spelling for "those" based upon the way some people say the word "those" to where it sounds like "does" or "dos."

And "DOS" could stand for the old computer operating system referred to as "dos." This might be a stretch, but someone familiar with Spanish might think the word means "two," the person who says "those" like "dose" might think it means "those," and the computer geek might think it stands for Disk Operating System.

I'm not saying which person I am. The lesson is that based upon our perspective, we might conclude something that's not true. And whether we admit it or not, we all have perspective.

Is your perspective the reason behind your brick wall?

01 September 2011

Do You Annually Review?

Set a date to periodically review those families you have not worked on in a while. It can be easy to get wrong ideas, misconceptions, or incorrect memories about your families in your head when information has not been viewed in some time. New databases or websites might have become available since you last looked at the family or you might have learned more about research in general since you last worked on the family.

Maybe your ancestor's birthday, anniversary, etc. would make a good day to annually review your files--especially on those people you gave up on or thought you had "completed."