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30 November 2011

The Head of the Household

Remember that most census records that provide relationships do so only to the head of the household. The wife may not be the mother of all the sons and daughters that are listed. Step-children may not be indicated as step-children, they may just be listed as children. Keep an open mind when using relationship information provided in the census, particularly if there's only one census year where you have the individuals listed with the relationship.

29 November 2011

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Is There a Clue to the Order?

Never change the order of any names in a document. Children could (but not necessarily) be listed in order of age in a will. If an older child is listed last in a census enumeration it may mean that they weren't really living there or had moved back home (or it could just be an "error" on the part of the census taker). Heirs may be listed in order of age on a quit claim deed (or they may not).

The order may be a clue, but try and use other documentation to back up any conclusions you make about the order.

And remember that order, sometimes like life, may be completely random and meaningless.

28 November 2011

Are You Spelling it Correctly?

There is a spot in the road near where I grew up called Breckenridge. Consequently that's how old habits make me spell any location with that name. While searching for a family in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, I had to force myself to use the "i" and not the "e" for the second vowel.

Make certain you are spelling locations and names the way they are written--not the way another place or family spells them or the way you think they should be spelled.

Cyber Monday Discount on Recorded Genealogy Webinars

25% off on all recorded genealogy webinars today! Code and webinar descriptions at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2011/11/recorded-genealogy-webinars.html

27 November 2011

Brainstorm--Then Get Real

If a document or record does not make any sense, brainstorm on all the possible things that could have been going on at the time. Make a list. Don't worry about how likely or realistic they are. Then, when you are completely out of ideas, think about how:

  • the ones that are too far-fetched or unrealistic
  • the ones you could never prove
  • the ones that are the most likely
  • the ones that might have left other evidence
Start with the situations that are most likely and might have left behind other evidence. Work to prove or disprove those conjectures. You may still not have the answer, but at least you will have documentable research.

Brainstorming is good. Sometimes we need to think through totally crazy possibilities to get at other  more realistic ones we might have overlooked.

And occasionally the crazy situation is what happened. But usually the reality is less dramatic--but no less interesting.

26 November 2011

There Might Have Been No Divorce

Just because a 19th century ancestor was married twice, do not assume that the first spouse either died or divorced your ancestor. It is very possible that your ancestral couple went separate ways and one of them married again.

This was easier to do if the ancestor in question moved several counties away and "started over." Civil War pension files are full of stories of deceased veterans who had more than one surviving widow.

25 November 2011

Sometimes Coincidences are Just Coincidences

Sometimes what appears to be a connection is not a connection. One of my wife's Jones families in northern Missouri has another Jones family living nearby. The same last name appears to be a coincidence as one family is from Tennessee and the head of household in the other was born in Wales.

Coincidences such as these are more common when the last name is common. But even with unusual last names, remember that there may be no connection between two individuals with the same last name. Look for a connection, but if you don't see one, remember that sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

Of course, sometimes there is a connection, but try and prove is. Don't use "it has to be" as a reason for a conclusion without some evidence.

24 November 2011

Papers You Have Not Scanned and Shared?

Do you have pictures, newspaper clippings, or other family history "paper" that you have not scanned or preserved? Is the only copy the one you have?

Might be time to reproduce the image.

If yours is lost, will that be the end of it?

23 November 2011

Separating the Known from the Unknown

If information is inconsistent, and even when it isn't, ask yourself, "which records am I really certain are my ancestor?" Is there a deed that might not be his? Is there a census enumeration (especially before 1850) that might not be for the right person? Consider each source or record you think refers to your ancestor and contemplate what really makes you think that.

You might realize that there is a record or two that might not really be for the person you are researching.

And that may be causing your confusion.

22 November 2011

Never Use Grandma

When writing any genealogical note, commentary, etc. avoid the use of relationship terms without the name of the person attached to it.

"Grandma gave me this picture."

"My Uncle told me where Grandpa was born."

What Grandma? What Uncle? What Grandpa?

You may know to whom you are referring--will someone else?

If you indicate in the first paragraph that you are talking about "Grandma Matilda Johnson," it's not necessary to refer to her using that complete phrase in every sentence that follows. That makes your prose bulky. However, otherwise you should be clear about exactly to whom you are referring.

This is especially true in families where names are used more than once. My mother has three Aunt Ruths. One was always referred to with her last name, one was Ruth, and one was Ruthie.

The point is what is clear to you might not be clear to someone in fifty years.

21 November 2011

Did They Move--Or Not?

There is a good chance that within the next year, my address will change even though my residence will not. When the post office closes, we'll have a different address even though we never really moved at all. In fact our new post office will be in a different county.

Is it possible that your ancestor's address changed even though she never moved at all?

20 November 2011

US Begins Keeping Passenger Lists

The US federal government first began keeping records of passenger arrivals in 1820.

19 November 2011

Weekend Recorded Webinar Discount Ends Sunday at Midnight

Until Sunday 20 November at 11:59 PM CST, we are running a Pre-Thanksgiving Sale on my recorded webinars--Spend 30 Get 30%. There's more information here on my other site.

My Blogs

For those who don't know, I have three daily sites:

I also have two other blogs:

Rootdig--also free where I blog about general research ideas, things that confuse/frustrate/irritate me, etc. --http://rootdig.blogspot.com

Casefile Clues--where I blog about things I'm working on for my newsletter Casefile Clues--http://blog.casefileclues.com


Before You Post a Question or a Query

Before you post a question or query to a message board, email list, etc., try and remember to include enough information so that a person can help you. This typically includes the name of the person for whom you are looking, an approximation of the date of the event, a guess as to the place of the event, sources you have tried, etc. You need not go into a paragraph discussion about everything, but just asking for help finding Grandma in the 1930 census is not sufficient.

Researchers should know:

  • Grandma's name
  • Where Grandma probably lived
  • When Grandma was probably born
  • Who might have been living with Grandma in the 1930 census

18 November 2011

Undocumented Name Change

Is it possible that your ancestor changed his name simply because he wanted to and with no official paperwork to document the change? For much of American history (and possibly in other locations as well), names could be changed with little formality.

If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, his naturalization papers may mention the change. Land records may occasionally reference a change, especially if the name on a deed of purchase is different from the name on a deed of sale. Probate records may indicate if the deceased used any other names. And lastly, pension records may also provide alternate names, aliases, etc.

17 November 2011

December Genealogy Webinar Schedule-New Topics

We've announced our schedule of genealogy webinars in December of 2011. Registrants who are unable to attend can receive (at no charge) download links for the recorded webinar and handout.

Topics include:

  • More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Constructing Families from pre-1850 Census Records
  • American Naturalization Records Before 1920
  • Sarah & Susannah: Two 18th Century Virginia Woman and Their Property
Each webinar is $8 or you can sign up for all 4 for $28.

Are There Some Easy Ones You Can Do First?

I've been working on the children of a Wesley Jones who died in Missouri in 1872. Researching the family is somewhat difficult as two daughters also married men with common last names. Completing the family group is an exercise in what is common.

To make it somewhat easier, I'm researching the son with a somewhat unusual first name first along with his sister whose husband's name was not as common as Jones. Then I'll work on the other children in the group.

The hope is that information on the children with less common names will shed light on the others.

16 November 2011

Can You Get a Better Copy Somewhere Else?

I have copies from a facility that shall remain nameless. The copies were made from a set of microfilm the facility had of the records. The copier that was used was not great and parts of my copies are very difficult to read.

There is a chance that copies made from the Family History Library's microfilm might be easier to read.

And copies made from the original records (which are in the courthouse) would  probably be even better yet if I could get there or have someone who could. 

If what you have is not a great copy, is it possible to get a better one elsewhere? 

15 November 2011

Grab the Correct Date

When using a document that contains several dates make certain you grab the right date for the right event.

A marriage record may contain the date of the license, the date of the marriage, and the date of the recording. Make certain that the date you put as the marriage date is the marriage date and not one of the other dates on the document.

14 November 2011

Clean Your Slate

If you are really stuck, consider starting over and documenting every piece of information from scratch. Don't throw away what you already have, but put it aside and start with the "most recent" facts and re-work your way through the research starting with your raw material from scratch.

It might even be advised to wait a few days before working on the family again to allow yourself time to forget some of the information.

Ask yourself along the way questions, including:

  • How do I know these two records refer to the same person?
  • Am I recording assumptions as facts?
  • Could I explain the research process to someone unfamiliar with the family?

It may seem like a lot of work, but sometimes it is what it takes.

13 November 2011

Avoiding the Trees

Sometimes I avoid using online trees, GedCom files, etc. for as long as possible--avoiding them completely if I can.

I'm working on a family of my wife's in Missouri and there are online files about this family, but most have the same gaps that I do and others repeat undocumented claims made by researchers decades ago. In this family, I'm finding that a better use of my time is to review original materials (or digital copies of them) and really research the family from scratch. Going through the compilations of others was not getting me anywhere and seemed to be an ineffective use  of time.

There are times where I have used online trees to get good suggestions or leads. This family (which I won't name), just isn't one of those times. When tree after tree repeats the exact same information without sources, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

12 November 2011

Free Copy of A to Z Webinar

We are giving away 100 copies of my "Brick Wall webinar"--free. Simply go tohttp://rootdig.blogspot.com/2011/10/recorded-copies-of-recent-webinars.htmland order the "Brick Wall webinar" use brickwall for your coupon code. That's it.

No Small Slips Of Paper

If you are using paper to take handwritten notes, never ever use slips of paper smaller than your hand. You will lose them.

I even avoid anything smaller than 8.5 by 11 inches because it's too easy to get lost.

11 November 2011

New Webinars for Download and Discount Code

Webinars on the Bureau of Land Management Site and DeedMapper were released today on our website. Thanks to our low overhead, copies of webinars are moderately priced at around $8.50 per download, a third of what others charge.

We also released recently webinars on Using Ancestry.com's Census, Seeing Patterns, and other topics.

There is more information and ordering details at:

Save $1 per webinar by using the coupon code tipoff

Don't Forget Draft Cards

Remember that even if your ancestor did not enlist or was not drafted, there still should be a World War I or World War II draft card for him if he was in the US during this time. World War I Draft Registration cards are on microfilm and available through several subscription services. World War II Draft Registrations for the "old men" are on microfilm and online at FamilySearch. World War II registrations for traditional age registrants are available via mail from the National Archives for those men who are deceased.

10 November 2011

Have You Looked at All Those Boarders?

If your ancestor has a boarder, hired man, or anyone else living in the household who is not a member of the immediate family, have you researched that person thoroughly? They may be related to the family even if the relationship is not specifically stated.

My ancestor Barbara Haase and her husband Conrad have a fellow German living with them in the 1860 census. I discovered this years ago and really had not thought about it since. I now know Barbara's maiden name which is somewhat close to the last name of this unknown individual living with them in 1860.

Researching this man further may be worth my time. He may be totally unrelated to Barbara and Conrad or there may be a connection.

09 November 2011

How Alphabetical Is It?

When using indexes to county or local records, remember that they are likely NOT strictly alphabetical. The "B" section of the index may (should) include all the last names that start with the letter "B," but they are likely entered in chronological order, not purely alphabetical.

Remember also that "Mc" and "Mac" names may have their own section of the index.

08 November 2011

What Was a Mantamaker?

The 1880 census in Clark County, Missouri, indicated that two relatives were "mantamakers." The term was foreign to me.A google search indicated that, generally speaking, a mantua is type of dress. This was discovered by just googling what the word looked like and going from there. Wikipedia has a short reference on this type of women's apparel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantua_(clothing).

Even if you think you are reading something incorrectly, consider googling the term. If nothing else, someone else might have posted a blog entry about it!

07 November 2011

Was There Ever a Stone?

If you think, based on family tradition, an obituary, a death certificate, etc. that a person is buried in a certain cemetery, keep in mind that there might not be a stone for them. Some families, for whatever reason do not erect a stone after the burial. It can be difficult to find what was never there. 

It is always possible that the marker was a wooden one that did not pass the test of time. 

And some stones fall down and are buried themselves. 

06 November 2011

Clarify the County

There are some states that have counties and towns or cities with the same name. Often these towns are not located in the county of the same name causing confusion. For this reason whenever referring to a political jurisdiction, indicate it is a county by using that word in the location. If you consistently use the word "county," you will know that Des Moines, Iowa, refers to the city of Des Moines and not the county.

05 November 2011

Are There Record Books and Originals?

In some jurisdictions that retain the original will in the packet of probate papers, there still may be a will record book that contains a transcription of the will made at the time it was admitted to probate by the court. If the original will is difficult to read, the transcription may clarify things that are illegible on the original.

04 November 2011

Are You the Only One?

Is there a newspaper clipping, photograph, family bible, etc. that you have that no one else does? Have you made a copy or digital scan of it that can be saved in a remote place from the original?

If there's something you have and your copy IS THE ONLY ONE, consider duplicating it as a way to preserve and share it so that you increase the chance that in 100 years it still exists in at least some form.

03 November 2011

What is a Relict?

A relict is that which survives. A "relict consort" (if the phrase is used) is usually referring to the widow or widower, "consort" meaning spouse. "Relict," generally used alone, usually means widow or widower.

Do not assume the word means that two people were not married.

02 November 2011

Dower versus Dowry

Generally speaking...

"Dower" is the interest a wife has in her husband's real or personal property. Depending upon the time period and location, it may be a 1/3 interest, a life estate, etc.

A "dowry" is the money/goods, etc. that a woman brings into a marriage.

01 November 2011

Not Exact, but it Matched

Put me down as confused.
This screen shot shows a search just conducted this morning on the "Illinois County Marriages, 1810-1934" database at FamilySearch.

My search was for a couple where one had the last name Tammen and the other had the last name Johnson. FamilySearch told me there were no matches that matched "strongly."

How do you get "stronger" than the same last names I entered?

Any Relatives You've Not Asked?

Have any older relatives that you've not asked questions of or asked about family pictures, etc.? Now might be a good time. One never knows what's going to happen. The courthouse and other places will probably be there next week. Aunt Martha might not.