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31 December 2013

Two Wives with the Same First Name?

If certain details of your ancestor wife change, but the first name remains unchanged, have you considered that he had two wives with the same first name?

30 December 2013

Houses Renumbered?

If you are researching in an urban area, are you aware if the house numbers were changed at any point during your research time period?

Are the contemporary numbers different from what they were during the time your ancestor lived there?

Location matters.

And if you don't have the answers to these questions, start with the reference section of the town/city library and go from there.

29 December 2013

Did the Name of the Place Change?

Names of locations can change over time. Is it possible that the village or place for which you are looking is now known by a different name?

Street names can change as well, causing confusing for researchers with city ancestors.

Neighborhoods can have names that may also change over times.

Churches merge together and form a new congregation, frequently with a new name.

28 December 2013

Every Godparent, Every Sponsor

If your ancestral family were members of a denomination that practiced infant baptism, do you pay attention to the names of sponsors at the baptisms of family members? There's a good chance those sponsors are relatives.

This can be a good technique when researching new immigrant families in the area of settlement.

27 December 2013

Are You Having a Knee-Jerk Reaction?

Are you actually thinking about the new information you locate? Or are you on auto-pilot as new details come across your path, responding to them without really thinking about them?

Responding in a knee-jerk fashion to information you think "is the same" when it's actually different could be the cause of your research problem.

26 December 2013

Any Gap Is an Opportunity

If there is a period of time where you are not certain where your ancestor was living or what he was doing, then you have an opportunity. Short gaps where a person is "missing" could mean military service, an out-of-state job, a short-lived marriage, a trip in search of gold, etc.

Or it could simply mean they never moved and simply didn't leave any records for a three year time period.

But if you never look one thing is certain--you'll never know.

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25 December 2013

Get Over Spelling

First and last names of your ancestor will be spelled differently, sometimes different ways in the same document. There is more to "matching" people that the spelling of their first and last name. Make certain you have valid reason to believe people appearing in different records are the same person.

And remember--the name is usually considered the "same" if the pronunciations are the same. That missing "e" may irritate you, but it doesn't mean it's an entirely different person.

24 December 2013

Different Handwriting?

When viewing an original document (or a microfilm or digital copy), do you try and determine if the same person wrote out the entire record? Or does it look like perhaps more than one person wrote on the document? If that's the case there may have been multiple informants on the record or someone may have written in additional information years later.

All of which impacts how reliable we perceive the information to be.

23 December 2013

Grandma Isn't Really Grandma

Sometimes relationship terms are also used as terms of affection, even if there is no biological relationship. Take care when a letter, diary, or a relative refers to someone as an "aunt" or an "uncle." The use of the term may have been done out of respect and not necessarily indicate a biological relationship.

Of course, you may gain some clues or insight by researching this person, but if you find no biological connection between the individual and your family be open to the possibility that "Grandma" was[n't] really "Grandma" after all.

Thanks to reader N for this suggested tip.

And thanks to anonymous who notified me of the typo! The correction has been made in red.

22 December 2013

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They May Have Moved--A Lot

An ancestor of mine has children who were born in Canada, Mchigan, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He and his family got around.

Never assume that your ancestor did not move. Just because he was in a specific location in 1850 and 1860 does not mean that he was there in 1855. One of my wife's ancestral families was in Illinois in every census after 1860, but spent two years in Pennsylvania and a year in England after that. Both of these residences took place in off census years and the family was "back" in Illinois for the next enumeration.

21 December 2013

ABC Order is Not Your Friend

When an index or manual searching takes you to an ancestral entry in a census, tax or other list entry take times to look at the neighboring names. Are the names in rough alphabetical order? If so neighborhood clues can't be inferred from the proximity of names.

That is unless all the "B" surnames lived in the same part of the county.

Greetings of the Season!

As we approach the end of the year, now is an excellent time to pass along our wishes for a Happy Holiday season to all who are fans, followers, or readers of Genealogy Tip of the Day. We appreciate your continued support, suggestions, and comments.

If you are not aware of my other blogs and online genealogical activities, my portal is here:

And, in the spirit of the holiday season, we've opened our webinar offers up again as well. That listing can be viewed on our other blog here.

20 December 2013

Anyone Could Have Crossed the Pond

Those whose families have lived in the United States for centuries sometimes think that their relatives will not appear on a passenger manifest.That is not necessarily true. It is possible that your ancestor traveled overseas for his work, for pleasure, or as a part of military service. My great-grandmother's families had lived in the United States since at least the 1780s and her sister's Red Cross service during the first World War caused her to be on a passenger manifest.

19 December 2013

Is It Really A Different Source?

Chances are the information in great-great-grandpa's death certificate and obituary were provided by the same person. This means that the fact they agree with other does not make them any more "right." Getting records where there were probably different informants as to the same details increases the chance you get the "right" answer.

And sometimes no one knew the right answer. But relying on one source or several sources made at the same time from information probably provided by the same person may send your searches astray.

18 December 2013

Get An Outside Opinion

If you're stuck on a family or a document, consider asking someone with no "preconceived" notions or ideas about the family. And while background information usually is helpful, sometimes telling them nothing about the family in the document helps them to keep a clean "fresh" perspective.

And maybe that's what you need.

17 December 2013

Think About the Provenance

The "provenance" of a family heirloom, picture, etc. is "how you know it is what it is and how you came to have it." 

Think about the provenance of every item you have. A relative pointed out to me that I have quite a few pictures from my Ufkes family. They came from my maternal grandparents. 

Then it dawned on me. The family home burned in 1924 and most of the pictures are from before that year. Did the family get the pictures out? Did other relatives share pictures with them or give them pictures? I'll never know, but just thinking about who else might have had the pictures in 1924 got me to thinking about various family members who might have had pictures.

And thinking about provenance is never a bad thing.

16 December 2013

Never Assume There Cannot Be Two

No matter how unusual or "odd" the name, do not immediately conclude that people of the same name appearing in different records must be the same person. It's always possible there were contemporaries with the same name.

They may share a common ancestor or they may not.

But use more than "name uniqueness" to determine they are one and the same.

15 December 2013

Symbols In Stone

If there are symbols, logos, or other "non-textual" inscriptions on your ancestor's tombstone, have you determined their meaning? It could indicate a membership, religious affiliation, or other clue to your ancestor's past.

A symbol may "simply" be artistic or it may have a meaning with a direct impact on your research.

Get Away from What You Want to Prove

When analyzing a record or set of materials that does not make sense, get away from what you "want to prove" and try to think "what do these documents really say?" You may find that they do not say what you think they do. And not every record says what we want or expect it to say.

Sometimes our preconceived notions are what is getting in the way.

Is That Different Name Really Just a Different Language?

Before you assume your ancestor had two "different" first names, make certain that one name is not simply a translation for another. I have an ancestor whose name in low-German was Trientje, which can be translated to Katherine. This does not mean her name was Trientje Katherine, but it does mean that the 5 year old Trientje in the 1860 census is probably the 15 year old Katherine in the 1870 census.

14 December 2013

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13 December 2013

Leave A Trail

When a researcher is "hot on the trail" of an elusive ancestor or relative, it is tempting to research as fast as possible to find the answers.

Avoid that.

Chances are the relative for whom you are looking is already dead, so time is not of the essence.

Leave a trail of exactly what records you looked at and, more importantly, why you looked at them. Do this as you are doing the research when it is all fresh in your mind. Failure to do so may leave you wondering later where there records were from or what made you connect them to the same person.

12 December 2013

Spend Time On Some New People

If you think you are stuck on all your lines, work on someone else's family for a while. The different names and locations will be a good change of pace. Learning about research in a new area may give you insight into "old ones" where you've worked so long that assumptions that are incorrect may have taken deep root.

It may be that when you return to your own families, you have a new perspective on them.

11 December 2013

How Far?

For your "brick wall" ancestor, do you know (or have any idea) how far they lived from:

  • the county seat?
  • the nearest church of their denomination?
  • the nearest place they could get supplies or transact necessary business?
  • their nearest neighbor?
  • the cemetery?
The list here is not exclusive. If you've got no idea of the answers to these questions, determining those answers may help you solve your problem.

10 December 2013

Names in the Funeral Book

If you are working on a more recent relative and you've got a copy of their "funeral book," look and see if the names of those who came to pay their respects are in the book.

It is a good way to get ideas of who might have been your ancestor's associates and who was alive when your ancestor died. They may have even written in their city of residence.

And there's always their signatures...hopefully they are readable.

09 December 2013

For Example: What Is Viz?

Old newspapers and obituaries often contain the abbreviation viz. Some genealogists wonder exactly what viz means, so in this tip we will look at three abbreviations that often are confused.

  • e.g. from exempli gratia - "for example" (common usage is that what follows e.g. is an example and not a complete list of items)
  • i.e. from id est - "that is" (common usage is that what follows is a restatement of something previously stated)
  • viz. from videlicet - "that is" (common usage is that what follows is a complete list)
The reality:
James Jones was born in Harford County, Maryland and his wife was born in Smith County, Ohio. They were married in Smith County, Ohio, in 1830. James and Elizabeth (Smith) Jones had children named Riley, James, John, Martha, Thomas, and Elizabeth. In addition to being a farmer, James was a cooper and also helped making ends meet by fixing wagon gears and wagon wheels.

The statement in the county history (using e.g, i.e., and viz.) :

James and Elizabeth (Smith) Jones came to the county from Coshocton County, Ohio, in 1847. James was born in Harford County, Maryland, and Elizabeth was born in Smith County, Ohio. James and Elizabeth were married in her native county (i.e. Smith County) in 1830. James operated a farm after their marriage and also did coopering and other work (e.g. wagon fixing) for nearby farmers. They were the parents of six children, viz.: Riley, James, John, Martha, Thomas, and Elizabeth

08 December 2013

Who Paid Taxes on the Same Day?

Some local real and personal property tax records may indicate the date the tax was paid and by whom. Look at those dates and the names of the person that paid the taxes. Do this for others in the same township or area. If your ancestor lived ten miles from the courthouse, are his nearby landowners paying their taxes the same day? 

It might indicate they may have had a closer relationship that simply neighbors. 

Or it could just mean it was the first "nice" day after all the field work was done and nothing more.

But you will never have those names and dates if you do not look.

07 December 2013

Search Newspapers for Old Phrases

I often search Google Books for phrases that I encounter in old materials in an attempt to get a better grasp on their meaning. 

Searching old newspapers for those exact phrases is an excellent idea as well. You may get a history lesson and answer your genealogy question in the process.

Organizing Loose Court Papers

Files of loose court papers are frequently out of order. If you are having difficulty understanding the case being tried, organize the papers chronologically. After that, extract every date listed in the papers and create a chronology. That may help you to understand what lead up to the case and how it played out.

Or it may suggest there are some holes in your understanding. Either way, you have made progress in your understanding of the case.

06 December 2013

More to the Directory than the Directory

City directories can contain more than simply names and addresses of residents. They may also indicate names of addresses of schools, businesses, churches, cemeteries, and other concerns and organizations. There could possibly be lists of recent deaths or other statistical information.

If you always jump straight to the name in a directory, heading right for your ancestor's name, there may be good contextual information you never see.

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05 December 2013

Was There A Minor Border Change?

Remember that even after counties are "formed" and fairly settled, county boundaries can change. A change between two Kentucky counties well after each was formed transferred several square miles from one to the other. Not a large part of either county.

But just enough to make my ancestor's farm go from being in one county to being in another.

And causing land records to start being recorded in the "new" county.

04 December 2013

Think About Communication and Transportation

Years ago I was trying to read the village of residence for one of the sponsors on a baptism in a Catholic church in the 1780s. The name of the Belgian village could only be partially read. Then it dawned on me. The village where the sponsor lived had to be near the village where the child was baptized. The child was only a few days old and the reality was that the sponsor lived close to the village where the ceremony took place.

Sure enough, armed with names of nearby villages I was able to interpret the location's name.

Remember the speed of communication and transportation during the time period of your research.

03 December 2013

Do You Check For Illness?

If your ancestor dies at a relatively [young] age or if more than one member of a family dies at once, do you look for any mention of illness or disease in local newspapers and histories? While people can die for a variety of reasons, it could be that there was some epidemic going on at the time of the deaths.

note: "young" was originally omitted from this post.

02 December 2013

I Cite So I Know What Was in My Sight

One of the reasons genealogists cite their sources is so that they know what version of something they used in case another rendering of the same original information comes along.

A good example is the National Archives microfilm publication M1916--which includes microfilmed images of the front of cards that were completed in application for tombstones for deceased veterans. The cards were microfilmed in black and white. Images of the entire card (front and back) are available in color digital format on Ancestry.com. If my citation indicated that I "just" used the microfilm, then I know that perhaps the color images will tell me something I don't know. If my citation indicates that I used the color image at Ancestry.com, then I probably don't need to see the microfilm.

If my citation just says I "looked at the card" and doesn't indicate which version, then I don't know if I need to look at the other version or not.

Here's a post that discusses this database in a little more detail.

01 December 2013

As You Go: Not Three Years Later

The ideal time to write up your genealogical conclusions, enter your information into your database, or write up and transcribe documents is as you locate them. Or reasonably close after. The information is fresh in your mind and fewer details are apt to be forgotten.

While it may be fun to keep gathering, you probably will notice more about what you've just found if you record and analyze it relatively close to when you located it.

30 November 2013

Five Dollar Webinar Sale Re-Opened

Through 11:59 PM 1 December, we've re-opened our $5 webinar sale. You can view the list here:


Enjoy and good luck with your searches!

Locating the Relatively Recent

Sometimes in our attempts to research back into the distant past we forget the relatively recent past and the ancestral clues that may be contained there. 

Did your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents have any first cousins who died without descendants? If so, the settlement of their estate may name immediate (and not so immediate) members of their family? The situation is even better for the genealogist if the relative who died without descendants also had no siblings of their own as the inheritance may have been more involved and mention additional family members. 

My grandmother had a first cousin died in the early 1980s. This cousin had no children of his own and was an only child. His only heirs were his first cousins and his estate settlement essentially documented all the descendants of both sets of his grandparents who were all deceased by the 1920s.

29 November 2013

Record Copies are Handwritten-Usually

Most of the local copies of records used by genealogists are not originals but are record copies. While it is always possible the local courthouse will have the "original," most likely the material you are using from the courthouse is a manual transcription of the original item.

Because of this, the copy you are using:

  • doesn't contain the actual signature
  • could contain transcription errors
  • may have been made from an original which was occasionally difficult to read
If you are not certain whether the item you have is a "record copy," ask. If you do not know, assuming may create more work for yourself that you already have.

28 November 2013

A Second Voyage?

Did your immigrant ancestor return to the old country later in life--perhaps to temporarily visit relatives or perhaps even to stay?

Over 3/4 of my ancestors were immigrants to the United States after 1845 and of those, one returned to Europe for good twenty years after he immigrated and another returned for a visit thirty years later. The one who returned gave more detailed personal information on the manifest when making the return trip home than he did on his initial immigration to the United States.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to those fans who reside in the United States or who celebrate Thanksgiving on this day. I'm thankful for all of my ancestors and the sacrifices they made. I've posted the names of my Mayflower ancestors here, but remember that it's not just how far back your lines can be traced or how long your family has been in the United States.

And if you have special Thanksgiving memories, make certain you've recorded those for posterity.

27 November 2013

Bits and Pieces of the Truth

It sometimes is tempting to completely ignore a document that contains some information that is clearly incorrect. Avoid this temptation.

It is possible that the informant was only confused (or lying) about some of the details they provided for the record. There may be other details that are entirely correct. That may be because the informant actually had first hand knowledge of those details or those details were not a part of the lie.

Any document can contain pieces of information that are true, pieces of information that are false and pieces of information that are somewhere in between. 

Don't remove a document from consideration only because a few parts of it are known to be incorrect.

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26 November 2013

It's Not About How Far

Remember when doing your family tree research that it's not about how far back you can research your family, the important thing is being as accurate as you possibly can and telling your ancestors' stories as matter-of-factly as possible.

Some of us have Mayflower ancestors and some of us don't. And even some people with Mayflower lineages have other families we can't get back before 1820.

And some of us (like my mother) don't have one ancestor in the United States before 1850.

It's all good--just learn their stories, share their stories and report them as accurately as you can.

25 November 2013


Clearing your mind may be what it takes to solve your problem.

Put your "problem" away for a few days (or weeks). Work on other things, preferably a family from a different location, time period, ethnic group, etc.

You may come back with a new perspective.

Or you may at least have new information on that other family you worked on in the meantime.

24 November 2013

Did They Lose Part of the Last Name?

Did your ancestor, either intentionally or on accident, lose part of his last name? Did some of your DeMoss ancestor's records get recorded with the last name of Moss? Did your VonDeHeide ancestor become DeHeide or just Heide?

It is always possible that the clerk only bothered to use part of your ancestor's last name.

23 November 2013

From Whence That Nickname?

When you are asking questions of relatives, do you try and learn the origins of nicknames? I have an uncle named "Babe" and for some reason his name popped into my head while walking. It was fifteen minutes before I remembered his real name: Carl William.

What I wish I knew is where his nickname came from. At this point, I'm lucky that the nickname is even known, as I don't think it's used on any legal documents.

Don't forget to ask about those nicknames. There may be a story there.

22 November 2013

Do You Have Too Many Distractions?

Are you working on your "brick wall" problems while four or five other things are going on? Is possible that all the distractions are simply zapping your attention? Maybe some "undivided attention" to your problem is what you really need.

We've used this before, but as I write this I am extremely distracted, so a reminder may be good for all of us!

21 November 2013

Was the Nearest Church "Close" Enough?

If your migrating ancestor settled where there was no church of the "right" denomination, he may have attended the nearest church with religious practices fairly close to his own. Don't get stuck in the mindset that "all members of my family were members of only one denomination."

Your Methodist may have attended Lutheran services if that was the nearest church. Or your Baptist may have attended a Methodist church if that was the closest option.

Of course this also depends upon how "strong" your ancestor's convictions were.

20 November 2013

Time Can Be Crucial

Think about the materials you would like to access to learn  more about your family's history. Don't just prioritize based upon how much information something could potentially provide. Also consider the fragility of the source. Some sources, particularly the minds of relatives, photographs, and tombstones are more fragile than other records.


19 November 2013

Is Your First Answer the Only One?

You have organized information obtained from a variety of sources and it all fits a certain theory. Are you certain that all that information only fits one theory? Is it possible the information also fits one or more alternative theories? Avoid becoming so invested in one theory that you fail to see there could be other scenarios that fit the information you have obtained.

18 November 2013

Pick A Day

Pick a day in your ancestor's life. Try and answer the following questions as of that date:

  • Where was my ancestor living?
  • Who was in his (her) household?
  • What was the ancestor's occupation?
  • What was the ancestor's age?
  • What was going on nationally on this date (at this point in time)?
  • What was going on locally/regionally?
  • Were my ancestor's parents alive?
  • Were my ancestor's siblings alive?
  • Where would he (she) have gone to church the previous Sunday?
  • Who were my ancestor's neighbors?
You get the idea. Focusing one just one day may be enough to cause you to learn about other days in the process.

17 November 2013

Carved in Stone Doesn't Mean Correct

Never assume that just because something is literally carved in stone that it is figuratively carved in stone. Information etched in stone can be just as incorrect as anything else.

16 November 2013

Did He Own It When He Died?

If you are unable to find a probate settlement for your ancestor and you "know" he owned land, make certain you have all the deeds--did he sell his property right before his death and avoid probate?

And did he really own land at all or is that just family fiction?

15 November 2013

Were They In the Poor Farm?

If you can't "find" your ancestor for a few years, have you considered the possibility that they fell on hard times and spent a while in the local poor farm or almshouse?

Records of the county poor farm may be at the local county courthouse, county seat library, a county historical society, or elsewhere.

14 November 2013

Did Grandma Disappear Due to a Hitchin?

If you widowed ancestor cannot be located, consider the fact that she might have married after the death of her first spouse. If a subsequent marriage did not result in children, family lore may not have included any reference to it. And if the widow remarries, her last name probably changes.

Do not assume that a sixty-year old widow will not marry.

That assumption could be why  you cannot find her.

13 November 2013

There Are More to Federal Records than Census

Remember that there are a variety of ways your ancestor could have interacted with the federal government--besides the census. Your ancestor could have served in the military, received a military pension, purchased federal property, homesteaded, etc.

All of these interactions could have generated records. Most federal records are at the National Archives in Washington D. C.

12 November 2013

Estate Sales for the Neighbors?

Looking for something to show your ancestor was alive? If he was in a rural area, consider looking at estate settlements of his neighbors. Your ancestor's name may appear on a list of buyers at the sale, thus giving you a date on which he was alive. You'll also know what he purchased and for how much.

Just make certain it's your ancestor and not someone with the same name!

11 November 2013

Locations at the End of Life

Your ancestor's death certificate will be recorded in the jurisdiction in which they died. Their probate or will (if there's a need) will usually be recorded where the bulk of the estate is located. The burial may be somewhere else, if not where the ancestor was living at their death perhaps a previous area of residence for the ancestor or their spouse.

GenealogyBank--Our Sponsor

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10 November 2013

Stuck On That Paper?

If a document is confusing you, consider the following:

  • why was the document written?
  • who gave the information?
  • could someone else have given the information?
  • how did the informant know the information?
  • did they have to verify information in the document?
  • was there any motive for lying or modifying the truth?
  • was there any real chance of being caught lying?
  • was there any punishment for giving incorrect information?
There are other items to consider as well, but these questions may get you started.

And--typing the document is always a good analysis technique as well.

End of the Page?

If your ancestor's census entry ends on the bottom of a page, look at the next page. There could be more children on the next page.

08 November 2013

The Majority of Infants Don't Know When an Infant Enters Their Majority

Many words have both legal and non-legal meanings. Genealogists who are not aware of these differences run the risk of misinterpreting a document or a phrase contained in a document. The words in this blog post title are a perfect example.

In the legal sense an infant is someone  who is under the age of majority--that age generally where they can perform a variety of acts with no restrictions. Someone who has reached the age of majority is usually able to marry, execute legal documents, etc. State statute determines at what age certain acts can be performed.

In layman's terms "majority" and "infant" mean something else. Make certain you are not confusing them.

07 November 2013

The Microdynamics of Death

When your ancestor died at what stage in life were his children? Were they toddlers, teenagers, or grown children with their own families? Was your recently deceased ancestor a farmer whose oldest son was in his early twenties and possibly able to manage the farm himself--perhaps arguing with his mother? And perhaps even old enough to start a partition suit if he so desired? Or were his children under the age of ten and, while able to help, were not really able to bring any type of legal action?

Or did the death of one aged spouse mean that the surviving spouse was no longer really able to live by herself or himself?

In most families what's going on at the "family level" when something happens is just as important as what is going on at the national level. 

06 November 2013

Why the In-Laws of My Uncle Matter

When relationship details in records are scant, every record matters and researching the entire "group," (even non-relatives) is important. Arvin Butler appears in records in New York, Ontario, and Michigan in the 19th century. Showing I have the "same guy" in various locations is difficult--unique names are not always sufficient. 

Arvin in some of those locations is living near a man named Rufus Stephens--likely father-in-law of Arvin's probable brother Benjamin who was also living near Arvin in some of those locations. The close proximity of Arvin Butler and Rufus Stephens in more than one state and time period makes it more likely I have the same Arvin. 

If I ignore Rufus because he's Arvin's brother's father-in-law, I may miss knowing I have the same guy.

Those neighbors matter--especially when the neighbors are the same from one state to another. 

Our It's All Fresh Pledge

I value the relationship I have with my fans, followers, and readers. Because of that I'm posting this statement to each of my blogs. I've written similar statements before, but this is an issue that is important to me and one that I think bears occasional repeating.

The content you see on this blog/website was written by me. It was not copied from another person's blog, website, printed material, etc. Brief content from other writers is cited, quoted, and openly acknowledged. I believe in giving credit to others, respecting their intellectual property and copyright, and in creating my own original content. I expect the same of other bloggers, writers, etc. If I think someone's post or content is worth sharing with readers, then I simply link back to it.

The only research I write up is research I have done myself.

That's why I don't write about every topic under the sun--because one person cannot know everything and because I'm not going to simply paraphrase or copy someone else's work so I can have an article "on that topic."

Copyright matters. Respecting the intellectual property rights of other people matters.

If you have pride in yourself and what you do, you create your own, unique work.

It's as simple as that.

Now back to work.

05 November 2013

Thrown In At the End of the Year

When searching chronological entries of baptisms in a church register, always look through the entire year--even when you are certain of the date.

The chance you are incorrect is not the only reason for doing this. Some pastors or priests would record baptisms for children born out of wedlock at the end of all the entries for the year, thus separating the entries. If you look for it "exactly where it is supposed to be," you may miss the desired entry--even if you have the date correct.

04 November 2013

Pensions Are a Better Bet

While genealogists usually want every record they can get, remember that in terms of potential information, military benefit records (pensions, bounty land applications, etc.) tend to have more details about the applicant and his family. Service records may document when your ancestor was mustered in and out, physical characteristics, etc.

Benefit records may provide significantly more detail about the applicant and his family--especially if his widow applied for a pension. She would have had to document his service and her relationship to the veteran.

If you've only focused on the service, locate the pension record. There may be more detail than you imagined.

03 November 2013

Anne, Ann, Annie: One Needs to Clarify

When relatives have the same first and last name it is easy to get them confused. It is even worse when the name gets spelled or written in various ways.

In a recent blog post, I referred to Anne and Annie Murphy--sisters-in-law. To make matters worse, Anne signed her name as "Ann" in a document and I transcribed the document exactly as it was written.

To clarify in my discussion what I should have done was either used their maiden name Annie (Murphy) Neill and Anne (Brice) Neill or their husband's name, Annie Neill (wife of Samuel) or Anne Neill (wife of Joseph) to distinguish them.

It may sound a little stilted, but clarification never hurts.

02 November 2013

Do You Proof Yourself?

When transcribing a document or writing up your research conclusions, do you take a second look at what you've written? Do you really proof what you've typed? That little bit of extra time may save you from making a mistake that later you don't realize is incorrect.

And proofing is always a good way to catch errors in your logic or reasoning.

01 November 2013

Waiting to Get Married After That Divorce?

If your ancestor was divorced was there a waiting period before they could get married. There were times and places where divorced individuals could not marry "the day after" they got divorced. In some cases the waiting period may have been as long as a year. In other locations, individuals whose divorce was on the grounds of adultery may have had additional restrictions upon marriage.

State statute determines these time frames and other limitations.

31 October 2013

Different Perspectives

Have you asked all your family members the same questions about the same people?

You should.

And you should ask them separately. Even within the same family, older and younger siblings will remember different relatives, different details, and different life experiences.

And two grandchildren of the same set of grandparents may have entirely different stories--or at the very least, slightly different versions.

Multiple perspectives may help flesh out details in your family's past. Avoid asking just one person.

30 October 2013

Try All Geographic Levels of the Card Catalog

When searching for items in the Family History Library card catalog, consider searching for all levels. Recently I was looking for some township land records that had been transcribed for a certain township in Ontario. The website indicated the Family History Library had them yet no amount of searching in the records at the county level located them.

That's because the township land records I needed were in the card catalog under Ontario the province and not under any specific county.

When searching the FamilyHistory card catalog--don't just focus on the county. Try other political levels such as the town, state, etc.

29 October 2013

Ask Again

When you began your research, you hopefully asked family members questions about your family's history. When was the last time you went back and asked again?

With new information, you may have different questions to ask.
With improved research skills, you may see questions you overlooked.

It never hurts to ask again--before it is too late.

28 October 2013

Throw Out the Vowels

If you are having difficult thinking spelling variants for your last name, remove vowels or change each vowel with another one. Vowels are the letters most likely to be the cause of spelling variants. Neil easily gets spelled as Neal, Hull as Hall, etc.

There's other letters that can be a problem, but vowels are a good place to start

27 October 2013

Just Do It: Bake That Genealogy Cake

In some cases your family history research may never be finished. It's a fact of research. The best bet is to write up and organize what you have now, before it is too late.

Even if your research is incomplete, leaving behind a written up adequate citations and a discussion of your research process and  your conclusions is better than leaving a pile (or a hard drive) full of unorganized and un-analyzed material. Later researchers can build upon what you have done.

Just start putting things together. Genealogy is the cake batter that's never "quite ready for the oven." Sometimes you just have to bake it.

If you find more information, just add it to the frosting (grin!).

26 October 2013

Was Your Ancestor A Master?

A reader correctly pointed out that genealogists frequently focus on the apprentice in the master-apprentice relationship. If your ancestor appears as a master, then locals knew him to be respected in some profession, giving you some clues about his occupation and social standing within the community.

Of course, no master is prefect. But courts are unlikely to appoint someone as a master in a master-apprentice relationship if that person is not held in relatively high regard among his locals for the knowledge of a specific craft or occupation.

25 October 2013

An Uncle's Divorce?

If you had an aunt or an uncle get divorced, have you considered looking at their divorce records? There may be mention of where they married or where they lived when they were first married. Either of these items could be clues in researching your direct line ancestor. And there is always the chance that your ancestor provided testimony in the divorce of a sibling.

24 October 2013

Tips In Your Email

The email delivery of tips has been a little off because the timing of a few tips has been off.

We are returning to an email delivery of tips in the early morning--around 7 am. Eastern Time. It may be a few days before the blog posts and delivery cycles are totally back on sync again.

If you'd like get the tips in your email, there is a link on every page of our blog at http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com on the right hand side.


23 October 2013

Your Ancestor's Vita

If you are "stuck" on an ancestor, pretend that you are creating a "resume" or "vita" for him (or her). Think about what skills he or she had, what his occupation was, what his educational level was, what you know about his work history, and what types of jobs he was probably qualified for.

For some of us, a great deal of this will consist of day labor or farm work. But think about what age the ancestor probably started working "at home" (if appropriate) and at what age he might have started working out side the home.

If nothing else, it might be an interesting thought exercise. For others, it might give you some actual research ideas.

22 October 2013

Free Searching Book for New GenealogyBank subscribers

GenealogyBank is offering Genealogy Tip of the Day fans a special:

New subscribers can save 20% off an annual subscription and get a free copy of the e-book "How to Search GenealogyBank."

Offer ends at the end of the month--31 October.

No Tip Today

There is no tip today.

Sometimes it's good to clear your head and start from scratch.

Sometimes it's good to know when you really don't have any information and need to scratch all your conclusions.

So maybe there was a tip today after all.  Things aren't always what they seem to appear to be.

And that's another tip.

21 October 2013

Was There a Point In Between?

For years I have researched a family that moved from Virginia to Kentucky in the very early 1800s. It was only recently that I discovered they made a "pitstop" in another Virginia county along the way. They were only there a few years, but were there long enough to leave records that tied the husband to his family of origin.

Never assume a move was "direct."

20 October 2013

Are the Kids Really Clueless?

I've encountered instances in my research where children have provided maiden names of mothers that were inconsistent with information provided with the mother and that were completely wrong.

I've also encountered instances where the children gave a last name for the mother that I thought was "wrong," only later it turned out to be right.

While information children provide about their mother's maiden name is secondary, don't assume the children are clueless. Sometimes they are...but sometimes they are not.

19 October 2013

My Blogs and Newsletter

For those of you who did not know, this is not my only genealogy blog. Here's list with the links. Enjoy!

You can subscribe to any of the above blogs for free.

My how-to newsletter Casefile Clues is also available by subscription, but there is a charge.

Go On A Non-Busy Day

Before visiting that rural courthouse, find out if there is a certain day of the week that is "court day." Chances are some offices, particularly the one that maintains court records, will be busier with "current" business and may have less time for genealogy questions.

Going on an "off" day may give you a better chance to get the information you need. Maybe.

18 October 2013

Can Color Help With John, Henry, and Thomas?

Sometimes things just don't stand out in black and white. If you're working on sorting out a John, Henry, and Thomas, consider printing out the documents or document transcriptions you have for them and highlighting each one in their own color. It may be easier to see who is consistently on what documents together if you've color-coded them.

17 October 2013

Last Date Alive?

If you don't have a death date for your ancestor, have you gone through all records that could prove him as being alive on a certain date? Witnessing documents, appearing in a census, and other records may not shed volumes of new information on him (or her) but could at least let you know he (or she) was alive on a certain date.

16 October 2013

Does a Mark Mean Illiterate?

Do not assume because your ancestor made his mark that he was illiterate. Deathbed wills frequently contain "marks" made by people who before their final illness were capable of reading and writing. Even for those in good health, they may have made their "mark" instead of signing because that was the custom or what they chose to do.

Even someone who signed their name may not have actually been literate. It is always possible that they knew how to "make" their signature and not much else.

And never assume that your ancestor was a "few bricks shy of a load" just because they were illiterate.

15 October 2013

Did One Stay Home?

I've got several ancestors who immigrated with most of their siblings to the United States. In some cases all the siblings immigrated. In others, one stayed behind. Don't assume that "they all" came over just because most of them did. One might have stayed behind to care for aging parents, take over the family farm, or just because they didn't want to leave.

14 October 2013

Did the Bride Go?

In some locations, the bride may never have actually gone to the local office to obtain a copy of the marriage license. It is possible that the groom--along perhaps with a letter from the bride or her parents if she were underage--went by himself.

Not always the case, but possible. Something to consider if there's an apparent letter from the bride with the returned copy of the marriage license.

13 October 2013

Are You Desperate for a Relationship?

When you work on a family where the family structure isn't know with any certainty, do you "rush" to enter the details of each person in your database, including the relationships? If you don't have other information that indicates the children in a census are those of the oldest man and woman in the household, should you enter them all as "parents and children" in your database? This is especially true for pre-1880 United States census records where relationships are not given.

There's no rush to enter in relationships when you aren't "reasonably" certain what they are. Wait. Take your time and look at other records.

Or you may just be confusing yourself and others down the road. Not intentionally--but confusion is confusion whether you mean for it to be or not.

12 October 2013

Webinar Wrap Up

If you ordered any of my $5 genealogy webinars and had any sort of issues, please let me know. A list of topics can be found here for those who missed it. My contract with the download service is set to expire next week so "last minute" orders, downloads, or other concerns need to be taken care of soon. Thanks!

Record Inconsistencies As They Are

Transcribe documents exactly as they read--even if they are inconsistent with other items or records. Your genealogical software package should allow you to record alternate dates of events tied to the actual source from which the information was obtained. Never change what any sources say. In your notes about the person, comment on the differences and why which one of them (if any) you think is more likely to be correct.

Some discrepancies can never be "explained away" and one cannot expect all records to completely agree.

11 October 2013

The Purpose of a Death Certificate

Before a researcher gets hypercritical of the information contained in a death record, consider its original purpose: documenting the date of death, cause of death, and disposal of body. Death certificates are also used to track a variety of health concerns as well. High priority is not usually attached to having the date of birth correct and names of places and birth and parents spelled correctly.

When a researcher forgets why a record was created, he may assume things about it that are not true. 

10 October 2013

Does a Year Really Matter?

If great-grandpa says he is 50 years old in 1870 and says he's 49 in 1871, the difference is probably not significant. While the ages do not technically "match," if other details for him indicate you've found the same person, a few years difference between two stated ages is not significant.

It is difficult to say precisely when age difference goes from being insignificant to significant and means that you have the wrong person. One needs to consider all the pieces of information in  record when making that decision--and that much analysis is too long for one short tip!

09 October 2013

Who Helped Grandma?

If your female ancestor is appointed adminstratrix or executrix of her husband's estate, pay close attention to those names on her bond. Those bondsmen are very likely relatives of the widow--either her sons or perhaps her brothers.

They may be unrelated, after all there's no law that says a relative has to be your bondsman. But from a practical standpoint, these people frequently are relatives in one way or another.

08 October 2013

Multiple Marriage Records

There may be more than one "record" of a marriage. A church may have a record, perhaps of the banns as well as the actual marriage. The local government may have a civil record of the marriage, in addition to possibly having a license, bond, or other materials that were a part of the "application to marry" process. Local newspapers may also mention the event.

Pension records and later documents may provide less contemporary information, but may be just as reliable.

Multiple marriage records doesn't mean "multiple marriages." That's a different tip.

07 October 2013

Does it Make Sense?

Before you enter a relationship or a piece of information into your database or file, have you considered whether or not it "makes sense" and is reasonable? If it is not reasonable and you can't find a pretty good reason why it is actually right, don't enter it into your database.

Think as you enter information. It will save you time and frustration later.

Extended Webinar Closeout

Due to  popular demand and the request of a few long-time customers who missed it, we've extended our closeout on webinars. Don't miss it this time as my contract with the site that coordinates the downloads expires. Once you buy, you download and it's yours to view as often as you want.

Wrapping it up--$5 Genealogy Webinar Sale

I have had great fun presenting webinars on a variety of research topics over the past three years. However, for a variety of reasons I’ve decided to no longer sell recordings of my forty previous webinars (extended due to popular demand through 9 October). We will offer support for previous purchases after that time, but no new orders will be processed. If you've been waiting to order, don't wait any longer. Each presentation is $5 each--download is immediate. Our order page is here.

Topics are:
  • Using US Census on Ancestry.com
  • Using US Passenger lists on Ancestry.com
  • An overview of Archive.org
  • Brick Walls from A to Z
  • More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Yet More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Brick Walls from A to Z--The FINAL One
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls
  • Preparing for Mother's Death
  • Proving Benjamin
  • The Newmans in the 1830-1870 Census: A Case Study
  • The Missing 1840 Census Enumeration
  • Creating Families from pre-1850 Census REcords
  • Court Records: Pig Blood in the Snow
  • The Probate Process; An Overview
  • Tips and Tricks for FamilySearch
  • Female Ancestors
  • Sarah and Susannah: Two 18th Century Virginia Women and Their Property
  • Proving Florence
  • Using Fold3.com
  • Illinois Research
  • Local Land Records in Public Domain Land States
  • The Bureau of Land Management Office Tract Books
  • Sections, Townships, Base Lines, etc--Land Descriptions in Federal Land States
  • Using the Bureau of Land Management Website
  • DeedMapper
  • DeedMapper with Virginia Land Patents
  • What is Not Written
  • The Genealogical Proof Standard for the Non-Professional
  • Charts, Charts, and More Charts
  • Creating Research Plans
  • Making and Proving Your Case
  • Seeing the Patterns: Organizing Your Information
  • Determining Your Own Migration Chain
  • Crossing the Pond
  • Did Your Ancestor Get a Civil War Pension?
  • American Revolutionary War Materials on Fold3.com
  • United States Naturalization Records pre-1920
  • Newspaper Research
Our order page and more information is here:

Thanks for your support of our projects!

Michael John Neill
Genealogy Tip of the Day


06 October 2013

Non-Vital Church Records

Church records are more than just baptisms, marriages, and funerals--often these records of these events document vital events in a person's life-birth, marriage, and death.

But there are more. Records of communion, membership, confirmation, etc. may also provide key information. Don't only look "the big three." You may miss quite a bit.

05 October 2013

Did Your Ancestor Write It?

Most of the time our ancestors did not write the documents they signed. Sometimes it is pretty obvious when one compares the handwriting. And it is also obvious there's no way to know whether your ancestor typed a document he signed. But take a close look at that letter to the court or the receipt he signed. Is it possible your ancestor did more than simply sign?

04 October 2013

Fighting to Get Records

Was there a war of some type of military action during your ancestor's lifetime in which he might have been involved? If so, determine if the ancestor saw service. There may be benefit records for either the person who served, his widow, or minor children.

And if the war was recent enough, these records may not be limited to male family members either.

03 October 2013

Any Record Can Be Wrong

A first cousin of my grandmother died in the early 1980s, an only child who left no descendants. His only heirs were first cousins-children of siblings of his mother and his father. In reviewing the estate papers some thirty years later, I realized that the family of his mother's only half-sibling had not been included. The half-sibling was deceased, never kept in contact with her family, and only living child at the time lived half a continent away. The estate was not a large one either and was overseen by a relative from the father's family who was probably unaware the long-deceased mother had a half-sister.

Court records can provide an incomplete family structure, especially if the estate is relatively small, the family is somewhat estranged, and someone unfamiliar with the entire family is an administrator.

02 October 2013

Our Sponsor GenealogyBank

A big thanks to our sponsor GenealogyBank. We appreciate their continued support of Genealogy Tip of the Day!

Tell Your Own Story

Don't neglect to tell your own story in addition to those you discover on your ancestors. After all, most of us would love to have something our long-deceased relative had written about themselves. Be certain to include what you remember about relatives you knew growing up as well.

And who knows, when writing your own stories down, you may get some insight into that ancestor who has you stuck.

01 October 2013

Not Telling Where Dad Died

My great-grandfather was ill for the last several years of his life. Bedfast, his wife and children cared for him in their home for several years. His condition finally reached a point where the family could no longer care for him at home and he was sent to a state hospital several counties away where he died in 1934. His obituary indicated he died at home and his children in later years made similar statements. No one wanted to admit that they couldn't "take care of dad at home" at the end of his life.

Is there a similar reason why you can't find great-grandpa's death certificate?

30 September 2013

Contact the Locals

Have you determined if there are materials that a local library or genealogical/historical society has that may be helpful to your search? Frequently individuals in charge of these collections are uniquely positioned to be aware of research nuances in the area and their facilities may have specialized materials not available elsewhere.

A Google search for "yourcounty yourstate historical/genealogical society" may get you on the path to more information.

29 September 2013

Did They Really Meet on the Boat?

Stories of ancestors meeting on the boat or immediately on their arrival are usually nostalgic and romantic, but is that story necessarily true?

One of my ancestral couples born in different villages twenty miles apart married in Illinois in the 1870s. The husband could be located in records from his village of birth. The wife's birth village could not be read on records in the United States. It turned out she was born twenty miles away from her future husband, but her parents moved when she was a small child and she and her husband had known each other "back across the pond."

There she appeared in the church confirmation records in her husband's village with a reference that included her place of birth elsewhere. Even though they born quite a distance apart, they had known each other "in the old village" after all.

28 September 2013

1 Day in Webinar Closeout

1 Day Left--$5 Genealogy Webinar Sale

I have had great fun presenting webinars on a variety of research topics over the past three years. However, for a variety of reasons I’ve decided to no longer sell recordings of my forty previous webinars after 29 September. We will offer support for previous purchases after that time, but no new orders will be processed. If you've been waiting to order, don't wait any longer. Each presentation is $5 each--download is immediate. Our order page and complete list of topic is here.

Aging Out of the System?

If it took a decade or more to settle your ancestor's estate is it because the heirs were "really" fighting or is it because there were minor heirs? Postponing the settlement until minor heirs were adults may have eliminated the need for a guardian of the child's estate to be appointed, thus reducing fees and legal necessities for the family.

27 September 2013

Clues in the Corners

Always make certain you look at the entire document, even the edges. There may be small or faint words lurking in the corners that could be significant pieces of information.

26 September 2013

Eric Harmon or Eric Carmen?

After nearly twenty-five years, I learned that the singer I always "thought" was Eric Harmon was actually Eric Carmen. Is it possible that a census taker or record clerk "heard" your ancestor's last name incorrectly? A "silent" "h" is the cause here, but there are other letter combinations that can cause names to be heard incorrectly as well.

25 September 2013

Evidence of Existence?

There are times where showing someone existed in a certain place at a certain point in time can be a big clue. And the most mundane record can show that. I've been using directories of animal breeders recently in my research since most of my ancestors were farmers. Those items don't provide "huge" discoveries. But they do show a person was in a specific location at a specific time.

And at least that means they weren't dead when the material was compiled.

Sometimes that's a big clue.

And if nothing else, at least I know the breed of livestock they raised, which means I can choose the right "stock" images to use as illustrations.

Wrapping Up Webinar Sales

Wrapping it up--$5 Genealogy Webinar Sale

I have had great fun presenting webinars on a variety of research topics over the past three years. However, for a variety of reasons I’ve decided to no longer sell recordings of my forty previous webinars after 29 September. We will offer support for previous purchases after that time, but no new orders will be processed. If you've been waiting to order, don't wait any longer. Each presentation is $5 each--download is immediate. Our order page is here.

Topics are:
  • Using US Census on Ancestry.com
  • Using US Passenger lists on Ancestry.com
  • An overview of Archive.org
  • Brick Walls from A to Z
  • More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Yet More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Brick Walls from A to Z--The FINAL One
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls
  • Preparing for Mother's Death
  • Proving Benjamin
  • The Newmans in the 1830-1870 Census: A Case Study
  • The Missing 1840 Census Enumeration
  • Creating Families from pre-1850 Census REcords
  • Court Records: Pig Blood in the Snow
  • The Probate Process; An Overview
  • Tips and Tricks for FamilySearch
  • Female Ancestors
  • Sarah and Susannah: Two 18th Century Virginia Women and Their Property
  • Proving Florence
  • Using Fold3.com
  • Illinois Research
  • Local Land Records in Public Domain Land States
  • The Bureau of Land Management Office Tract Books
  • Sections, Townships, Base Lines, etc--Land Descriptions in Federal Land States
  • Using the Bureau of Land Management Website
  • DeedMapper
  • DeedMapper with Virginia Land Patents
  • What is Not Written
  • The Genealogical Proof Standard for the Non-Professional
  • Charts, Charts, and More Charts
  • Creating Research Plans
  • Making and Proving Your Case
  • Seeing the Patterns: Organizing Your Information
  • Determining Your Own Migration Chain
  • Crossing the Pond
  • Did Your Ancestor Get a Civil War Pension?
  • American Revolutionary War Materials on Fold3.com
  • United States Naturalization Records pre-1920
  • Newspaper Research
Our order page and more information is here:

Thanks for your support of our projects!

Michael John Neill
Genealogy Tip of the Day


24 September 2013

Split in Two?

Is the town or village where your ancestor lived split into two counties or townships? In the United States, being in a different county should mean that vital and property records are filed based (usually) upon the county location. If a town or village is split among two townships, it can also impact the enumeration district used for the location in the census as well.

Always know the boundaries and see if the "splits" are making it a "pain" to research your ancestor.

23 September 2013

Are You Really Concentrating?

If your time for genealogical research is limited, make certain you are in an environment where you can truly concentrate. While it may not be practical to completely tune out "real life," various online notifications and the internet can make it difficult to focus. Consider closing out all your online activities for a time and really concentrating on the material you already have.

22 September 2013

Grave Mapping

Locations of graves within a cemetery can hold clues as to possible relationships among people buried in relative proximity to each other. Don't just record names of burials and make a "list" of who is in the same cemetery.  Proximity can be a clue, make certain you include a map showing geographic proximity and relative position of burials.

21 September 2013

Only In Your Head

Do you have family memories or research conclusions that only exist in your head or someone else's? The mind is a fragile place, consider committing those memories or conclusions to paper or digital format. Don't wait before it is too late.

20 September 2013

Clues in Cookbooks

Virtually any old book or item can contain genealogical clues. A person just has to look. A 1921 church cook book published in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, contained numerous recipes from women in four north-central Iowa towns over two hundred miles away. There were over a dozen women from these Iowa towns who submitted recipes--with probably one "non-local" recipe on every few pages. Obviously there were several families who migrated to that region of Iowa from Warsaw, Illinois.

And if nothing else, the book documented residential information that may not have been available elsewhere.

19 September 2013

Did the Women Change Their Name at Marriage--or Not?

In some cultures and societies, women will be listed with their new last name (their husband's last name) in records created after their marriage. In others, women are almost always listed with their original surname--even after their marriage. Records in Sweden, Belgium, and other parts of Europe frequently list women with the surname they had at birth, even after their marriage. Find out what the practice was in your specific areas of research before making conclusions.

It is always wise to remember that cultural practices and record-keeping norms can vary from one ethnic region to another.

18 September 2013

Reading Between the Lines

Many times genealogists have to read between the lines in a document in order to "squeeze out" as many details as possible. Be careful when you do this, making certain you have a valid reason and justification for thinking a record "says more than it does." Always include your line of reasoning and your rationale for going beyond what the document actually says in your research notes.

There are several reasons for doing this: 1) You may forget why you thought the record said more than it did; 2) Someone else may ask "where you got that--I don't see that;" and 3) you may be wrong.

The last reason rarely happens, but is a theoretical possibility <grin>.

17 September 2013

Negative Evidence

When my ancestor died in Illinois 1903, she was survived by her husband who died in 1904. Her husband is not mentioned in her will and, more importantly, he is not listed in the court record listing all her heirs. In every other record I've seen during this time, the surviving spouse is included  in the court order. His failure to be listed is "negative evidence" that he was not her husband when she died in 1903.

It's negative evidence because we are using the fact that something we expect to be a part of the document is "not there" (ie. his name is not on the heir list) as evidence of something. It is his absence that is the evidence.

16 September 2013

Get Past the Letters

In determining whether a name is the "same" or not, get past the letters and concentrate on the sounds. Whenever I cannot find the last name of Habben, I always look for Hobbin as Habben is usually pronounced in a way that rhymes with "bobbin."

Every name has variant spellings. Every one.

15 September 2013

Yes Or No Doesn't Always Get Results

When asking family members questions avoid queries that have "yes" or "no" answers. Open-ended questions such as "why did you leave the county to get married," "where was Grandma born," and "who was Uncle Harry's mother?" are preferable to "did you get married in Mercer County," "was Grandma born in Arkansas" and "Uncle Harry's mother was actually Aunt Sis, right?"

Of course, asking for clarification or confirmation of name or location is sometimes necessary. Just try and avoid questions that suggest answers.

It sometimes is called "leading the witness."

And sometimes you get more detail when you do not suggest the answer.

14 September 2013

One Page at a Time

No matter how many indexes exist or how accurate they supposedly are, if you have good reason to believe your person should be in a record, a page by page search may be necessary.

As humans, indexers are fallible.As researchers who occasionally make mistakes as well, we should not expect them to be perfect.

13 September 2013

A Warm Body In the Area

Before you draw any conclusions about the person who appears as a witness on your ancestor's document, remember that a witness does not have to be a relative. A witness needs to be of legal age and know the person signing the document.

A witness could have simply been someone else who happened to be nearby when your ancestor signed his document.

12 September 2013

Living in the Shadows of the History Books

When was the last time you reviewed the history of the area where your ancestors lived? In the United States did the boundaries change during your ancestor's lifetime? Was there an economic downturn at a point where your ancestor is "missing?" Was your ancestor's country occupied by another country shortly before he immigrated or left? Those details all could impact choices your ancestor made, even if his name does not appear in the history books.

11 September 2013

Are You Editing or Transcribing?

When "typing up" a handwritten record, your rendering of it should be as true to the original as possible, not a "cleaned up, I know how to spell everything correctly" version. Transcribing a document is not the same as editing or correcting it.

The reasons for not making changes are pretty simple. What the transcriber thinks is wrong may not be wrong. "Incorrect" spellings may be clues as to how names were actually pronounced. And there can always be other clues in what originally appear to be "errors."

Annotations to the transcription can be made. Comments regarding "errors" should be made inside brackets [ and ], so that it's clear where the comments begin and the comments end.

10 September 2013

Try and Make the Parents Clear

Biological, step, and adopted children may all be living in a household with a set of married adults who serve as their parents. For purposes of studying the family and obtaining as much information as possible all these individuals should be researched. But...try and keep the known biological relationships clear. Inheritances and some other records will distinguish among these types of parent-child relationships and if they've been all lumped together as "children" later researchers (including yourself) may become confused.

09 September 2013

Books Without Pages

Some handwritten records, particularly church records, may contain no page numbers. In creating your citation for such an item, include the location of the church, a description of the record, and at least the year of the item.

Think about how you "got to" the entry you are viewing and include that as a part of your citation. If the records have been microfilmed, look at the top for some type of image number.

08 September 2013

My Blogs and Newsletter

For those of you who did not know, this is not my only genealogy blog. Here's list with the links. Enjoy!

You can subscribe to any of the above blogs for free.

My how-to newsletter Casefile Clues is also available by subscription, but there is a charge.

Thanks to GenealogyBank--Our Sponsor

A big thanks to our sponsor GenealogyBank. We appreciate their continued support of Genealogy Tip of the Day!

Google What You Can't Read

A pension application contained an actual copy of a baptismal certificate with a church name that was difficult to read. A Google search for the few words I could read and the name of the probable town located the likely church. The partially legible name of the pastor was discerned by looking at a list of former pastors the church had posted to their website. 

07 September 2013

Is Something Amiss With "A Miss?"

A marriage record may indicate the bride was "Miss" or "Mrs." There is also the possible that the title is missing. A missing title only indicates the title is missing and the bride may or may not have had a previous husband. 

And always make sure you read the "Miss" or "Mrs." correctly. For some writers the two words look alike--and genealogists know there's a big difference.

06 September 2013

Is the Site Updated or Not?

When performing online research, do you keep track of whether a database is updated periodically or stagnant and fixed? FindAGrave and other sites are continually growing with new information and should be "rechecked" every so often. 

Other databases or sources are "complete" and unless you've learned new name variants or corrected details, period "rechecking" is not always necessary. One easy example would be a county history that has been digitized and put online. Usually once you have checked something of that type, you've checked it for good.

05 September 2013

Beyond the Immediate Person

I'm becoming convinced that I probably won't find my Ira Sargent in the 1870 census. However, in an attempt to locate him, I've reviewed information on his:
  • siblings
  • step-father
  • half-siblings
  • aunts and uncles
I've also tried to locate all these people in 1870 thinking that Ira could be living with them or near them. I still haven't found him, but I have learned quite a bit about his extended family in the process. 

Have you gotten beyond your immediate person?

04 September 2013

New Place-New Rules

The pop machine at work charges $1.50 for a bottle of pop. Recently I was getting an oil change for my car and decided to get a pop from their machine. I put in 6 quarters and one wasn't accepted. I put in the 6th quarter 6 times before I realized this machine charged $1.25 and I didn't need the 6th quarter.

As your research moves to a new location, new time period, or new family, are you changing your assumptions about records, laws, and available materials? Pay attention when your research moves to a new area and don't assume everything is the same.

It probably isn't.

03 September 2013

All Levels of the Church

The bulk of church records are at the local denominational level--the actual church itself. However, there may be some records in a diocesan, synod, other regional, state, or national level. Records of disbanded churches may have been forwarded to an archives and higher administrative levels may have copies of church newsletters or newspapers.

02 September 2013

Labor Day Webinar Specials

[note--our digital delivery service had server issues during the sale--so we've extended it through 11:59 PM Pacific 3 September 2013-please accept our apologies for the issues]

Save $10

Today coupon code "labor" will reduce any order of $20 or more by $10.

$4 Download Special 

We are excited to offer three of our most popular webinars at a $4 rate--don't wait as the sale ends at 11:59 p.m. on 2 September 2013.

All presentations include the media presentation and handout. These are geared towards experienced beginner and intermediate researchers.

Seeing Patterns 

Genealogical research is all about patterns. In this presentation, see ways to see more patterns in the materials you have located and in how your ancestor lived in order to make the most out of the material you have.


Organizing information is key to genealogical research. This session is not about making family trees, fan charts, etc. It discusses a variety of charts to help you in your research and makes it clear that there may be a lot of ways you can chart your research that you never even thought about. This lecture is not about how to make "pretty trees with names." It's about helping you with your research

Creating Research Plans

Organizing your research process is key to finding more information and researching as efficiently as possible. In this session, we will see through example how to create effective research plans and organizing research as it progresses forward.

Questions? Email me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

Future emails about webinar offers will be sent using our list for this purpose.

To have your email added to the list, visit our blog.

Old School Pictures

Is it possible that your ancestor appears in an old school photograph? Even if your immediate family doesn't have a picture of the ancestor, someone might have a copy of a group or composite photograph that includes him. Local libraries and historical societies are a great way to begin your search for these pictures. 

And if you have copies of these old photographs, considering donating a copy to a library or society. Someone may be glad you did.

01 September 2013

Webinar and Blog Update Email

The newsletters we used to send summarizing popular blog posts and webinar announcements have been moved to a new mail server. To continue receiving these updates, you must opt-in to the list using the form below.

Your email will not be sold or shared. This new service allows for an easy unsubscription process.

To have your email added to the list, visit our blog.

Explain It to an Imaginary Stranger

Can't find that ancestor in a certain record? Can't find the parents for a certain ancestor? Write up all the work you have done to find that record or set of parents. Explain the sources you have used, why they were used, and what was located. Pretend that you are writing it for someone who knows nothing about your family and not much about the time period or location in which you are researching.

When you explain something to someone who does not have your familiarity with the details, you are apt to notice gaps. And any of those gaps could be part of your problem.

31 August 2013

Occupational Consistency?

In connecting names from different records or sources, make certain that the occupations and apparent social status implied by the occupations are consistent. An indentured servant in 1754 is most likely not listed as a planter in 1758. While occupations and social status can change, the changes are usually gradual and over time, not overnight.

Unless they married well--which sometimes happens.

30 August 2013

Human Maps

Genealogists use maps of political and geographical features for many reasons, including to see where records might have been maintained and where an ancestor might have easily traveled to find a spouse or a job.

But maps of human relationships, biological, legal, and social may help as well. A family tree extending for ten generations may be nice to display, but is is helpful to your research when you are stuck on a specific person? A smaller chart, showing the relatives they may have interacted with may be more helpful. Don't neglect to include "step" relatives and "in-laws" as those are people your ancestor may have interacted with as well. Another chart showing people the "problem" ancestor interacted with may be helpful also--just be certain the nature of their interaction (witness, neighbor, etc.) so that you don't get more confused.

29 August 2013

Statements Sans Sources?

If you're looking for "something" genealogical to do, are there statements in your files for which you have no sources? Probably all of us have information we obtained early in our research that we never "sourced." So if you "need" something to do, chances are there's a statement you could source.

And sometimes when I clean up my sources, I discover mistakes I made years ago or new information.

28 August 2013

Be Polite

It's never ok to be rude in a courthouse, library, or archives, no matter how desperately you want your ancestors' records. The best reason for this is that it is simply common courteous to be as polite as you can when attempting to access records. It is one thing to be politely assertive in obtaining materials you know are publicly available. It is another to be demanding and arrogant. Sometimes staff are simply following policy that has been set by someone else--usually their employer.

There's also a selfish motive in being polite--it increases the chance you get what you want. And you never know when you might need to return for additional materials.  

27 August 2013

SSDI Death Benefit Not Where They Really Lived

When using any of the online versions of the "Social Security Death Index," remember that the location of the last benefit may not be where the person lived in their final days or even the last few years of their life. The benefit could have been sent to an heir or someone overseeing the estate some distance from where the deceased actually lived.

26 August 2013

Are Those Old Copies Deteriorating?

If you have been involved in genealogical research for some time, you may have old paper photocopies of documents or records. Photocopies made years ago can fade over time. Have you transcribed those copies or made better copies of those copies--ones that will last longer? 

Some of those photocopies I made in the early 1980s probably aren't going to last much longer. 

25 August 2013

Anniversary Notice?

If a set of relatives lived to have been married fifty or more years, have you searched for an announcement of their anniversary in the newspaper? The item may have made the social pages and may provide clues as to where various family members lived at the time--in addition to other details.

24 August 2013

Those Inventory Items

If there is something in an estate inventory that is unfamiliar to you, do you determine what it is? Those items that "make no sense" may be clues to further research, or just interesting items to add a little "flavor" to your research. An inventory from Iowa mentioned a galvanic battery in the 1870s. It wasn't a big clue, but learning what it was certainly was interesting. And it's value compared to the other items in the inventory was significant.

23 August 2013

Two With the Same Name?

Just because two individuals have the same name does not mean that they are the same person. They could be first cousins, uncle and nephew, or just un-related. In any of these cases, they are not the same individual. Don't use name alone to "match."

22 August 2013

My Blogs and Newsletter

For those of you who did not know, this is not my only genealogy blog. Here's list with the links. Enjoy!

You can subscribe to any of the above blogs for free.

My how-to newsletter Casefile Clues is also available by subscription, but there is a charge.

Days Beyond Recall

Is it possible that your ancestor's death or other event was mentioned in a newspaper decades after it happened? Some newspapers would regularly run a "days beyond recall" with items from year past--frequently 25 or 50 years ago. Could be that the original newspaper was not preserved, but the item was mentioned in one of these history-type columns.

21 August 2013

Was There an Epidemic?

If you have a death date for an ancestor and no information on cause of death, have you looked at newspapers for the era? Don't look just for an obituary or a death notice, but instead look for any mention of disease outbreaks, epidemics, etc. during the time your ancestor died. 

It does not mean that your ancestor died due to the disease or outbreak mentioned, but it can be a potential clue.

And if several of your relatives died with a week or so of each other, then it's possible that the illness mentioned in the newspaper was related to their cause of death.

20 August 2013

Multi-Person Chronology

Do all the chronologies you use in your genealogy research only focus on one person? If so, try creating a chronology that includes all events in the lives of several family members. Focusing on just one person in each chronology may be causing you to lose sight of the bigger picture.

19 August 2013

Family Reunions E-book for New GenealogyBank Subscribers

GenealogyBank is offering a special for Genealogy Tip of the Day fans who become new subscribers: A free copy of their latest e-book: Family Reunions. This is on top of a 20% discount on an annual membership. Give it a try!

Late People May Not Be Dead

A reference to an ancestor as being "late of Harford County, Maryland," does not necessarily mean he was dead at the time of the reference. What it usually means is that the person was formerly of that area being mentioned--so this reference means the person used to live in Harford County.

You don't have evidence someone was dead on 1 January 1823 if the only reference to them being dead on that date is the fact that they were "late" on that date.

18 August 2013

In the Family's Context and Chronology

Try and get beyond the even that took place and think about the impact it might have had on the family. When a family member dies are there young children that have to be taken care of? When one member of an elderly couple dies, is the remaining spouse able to live alone? Were there men in the family of military age when war broke out? Small and large events could have impacted your family in significant ways--some of which may have resulted in records.

17 August 2013

Was the Stone Contemporary?

When attempting to determine the reliability of information on a grave marker, try to also determine how likely it was the stone was carved and set relatively near to when the individual died. Any stone can contain errors. If the stone looks like others in the cemetery from the 1930s, but has death dates from the 1840s, time has elapsed and the dates could be off. If you suspect the stone is "new" and not the original, your transcription should indicate that. It does not mean the stone is wrong, just that it was cut and mounted quite a while after the person actually died.

16 August 2013

Are You Hurrying Your Way to Brick Walls?

When posting an image to the Facebook page for Genealogy Tip of the Day, I was a little too hurried in creating the caption with the names of those in the picture. The youngest boy looked so much like my great-grandparents' second child that I put his name on the picture. The problem was the boy in the picture was their fourth child--not their second.

Haste may make waste or it may make brick walls.

15 August 2013

Where Could That Obituary Be?

When searching newspapers for that obituary of an ancestor, consider newspapers in the town where he or she grew up, where he or she lived most of their adult life, and where they died. I have a recently who recently died and newspapers in all three separate areas published obituaries. 

Don't focus on just one paper.

14 August 2013

Are You Trusting Your Cousin's Transcription?

If someone emails you a transcription of a document, do you try and get an image or a copy of the original? While it is not always possible to view the original, if the document is "crucial" to your research, contains information not located anywhere else, or is inconsistent with other materials, it may be worth your while to get a copy of the actual record and read it for yourself.

Unless you are entirely certain your cousin interpreted correctly. Everyone is human and occasionally makes a mistake.

13 August 2013

What Is Your Goal?

Do you create a list of research goals for yourself? It's ok to "see what you can find," but there comes a point when deciding what you are trying to locate will give your research some focus. Determining where a person was born, who they married, or where they died are all specific goals. Locating everything you can on Grandma is a little too broad and may not be helping you focus.

12 August 2013

Read About Another Family

Occasionally read something about a family that is similar to yours, but is unrelated to your family. The family being written about should share something in common with your family--the location, time period, ethnicity, etc. County histories, genealogy newsletters and magazines, blog posts, etc. are great places to find these articles. Reading about a family similar to yours may give you insight into your own family and their research challenges.

11 August 2013

How Did They Meet?

While often we really do not know how our marrying ancestors met, it can sometimes be a helpful "brick wall breaking" exercise to think about possible ways they did meet? Were their parents neighbors? Did they meet at church? Did they meet at school? Did someone travel a distance for a temporary job? Was one of them in the military?

Even if you really have "no way of knowing," just thinking about possible scenarios may get the genealogical wheels turning in your head.

10 August 2013

They Weren't Asked to Clarify

In many records we use in our family history, the person providing information may not have been asked to clarify an answer or the clerk may not have been concerned about "getting it right." And the person providing information to the clerk may only have had to state the information and indicate it was accurate to the "best of their belief." It was unusual for someone to have to "prove it" when making a statement for a document, particularly for a vital record.

09 August 2013

Are the Steps and Halfs Mixed Up?

Did that obituary confuse the half-siblings, step-siblings, and the full siblings? An estate settlement will be concerned about the accuracy of those relationships, an obituary, being a less formal document, may not be. Always consider the possibility that relationships in an obituary may not be entirely correct.