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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.