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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?