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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

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

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.