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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

Genealogical Webinars for the Holidays

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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.