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28 February 2014

Ignoring Adoptees?

Did your ancestor adopt any children? Even if there are no records of the adoption, don't "ignore" the child in later years because they "aren't related to you." Searching them helps to completely obtain information on the family unit and you may always learn something about your direct line ancestors while completing work on non-biological children raised by your ancestor.

27 February 2014

Back to a Previous Name?

For a variety of reasons your female relative may have chosen to revert to a previous maiden name. One relative did not have any children with her second husband to whom she was married just a few years. After his death, she reverted to her first husband's last name. Divorced women sometimes revert to previous names as well.

Marriage may not have been the only time your female kin changed their name.

26 February 2014

Hiding Under a Step-Parent

If your ancestor "appears" or "disappears" consider the possibility that your ancestor's father died and the mother remarried. Even if there was no official adoption the children of your ancestor could have been listed in records under the step-father's name.

And if you don't know that last name.....

25 February 2014

Don't Wait-You May Lose It

Computers crash. Search windows get closed. Accidents happen. The moment you find something, particularly in an online search, save it, print it, or otherwise preserve it.

You may not find it again with lots and lots of looking.

(Speaking from personal experience.)

24 February 2014

Do You Know Your Local Librarian?

Do you know who the reference librarian is at your local library? They may be able to assist you in finding out of print books, periodicals and other material. They may also be able to tell you if there are genealogical, historical, or academic items that are a part of their subscription databases.

References librarians at some libraries will chat online and answer reference questions as well. It may be worth a shot in trying to find that out of print item.

23 February 2014

Speciality Newspapers?

Remember that local newspapers are not the only periodical that may mention your ancestor. Church newspapers, ethnic newspapers, trade or occuational publications, union periodicals, alumni newsletters and other publications may mention your relative.

Don't stop with just the "regular" newspaper in your search for your ancestor.

Documenting Those With No Descendants

In your efforts to document your ancestors as best as you can, have you made an effort to learn as much as possible about all of your ancestors siblings? Because they left no descendants, sometimes childless children of our ancestors get neglected. Don't make that mistake. Ignoring them means you lose potential clues on all your relatives and documenting these individuals helps to ensure that they are not forgotten.

22 February 2014

Estates of those Uncles and Aunts with No Descendants

A fan on our Facebook page mentioned this tip which is one of my favorites. If you have an aunt or uncle who left no descendants, but had an estate that required probate, the records of how that estate was settled may provide names of extended family--including residences.

It may contain the clues you need to find those missing family members who somehow appear when money is involved.

21 February 2014

Ads as a Memory Jogger

One way to get that relative thinking about "old times" is to get a local newspaper, yearbook or other item from around their childhood, young adulthood, etc. and ask about advertisers and merchants you see listed. It can be a great way to trigger a different set of memories than with typical questions. Sometimes all it takes is a specific name to trigger a bunch of memories.

20 February 2014

Jump Start Genealogy Webinars Released

Genealogy Jump Start 2014!

Need to jump start your genealogy in 2014??

To help get your genealogy new year off to a great start, we offered three webinars this February. They've been recorded and are available for purchase and instant download.


This presentation will discuss the elements of sourcing genealogical documents. Included will be a variety of example, starting with online census records and including a variety of original, microfilmed and digital material. The first fifteen registrants can submit one item to be used as one of the in-class illustrations. Geared towards advanced beginners and anyone who wants to learn more about the importance and elements of citation.
Correlation and Analysis of Information
This presentation will discuss methods for putting together what you have already located, ways to analyze that information to maximize the clues it does contain, and the several different angles from which the researcher should look at every document and record. Geared towards intermediate level researchers--or beginners with some experience who are tired of getting stuck. 
There is No Preponderance of Evidence
Professional genealogists suggest we longer use this term in our research for some good reasons. We’ll discuss those reasons briefly. But more importantly we will see ways to handle those situations when information is not clear and convincing and how to best “make our case” when the answers we seek are not explicitly stated in records. This presentation will discuss two in-depth examples (from 18th and 19th century situations). Intermediate researchers.

Questions? Email Michael at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

The presenter:

Michael John Neill has actively researched his genealogy for thirty years in over twenty states and five foreign countries. He is an experienced online and onsite researcher, a college professor and has written on a wide variety of topics. Michael has given day-long genealogy how-to seminars across the  United States and has led a group trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake for eight years. He maintains the Genealogy Tip of the Day and Rootdig.com blogs. Michael's style is clear, down-to-earth, and informative.

No Dead Grass Involved in a Grass Widow

A reference to a woman as a "grass widow" has nothing to do with grass and, actually, usually nothing to do with being a widow either.

While the definitions can vary regionally, a grass widow can be a woman whose husband is absent for long periods of time, a woman who is completely separated from her husband, or a woman who was never married to a now absent boyfriend (or father of her child). 

It does not mean her husband is dead.

And it does not mean she was married to a now-deceased man whose last name was Grass.

19 February 2014

A Few Deeds Before....and After

If you are fortunate enough to find a recorded deed for your relative, look at the deeds recorded and before the item of interest. It was not uncommon for people to have multiple documents recorded at the same time.

You may find more than one deed for the same ancestor recorded adjacent to each other in the same volume.

18 February 2014

Do You Know Where Your Logs Are?

It is advised to keep search logs of records and databases that were searched, how they were searched (names, dates, etc). and when they were searched. It takes time and, to be honest, not everyone keeps track of the searches they've conducted.

However, if you are stuck and things don't make sense, that is an excellent time to start keeping a search log to track all that you do on that person. 

17 February 2014

There Is A Reason Why You Can't Find "duh mop"

In many English language documents in the 19th century and before a double "s" is written in such a way that it resemble a "fancy" modern "p." Because of this some names with a double "s" on the end end up being transcribed as if they ended with a "p."

That's exactly why DeMoss is transcribed occasionally as DeMop.

16 February 2014

There Are Many Half-Truths

To say something is a "half-truth" is usually meant in a negative light. However genealogists should remember that many statements made by relatives, alive or dead, are half-truths. This is not meant negatively, but should serve to remind us that any statement could be partially true and partially false. Don't assume a statement is completely true or completely false.

Often the truth rests somewhere in between.

15 February 2014

Don't Be Modern

When transcribing a document or genealogical item, don't "fix" it. Don't modernize spellings or use the version of the last name that a later member of the family used. Also don't "tweak" the document to make your ancestor look presentable by twenty-first standards. Your ancestor may not want to be judged by "modern" standards any more than you may want to be judged a hundred years into the future.

And when something is "modernized," there is always the chance you make an error. That's something none of us want.

If you must comment or annotate (which is sometimes necessary) do so in brackets [ ].

Beneficiary Tip Revised

I've revised yesterday's "beneficiary" tip in after some response from readers. Apparently there are states where beneficiaries can witness documents. As always, check applicable contemporary state statute if your conclusion rests up legal procedures.

14 February 2014

Beneficiaries Can't...Usually

[this post has been revised in red on 15 February 2014 at 11:40 AM Central]

Witnesses to a will [usually] cannot be beneficiaries of that will or heirs to the estate. So if your conclusion rests upon the witness to a will being the son of the person who wrote it, your conclusion probably needs some revision and you need to check the contemporary state statute to determine who could act as a valid witness.

Witnesses can be relatives--just [usually] not beneficiaries or heirs. A brother or brother-in-law could witness a will as long as they did not stand to inherit. In some states they could not witness if they were an heir or beneficiary.

13 February 2014

Some People Just Won't Tell Certain Things

No matter how often you ask or how many ways you try to get an answer, some people will not tell certain details about themselves or their close family members.

There comes a time when you have to realize that a relative may know things that they simply are not going to talk about. Period.

My own grandma knew her brother was divorced for several years before he was killed in a car accident in the 1930s. She never told me. She also knew about her step-grandmother and where she was buried. She never told me that either. Other things she readily shared.

But there are times when people won't tell you certain things. If it's a close family member, consider whether or not it's worth straining your relationship to get that one detail.

Especially if you think they'll never tell you anyway.

12 February 2014

How Portable Was Your Ancestor?

If you have an inkling of your ancestor's "lifestyle," have you thought about how portable that makes him? Did he have skills that could easily be used in a new location? Did his occupation require having a social network that allowed him to "do business?" How "portable" was that social network? Did your ancestor have an occupation that required some capital and that was not easily "portable?"

Some of our ancestors could easily start anew in a new location. Others could not.

GenealogyBank Valentine's Special-$48.95 a Year

Our sponsor, GenealogyBank, is offering a Valentine's Day special--one year for 30% off. This equates to an annual, one-time, charge of $48.95.

11 February 2014

My May/June Trip to the Family History Library

If you've been thinking of joining me in late May and early June for a week of research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, there's still room for a few more on my trip. Additional details are in this blog post.

Land Patents Versus Land Warrants

Usually a land patent is that legal document that transfers ownership in real property from a governmental agency to an individual. A warrant is a document that indicates a person has qualified for (or purchased) a specific amount of land. The warrant does not always indicate the precise location of the land and the warrant does not usually give title to any specific piece of real estate. 

The patent does that. 

10 February 2014

Did Your Ancestor Look Older than He Was?

If your ancestor's ages are inconsistent consider that he (or she) may have looked older than he actually was. It may be that he provided his age for certain records and the censustaker or records clerk guessed his age for others.

That's one reason ages may be inconsistent--the informants may be different and one informant may have been better informed than another.

Your ancestor may have known exactly how old he was--it could be that others who did not know his age were providing information on him.

Even when he was alive.

09 February 2014

Ask a Local

Sometimes it is best to just stop spinning your wheels and ask someone. I was trying to read the back of an photograph and could not make out the last name of "[--] Macher." When I mentioned it to my mother, who grew up near the area where the photo was taken, she immediately knew that the intended name was "Tessmacher."

If you don't have your own source for such information, contact locals at a historical/genealogical society, local library, message board on Ancestry (http://boards.ancestry.com) local area Facebook page, etc.

Sometimes a local can easily fill in those missing pieces that may take you hours or days.

08 February 2014

Handwritten Certified Copies in Pension Records

Your relative may have had to include handwritten certified copies of various records in their pension application, particularly if the widow was applying for a pension in her late husband's name. These certified copies are handwritten from the original record copy. If there's something in the document that is difficult to read or appears "weird," consider obtaining the original.

It may be that the person making the handwritten copy to go in that pension record made a mistake.

And if they make just one teeny mistake, it's always going to be something crucial to your research. Or at least it always seems that way.

07 February 2014

Ethnic and Language Boundaries

Political boundaries are usually clearly defined.  Language boundaries and regions where one custom "starts" and another one "stops" are never as clear. Don't assume a nativity for an ancestor based solely upon their spoken language or social customs. Cultural boundaries are more fluid than political boundaries. Of course, oceans also serve as boundaries (both political and cultural) and they are fairly fluid (grin!).

06 February 2014

Did the Country Change?

If census and other records indicate your ancestor was born in more than one country, determine how stable the borders were. If national boundaries changed during your ancestor's lifetime, your ancestor may have given different places of birth depending upon when they were asking the questions.

05 February 2014

That Preacher Was No Preacher

Parson Baker married a relative of mine in Missouri in the late 1870s. In an attempt to learn the name of the church, I decided to search for the minister in the 1880 census. After some searching, I found him, listed a a farmer. In many rural areas preachers or ministers may have had another "real" occupation and not even be listed as a "minister" in a census. 

That preacher you are looking for may have marrid a lot of couples and given a lot of sermons, but the census taker may have written down "farmer," "carpenter," or something else as his occupation in the censs.

04 February 2014

The Three Sources Rule

There is no "three sources rule."

There is no magic number of sources that something is proven. Might does not make "genealogical right."

Some sources are more reliable than others and some sources are actually derived from others. After all, if your grandma was the informant as to her place of birth on her marriage license and on her social security number application, is that really two different sources for that information? After all, Grandma is one person.

Each source needs to be evaluated individually as to how reliable you perceive it to be. In some cases, one source may be all you need. In other situations, ten sources may not be enough.

03 February 2014

Do You Know Three of Your Ancestor's FANS?

For your elusive ancestor, do you know at least three of his FANs? Fans are non-relatives of your ancestor and according to Elizabeth Shown Mills, they are:
  • Friends
  • Associates
  • Neighbors
If you don't know at least three....could that be your problem?

Sometimes the clues to your ancestor are in the FANs.

02 February 2014

Most Adoptions are Unofficial

Genealogists love records. But adoptions are one of those situations that present problems. Throughout much of American history adoptions were "informal" with couples simply taking the child in with no "paperwork." And when there was legal paperwork, those records are often closed.

But don't be surprised if there's no "documentation" to provide evidence of an adoption. Many before the World War I era fall into the category of "unofficial."

01 February 2014

Collaborate With Non-Relatives?

When looking for others with whom to collaborate on your research, keep in mind that there may be researchers "outside of your biological family" who may be able to assist you. Descendants of step-ancestors, in-laws, and close neighbors may have information directly related to your research or have information about sources that you have not yet accessed.