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31 May 2014

Is It Extant and Complete?

When searching any database that claims to be for an entire geographic area, determine if there are spots or areas where information is missing. There may be one county or town whose 1820 census records are missing and if the searcher is are not aware of that the database may be searched needlessly.

30 May 2014

Do You Know the Order?

When using records that are not indexed, make certain you know the order in which they were recorded or the order in which they were filed. Was it by date of the item? Was it by date the item was recorded? Was it by license, document, or casefile number? Was it by the date the case was started? Was it by date the case was settled?

Or was it simply some random, arbitrary order?

Order matters.

29 May 2014

Lis Pendens

A liz pendens is a notice that suit "is pending" that involves title to real property or an interest in real property. In some jurisdictions, records of these notices may be filed in a separate series of books.

28 May 2014

At the Family History Library

I'm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City as this blog post is being written. I usually don't pre-schedule posts to this blog, so posts while I am at the Library may more sporadic than usual. We've got a great group of trip participants this year and I'm looking forward to a good research experience for everyone.

And I have a few minor problems of my own to work on as well so there will be posts with brief snippets of information that I have located or research processes I have used.

Not everything the Family History Library has is online.

Stay tuned.

Contemporary Maps?

Do you have and are you using contemporary maps for all your ancestral locations? Names change, lines get redrawn, railroads come and go, churches grow up while others fade away. Geography should be a key element of your research.

27 May 2014

Check for It All?

When making copies or images of records, newspaper items, etc. do you always make certain you have the entire item as you are making the copy? It may seem like a waste of time to check, but you don't want to realize days later that you left off the last three lines of a newspaper clipping or accidentally cropped off the right hand edge of a document.

26 May 2014

Inst. Means the Current Month

The abbreviation "inst.," as in "7th inst.," refers to a date in the present month. "Ult.," as in the "8th ult.," generally refers to the previous month

25 May 2014

Google Can't Do Everything

Some searchers stop the minute Google doesn't find the answer to their question. That's a mistake. Even if search engines indexed every web page (and they don't), there are still pieces of information that are not online. If your ancestor lived an obscure life in 1814, don't expect all of it to be online in 2014.

Genealogy Webinar Sales Ending 28 May-Don't Wait

If you've been waiting to purchase a genealogy webinar, now is a great time. On 28 May, I'm taking down the sales pages for my webinars and they will no longer be offered so that I can concentrate on other genealogy-related activities.

My contract with the hosting and download service ends at the end of the month, but we're pulling the sales pages down before that to give people time to download any purchases they make.

Downloads of webinars are immediate and presentations can be viewed as many times as you like.

Now's a great time to increase your genealogy knowledge at an affordable price.

24 May 2014

Do You Know What You Are Searching?

When you query a database or look in the back of a book for the index, do you know what the database includes or what material the book covers?

Because if you don't know, how do you know what you've just searched?

One Expert Can Be Wrong

If one "expert's" suggestion does not help you to solve your problem, consider asking another expert or person for their opinion. Any one individual person can be wrong.

But don't ignore experts just because they think your "dearly held theory" about an ancestor may be incorrect.

Remember that any of us can be incorrect--"experts" and non-experts alike.

22 May 2014

Is the Original Spelled Incorrectly?

Is a spelling error on the original document or record the reason why you can't find something? Digital images of newspapers do not "correct" typos when the text is scanned.

21 May 2014

Vowels Can Go Many Ways

Remember that in a word or name the vowels can get pronounced in a wide variety of ways. Variant pronunciations can result in variant spellings. And sometimes, based upon regional accents, extra consonant sounds can be inserted between, or in place of, vowels.

From Our Sponsor-20% off and a Book

Our sponsor, GenealogyBank, is offering a special for Tip of the Day readers--20% off an annual subscription and a copy of  "Follow the Clues to Your Family History." Check out the offer here.

20 May 2014

Local Papers After They Leave

Newspapers (especially smaller weekly ones) often mention former residents long after they have left the area. Never assume that your relative will stop being mentioned in a paper after they have left the area. Sometimes those references to a person after they have left the area are more informative than those references to them when they are living in the area.

19 May 2014

Do You Keep A To Do List?

Do you keep a running list of genealogy tasks as they cross your mind? Sometimes research opportunities come up unexpectedly and "dreaming up a list" at the last minute can easily cause you to overlook items. One usually remembers these items on the way home.

18 May 2014

Some Things Are Complete Mistakes and There's No Sense To It

Sometimes a document contains a name or a reference that is a complete mistake and there's no other explanation for it. Clerks "space out" when completing a record or get distracted. However, don't write off something as an error simply because it disagrees with an assumption you made or a dearly held conclusion. Have valid reasons (preferably from other independent sources) for deciding something is a mistake.

"Conflicting with family tradition" usually is not sufficient to conclude something is a mistake.

17 May 2014

Grandma Said So....

When Grandma (or Grandpa) talks about events that happened  before their birth, it is possible they are wrong. Not because they are lying out of malice, but simply because someone didn't give them the correct information, they have confused two stories, or they are simply mixed up.

What starts to crack some genealogy brick walls is when we realize they are built on a foundation centering on a story that was not quite true.

16 May 2014

Name Changed At Naturalization?

Contrary to popular belief, people did not "have their names changed" at Ellis Island. Immigration into Ellis Island required too much paperwork for that to happen and there were plenty of translators available when Ellis Island was in operation.

If your ancestor used a different name, it's more likely he chose it when he settled or when he naturalized. Some name changes were never officially recorded.

But the "name changes" at Ellis Island did not happen.

15 May 2014

Is That "First" Name Really a Middle Name?

Is your "person of interest" hiding from you because what you think is their first name is actually a middle name that they used at some times of their life and not others?

And if they went "back and forth" between" between their middle and first names, the confusion is even greater.

Casefile Clues Rates to Change 20 May

Note: Casefile Clues is part of what keeps Genealogy Tip of the Day free--and a great way to expand your research skills beyond our daily tips.

We've had the same subscription price to Casefile Clues for the past several years, but a variety of costs have gone up.

Effective 20 May 2014 the subscription price for renewals or new subscriptions will be $20. Until then, the price of $17 remains in effect. Don't wait...it's easy to forget. Renewals can be processed at http://www.casefileclues.com/subscribe.html

If you're not a subscriber, you can download two free copies of Casefile Clues here: http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2013/03/our-genealogical-freebies.html

14 May 2014

Return Home for a Bride?

Your relatives may have married in California in the 1920s, but they may have known each other in Illinois from childhood. Your ancestor may have immigrated in 1850 from Germany and written back home in 1855 to have his family "find him a suitable hometown girl" for a spouse.

It is also possible that your ancestor "went home" to marry only to return to where he had settled as an immigrant a few years before.

Back Issues of Casefile Clues

We're gearing back up at Casefile Clues and I am excited to get back to writing. For those who are unfamiliar with Casefile Clues, we concentrate on research methods, analysis, and process. We pride ourselves on being readable and understandable without watering down content. We're not writing to impress an academic or add a line to a vita. We're writing to help the reader with their research by explaining our method and our process. 

And we analyze a variety of records in the process. If you want a newsletter that helps you with your research without sounding like a graduate-level textbook, give us a try.


  •  Issue 1- A Method to the Madness: Starting A Search for William Rhodus. Beginning a search on a man whose first "known" document is an 1860 marriage record in Missouri.
  •  Issue 2-"Know" Objection That I Know Of: Letters of Consent and a Bond from a 1798 Marriage. This column analyzes a set of marriage consents from the marriage of Thomas Sledd and Sally Tinsley in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1798. 
  •  Issue 3-Thomas and Elizabeth Frame: Arriving Outside the Time Frame. This column discusses establishing an immigration framework for an English immigrant family to American in the 1860s.
  •   Issue 4-An 1873 Chicago Naturalization: Two Thomases to Confuse. This column looks at the 1873 naturalization of Thomas Frame from Cook County, Illinois
  •  Issue 5-Copied from the Ashes: The 1850 Declaration of Peter Bigger. This column looks at a declaration of intent to become a citizen from Hamilton County, Ohio, that was recreated or copied from the partially burned one. 
  • Issue 6-A Venture into Harford County: A 1790-Era Grant and Deed. This column looks at two land records from Harford County, Maryland, the patent to James Rampley and the subsequent deed of sale for part of that property about a year later. 
  • Issue 7-Potatoes Not Worth Digging: The 1863 Personal Inventory of Paul Freund. This column analyzes an 1863 estate inventory from Davenport, Iowa, paying particular attention to clues that might provide details about Paul's occupation and origin.
  •   Issue 8-We Were at the Wedding: A Civil War Pension Affidavit. This column looks at an affidavit made out in California in the early 1900s regarding a marriage that took place in Michigan nearly fifty ears earlier. Accuracy of information along with research suggestions are included.
  • Issue 9-Finding William and Rebecca in 1840. Discusses a search for a couple in their first census enumeration as man and wife.
  • Issue 10-More Brick Walls From A to Z. Another installment in our popular series of brick wall techniques from A to Z.
  •  Issue 11-Mulling Over a Deposition: Testifying For a Fifty-Year Neighbor. This column analyzes a deposition made in  Revolutionary War pension case where the deponent has known the applicant for fifty years. Plenty of clues and leads to analyze in this document.
  • Issue 12-An 1836 Kentucky Will. This column includes a transcription and an analysis of an 1836 Kentucky will.
  • Issue 13-An 1815 Marriage: Augusta Newman and Belinda Sledd. This column analyzes a marriage register entry and marriage bond for this couple in Bourbon County, Kentucky.
  • Issue 14-Going Back: James and Elizabeth Rampley in 1850. This 1850 census enumeration is completely analyzed for clues on this apparently well-documented family.
  • Issue 15-Selling My Part of My Father's Farm: An 1820 Deed From Maryland. This column looks at a Harford County, Maryland, deed where Thomas Rampley transfers his ownership in his father's farm to his brother. The relationship is not stated in the document, but all clues are completely analyzed and research suggestions given.
  • Issue 16-At the Baby's Birth in 1859. This column looks at a proof of birth for an 1859 birth as given in a Civil War children's pension file.
  • Issue 17-Dead or Alive: G. W. Garrett?  This column looks at a transcription of a guardianship order contained in a Union Civil War pension application. The document is somewhat unclear and indicates that further research is necessary.
  • Issue 18-From a Life Estate to a Fee Simple. This column looks at an 1880 era deed that essentially converts a wife's life estate in a ten acre parcel into one that is a fee simple title. Of course, the deed does not explicitly state that.
  • Issue 19-An Estate of Inheritance: Benjamin Sells His Forty. This column looks at an 1840 era deed from Michigan. Interpreting boilerplate text must be done with care. Benjamin left few records about his origins and this one is maximized for all the clues it contains. 
  •  Issue 20-Giving Up Germany: An 1855 Declaration of Intent. This column looks at an 1855 declaration of intent for George Trautvetter--what it says about him and what it does not.
  • Issue 21-Analyzed in Isolation: An 1855 Guardianship Appointment. This column looks at an 1855 guardianship appointment from Scott County, Iowa.
  • Issue 22-Get Off My Rented Ground: An 1812 Ejectment Survey. A Bourbon County, Kentucky survey that was the result of a court case.
  •  Issue 23-Our Daughter Can Get Hitched: An 1868 Marriage. A underaged bride never goes to the courthouse with her intended to get the license.

13 May 2014

Every Marriage Not Just One

If your ancestor was married more than once, have you looked at each marriage record? Some researchers are only interested in the marriage from which they descend. Those "other" marriages may contain significant clues about your ancestor. Clues that may not be in the marriage record between your ancestor and the spouse from whom you descent.

12 May 2014

A Point of Reference

If Aunt Margaret can not remember the specific date or year of an event, see if she can fit the event into her own life or national events. Sometimes it is much easier to remember how things were in sequence instead of specific dates.

Our Tip Philosophy

For those who wonder where I get the tips it is pretty simple: from actual research.

Occasionally readers send me tips, but the vast majority come from my own research. If something confuses me or is difficult to use to understand, it may become a tip. I don't copy them from books, newsletters, or other blogs. In fact, the only time I write tips is when I'm working on my own research or my own writing.

For that reason, you may see similar tips from time to time. I never copy and paste and old tip, but some ideas are worth repeating.

And all of us can benefit with a reminder from time to time.

And thanks for reading!

11 May 2014

Using Chronologies?

Do you use historical chronologies, personal chronologies, and family chronologies in your research? They can give the researcher perspective they may not be able to glean when looking at records or events individually.

Mother's Day Webinar Sale

Through midnight--11:59 PM Pacific time--we are offer 15% off any purchase of my genealogy webinars.

To receive the discount, use coupon
at checkout.

The complete list of webinars can be viewed here:

There are several on researching those elusive grandmothers in your family tree.

Happy Hunting!


10 May 2014

Is That Really Grandma's Maiden Name?

Is that maiden name listed on a record for a relative actually the last name of her birth father? Is it possibly the last name of a previous husband or her step-father?

Something to consider.

09 May 2014

Take A Break

Is it time to give that one genealogy puzzle a "break?" Working on the exact same problem over and over without looking at anything else can give you a big case of "tunnel vision." Consider putting the problem aside for a day, a week, or a month, and looking at other genealogy stumbling blocks you have. After all, you probably have other relatives.

And you may come back with different perspective, ready to solve your problem.

08 May 2014

Look Around the Page

I wasted time trying to show that great-grandma's middle initial really was an "I' in this 1920 census record. Then it dawned on me. The place of birth for most people in this census should be Illinois. There were plenty of uppercase Is to compare to. Sometimes we have to look around on the page and take a broader perspective.

07 May 2014

Do You Record the Why?

As you research through various materials, do you keep track (even briefly) of the reasons why specific records or materials were searched? That makes it easier to see your process should you need to re-evaluate and take your research in a different direction.

And those reasons get at your research assumptions, which sometimes can be incorrect.

06 May 2014

Before You Write that Soap Opera

Often the real story is the simplest explanation. Before you dream up some great drama to explain your ancestor's life, lack of records, or sudden "appearance," consider that there may be something about the history of the era, culture, or the location that you do not know. It's also possible that your ancestor simply didn't leave records or avoided the clerk for one reason or another.

Unusual things do happen, but try and have some evidence that your ancestor was living in a dramatic soap opera before writing their personal screen play.

05 May 2014

Notes Off to the Side

If you must make a notation or annotation on a copy of a document or record, make it off to the side and not in the actual text or image of the document. You don't want someone else thinking your comments were actually a part of the original, especially if your comments are handwritten.

04 May 2014

Is There a Genealogical Journal Article On Your Person of Interest?

It's not just the well-to-do who are written up in genealogical journals. Common folk get written up as well. A recent series in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record contained a serialized article that discussed my probable ancestor, Rufus D. Stephens, born in the late 18th century in Connecticut. He's certainly not a well-known historical figure.

Don't neglect quarterly genealogical journals because "no one would ever write about my ancestor."  You can find links to some major academic periodicals here or here.

Webinars on Seeing Patterns, Organizing, and Making Charts

Don’t wait to order…with summer coming there’s no better time to increase your genealogical research skills. Our low-priced presentations can get you back on your research path.

Organizing Online Searches
When I search databases for more than five minutes, I stop and get organized. There's a lot to be said for that approach. This presentation demonstrated tried and true approaches that I actually use--not ones simply made up to make a "neat presentation."

This webinar presents suggestions for how to organize your online searches, including creating lists of search options, creating search logs that assist in problem-solving, and tracking negative results and eliminated matches to repeat viewing the same image over and over. Organized searches makes it possible to accurately problem-solve and allows others to provide constructive criticism. Also included is a discussion of when it may be time to stop.  Detailed handout included. Download is immediate.
Order the presentation for immediate download here for $6.25.

Charts, Charts and More Charts

Readers of the newsletter know that I love charts--and I'm not talking about pedigree and family group charts. Instead I'm talking about charts that organize information you have in order to see what's missing, notice patterns, and organize your research. In this webinar, I talk about key elements to include in any chart, troubleshooting before you get started, brainstorming, and ways to get creative with your data. Geared towards advanced beginners and intermediate researchers. -add to cart.

Seeing the Patterns-Organizing Your Information

This lecture discusses the problem-solving process and a variety of ways to   organize your information with the intent of getting the research to notice overlooked clues, patterns, trends, and information. $8.50 includes handout and hour-long lecture. -add to cart.

Genealogy Fundamentals

These presentations cover basic topics in 20 minutes or less. Short and to the point. Topics include citations, wills, federal land records, and more. View the complete list here.

All Presentations

A list of over thirty how-to presentations on a variety of genealogical topics. All priced for under $8. View the complete list here.

03 May 2014

Are You Using Onomastic Evidence?

Sometimes genealogists use the fact that families use similar first names as "evidence" the families are related. Relationships between families suggested by shared first names should be validated with other records and onomastice information should be used as a clue. Just because a four syllable word is used to describe evidence does not mean it's any more accurate.

02 May 2014

Is It Calculated?

If you use a death date and the age at death to arrive at a date of birth, indicate that the date of birth has been calculated. The death record containing the age and death date would be your source for that date of birth.

Whether the precise age is correct is another story.

01 May 2014

States Gave Confederate Pensions

If your ancestor fought for the South during the American Civil War, determine if he obtained a pension from the state in which he was living after the war. Many states that were in the Confederacy granted pensions to soldiers and their widows. These are state, not federal, records and usually are at the appropriate state archives. Many of these records have been microfilmed or digitized.