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30 June 2014

What Happened to Your Ex-Step-Grandmother?

Genealogists typically research those "step" ancestors to whom their biological ancestor remained married until death, but what about those whose marriage ended in divorce?

Is it possible that researching that "former" relative could help you research your actual ancestor?

29 June 2014

How Fixed Were Last Names?

Once research into your family's past progresses to before 1900, your ancestor's last name might not be as "fixed" as we think of last names being today. In certain regions of Europe last names changed from one generation to another or were tied to the property on which an ancestor lived (particularly in certain rural areas).

Don't assume that your ancestor's name was "fixed."

And don't assume that it changed either.

Learn about your ancestor's country of origin and determine what the common practices were in that region.

28 June 2014

Did My Ancestor Live With Their Guardian?

If your ancestor was a child when their parents died, one or more guardians may have been appointed. One guardian may have been for the child's inheritance (or estate) and the other guardian may have been  for their person (the one who had physical custody). In many cases, one guardian served both purposes, but there may be instances where two separate guardians were appointed.

And things can be different if only one parent dies--especially if the mother survives.

Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne Research Trip

Join me for 3 plus days of research at one of the largest genealogical libraries in the United States, the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in August of 2014. Additional details are on our web site.

See you there!

27 June 2014

Write Down What You Haven't

Don't neglect to write down the stories of your immediate family and yourself and include those as a part of your family history. Those unwritten stories are just as fragile as other items we spend years to locate.

Most of us wish our ancestors had left such stories behind. Pay it forward and leave some yourself.

26 June 2014

Could An Old Index Help?

FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and other sites create their own indexes to certain records. There may also be "older" or "original" indexes to these same records. The National Archives created many card indexes to certain records, particularly in 1930s and 1940s. FamilySearch has digitized some of these card indexes and put them on their website.

Passenger lists for Philadelphia are an excellent case in point where there are "new" indexes and "old" card ones:

The first two are older indexes. The last two are newer ones. 

25 June 2014

Get It From All Sides

Yesterday's Tip ("Flip It") generated quite a few comments.

One was that tombstones need to be photographed or viewed from all sides--not just the front. There may be inscriptions on more than one side. Don't just get a picture of the "front" and assume that you are done.

Oh, take a look at the top as well.

24 June 2014

Flip It

Do you look at the reverse side of every document used in your research? Newspaper clippings can have clues as to the date and place of the paper. Court documents can have clues as to when a statement was recorded or filed. There's a back side to every piece of paper.

Make certain you are using it.

23 June 2014

Widows May Not Be

There was a time when a significant social stigma was attached to being divorced. It is very possible that a relative who is listed as a widow in the 1900 census was not a widow at all, but perhaps either separated or divorced from their spouse.

22 June 2014

Heirs and Legatees

Legal definitions can sometimes be difficult to pin down as they can change over time and can vary from state to state.

However, usually heirs of a deceased person are related to them by blood or legal adoption. The legatees of a deceased person are given property in that deceased person's will.

State statute in effect at the time the reference used should clarify if there is any ambiguity.

21 June 2014

Are You Using Multiple Sites?

If you rely on one or two sites for your "online genealogical information" consider branching out. Searching on a limited number of sites can really limit your research. When was the last time you looked a at a "new to you site" for your research?

20 June 2014

Use a Map as a Memory Prompt

I've been looking at the 1900-1940 US census enumeration district maps that were recently released on FamilySearch. When I located the maps for where I grew up I realized that the maps would be  great way to start a conversation. For the rural area where I grew up, I was trying to think who lived in what house. The only problem for me was that my memory doesn't go back to 1940.

But printing out a map for where your relative grew up or lives could be a great way to jog their memory.

19 June 2014

Did That Marriage Actually Take Place?

Just because a couple took out a marriage license does not mean that they actually were married. Make certain that the license was returned along with complete information regarding the date and place of the marriage. Some licenses were not returned because the marriage never actually took place.

18 June 2014


If an ancestor is referenced as dying intestate, it means that he or she died without leaving a will that was admitted to probate. In these cases, an administrator is usually appointed to oversee the settlement of the estate.

There may be a will filed with your ancestor's estate papers. Sometimes wills that are denied admission to probate are a part of the estate record. They can be just as informative as wills that are admitted to probate.

Our Sponsor's Offer for June-Find Newspaper Items

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17 June 2014

How Exact Do You Really Have To Be?

Realize that it may never be possible to pinpoint precisely when a person was born. In some locations and time periods, there simply may not be records providing a specific date of birth--the year (or even an estimate of it) may be as precise as you can get. There may be no record of a death, just the last record where a person is referenced as being alive.

The important thing is to establish relationships as best you can. It might not be pivotal whether a person was born in March or April of 1838.

16 June 2014

Charting Acquaintances

When reviewing affidavits and other material from a pension file, create a time line (when possible) of when each individual met the pension applicant. Individuals providing testimony will often indicate how long they knew the claimant. Creating a chronology of when your ancestor met whom may help in tracking migration chains, possible areas of residence, etc.

15 June 2014

How Do You Group Data?

If you have records that you think are on the same person, try sorting them into categories.

One for those you are certain are the right person--list your reason(s).
One for those who probably are the right person--list your reason(s).
One for those who could be the right person--list your reason(s).

Then go back and review your reasons.

14 June 2014

Would Ten Years Matter?

What are you using as an estimate for when an ancestor was born? Is it possible that the age is off by 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?  Depending upon the record and the age of the ancestor, the age could vary several years from the true age.

13 June 2014

Write, Let It Sit, and Review

An excellent "brick wall buster" is to write up everything you have on your problem as if writing for someone not familiar with the situation, clearing indicating things that are assumptions and including citations for those things that are not.

Let it sit for a week. Maybe more. Work on something totally unrelated.

Then go back and review it.

12 June 2014

What Military Action?

For every ancestor, determine what wars or military actions took place when he was of an age to serve. Make certain you have accessed appropriate finding aids for those records and searched for your ancestor.

Also determine if your ancestor had peacetime military service.

And don't forget that your female ancestor may have served in the military as well--if the time period is correct.

11 June 2014

Comparing Signatures

If you have documents that you think are on the "same" person and those documents have signatures, have you looked at them to determine if the signatures could be the same?

Remember that over time a person's handwriting may change slightly.

10 June 2014

Use Pre-1850 Census Tick Marks

Are you trying to get the most from those pre-1850 US census records that only list heads of household and enumerate the rest of the household using only tick marks? Remember that the head of household does not have to be the oldest male and there may be more than one couple living in the household (or perhaps an older family member such as Grandma or Grandpa). And the 1840 census lists all Revolutionary War veterans--either as the head of household or on the right hand side of the census page.

09 June 2014

Get Advice from a Local

Sometimes what you need to help you in your research is not someone who will have to travel fifty miles to do your research, but someone who is actually from the area itself. Sometimes what you need is someone who has researched records in that courthouse for several years, is familiar with the staff, and knows how to find records in that repository that are not inventoried and are not organized. A researcher from a distance may not have that advantage.

Even if that person doesn't do any research for you, they may be able to give you the best guidance there is for those local records.

08 June 2014

Is There Really a Right Way to Spell?

Today it's usually advised to have our name spelled the same way on every document, but that might not have necessarily been the case for your ancestor. Even if your 18th century ancestor was literate, he might not have been concerned about whether his name was spelled the "right way." Your ancestor might have been more concerned that the legal description of his farm was correct in his deed or that her accounting of items received from her husband's will was done correctly. 

Those things impacted your 19th century ancestor's bottom line. The correct spelling probably didn't.

It's possible that your ancestor was concerned about the "right" spelling, but the reality is that there might have been other details in the document whose "rightness" mattered more.

07 June 2014

Allen County Library Research Trip 2014

Join me for 3 plus days of research at one of the largest genealogical libraries in the United States, the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in August of 2014. Additional details are on our web site.

See you there!

Are You Only Using Compiled Published Materials?

I've had great fun researching my ancestors from New England. Published town and family histories, combined with published vital records, have furthered my research. But there's more to research in New England than printed materials. Probate, land, and court records can add a great deal of flavor to what's in the published materials--and their use in some situations may indicate that what is in print is not correct?

Are you only using information someone else has compiled when you compile your tree?

06 June 2014

Have You Discussed It With Someone Else?

Researching in a vacuum limits your potential to solve your problems. On my recent group trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake, attendees discussed problems with me and with each other. When was the last time you got a fresh perspective on your problem or attempted to clearly explain to someone else what you'd searched and where you wanted to go next?

Both are great ways to get beyond those stumbling blocks.

05 June 2014

No First Name Please

The reason why you can't find names in indexes is that in some records the name is incomplete. This 1893 death register entry for Riley Rampley only lists him as "Rampley."

Headed Home from Salt Lake and Beat the Train Webinar Sale

I'm heading home from Salt Lake from a successful group research trip where I was able even to find some items of my own that I'll be writing about over the next several months.

At the request of some followers, we've reactivated the webinar downloads until my train gets me back home around noon on 6 June. If there was something you missed, now's a good time as the download site is being phased out when my next billing cycle comes around in mid-June.

For those who are big fans of scanning and making digital images, I only made about 15 paper copies the entire week I was at the Family History Library.

If you missed the webinar closeout, or wanted to add one additional presentation to your collection, now's an excellent time.

04 June 2014

One Letter Matters

Is being one letter "off" your problem? 

Harford and Hartford are different places.

Johann and Johanna are usually different genders.

If one letter was "off," how would that impact your assumptions?

03 June 2014

The Importance of the Original

One of the researchers on my Family History Library trip found a transcription of a death record for a 19-year old relative that indicated he was married. She was beginning to search for the wife (and possible child or children) in the following census record. I suggested she look at the original death record to see if there were additional clues about the wife on the certificate.

There certainly were. The certificate had been transcribed incorrectly. He was single, not married. 

Don't forget that the originals matter and reference them when you can.

02 June 2014

Every Census?

Do you have your person of interest in every census taken during their lifetime? If so, make certain you've reviewed the information carefully for every clue. And if you don't, have you documented how you have searched for that person to make certain you have not overlooked something?

01 June 2014

Publication Does Not Mean It Is True

Research conclusions published in journal articles are not necessarily true. Authors are human and make mistakes and sometimes leave out records that run contrary to their own conclusions.