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30 April 2015

There's More than War of 1812 Pensions

Fold3.com has added to their War of 1812 pension files--which can be searched for free on their site and which include images. But many servicemen did not live long enough to qualify for a War of 1812 pension. Researchers should also check if the servicemen have a completed bounty land claim application at the BLM site (by searching for warrants that were issued in the serviceman's name).

The BLM site does not contain images of the application--only the patent. The National Archives holds copies of the applications.

29 April 2015

Organizing Genealogical Information Class-May 2015 Session

We've brought back this popular class for May 2015. Details are available here.

28 April 2015

Why Can't It Be Found?

Many troubleshooting approaches to database usage focuses on the spelling of the relative's name and other details about the relative in the database.

Another approach is to look at the database itself--browse the images if possible. Does the database actually include the time period you need? Do certain dates or records appear to be missing? Does the "Frequently Asked Questions" page or "More About" page discuss how complete the records used to create the database actually are?  Is the database incomplete or "in progress." These are all reasons why the person of interest may not be located in the database no matter how many ways you spell the name.

Are you using search parameters correctly? Do you know how to use wildcard operators for the site?

Do You Know One Pitfall?

Every database, index, finding aid, etc. has one "pitfall." There may be a small portion of records that are missing. There may be a location whose name is spelled wrong in the database. The search screen may not work quite like other search screens you use. Every name listed on every record may not be in the index.

Being aware of pitfalls does not mean you are focusing on the negative. It means you are aware of the limitations of the finding aid.

And that makes you better able to use it appropriately.

26 April 2015

Consider the Travel

A relative died in Illinois in February of 1888 and a newspaper account indicated that relatives from out of town attended the funeral a few days later. My search for those relatives started in relatively close proximity to where the relative died and was buried. After all, in February of 1888, those relatives from out of town probably didn't travel all that far if they were able to travel relatively easily to the funeral.

25 April 2015

What Does It Index?

When using any "index" or finding aid, determine exactly what it indexes and what it does not. Ancestry.com recently released an index of records of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The index includes records of vital events. The actual digital images for some churches include confirmation records, communion records, family records and more.

Only using the index in this case is limiting.

24 April 2015

If You Have...

We'll be starting my Mother's funeral as this blog post runs live. The timing is intentional. We all have relatives of whom we neglected to ask questions or otherwise probe for family genealogical information. 

If you have relatives who have pictures you've not identified, try and identify them now.
If you have relatives who have pictures or other ephemera you've not digitized, do that now. 
If you have relatives to whom you've not talked about the past, do that now.
If you have relatives who would consent to DNA testing, do that now.

That should be enough of a laundry list and probably is actually more than one tip. 

23 April 2015

Recorded Late?

Documents are not necessarily recorded immediately after they are created. Deeds may be recorded decades after they were signed when it was realized they had not been recorded. Births may be filed in a series of "delayed" records. Wills are admitted to probate after the testator dies, not after the will is signed.

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22 April 2015

Recorded Where it Happened

Vital records are recorded in the location where the event took place, not where the person was living. If the nearest hospital was in an adjacent county or state, that's where the birth will be recorded. If a parent was visiting a child out of state and passed away while travelling, that location is where the death certificate will be recorded. 

If you can't find a certificate for an even where the person was living at the time, consider that the event might have taken place elsewhere-at a hospital, nursing home, care facility, etc. 

21 April 2015

Have You Tapped the Nursing Home

When my Mom was in the nursing home, my father met a 93-year old man whose memory was excellent. He knew details about just about everyone in the southern part of the county where I grew up.

If you can't find relatives to tell you stories or provide you with some information on your relatives, have you considered other older individuals--former neighbors, etc. who may know something that could help you?

Are Your Assumptions Coincidences?

I know two brothers who will buried next to each other--with their wives on the "outside." One may be tempted to conclude that the brothers purchased their cemetery plots the same day, but they did not. Be careful not to infer information that is not stated in the records. Adjacent burials mean that the burials are adjacent. The brothers could have purchased their plots the same day or one different ones.

The dates in this example aren't really key to any research conclusions, but sometimes we assume facts that are not in evidence. And sometimes assuming those facts hinders further research efforts--in addition to being plain wrong.

20 April 2015

Do You Compare It?

In looking at my relative's 1924 funeral entry from the church register, I noticed that there was no funeral text listed. That was strange because every other funeral on the page had a funeral text listed--and the page before did as well. The only exception was the funeral of an infant.

Whether or not the absence is significant is another matter entirely.

Do you compare entries from original records to other entries to try and determine if anything is unusual about the record which you are using?

If you don't compare you entry to others, you have no way of knowing what's unusual and what is not.

And that's a clue.

19 April 2015

Just Because You Think It's Trivia Does Not Mean It Is

Recently I requested a translation of a funeral entry for a relative. I really wanted the cause of death part translated and included the "occupation" part only to provide additional handwriting as a sample.

Turns out the "occupation" portion of the entry contained genealogically relevant information about the relative's daughters and their residence at the time of the father's death.

All from a part of the entry that I thought would not provide me with any information.

We'll Be Back

I have some other obligations at the moment, so I've not been as interactive with Tip of the Day as I usually am. Tips of the day are still going out because they are prescheduled and queued up. Comments are approved, but I'm not posting followup comments myself.

We'll be back.

18 April 2015

Event Date Versus Record Date

When using record copies of documents, make certain to distinguish between the date the document was drawn up and the date it was filed and recorded. The dates are usually different. The person signing the document would have been alive on the date it was signed but not necessarily on the date is was recorded.

17 April 2015

Quit Claim Deeds

A quit claim deed is one where the grantor is giving up their claim to a specific piece of property. The grantor may not have clear title and that doesn't matter as a quit claim deed is technically only transferring the grantor's claim to the grantee.

The grantor signs the deed and the grantee is the person to whom the claim is assigned.

16 April 2015

How Easy Is It to Twist Them Up?

I have a work colleague whose last name is McNeil. My mother has a good friend whose last name is Macdonald. Today several times I referred to my work colleague by using the last name Macdonald until someone asked me to whom I was referring.

Is it possible that an informant on a record simply gave a similar sounding name or mixed up two names from the same language or ethnic group?

15 April 2015

Are You Only Using Indexed Records?

Indexes and finding aids to records are great, but there are still many records of genealogical value that are unindexed and have to be searched manually. Some of these records available in digital format and others are not. If you're only using records that are already indexed, you are probably missing out on a great deal of information.

14 April 2015

Who Is Grandma?

When writing up any family history information (or identifying people on a photograph), avoid use of nouns like "Grandma," "Grandpa," and other nameless references that could refer to more than one person. If Grandma's name was Ida (Trautvetter) Neill, then use Ida (Trautvetter) Neill--Grandma Neill may make sense to you , but will it make sense to someone in 100 years?

13 April 2015



This Low-German greeting was used by my Ostfriesen ancestors to mean "Hello." When was the last time you learned a word from your ancestor's native language? And if you don't have any foreign language speaking forebears, have you learned any of their slang or colloquialisms?

Even if it doesn't directly help your research, it may help you to connect with them on a different level.

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12 April 2015

Keep Your Time Lines Relative

Making an ancestral chronology or timeline is a good way to organize what you know about your ancestor and his or her life.

But try and keep the historical events included relevant to your ancestor's life instead of giving into temptation and adding every event you can think of. My 1865-era German immigrant to the United States, never lived west of the Mississippi River and died in 1912. I don't need the San Francisco Earthquake in his chronology. It's not really relevant to his life.

Adding too much to a chronology that's not related to your ancestor makes it more difficult to use the chronology as an analytical tool.

11 April 2015

Before You Visit That Courthouse

Before you leave for a remote courthouse or research facility, determine their hours, copy policies, digital camera policy, etc. Better to know before you leave than after you get there.

10 April 2015

Is It Time to Quit?

There comes a time when continuing to search for a specific document may not be in your best interest--sometimes one has to admit that a record may never be found. It even happens to me.

09 April 2015

Turn Off the Internet

When trying to problem-solve and work through a tough genealogical problem, consider brainstorming ideas while offline.

Yes...with no internet access.

Sometimes it can be tempting to immediately pursue an idea that we don't allow time to consider all options and possibilities. Consider spending a portion of your "genealogy time" offline--even if you use the computer for many genealogical tasks. You may find that it helps your focus.

Did You Get the Front and the Back?

When you look at a record or document, do you always look at the back for additional notations or comments? Some records are blank on the back--other times those scribbles have meaning. The difficulty can be in determining who wrote them and why.

08 April 2015

Do You Have the Legal?

If your ancestor owned real property, do you have the legal description of that piece of property? In states where property is described in metes and bounds, the description can mention neighbors or adjacent physical features. In states where property is described using base lines and meridians (and townships and sections) the legal description can help in determining where the property is located and in using some indexes.

07 April 2015

Do You Look to See What Precipitated That Pension Filing?

Every document is created in response to something and pension records are no different. If a widow "suddenly" applies for a widow's military pension, is it because:

  • her husband just died?
  • there was a change in the law?
  • her financial status changed?
All of these events could have created records, especially the first one. In the second case, reading the act under which she applied may give details about her husband's military service, length of their marriage, etc. And in third situation may be referenced in the widow's testimony.

At any rate, try and determine why the widow applied when she did. There may be a genealogical story behind that reason.

06 April 2015

More Detail Than Tip of the Day?

Genealogy Tip of the Day readers often email me privately or post comments in response to a tip of the day--asking for either additional suggestions or clarification. If the response is short, it's often used for a later tip. If the response is necessarily a little more detailed, it usually appears on my Rootdig blog as a post.

We try and keep the tips relatively short because that's what people tend to expect here and I want to keep the blog in that style of writing and format. If you'd like to see the longer posts, you can visit the Rootdig blog. Sometimes I'll link to those posts from here, but many times I forget to do it.

It's the Sound Not the Spelling

The chance that your ancestor's last name is spelled consistently throughout his entire life is slim. The sooner this fact is acknowledged, the better. 

What the genealogist should generally look for are spellings that "sound the same" as the intended last name. 

It's important to get beyond "this can't be my person because the name is not spelled right." Sometimes there is no "right" way to spell a name, especially if your ancestor was unable to read. Even literate ancestors had their names spelled in a variety of ways. And on top of spelling variations are transcription errors and handwriting difficulties.

So I'm not too concerned if Peter Bieger is:
  • Peter Biegers
  • Peter Berger
  • Peter Beger
  • Peter Biegert
As those are reasonable variations. Peter Haase is not.

05 April 2015

Look at All Levels

For the location where your ancestor lived, have you looked for records at all governmental jurisdictional levels, including town/village, township, county, state, and nation? If your ancestors were members of a church, there may be records at the village or parish level and sometimes duplicate copies of church records were kept in a larger administrative office--sometimes.

Only focusing on one level may cause you to overlook something.

04 April 2015

Online Trees Are Clues--Clues--Not Gospel

I will be honest. When I'm stuck on a person or family and am seeming to make no headway, I will look and see if their name appears in any of the online trees on the various sites. Submitted trees are only as accurate as the compiler, the information they used, and their research methodology. Some compilers are careful about their research and others are not.

However, when using these trees, I:

  • never copy the information into my tree-ever;
  • search the tree for sources (besides other trees);
  • use the dates/places/relationships given to suggest sources that might confirm that information;
  • remember the conclusions could be invalid and only spend so much time trying to confirm them;
  • try and contact the submitter;
  • never copy the information into my tree-ever (that's worth including twice).
Compiled trees can be inaccurate, just like published books. I continue to use books carefully and treat the trees the same way.

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03 April 2015

Talk to the Living Now

Resources are fragile. But no genealogical resource is more fragile than the human mind. Ask those questions now before it is too late. The courthouse, cemetery, library, and website will be there tomorrow. Aunt Martha might not.

02 April 2015

Please Copy

It is not unusual in pre-1900 newspaper articles to see the phrase "please copy" at the end of the article along with a name of a newspaper or city. That was a notation that the story would hold some interest for the readers of that paper as well.

That phrase "please copy Warsaw Signal" could be a clue the person mentioned in the article would be known to readers of that paper.

And that could be a clue.

01 April 2015

Cast a Wide Net For Pictures

Are you only concentrating on family members when trying to identify who is pictured in photographs? Depending on the age of the photo, there may be "non-relatives" still living who may be able to tell you who is in the picture.

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