When You Have Never Used It Before


When using a record or source that is new to you, here are some things to think about to make the best use of it:

  • What time period does the record cover?
  • What was the purpose of the record?
  • How did someone or something “get in” the record?
  • How were the records originally organized and stored?
  • If there is an index, is it a full-name index?
  • Are there terms in the record that I don’t understand?

There are other questions to ask about the record as you analyze the information it contains, but the answers to these questions will hopefully make your search easier.

Were the Marriages Witnesses an Unmarried Couple?

If there are two witnesses to a marriage and you can “figure out” who one of the witnesses is, consider the possibility that the other witness was the significant other of the first witness. Or the other witness could just be a friend of the couple of which you are unaware.

At That Point In Time

It can be easy to forget that records are created at one point in time and often certain details reflect the reality of that moment.

A probate settlement in 1871 lists the surviving sister of the deceased individual whose probate was being settled. The married name she is listed under in that record is one she had only for about the last fifteen years of her life and was not the last name of any of her children all of whom she had with her first husband.

If you are stuck, could it be because you have taken a piece of information that was perhaps true for a short period time and assumed it was true for a much longer period?

Check those Page Numbers

When looking at images of any book or record, pay attention to page numbers to make certain that pages in the original record or publication have not been omitted. If you focus only on looking for your ancestor’s name without ever looking at how the pages progress, you may never realize that the set of images is incomplete.


Heirs-at-law are people who are legally entitled to inherit from someone upon that person’s death in the absence of a will. State statute usually dictates who qualifies as an heir-at-law. Clues can sometimes be determined if the relationship of one of the heirs-at-law to the deceased is known as they generally fall in the same class.

A dies and has several heirs-at-law, including B who is known to have been a child of A. The other heirs-at-law are also likely children or other descendants of A.

D dies and has several heirs-at-law, including E who is a known nephew. The other heirs-at-law are also nephews or nieces of D or the descendants of nephews and nieces.

Heirs-at-law are different from individuals named specifically in a will to receive property. Those individuals are frequently called beneficiaries or legatees. A person can write a will and stipulate that property goes to individuals other than their heirs-at-law.

Another Pair of Eyes

You have found a person that you think is “yours” in a record. You are convinced the handwriting matches up.

Have someone else look at it. Do they have a different interpretation of that handwriting?

Read it All Again

If you have a new question about an ancestor, read through all those materials you have already read through before. There is a good probability that you do not remember every detail in records that were obtained some time ago and that clues that did not mean anything to you originally now do mean something.

And the chance you remember everything stated in a pension affidavit or court record you viewed years ago is small. It is easy to overlook details or forget them as time passes.

Sharing What I Knew in 1988

A brief history of the Trautvetter family that I wrote in 1988 is in the archives of the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby, Kansas. The history is incomplete and was written just to show some of the origins of the Troutfetter family in Kansas as I knew them at the time.

Yes, they spelled the name a different way. That’s not the point of this post.

Sharing your information–even if incomplete–is one way to preserve it beyond your lifetime. I had totally forgotten I had written this and, while it was typed on a computer and probably using WordStar, my original electronic copy has long since bit the dust.

Sharing can be a great way to have other copies of your information out there in case you lose what you have.

Who Took My Ancestor’s Warrant?

Augusta Newman received a warrant for military service in the War of 1812.

Yet another man “gets his land.” Why?

The reason is that Augusta Newman assigned his warrant over to that man–Thomas J. Stone. Stone likely paid Newman for the warrant.

It was sometimes easier for veterans to simply sell their warrant than to move into new federal lands and “start over.”

The image with this post is from the Bureau of Land management. The surrendered warrant (which has Augusta’s signature on the back where he assigns it to Stone) is at the National Archives.

Primarily Searching for Primary Information

Genealogy terminology can be frustrating for beginning and experienced family researchers. However a certain amount of understanding is helpful so that one can understand what others mean and because that understanding can make your research stronger.

Primary information is one of those terms. “Information” isn’t often defined in the genealogical literature and we’ll save a discussion of that for another day.. However, primary information is information obtained from someone who had first hand knowledge of the information they are conveying. Ideally, they are sharing that information while their memory is accurate. Any other information is said to be secondary.

Whether a given piece of primary information is correct is another story.