Is There More?

Online indexes can lead you to an image of a record with a quick search–if you are lucky enough that names are spelled and indexed correctly. Make certain the “next image” isn’t part of the item you located. Census records may be split over two pages, draft cards are often images of the front and back of the card, death certificates sometimes contain “supplements” directly after the original document.

Always look at the next image or two in any online set of images to make certain you’ve got it all–and look forward too as well.

You’ll never know until you look.


Have You Thought About a DNA Surprise?

Have you thought about what you would do if a surprise came up in your DNA test results? A sibling you didn’t know you had? A new first cousin, niece, or nephew? How soon would you reach out to that person? Would it depend upon what side of the family on which they were apparently related? Just because there are no surprises in your test results now does not mean that one will not show up in the future. That new relative could test at any point in time.

Even if you would welcome a new relative, they may not be so welcoming of you. That new relative’s test results may have been a surprise to them as well as to you. They may have thought they knew who their biological relatives were only to get unexpected test results. Some people never go back to their DNA test results if surprises in their ancestry come back.

All things to think about when the new relative is one you had no idea could have existed.


Start a New Life?

Genealogists talk about searching friends, associates, and relatives in an attempt to learn where someone came from or find out more about them.

But it’s always possible that someone moved where they did not know anyone. Court records in early 19th century Virginia suggest that an uncle of mine was not thought of kindly by his neighbors and, after some legal troubles, might not have been trusted by his family as well.

After his punishment for his crime was over he headed to what were then the wilds of Missouri to start a new life. Research there located no members of his extended network in Virginia–probably because that was his intent in the first place.


Only On Microfilm?

It is possible that that newspaper you need for your research is only available on microfilm? Not every old newspaper is available online –free or not–and your research should not only utilize those items that are online.

WorldCat ( and the Library of Congress Newspaper Directory ( ) are good places to start looking for newspapers in your area of interest.

Reaching out to others with research interests in the same area to inquire about newspapers and their availability is also a good idea as well.


Any Gaps?

Putting all your relative’s life events into a chronology can be a good way to organize information. Listing out events in sequential order can be a great way to outline a biography.

Gaps are opportunities. What took place during those periods? It might have been absolutely nothing or it could have been significant? Did the person temporarily leave the area? Have records during the gap time been adequately checked? Was the ancestor ill? Or are records simply not available during the time period?



This is your periodic reminder:

  • make backup copies of important files on separate media and preferably in a separate physical location;
  • work to identify any pictures you’ve not already identified;
  • create digital images of pictures and other ephemera that no one else has;
  • download personal use copies of images and other digital media from websites for the possible time when you do not have online access to those materials;
  • record your own stories as well as those of the dead.

If They Evaporated…

Sometimes it can seem as if a couple or family simply disappeared into thin air. I have a couple who are last mentioned in a record in Harford County, Maryland, around 1805 or so. They approximately would have been in their fifties at that point in time.

Then they are gone.

Did they simply die with no children and not enough money to warrant an estate settlement? Did they even have children? Did they move west only to die in an epidemic as an entire family on the way out or shortly after their arrival and not leave behind any records in the new location?

I can’t assume they moved away and I can’t assume they stayed. I’m inclined to believe they moved away but I have no evidence of that either.

My attempts to locate them outside the area should be somewhat focused if possible. To narrow down the geographic area of my search, I should determine what areas emigrants from Harford County, Maryland, tended to favor as they left the area in the early 19th century. Perhaps my “missing” relatives from that area settled near their former neighbors. Even if they never left Maryland, it’s possible that their children (if they had any) did.


No Money at Death Usually Means no Estate to Settle

It sound pretty obvious, but sometimes researchers forget: if a deceased person has no money or property, they are not likely to have an estate settlement.

The reality is that individuals who have money or property tend to leave more records, both when they are alive and when they are dead. If your relative died penniless, there generally will not be a need to settle his or her estate. While there are always exceptions, it’s usually true.

For years I tried and tried to find an estate settlement, probate or any record of how things were finalized after a certain relative died. In reviewing court records for him about fifteen years before he died, a reference to him indicated he was nearly bankrupt and was unable to pay a debt that was referenced in another court case.

That’s likely why there was no record of how his estate was settled upon his demise. There was nothing to settle.


Search for Places of Birth

When searching digital images of newspapers, consider searching those newspapers in the area where the ancestor died for the town/county your ancestor was born in. It can be a great way to locate others who were born in the same place as your ancestor and who died or later lived in the same general place as your ancestor.

If your ancestor was born in Milroy, Indiana, and died in Macon County, Missouri, and you find other references to Milroy, Indiana, in Macon County newspapers–that could be a clue.


Unknown Connections

For years I tried to find the connection between my great-grandparents and a woman to whom they mortgaged their farm in the early 1900s. There was seemingly no connection. The woman was not related by birth or marriage to the great-grandfather’s relatively well-documented family and the great-grandmother did not really have any relatives in the area.

Several years after I had put the problem aside, I came across an advertisement that likely explained the connection. The ad was for a local lawyer who was also working as a mortgage broker for individuals with “money to invest.” The lawyer/broker’s advertisement indicated he could connect investors with individuals who needed money and could secure it with real estate.

Sometimes the connection is not what you think.


The Year was Not 174 and 2/3

The will of Peter Rucker from the Orange County, Virginia, record book appears to contain his mark–an apparent “R” instead of an “X.” The “R” serves to remind us that all marks are not the letter “x” and that what is in a record copy is usually the clerk’s transcription and not the actual record or signature.

Rucker’s will is dated January 1742/3. This was during that time when the start of the new year was somewhat in flux and generally still considered to be in March. January of 1742 would have been the old style and January of 1743 would have been the new style–which we use today. Under the old style, December of 1742 would have been followed by January of 1742, February of 1742 and then March of 1742 until the 25th of March which was actually the start of the new year.

The double dating was to reduce confusion at the time, but it has served to confuse genealogists ever since.