Why Matters

It is important somewhere to keep track of your research logic as you progress. Otherwise you might not remember “why” you are researching a certain person.

While at the Allen County Public Library last August, I focused on a certain Benjamin Butler in 1850 as being “mine.” Using that enumeration as the starting point, I searched other records and made research progress. A stack of papers and records. One problem–I didn’t track WHY I thought this 1850 census entry was for the correct person. It took me hours to reconstruct my reason. Time wasted when I started writing up the 1850 Benjamin for an issue of Casefile Clues.

When I decided the 1850 guy was “mine,” I should have written down my reasons. That would have saved time.It is important somewhere to keep track of your research logic as you progress. Otherwise you might not remember “why” you are researching a certain person.

I focused on a certain Benjamin Butler in 1850 as being “mine.” Using that enumeration as the starting point, I searched other records and made research progress. A stack of papers and records. One problem–I didn’t track WHY I thought this 1850 census entry was for the correct person. It took me hours to reconstruct my reason.

When I decided the 1850 guy was “mine,” I should have written down my reasons. That would have saved time.

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Signatures in Signed Receipts

Ancestral signatures can be helpful in comparing two people of the same name or just to have something a little more personal from a relative. Packets of court papers (either for estate settlements or other types of court action) may contain actual documents signed by a relative. Signed receipts for money received from an estate are one good place to get a signature of your relative. The illustration comes from disbursements made in a partition suit in Illinois in 1907.

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They May Have Moved…A Lot

An ancestor of mine has children who were born in Canada, Mchigan, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He and his family got around.

Never assume that your ancestor did not move. Just because he was in a specific location in 1850 and 1860 does not mean that he was there in 1855. One of my wife’s ancestral families was in Illinois in every census after 1860, but spent two years in Pennsylvania and a year in England after that. Both of these residences took place in off census years and the family was “back” in Illinois for the next enumeration.

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Grandma Really Wasn’t Grandma After All

Sometimes relationship terms are also used as terms of affection, even if there is no biological relationship. Take care when a letter, diary, or a relative refers to someone as an “aunt” or an “uncle.” The use of the term may have been done out of respect and not necessarily indicate a biological relationship.

Of course, you may gain some clues or insight by researching this person, but if you find no biological connection between the individual and your family be open to the possibility that “Grandma” wasn’t really “Grandma” after all.

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Order of the Children

For families that lived during a time of no vital records genealogists often do not have dates of birth. In some cases, it may even be difficult to estimate years of birth if records are not available. In cases such as these, make certain that you indicate the birth order is either a guess or inferred from the order of children in a will or another document. If children married, years of birth could be estimated from the marriage dates.

And ask yourself, would any of my conclusions change if the order of birth for these children change? Most times they wouldn’t, but you never know.

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Bothering With a Brother’s Baptism

Reading the German language records was difficult and I almost didn’t bother obtaining copies of the baptismal entries for the siblings of John George Trautvetter who was born in 1798.

And there in the entry for one of John George’s brother was the indication that their father’s brother was the sponsor.

A helpful hint in this case where knowing as many relationships as possible is necessary because every family had a George and a Michael and every son’s first name was Johann.

Don’t neglect those ancestral siblings.


Join me for my upcoming online AncestryDNA class.

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Sources: Original Versus Derivative

Generally speaking, sources are considered to be original or derivative. The words mean what they say, but sometimes there can be confusion. The original is the first one–the actual letter your relative wrote (the physical piece of paper they touched and used their writing utensil on). Any picture, transcription, scan, photocopy, etc. is a derivative.

Some derivatives are the legal equivalent of the original–the record copy of a deed or a will that is recorded in a records office. Some derivatives are mechanical reproductions that reproduce the document faithfully (unaltered color photographs for instance).

Calling something original or derivative is simply referencing its creation. Whether that something is accurate is another story.

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