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.


Factoring It In

A 1792 deposition in an Amherst County, Virginia, court case refers to someone as acting as a “factor” for someone else. This usually means that they were authorized to sell goods for that person.

In this case George Lambert had been authorized to sell goods for Peter McCarnon. This term has generally falled from usage.


Use a Map to Help Transcribe

If you are having difficulty transcribing place names in virtually any record used for your genealogy research, use maps of the location where the record was created (and surrounding areas) to help you determine those locations you cannot read.

Sometimes letters or phrases are written so poorly that Google searches and other techiques do not help. Of course, this approach does not really help if the person moved around a great deal, but for those who stayed in the same general area, contemporary maps may assist you in transcribing those difficult to read place names.


The Titles that are Incorrect

Cataloging and titling things can be tricky, particularly when the items are unique manuscript items–diaries, letters, personal papers. Titles and descriptions of those things I always take with a grain of salt because I know that it can be difficult sometimes to categorize one-of-a-kind items.

But titles can be wrong even with more standard records. recently announced a database titled, “Iowa, U.S., Delayed Birth Records, 1856-1944.” Because of the title, I almost did not search it. My parents were born at the end of the year span covered, but I knew they did not have a delayed birth record. I went ahead and searched the database anyway. My parents were both in the database–with certificates recorded very promptly after their births and no “delayed” registration information included. Their certificates were not delayed.

Knowing what you are researching is always important–because it allows you to track what you searched. But sometimes I still search databases that I think won’t include what I want–because I know that there are a number of databases, on websites large and small that have titles that are inaccurate.


Contextual Transcription

It can be tempting to transcribe a document one word at a time without moving on until each word or item has been transcribed. That can be a mistake a drain on your time.

Sometimes things that are confusing on a first read will become clear when the entire document has been read or even when other pages in the same set of documents have been reviewed. Leave a space or [—] for those items that are seemingly illegible.

Two or three hundred words later, it may make perfect sense.


A Little Fiction Mixed In?

I had a relative who wrote a memoir that extended from his childhood through his mid-thirties. It was a mixture of his personal experiences with some remembrances of family members thrown in.

The problem was that, for one reason or another known only to himself, he ended up fictionalizing in several places. It is difficult to know where the truth ends and creative writing begins.

It is like that with some family stories as well. Fiction gets added to make an ancestor sound a little more adventurous than she was. Your aunt thinks her life was dull so she adds a romantic adventure–complete with husband–that never took place. Your uncle’s memory begins to fade as he ages.

Always write down the story as it was told to you–including who told it and the date. Then go from there to determine what aspects of the story may have generated records.


Reminder: Share and Preserve

This is your periodic reminder:

Do you have family history items where your copy is the only copy? Make digital images of the item. Write up the history of the item. Share those with people who are interested–or may be interested. Try and find a way to preserve the item long term, including who will have possession of it after you have left this existence.

If you can’t think of someone who would be interested, it is all the more important that those digital images and written up history of the item be shared with those who have an interest in family history but may not be able to keep the physical item.


Junior May Not Be Senior’s Son

Do not assume that men listed as Senior and Junior had to be father and son. Sometimes the notation was used to separate out two men of the same name–whether they were related or not.

The court deposition from Amherst County, Virginia, in the 1790s indicated that John Sledd, Junior, ,was in fact the son of John Sledd, Senior. But there are times when Junior and Senior are simply two guys in the same area with the same name and the neighbors want to distinguish them from each other–and use age as the way to do that.


Informal Adoption or Step-Parent Confusing Your DNA Results?

Compiling the family tree of a DNA match to determine the relationship they have with you is necessary when the match is one in which you, for one reason of another, have an interest. Just make certain you are taking your time and compiling the tree as accurately as you can–especially in terms of the biological relationships.

Relying too much on one type of source (particularly obituaries) can increase the probability that compiled tree you create has non-biological relationships in it. Obituaries and some other newspaper social announcements may indicate the relationship between two people is a parent-child relationship when it fact it is not. The most frequent relationships that falls into this category is a step-parent relationship.

If you’ve got the child’s step-father in your tree as their father, it could explain why the DNA match makes no sense. Make certain you’ve looked at as many newspaper references as you can–particularly ones early in the life of the child. If the family was living during a time when census records are public, view those materials as well. Look at obituaries of all grandparents to see how grandchildren are listed–or if some that should be listed are missing. That could be a clue the child’s relationship to the parent was not biological.

The thing to remember about DNA is that it only tells you who reproduced with whom. It does not tell you who actually raised that person or was influential in their life.


The Rules Change When You Cross a Line

There are any number of movies where a key scene involves someone “getting across the county line” so they will not be arrested. While genealogists are not usually worried about being arrested or directing movies, the fact that things change when you cross the line is one to remember.

Crossing any political line, including whether it be one of county, state, province, territory, or nation, may mean that the laws and recordkeeping system may change. In some cases, the change can be significant. Even when crossing states/provincial lines, the laws regarding what is recorded and how it is recorded may change. Learn about the new area’s records before you assume that Virginia in 1760 is just like Nebraska in 1860. That’s something of an extreme example, but it hopefully makes the point.


Notching Up Your Livestock Owner Research

In frontier areas, when livestock roamed without fences, farmers often had their own peculiar notch they used to identify their hogs or cattle. Records of these notches may be found at the local courthouse, recorded with other public records. In areas where branding livestock was a common practice, one may find records of brands. At the very least the image makes for a nice illustration.

In Fleming County, Kentucky, in the 1810s, a neighbor stole a hog belonging to one of my ancestors. It was taken to a neighbor’s home where it was butchered and the head was left in the barn. The identification of the hog was done because it had my ancestor’s notch in the ear.