Locations can create all kinds of problems for genealogists. For this reason it is necessary to be as precise as possible. Some locations are logical.
For example, Knoxville, Illinois, is in Knox County, Illinois.
But this is not always the case.
Des Moines, Iowa, is in Polk County, not in Des Moines County, Iowa.
Keokuk, Iowa, is not located in Keokuk County, Iowa.
And remember there are townships as well which may or may not add to the confusion. Hancock County, Illinois, has a Webster Cemetery and a village of Webster. Webster cemetery is not located near the village of Webster.
Provide as much detail as possible when listing locations in your genealogical database. Personally I always use the word “county” in a location. It reduces confusion.
Remember that your ancestor might have been known by several different first names. This can be especially confusing when a researcher is “fixed” on one name. My great-grandfather was actually Frederick, but sometimes he was Fred and sometimes he was Fritz (the latter more in his younger years).
Another ancestor was John Michael Trautvetter. He went by one of several different names:
- Jahn (a German version of his first name)
- J. M.
Some nicknames are not quite as obvious. Sally was a common nickname for Sarah. If you can’t find your ancestor, learn nicknames that were derived from the original name. The ancestor might simply be hiding under a nickname.
If some piece of information given by your ancestor in a record does not make sense, consider the possibility that he lied. People lied for many reasons, including
- wanting to get married
- wanting to enlist in the service
- wanting to avoid the service
- trying to escape their past (parents, spouse, children, debts, etc.)
An outright lie can be difficult to research around, but people did lie about their age, place of birth, name, marital status, etc.
Many times genealogists look for a will of an ancestor and stop there–especially if they find it. But records of financial accountings may clarify items that are vague in a will and mention individuals not named in a will. Some estates take years to settle. Heirs named in a will may die before the estate is finally settled. The heirs of the deceased heir normally inherit their share and these individuals may be named in final accountings for the estate. Seeing who got how much may make relationships more clear and provide you with new names of relatives. People tend to “reappear” when money is involved–even those who have been missing for decades.
Do you know where all the lines are on the map of your ancestor’s neighborhood? Property lines, county lines, state lines, they all play a role in your family history research. These lines change over time as new territories are created, county lines are debated and finalized, and as your ancestor buys and sells property. Getting your ancestor’s maps all “lined” up may help solve your problem. And keep in mind that contemporary maps are always an excellent idea. Your ancestor probably did not live in the twenty-first century. Don’t rely completely on maps created a centry after he died.
Did your ancestor die with minor children? If so, there might be guardianship records for his children, particularly if he left real estate behind or a significant amount of personal property. For much of American history, women had no property rights and a widow by herself might not be able to receive money for her children or to manage real estate they inherited from a deceased father or grandparent. Records of the guardianship might provide more information on the children and perhaps clues as to the mother’s remarriage. Researchers should always research the guardians fully to determine if they had any biological relationship to the children.
Christmas is a good day to take a break from your research and focus on the living relatives. It also brings to mind another tip.
Take a break from that family or problem that really has you stonewalled. Work on another family for a while, putting the brick wall group aside for a week or a month. It may be that when you come back to your problem, you notice something you did not notice before. Perhaps when working on another problem, something will dawn on you regarding the original problem.
In the back of your mind the original problem is there and something totally unrelated to your research problem may cause you to have the breakthrough idea you need. Sometimes what we need most is a little “away time.”
Some researchers are anxious to begin their foreign research as soon as they learn they have an ancestor born in a foreign country. This hasty approach may cause you to look in the wrong place or to lack adequate information to perform your search “across the pond.” Research the ancestor in the area of settlement first, as completely as possible. Doing so may provide more detailed information about his or her origins and may also give you names of potential siblings or relatives who might be easier to track across the ocean.
Before interviewing relatives who were alive at the time of the 1930 census, try locating them in that record. Note the names of neighbors and ask your relative about these individuals. Giving your interviewee specific names may help to jog memories and get them to recall events they might not otherwise have thought about.
This is helpful even if the person was not alive in 1930. Neighbors might have been neighbors for decades and even if the person did not know the former neighbors personally they might remember hearing their name mentioned.
Anything that might help jog a memory is good.
Just because a record is “official” does not mean that every detail it contains is correct. A death certificate probably has the date of death and burial correct, but the date and place of birth could easily be incorrect. And there is always the chance that a death record has the wrong date of death or place of burial. An official record does not guarantee the information is accurate. Remember that in most records, the information is only as accurate as the informant and that in most records information submitted came from someone’s mind and was not verified with another source or official record.