Monthly Archives: January 2009

Is Your Reasoning In Your Notes?

Did you do any thinking to reach that genealogical conclusion about a parentage or a date? Did you analyze several documents to reach a decision about what they meant? If so, is that chain of thought somewhere in your database? Human memories are particularly frail and writing it out somewhere increases the chance your logic and thought process gets preserved.

And remember that you could later realize you were wrong. It is hard to see an error in your line of thought if it was never written down anywhere.


Turn it off

While it is not really a genealogy tip, it is a good one anyway.

When doing your research, consider turing “off” the email and some of the other “constantly on” computer applications that demand attention. Consider even getting away from the computer, unless you are searching online sites. Sometimes the constant distraction can negatively impact your concentration. Researching with several other tasks going on in the background can cause us to overlook the obvious. Sometimes multitasking is not as efficient as we think it is.

Some research tasks require concentration, whether it be reading a foreign language or analyzing 1840 census returns. Do your research a favor the next time you are working and give it your full attention. You might surprise yourself at how much you accomplish.

Write it Up

One of the best ways to organize information and see what is lacking in your research is to write up the information you already have. Prove each point or statement as you work along. You would be amazed at the amount of information you have or at how little you actually do have.

I write up families all the time for various articles or columns I am working on. It is one of the best ways to really get you looking more closely at your research.

Writing for someone else to understand makes you think about things on a different level. It may help you notice gaps or errors in your own research. And if the finished product looks good to you, consider submitting it for publication in a society journal or newsletter. That’s a great way to share and preserve that you have located.

Recording the Execution

Keep in mind the difference between the date a document is executed and the date it is recorded. The date a document is executed is usually the day it is signed and becomes effective. The date of recording is the date the document is recorded officially at the courthouse. Documents cannot be recorded before they are executed, but there is no law that they have to be recorded within specific time frame.

Deeds may be recorded years after they are written. This is more likely to happen if a family goes to sell a piece of property and realizes the deceased owner never had his or her original deed recorded.

Looking through 21st Century Glasses?

When interpreting a deceased ancestor or relative’s actions, consider that they probably operated from a slightly different prespective. There are several important things to consider about your ancestor when trying to figure out what he or she did or why he or she acted in a given way.

What was your ancestor’s educational level? What was his or her economic status at that point in time? What were their family obligations at that point in time? Was the ancestor isolated or did she have family support? Was your ancestor widowed with three children and no means of support? Did your ancestor have psychological or emotional problems? Was there a subtance abuse problem? Was your ancestor hiding something? How much do you know about your ancestor’s “context?”

Keep in mind that you descend from your ancestor, but you are not your ancestor. Put yourself in their shoes. Take off your socks if necessary!

Read the Preface

When using any published compilation, abstract, or finding aid, read the preface (or introduction, etc.). This is where the author should indicate if the original records were incomplete or if there were issues or difficulties reading and transcribing the original record.

In some online databases, this information may appear in a “more about,” or “frequently asked questions” page.

Not knowing what a book or database does not contain may cause you to think you searched something when you did not.

The preface of a book of marriage records from 1829-1900 may indicate that records from 1850-1860 are missing. That is something you need to know when using that publication. If you do not read the preface, you may never know.

I don’t normally mention websites here on “tip of the day,” but will mention as there is a great deal of free material on this site.

I found five scanned books from Hancock County, Illinois, on the site. These books can be viewed as text files (there will be some OCR errors), PDF, DjVu, or FlipBook files. The amount of material on here is amazing. The fact that I can download entire county histories is just amazing.

The viewer options here put to shame. For more information view

Will Pencil and Paper do?

There are times when I need to chart out relationships within a family–without printing the entire tree or even the entire family group. I just need a few people. And sometimes doing that on a computer takes up too much time.

A pencil and paper gets the job done faster and I can get to actual research.

There are other times where actually just “scratching” things out on paper is faster.

Do you need a computer for every task? Is there something you could do on paper and pencil in five minutes that would take you 5 hours on the computer? Remember that you are not always creating layout for a magazine or publication. Sometimes you are just making a working chart for yourself and your own use.

And it saves time for research. And isn’t that what it is about?

Do You Have the Right Name?

One of my “spare time” activities is finding well-known individuals in United States census records. There are several potential difficulties I face when trying to locate any of these individuals. One of the most common: the “right” name.

While most of us are not searching for celebrities in the census, it still pays to have the correct name. If grandfather was an immigrant, are we searching for both his birth name and his Anglicized name? Was there another name he took after he immigrated, perhaps one that was easier to spell or pronounce?

And is the name we have for Grandma actually her middle name? Is she enumerated under her first name in 1900, a name that perhaps we do not know?

And there is always the chance that our ancestor changed his name a little bit to escape the law, a creditor, or a former wife.

Did Your Ancestor Even Understand What They Were Doing?

I was the teller at the recent annual meeting of our church congregation. A somewhat controversial matter came up and a member called for a secret vote. We had no ballots ready made, and in haste, used scratch paper made from election ballots from the previous year’s election of officers.

Voting members were told to write “yes” or “no” on the blank side of the paper. Despite repeating the instructions several times, several members put marks by the names of the previous year’s officer candidates. It was clear they were confused.

Was your ancestor confused when the census taker came to his door? Was she confused when she was asked questions for her husband’s death certificate?

We sometimes assume our ancestor completely understood the questions he was asked. Perhaps he was completely confused and in his confusion his answers have left us completely confused as well.