Monthly Archives: March 2009

Drop the Last Name When Searching?

Have you considered dropping the last name when searching for an ancestor in a census or other record? This is especially a good idea for a relative who went by three names and whose middle name closely resembles a surname.

John Michael Trautvetter could have been enumerated as John Michael.

My ancestor Henry Jacobs Fecht is listed as Henry Jacobs in the 1870 census. Took me a while to find him listed like that.

Just something to consider if the usual search attempts do not pan out.

What is a Homestead?

The word homestead can mean several things.

It could mean a “homestead” claim that was filed under the Homestead Act of 1862 (and which was amended). These claims usually were 160 acres and the in Great Plains and points west, but the amounts can vary depending upon the location and time period. Claimants would be deeded the entire homestead if they lived on the farm for a given number of years and improved it.

A “homestead” also could be referring to that portion of a family’s farm containing their actual home and surrounding buildings that often was allowed to the widow if her husband died. This homestead was usually protected from creditors in the event of her husband’s death. Sometimes the residence and her actual “dower” would be lumped together as her right of “homestead and dower.” The technical definition can vary from state to state–refer to applicable state statutes for a precise definition.

What is a Witness?

A witness to a document is stating that the individual who signed the document looked like they were of sound mind and it appeared that they were acting of their own volition and not under any influence of another person or substance.

Witnesses to a document may have known your ancestor.

Witnesses to a document may have been related to your ancestor.

Witnesses may have been just another warm body in the Justice of the Peace’s office at the same time as your ancestor.

Witnesses do not have to be related to your ancestor and they don’t have to be “friends” with your ancestor. They could be, but they do not have to be. Keep that in mind.

What is an Infant?

An 1830 document indicates your ancestor is an infant and has a guardian appointed for him. The next year the ancestor marries. What gives?

What gives is that an “infant” in the legal sense is someone who is under the age of majority. While that can vary from state to state and has changed over time, it typically is 18 for females and 21 for males.

So your ancestor could be 15 years old and be an infant.

Just something to keep in mind.

Keep Your Perspective

Locating a divorce record gave me a new spelling for my grandmother’s maiden name of Trautvetter. The new (to me) variant is “troutfitter.” I performed a google search for the name, finding many references. Most of the sites had to do with fishing and I was initially confused. It took me a few minutes before I realized most of the “troutfitter” references were a play on the words “trout” and “outfitter.” Then it made sense, but I also realized that for the majority of the pages I located “troutfitter” was not based upon someone’s name. Oh well.

Remember that there is a word outside of genealogy. I will still look for Troutfitter (and Trautfitter) references, but won’t assume they all have to do with with the last name.

And my google searches will be constructed to not include webpages that have references to “trout” or “fish.”

Re-interview Relatives

You interviewed great-Aunt Myrtle five years ago when you first began your research. When was the last time you asked her questions? Maybe even discussing with her some of what you have found will cause her to “remember” things she never would have thought of if her memory had not been jogged.

Post to the Message Boards

Is there a brick wall you have been stuck on for a long time? Is there a message board you have not posted to about that problem? Think of the counties where the person lived and post your query to one of those boards.

There are message boards at Ancestry– http://boards.ancestry.com
There are more at Genforum– http://genforum.genealogy.com

A researcher in a workshop was stuck on a family and one of my suggestions was that she post her question about the confusing deed extract to that county’s message board. My hope was that a “local” could help her. She got two responses. One was from a researcher of the same name and another offered to help with the extract. All within 24 hours.

No guarantees, but might be worth a try.

Check out Your Local Library

Does your local library have access to any database or sites that could be helpful in your genealogical research? Many libraries subscribe to a variety of databases including magazine and journal articles, historical archives, etc. Of course you should find out what genealogical databases your library has access to, but there may be variety of other databases in the reference section that could provide useful to your research.

Nearby university libraries may be a gold mine as well. Even if they don’t have a genealogy collection.

Do You Know the Soundex Codes for Your Surnames?

Many database searches allow users to perform soundex searches. This allows users to look for names that “sound like” the name that was entered in the search box. This is great as long as you are aware of this and do not overlook reasonable variants of the last name in the process.

For this reason it is good to know the soundex codes for your last names and their variants. Not because you need them to search, but so you know what names you need to perform soundex searches for in order to not miss any results.

The last name Demoss occasionally gets written as Demop (because the “ss” is made like a “p” sometimes. A soundex search for Demoss will not bring up Demop because the two are not Soundex equivalent.

Demoss has a soundex code of D520
Demop has a soundex code of D510

Of course, Demos is a variant too, but since a double letter is omitted, there is no difference. Searching for “Demoss” with soundex turned on will not bring up any Demop refererences.

Rootsweb has a feature that will find the soundex code for your last names.

Cut off the Name

Have you tried searching for that ancestral last name by cutting off part of it? Perhaps “De Moss” was entered as “Moss.” Perhaps Van der Walle was entered as just “Wall.” Goldenstein might have been entered as “Golden.”

The list goes on. Consider what might have happened if someone dropped the first syllable or two of your ancestor’s last name.

Then try the same for the last syllable or two.

You might be surprised at what you find.