Never let someone tell you there is no index or there is just one index to something. Determine if there is another index or if an index was created and published privately.
There were a series of land records I was searching for in a county in Illinois while at the Family History Library. They only had indexes to each volume, compiled separately in the front of each one.
What they did not have was another index to the land records that was created and maintained at the courthouse. That index had not been filmed and consequently was not at the Family History Library. Using that index took 5 minutes to find the deeds I needed. Going through the volumes’ indexes one-by-one would have taken me at least 3 hours.
Consider asking someone unrelated to your family to look at a document or a record that confuses you. Going to your local genealogical society meeting can be one way to do this. Another is to scan the document and post it to a blog and mention it on an appropriate mailing list. This can be a good way to get short documents translated or at least to have someone look at a word or a phrase that is difficult to read.
To see an example of how I did this on my website visit here:
Always make certain you read the description of a data set before searching. This allows you to see whether or not it includes the information you need.
The Family Search site includes some Ohio Tax records. I was excited as both my wife and I have early Ohio ancestors. Unfortunately at the time I visited the site, only a few counties were included. They will add more, but READING what areas are included before I search a database saves me time if the locations I need are not yet included.
Stuck on a certain problem or document? If your computer is always “online,” consider temporarily turning off your internet connection while concentrating. Maybe even turn off the cell phone.
Recently I was working on a christening record from the 1870s. It was written in German and mentioned two families. The temptation was to start surfing for information on the families before I really completed my attempt to translate the document.
Sometimes it is good to brainstorm and jot down ideas one after the other when you cannot immediately do some of them. Being able to search immediately can easily get you distracted and cause you to lose focus on what you were originally trying to figure out.
Without constant interruption or the temptation to be distracted I was able to concentrate on my document, read it as best I could, and make a long list of ideas for how to follow up on what it told me. Then, when I was out of ideas, I got back on the computer and started working on my list, one item at a time.
It helps a lot to be focused.
Are you subtracting correct when taking an age and calculating a year of birth? It might pay to doublecheck your computations so you do not create errors in your own records.
It seems like a simple thing, but a subtraction error, especially if done in your head late at night while on the computer, can easily happen.
And a year of birth calculated as 1802, when it should be 1812, might make all the difference in interpreting other records correctly.
There are many reasons a genealogist should create a free blog. One is that it can be used to post images of documents you cannot read. I am a member of several mailing lists, one of which has several members who are good at reading German script.
Occasionally when I have something where I cannot read a word or two, I put the image on my blog and then post a message to the mailing list about the document I cannot read and then tell them where I have posted the image.
This makes it easier for them to try and help me figure out the document.
One recent posting can be viewed here:
I usually only post small things where I have a word or a phrase I cannot read. If it is a three page document, I usually try other options including professional translators.
Sometimes errors in genealogical records are unintentional. Census and christening records indicate my grandmother was born in Wythe Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Grandma always thought she was born in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois-in nearby Walker Township. On every record from her marriage through her death, Grandma’s place of birth was put down as Tioga–because that is what she thought it was.
The error wasn’t intentional, but rather was based upon her belief as to where she was born.
I have noted the discrepancy in all the records and made a note about what Grandma thought in her file so that someone else will know why there are the differences in her records.
Errors happen for a variety of reasons. I was lucky in this case because I knew how the errors got there. That does not always happen.
Genealogy information does not always agree. Several years ago I wrote an article for Genealogy.com on discrepancy charts that can be used to organize inconsistent information. That article can be viewed here:
Too long for a “short tip,” but it’s worth taking a look at. I have linked to the printer friendly version.
In some cases, there may be several sites that index the same set of records. Consider using other indexes when available and when one index does not help you to find the desired person. Another person making their own index may read something differently than did the first person. Don’t assume someone is not in a record because one index fails to include him. And remember that a manual search of the records may be necessary.
If you have an original copy of a document or photograph, do not do anything do that paper or photograph that cannot be undone.
Putting it in a frame or an envelope (usually) is one thing. Taping it in a book is another.