Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

I will admit it. Even after 25 years of research, occasionally a microfilm machine will confuse me. Sometimes I hesitate to ask for help. After all, I should know how to use one. And then I remember, waiting only wastes time.

If there is something at a library or archives that confuses you or you do not understand, ask. Staff can usually help you operate the equipment.

If it is a record or document they cannot help you with, it might be because it is unusual and something with which they are unfamiliar. In that case, consider asking the question on a genealogy mailing list or at your local genealogical society meeting. Someone there probably can help you or point you to someone who can.

Getting it all?

Make certain you are getting the entire record. I was using marriage records for Champaign County, Illinois, recently. They were on microfilm at the Champaign County Archives in the Urbana Free Library. For the time period I was looking for there were actually two series of marriage information. One was the marriage applications and the other was the actual license. If I had been in too much of a hurry, I might have easily overlooked one of the records.

Non-Genealogy Databases in Your Local Library

Does your local library have access to databases not specifically genealogy that might help you in your research? Libraries that have Proquest may have access to digitized newspapers, fire insurance maps and more. Ask your local librarian what databases they subscribe to.

If you have any academic libraries nearby, ask them the same thing.

Or check out their webpages. You may have access to more information than you think.

Google those wrong names

A death certificate for a potential relative indicated he died in “tumway, Iowa.” I had no idea where that was. I didn’t try the United States Geological Survey Geographic Names Information Site it, but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.

Googling “tumway iowa” told me that it wasn’t probably “tumway” at all. A search for “tumway iowa” resulted in references to Ottumwa, Iowa. I should have thought of that. If the gazeteers don’t bring the desired results, try Google.

1880 Census at Ancestry and Family Search

Remember that using the 1880 census is free at and at Family Search.

The images are not free, but the data is.’s data came from FamilySearch with corrections, etc. entered by users–there is a difference, but not a “complete” difference.

And the search interfaces are not the same either. If you cannot find them in one, try the other.

Widow for a day or longer?

I almost overlooked the death certificate of her husband.

The lady I was researching died in 1914 and was listed as a widow. I didn’t look at the death certificate for a man with the same last name who also died in 1914, thinking it could not be her husband.

Turns out is was. They died 4 days apart. Don’t assume anything. Being listed as a widow only means her husband died before her. It could have been 2 days or 20 years.

Don’t Rush

I wanted to locate children of a relative in census records after her death. The names were somewhat common and I didn’t have too many details about them.

Maybe I had better wait until I get the obituaries and estate records of the parents. Those may provide me with enough clues to find the children in census records and make certain I have the correct ones.