In What Capacity?

We use the names of people on documents as clues. Sometimes the reason why a person is listed on a document is fairly obvious, parents on a birth certificate for example.

But a witness on a deed or a will. The witness may be a relative, friend, or another warm body.

But the witness had to be of legal age and that may be a clue.

And always learn why names are on records and in what capacity they are acting. What requirements were there to act in that capacity?

Get off the Main Migration Routes

Some of our ancestors migrated along paths that thousands of Americans took, but they didn’t settle along these national roads. They went where they knew people, or had a “connection” to a job, a farm, etc. The fact that your ancestor might have travelled part of the way on a common pathway might help solve some problems, but the larger problems will be solved by determining who else travelled with him from point A to point B.

Ask Why?

For any document, ask yourself “why was this document created?” Some will be fairly obvious:

  • death certificate because someone died
  • birth certificate because someone was born

Others not so much, particularly some records in court and other cases. Asking why a document was created will help you to know why some things were included in the document and some things were not. Records we use were created for purposes other than genealogy–keep that in mind.

Practice at Home

If you are going to use a digital camera to take pictures of tombstones, documents, etc. on a research trip, practice using the camera at home.

Try different kinds of books, different lighting, different times of day, etc. and see what works for you and what doesn’t.
The place to learn is at home when you have time, not a thousand miles away when rain is threatening, it’s late in the evening, and the last day of your trip.

Using the same approach for every problem or family?

Do you try the same approach on every family? Are you always using the records that are “easiest” to research or the ones with which you are most familiar? Are you always using county records and never state records? Have you never used church records?

Get outside of that same approach. Your ancestors all didn’t approach life the same way, you shouldn’t approach them the same way either.

Use Color

I’ve been analyzing some census records for an upcoming Casefile Clues column. Doing the analysis on paper and pencil was necessary because I was travelling.

What I needed was colored pencils. Then I could use the colors to mark each person and help me to keep them straight in my head. I’m going to have to get a set of colored pencils.

Just read the places

In rural areas, if you can’t find someone in the index, a manual search of the census may be necessary. If that doesn’t help you locate your person, try looking only the places of birth. Then when you find someone with the “right” place of birth, look very closely at their name.

That’s how years ago I found Ulfert Behrens in Adams County, Illinois listed as Woolpert Barcus.