Did Any Aunts Get a Widow’s Pension?

Did any of your aunts receive a Civil War pension, Revolutionary War pension, etc.? Don’t think it couldn’t help you in your research. If the aunt tried to qualify for a pension, she would have had to have proven her marriage–that place alone could be a clue because if your ancestor’s sister was living there, other family members could have been too.

And if the aunt couldn’t find paper proof of her marriage, she might have had relatives provide affidavits testifying to the date and place of marriage and perhaps your ancestor made out one of those. Neat way to get information and an even neater way to get a signature.


Multiple Databases for the Same Thing?

Don’t just use one database when performing searches. If there is another site that indexes the same data, their index might allow for different searches or might have included transcriptions done differently. You might not have to subscribe to one of the pay sites “forever,” but make a list of things you can’t find on the free sites and consider subscribing to a pay-site for maybe a month and doing your searches and then let it expire.

But never rely solely on one site for all your indexes.


To Whom Was the Quit Claim Made?

If you see your ancestor as a party on a quit claim deed, pay close attention to whom he was buying land from or to whom he was selling it. A high proportion of quit claim deeds are among relatives, generally to clean up an inheritance. Not always–but it’s worth a clue. A quit claim means you are giving up your claim, something that heirs are likely to do among themselves after the owner passes away.


True, False, and Somewhere in Between

When analyzing any record, remember that it may be partially true and partially false. Most documents contain several statements. Rarely is a document entirely correct. One part may be true, other parts may be false. Some parts could be partially correct–the year of an event may be right, but the month may be wrong. The state may be correct, but the town may be incorrect.

Keep an open mind to the very real possibility that most documents contain true statements, false statements, and statements somewhere in between.

That’s why it is important to transcribe each document as it is written and do the analysis elsewhere. Don’t play proofreader when transcribing a document. The changes you make may not be the right ones.


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Is That Tax List or Census Alphabetical?

Take a good look at that tax list or pre-1850 census on which you found your ancestor. Are the names written in rough alphabetical order? Those people didn’t only have neighbors whose last name started with the same letter as theirs; the enumerator was attempting to organize the information. The end result is that some of the sense of neighborhood one gets from a tax record or census is lost.


What Does It Mean When I Say I’m 50 Years Old?

Assume your ancestor is correct when, on 5 January 1850, he says he is 50 years old. What does that mean?

He could have just turned 50 that very day, meaning he was born 5 January 1800. That would be the very youngest he could be on 5 January 1800—50 years and no days.

He could turn 51 the very next day, meaning he was born 6 January 1799. That would be the very oldest he could be on 5 January 1800 and still be 50, one day shy of his 51st birthday.


Middle Names That Are Last Names

Some descendants of Thomas Johnson Rampley assumed his middle name was his mother’s maiden name. While sometimes middle names that are “last names” are the maiden name of the mother, that is not always the case, the last name could have come from a neighbor, another family member, or a famous person. I’m not certain where it came from in Thomas’ case. Middle names that are last names may also be a patronymic name, one based upon the father’s first name as in the case of Anke Hinrichs Fecht whose father was Hinrich Fecht. Middle names that are “last names” can be clues to research–but don’t take a “clue” and make it a “fact” without something with which to back it up.


Not Every Immigrant Naturalized

If you cannot find a naturalization record for an ancestor, keep in mind that he might never have naturalized. If your ancestor did not want to vote, he might not have found being a citizen necessary. Back during the time when being an “alien” wasn’t so much of a problem, “aliens” could own land, sell it, bequeath it, etc. If economics were the main reason for immigration, your ancestor might not have become a citizen.


Don’t Grab the First Match

Remember that there might be more than one person who fits the details of the person for whom you are looking. I was working on a George Butler, born in 1848 in Michigan, the son of a Benjamin Butler. Turns out there were two completely unrelated George Butlers born in Michigan in 1848, sons of Benjamin. To top it off, the Benjamins were born in 1820 or 1821 in the same state.

Look around when you locate a “match” and make certain there is not another “match” nearby. You may end up researching the wrong person if you are not careful.