Monthly Archives: March 2011

Place Names Spelled Correctly?

Do you have all place names spelled correctly in your genealogical database? I’m not talking about the German village that you can barely read on great-grandma’s death certificate. I’m talking about places you know where they are and can easily verify the spelling. It never hurts to check and you may find that you have overlooked some records in the process.

Reading It Cold

Remember that in many cases, the indexer indexing the record you are using was not familiar with the names in the area where the records were created. In most cases, they are reading the names “cold.” Keep that in mind when formulating searches and contemplating alternate spellings. You may know what it says. Someone else may not.

Tools of the Trade

Are there occupational clues hidden in the inventory of your ancestor’s estate? Sometimes it can be difficult determining what your pre-1850 ancestor’s occupation was. The inventory of the personal items in his estate may hold a clue. Be careful about drawing conclusions though and compare to other inventories to see what makes your ancestor’s different–every one had kitchen utensils and a chamberpot.

Why Was That Record Created?

The vast majority of records genealogists use were not created for genealogists. Probate records were created to settle estates, land records were used to document land transfers, census record were used to collect statistical information about citizens (and in the US to apprortion representatives), church records were kept to document that certain sacraments had been performed, etc.

If you don’t know why a record was created–find out. Learning why may help you understand and interpret the item you have found.

Did It Say That Or Did You Calculate?

If you arrived at a person’s date of birth from a date of death and an age at date of death then the resulting date of birth should be indicated as one that was calculated, not one the record actually stated. There are two reasons for this–1) never indicate a record says something it didn’t (the birth date was not actually written on the record) and 2) who ever calculated the age might have done so incorrectly before it was written on the record or put on the stone.

Genealogists often use “Cal” for such calculated dates and your source for that calculated date should indicate the document that provided the specific age and the date the person was that age.

Books on Collateral Families

Is there a book on a collateral branch of your family that may provide information on your direct lineage? My great-grandfather’s sister married a Henerhoff. A genealogy of the Henerhoff family contained significant information on my great-great-grandparents whose only connection to the Henerhoffs was that their daughter married one. It pays to look.

Middle Name as a Last Name?

If you can’t find your ancestor in a census, consider that he or she might have been listed without their last name. My ancestor in 1870 is listed as Henry Jacobs. His actual name: Henry Jacobs Fecht. The census taker dropped the last name and Henry’s middle name became his last.

Did They Appear When Someone Died?

If there is a relative who “disappeared” after a certain point in time, determine if there were any estates they might have inherited from after they disappeard. Was there a parent who died after the “disappearance?” Would the disappearing person have inherited part of an estate after they went “poof?” If so, the settlement of that estate would have required that they be found or at least their absence be explained. A cousin died in the 1940s with no children, and court records go into details about the searches made for his brother who went “poof” in the 1920s.

There Are No Secondary Sources in Genealogy

In current genealogy practice, the adjectives primary and secondary refer to information. Primary information is given by someone who had first hand knowledge of something. Information provided by others is considered to be secondary.

Any source can have primary and secondary information, depending upon who provided it and how they came to know it. If I am with my grandmother when she dies, I may be the informant on her death certificate. The information I provide on her death would be primary information–I have first hand knowledge. The information I provide on her parents would be secondary as I do not have first hand knowledge of her birth—I wasn’t there.

Copy All Those Column Headings

In any record, make certain you take note of all column headings. This is particularly true when taking screen shots of record images or taking digital pictures. One does not want to interpret information incorrectly and that can easily happen if column headings are not recorded or transcribed when you originally view the record.

Also saves the time of having to go back!