In modern society for a variety of reasons, we are concerned about how our name gets spelled. Our ancestors were not so concerned. They didn’t worry about the various agencies, companies that had records on them that needed to be correct. I’m typing an 1820 era Kentucky court case and the last name of Bonham is spelled Berham, Benham, Burham, etc. There are times where the same last name is spelled several ways in one document.
The key is that the name should sound the same. Another thing is when transcribing documents of this type, transcribe the name how it is spelled. Do not standardize the spelling. One reason is that the variant spellings give insight into how the name was pronounced by your ancestor. Another reason is that if someone sees you “correcting the spelling” when you transcribe a document, they might wonder what else you fixed along the way.
If you’ve located your ancestor in census records that provide ages and places of birth, consider making a chart or somehow listing each year, what year of birth the age implies, and the place of birth.
How consistent are those years of birth? How consistent are those places of birth? A little variation is to be expected, but sometimes this can be a good way to realize that maybe you don’t have the same person in all those records. Or maybe you do, but make certain you’ve got reasons for why you “know” it’s the right person.
When using original records, make certain that there are not more than one series of page numbers being used. United States census records are notorious for having multiple sets of page numbers, but other records can easily have more than one. Scan the entire page the record is on to make certain there are not multiple page numbers. If there are other page numbers, make a notation about which number you used, was it the printed one in the lower left hand corner, the handwritten one in the upper right, etc.?
Is there a brick wall problem where you have an abstract of a record instead of the complete record? Is it possible the abstract includes a word of phrase transcribed incorrectly or a where a key phrase has been omitted? It’s possible that a detail the abstracter considered trivial (and left out) is key to your problem. Make certain you’ve got the complete records on all records for your “brick wall.” A small omission may be the key to your problem.
I’ve started a new blog to complement Genealogy Tip of the Day. It’s called Search Tip of the Day. The new site will focus on websites, online search techniques, and other ways genealogists interact with computerized data. The website is http://genealogysearchtip.blogspot.com/. You can subscribe to updates to that blog via the site. This new site currently has no Facebook page and allows for moderated comments and follow up ideas. Suggestions are always welcomed.
Look at information you have compiled or located. Look at it closely. If to make the story fit, you have to violate laws of biology (dead people do not typically reproduce, people who are not born do not have children, etc.) or the laws of physics (travelling 400 miles on land within two days in 1820, etc.), then there is a problem.
Violating common sense is not usually advised either.
If you think you’ve lost that female ancestor after her husband’s death, consider the fact that she might have married again. The story of the later in life marriage might never have been passed down in the family and she still might be buried with her first husband and the stone, if there is one, may not indicate a subsequent marriage, particularly if there were not any children.
In frontier areas, when livestock roamed without fences, farmers often had their own peculiar notch they used to identify their hogs or cattle. Records of these notches may be found at the local courthouse, recorded with other public records. In areas where branding livestock was a common practice, one may find records of brands.
If your male ancestor died with even a small amount of real estate (lot in town or more) or enough personal property, there might be a guardianship case for his children. The mother likely was the guardian of the child’s person, but someone else might have been appointed guardian of the child’s estate. Pay close attention to the name of this person. It might have been a male relative or in some cases a step-father and that relationship may never be spelled out in the documents.
When a husband sells property and is married, there should be an acknowledgment by the wife that she knows about the sale and releases her dower interest in the property. Pay attention to these acknowledgments. The absence of one usually indicates the wife is deceased–a potential clue. And a “new name” appearing on the dower release likely means that the previous wife has died and that the husband has remarried. Although keep nicknames and diminutives in mind when drawing these conclusions, however. A 1800 wife named Sarah may be referred to as Sally in 1820.