They Had Little To Prove…

Your ancestors did not have to “prove” anything when the census taker came to the door. They could get by just answering the questions and if the answers were totally wrong or just a “little off,” the census taker might not even know.

This does not mean that every census enumeration is wrong or that everyone lied on the census. But it does mean that an age that is slightly off or a birth place that isn’t quite right is not usually enough to throw an entire theory out the window.

But then again, there’s always that chance that great-great-grandma fudged the number of years married to make a few things fit–for those census records that asked that question.

When You Were Wet Behind the Ears

When was the last time you reviewed material or information you obtained in the early days of your research? Did you neglect to indicate where something was originally located? Did you simply copy something from a website or book without considering that it could be wrong?

Most of us did those things early in our research–but are there still items of that type lurking in your files or database causing those “brick walls” we all complain about?

Now that you’re a little more seasoned, review what you did in the early days and see if you still agree with yourself.

State Institution?

Was your ancestor institutionalized for a short time or for the last few years of their life? If so, they might have died a distance from where they actually lived. Records of the actual institution may be closed, but there might be local court records of the institutionalization. People who were sent to institutions weren’t always “crazy,” but might have simply needed more care than the family could give.

And they might have been buried on the grounds of the institution–leaving no tombstone behind either.

Where Could Record Copies Be?

Genealogists usually never look for original deed records–instead we utilize record copies at the local county courthouse.

If you can’t find marriage and other records of your ancestor, is it possible that “copies” of these records had to be filed elsewhere? Official copies of marriage records often appear widow’s pension applications. Official copies of naturalizations appear in homestead records.

Ask yourself, “would my ancestor have had to prove” a marriage, naturalization, etc.? If so, where might those records be?

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Periodically Ask Yourself…

Are there any relatives you have not talked to since you’ve made “discoveries?” Sometimes new information gives you ideas for new questions to ask family members you have already interviewed. And sometimes a new last or first name helps jog someone’s memory and gets them remembering things that they could not recall before.

And sometimes it irritates them and they “clam up.” But then again, that’s always a clue too!

Uncle’s Ed’s Obituary Reminded Me That…

Might does not make right. The obituary appears in three newspapers. Just because his mother’s name is the same in all three doesn’t mean it’s “right” because it appears the same in more than one place.

But you still need to look in multiple newspapers for obituaries (and other items) because what one paper published may be different from what another one published.

Don’t Hire a Professional Genealogist If…

  • they promise to solve a problem–no matter what
  • they guarantee an answer within a set number of hours
  • they refuse to give any physical address or references
You can still have problems, but these things are red flags for me. Professional researchers promise to diligently search specific records and interpret their findings. They don’t guarantee to find anything. 

They Might Not Be Buried Where They Died

Do not always assume that someone died near where they are buried. It is very possible that they died while travelling or living a distance away with a relative and were returned “home” for burial.

That death certificate or death record may be several states away. I recently located a man who lived the last few years of his life in California, but had spent the previous thirty years in Nebraska. Nebraska is where he was buried, but California is where he died and where his death certificate was filed.

Finances Dictate Records

The more money a person had, the more records they tend to leave. An ancestor of mine appeared in several lawsuits, land records, and other dealings in Kentucky and Virginia between roughly 1790 and 1825. Then nothing. Nothing at all.

A closer reading of one of the later court cases in which he was involved indicated that he was “nearly insolvent.”

That might explain why there was no probate for him upon his death. Sometimes a close reading of what documents you are able to obtain explains why more aren’t available.