From the Angle of the Clerk

If you are stuck trying to find a document or a record or are having difficulty in interpreting something a clerk has written in a document or in a record, remember the perspective of the clerk. The clerk may not have understood what your ancestor said, may have been poorly educated himself and cared little about the accuracy of the records he left behind.

Or the clerk may have been very concerned about the accuracy and reliability of his records and your ancestor may have been vague in his answers, less than honest, or generally grumpy and unwilling to provide information.

Get Beyond the Index

Whether you have looked in the index or performed full-text searches, consider actually reading the county history for the location where your ancestor lived. If the entire book is too much, consider at least reading those parts discussing the area of the county where your ancestor lived. There might be clues–indirect ones, but clues.

Perhaps They Did Not Really Know

It is possible that a relative knew nothing about their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Depending upon how closely they lived to where those relatives lived and how emotionally connected their parent was to their own family, a person may have little knowledge of their relatives.

And no matter how often you ask, it won’t change that.

It doesn’t mean you don’t look for clues, but remember that sometimes people really do know nothing about their mother or father’s family. This is particularly true if their mother or father had some reason for not wanting them to know.

There may be little clues–so keep looking.

Did They Really Meet On the Boat?

The story makes for a romantic one but, like many family legends, the reality may be somewhat different.

A couple may not really have met for the first time on the boat. They may never have met on the boat at all. The future husband may have immigrated as a single man and then sent word back home that he had settled and was ready to marry.

Story was my great-great-grandparents met “on the boat,” having been from different villages. They were born in different villages, but there’s more to it than that. The future bride’s family had moved to the small village where the groom was living about ten years before the couple married.

They knew of each other before they ever crossed the pond.

I’ve Got Three–It Must Be

Some researchers will “believe” something when they have three sources that provide the same piece of information. One has to be careful using this approach. Sources may all contain information from the same person or “original source,” which does not really mean that three “sources” agree. It could only mean that the same person gave the information three times.

And there is always the chance that the second two “sources” got their information from the first.

Think about who provided the information, why it is in the record, and how reasonably the informant would have known the information. That’s a good way to get started with information analysis.

They May Know

Your relative may know more about deceased family members than they are willing to tell you. And they may never tell you everything you know, no matter how much you wish they would or how many times you ask. For reasons that are entirely too long for a “short tip,” I know my own grandmother knew more about her grandfather than she ever told me, including the fact that he had a second wife. Yet my queries about him always received a “don’t know anything response.”

Sometimes that is all you are going to get and sometimes you have to let it go to preserve relationships with your living relatives.

Was It A Workaround?

In his early 19th century will, a Maryland ancestor appears to disinherit a daughter when he leaves everything to her two children and appoints a guardian for them.

The man writing the will might have not so much been disinheriting the daughter as he was avoiding a son-in-law. In the very early 1800s, when this will was written, a man would be able to exercise control over real property that his wife inherited. By leaving the real estate to his daughter’s children, and appointing a guardian, the testator was providing for the children while circumventing the son-in-law.
And you thought that only people today who had to use creative ways to get around things. 

Can’t Find Your 1850 Ancestor in 1840?

If you cannot find your 1850 ancestor in the 1840 census–and you are certain he’s heading his own household–consider searching for his 1850 neighbors in 1840. Then look at their neighbors in 1840. There is a chance your ancestor is near at least one of his 1850 neighbors in 1840. A chance–not a guarantee.

One Word Makes A Difference

The omission of one word can mildly confuse or significantly alter the meaning of a document, record, or statement.

We discovered this in the original version of today’s actual “tip,” where the word “States” was left out in the phrase “United States census.”

Make certain you are not leaving out words that matter and consider that a confusing document might be confusing because a word was left out of it.