A name that sounds unusual to you may not be uncommon at all in the area where your relative is from. Early in my research, I believed that someone with the same last name as my grandmother (Habben) “had” to be related. Turns out they didn’t.
In the area where her family was from the last name was more common than I thought and just because two people shared that last name did not mean they had to be related.
There might have been more to your ancestor’s migration on the frontier than heading to new opportunities, cheaper land, and fewer nearby neighbors. Is it possible that your ancestor was migrating along with other members of the same denomination?
When something in a record doesn’t make sense consider that the item that’s confusing you is:
- weird–some things are truly unusual for the time period and location. This is determined by learning about the time period and location in which your relative lived and in which the record was created. Things that are truly weird are clues.
- not weird–just because you think something is weird does not mean that it is. Again some contextual knowledge will assist in discovering what’s not really weird.
- wired–you simply have had too much caffeine, too little sleep, and are jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Researching and making conclusions when you are “wired” does not lead to sound research. Get some rest.
Keep in mind that any age given in a census could easily be off by a year or more. Use these ages as guides that could be slightly off
[reposted from November 2014 as it didn’t migrate over]
Before you post a genealogy query online, think about how easy you are making it for someone else to help you. Ideal queries provide a summary of what you know. Potential helpers may be less likely to help if they have to post a series of follow up questions to really know what you know and what you don’t.
For a list of query writing suggestions, check out this post on Rootdig.
It’s easy to say “yes…I always am aware of my assumptions.” It’s more difficult sometimes to really be aware of what they are. All researchers bring their own background to their genealogical research table. That background effects our assumptions that we make.
One way to catch assumptions is to ask yourself, “how is this situation different from others I’ve researched?” Am I “comparing apples to oranges,” “are there things about this ‘new’ area of which I am really unaware?” One challenge I have in this regard is that my upbringing is rural and my ancestors were rural. I grew up in a county where many people were related to each other, many of our parents attended school together, many of our grandparents attended school together. The county had no stoplight until after I grew up, one had to leave the county to see a movie in a theater, etc.
Because of that, researching urban individuals sometimes requires me to rethink some assumptions when I’m working on my children’s ancestors from Chicago or my own relatives who lived in St. Louis.
When your research migrates into a new time period, culture, or population density, the differences in how one researches are more than just where the courthouse is.
Read carefully. These two names look similar, but they are different: Thomas Frame and Thomas Francis. One is the naturalizing individual and the other is his witness.
Don’t always assume the clerk made a mistake.
After a hiatus, we are ready to resume distribution of Casefile Clues. You can get free copies following the directions below
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We are looking forward to returning to our research, analysis and discussion of records. And, yes, we are even looking forward to returning to citations. We’ve got stories on some old favorites, follow ups to a few missing links, and new families and locations to discuss. We are excited about what’s coming up in the newsletter.
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When writing an article about Arvin Butler and Jacob Baker, I kept mixing up the last names of Butler and Baker when writing about the two men. The same thing could have happened to an informant on a death certificate or other record. If the last names were similar or if the person just “got them in their head wrong,” a mix up could have been the result.
When reading a document, try and determine if the handwriting was all done by one person or if more than one person might have written on the document. In one record being used recently, it became clear that the specific date on a document was left blank and completed by someone else.