The Aunts and Uncles With No Descendants

Sometimes it can be easy to overlook those relatives who left no descendants of their own. They also have their stories to tell and those stories are just as important as those of relatives who left families of their own.

A 1908 horse accident left Mary Trautvetter with her legs broken in three places, a broken arm, and other injuries.  Her sister, Anna, was injured as well–but not as severely.

It’s possible that the injuries from the accident impacted Mary for the rest of her life.

Mary never married. Her sister Anna (Trautvetter) McMahon died in the 1920s and Mary raised Anna’s daughter who was left orphaned by the death of both her parents. Mary died in 1962 and is buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois.

Have you documented those relatives who left no descendants?

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Do You Read Just the Online Headline?

Many genealogists receive emails, Facebook posts, and other digital communication in such a way that the headline and a sentence or two is what shows on the screen.

Keep in mind there’s often more than just the headline and the introductory sentence or two. The headline is intended to catch your attention and the first few sentences should summarize the content. But there should be details in the rest of the article or post that expand on the headline and make the point or points summarized in the first two sentences.

If the headline and the first few sentences strikes your interest–read the rest of the item before commenting or asking a question. The author may have addressed your concern, answered your question, or provided an additional reference, etc. Some authors don’t, but good ones do.

We try to create headlines here that will generate interest without misleading and we also try to expand on that first sentence. Our tips are short–but that’s our focus.

Always take time to read the whole thing before you ask or comment–if nothing else, you may save yourself time.

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Can You Skip the Names When Manually Searching the Census?

In the days before indexes, manual searches of census records were necessary. Sometimes that’s still true today.

One approach when the names had been totally butchered was to not read the names and look at the place of birth as well–if that was unique enough to make it practical.

That’s how these entries were located. I read the places of birth for residents of the township where the family was supposed to live and stopped at every family of Germans. Every one. And then I looked at the names more closely to see if they fit the family I needed. That was a more efficient filtering approach than reading every name in every household.

Could the census taker have indicated my Germans were born in Kentucky or elsewhere in the United States. Possibly, but the probability is low.

Sometimes you may have to read the census for an entire region, but stop yourself and ask:

do I really need to read every family in trying to find mine?



Chart Out Those Searches

You will not remember what names and variants you query in what database. Keep track of the website or database you are using and the names that you have searched for at that website or in that database.

A table or spreadsheet will allow you to track the searches. The columns can be those search terms you actually used–not necessarily every search box on the site.

Tracking searches is especially important if you cannot find the name easily in a quick search. I will be honest:

I don’t make a chart for every person I search for–but I do make one when I cannot easily find a person. Failing to do so is asking to go in circles.

Without tracking what you have done, you cannot effectively determine what to do next.

Transcribe Onsite?

I wish I had transcribed these stones when I was actually in the cemetery taking the pictures.

I took dozens of pictures in cemetery run in May of 2016. Most of the stones were legible and reading them was not an issue. This is one that was difficult to read. I wish I had made a transcription of the stone while I was at the cemetery. Not for every stone, but for those that were difficult to read. Sometimes pictures of stones are easier to read. Occasionally they are not.

I could have easily handwritten a transcription on a piece of paper and taken a picture of that transcription so I had an image of it along with the picture of the stone.

Next time I’ll transcribe any stone that I think may be difficult to read when I’m reviewing the picture later.

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100 Other Times…

I’ve seen hundreds of these affidavits in US homestead records.

This is one of time when there was a clue. It indicated the homesteader on this 1888 document was a widower. That’s a clue. The homestead records don’t indicate that he married her a few years earlier in Illinois and that she and an infant child died shortly over a year later.

I’m a big fan of looking at and actually reading everything. Clues can be anywhere and sometimes something that someone else will not think is a clue will be a clue to you–it all depends upon what is already known.

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Grandma Might Not Tell You

Relatives will not tell you everything. Face this and accept it. Generally there are two main reasons that people don’t tell you something:

  • they really didn’t know about it
  • they hope you don’t find out about it

There are a variety of reasons people tell you things that are incorrect, but generally those fall into two broad categories:

  • they were told something incorrect
  • they hope a wrong story will lead you astray so that you don’t find discover something

Try and avoid ruining a relationship with a living family member just “to get an answer.”

My one grandmother told me she never knew her uncle committed suicide. She also told me a man who I thought was her mother’s first cousin was not related to her mother. It turns out he was. What she actually knew is hard to say at this point. My other grandmother knew about her step-grandmother but never mentioned her to me and also knew more about her elusive grandmother than she told me. In both cases something “slipped” out later that indicated she knew more than she told me. It was not worth an argument.

Write down what a relative tells you, rendering it as accurately as you can. Indicate clearly who the relative was and when you were told. Then go from there.

Start From Scratch

He’s sort of scratching.

While it can be difficult to start a research problem completely from scratch, give it a try. Sometimes we get “something in our head” for which we have no evidence, transcribe a document erroneously, interpret something incorrectly, or a make a leap of faith not supported by facts or physics.

When my math students are “stuck” and can’t figure out where they went wrong, one approach is to have them rework the problem from scratch and compare both sets of work to see the difference. Sometimes genealogists need to do that too.

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Sketch Relationships as You Go

The funeral home in my hometown recently had a death notice for someone whose last name suggested they might be a relative. They weren’t but two of their father’s siblings had married first cousins of my great-grandmother. I would have saved an inordinate amount of time if I had sketched out a chart to use while trying to determine the relationships.

Without a chart, I kept getting confused and went in circles–especially as several names were repeated through different generations of the family. Having the approximate years of birth along with an outline of the relationships would have helped immensely.

Failing to do so wasted more time than it saved.

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