Can You Really Start Over?

Sometimes we may be tempted to “start over” on a genealogical problem. It’s hard to do that. You can’t unlearn what you think you have discovered and you can’t just forget the information that’s confused you–or at least the conclusions you came to from that information.

What you can do is go back and double-check each fact or piece of data to see if you made a mistake. You can determine the source of each piece of data (creating a citation while you do it). You can reanalyze something to see you made an incorrect conclusion or inference. You can make a list of your assumptions. You can learn more about the time period, location, culture, applicable laws, etc.

Don’t stress out about going back to “square one.” Start using something besides squares and work from where you are.

Is There a Message in the Order?

Never change the order of any names in a document. Children could (but not necessarily) be listed in order of age in a will. If an older child is listed last in a census enumeration it may mean that they weren’t really living there or had moved back home (or it could just be an “error” on the part of the census taker). Heirs may be listed in order of age on a quit claim deed (or they may not).

The order may be a clue, but try and use other documentation to back up any conclusions you make about the order.

And remember that order, sometimes like life, may be completely random and meaningless.

Could You be Wrong?

I realize it would never happen to any “Tip of the Day” readers, but could you possibly have made a mistake at some point in your research? Sometimes the misake isn’t consequential, but in some cases it could be.

While citing my sources for an issue of Casefile Clues, I reviewed an illustration for an article I wrote years ago and which I have used in countless lectures. When footnoting one of the items used to compile the chart, I realized that I had a marriage year listed two years off. It was clearly just a typo and did not impact my conclusion, but it was still wrong.

Could you have made a mistake or typed something incorrectly? Is it possible that the mistake has an impact on a conclusion?

Just a thought. It could happen to anyone.

Contact a Local

No matter how long you’ve researched and how adept you are at locating, interpreting, and understanding records, it is always a good idea to communicate with someone familiar with the resources in a location where you’ve never done research before. That “new” county may organize materials in a slightly different fashion, have a finding aid you’ve never encountered, or have other “issues” with their records that may hinder your research if you are unaware of them.

That local may know things about the location that are not “common” knowledge, be aware of others who could be able to assist you, and may give you suggestions on navigating the materials in their local area. It’s a mistake to assume that just because you are familiar with records in some locations, that you’ll know everything about them everywhere.

A good way to stumble on your genealogical research path is to not realize you may need a new map or area guide when your research moves to a new location.


Any Name Can Be Spelled “Whrong”

No matter how common or easy to spell a name may appear to be, it can always be spelled in an atypical way. A correspondent told me there was a homestead entry for Eliza Ramsey in Saunders County, Nebraska. It took me a while to find it–Ramsey easily gets rendered incorrectly as Rumsey. After spending some time thinking maybe the document was filed under her husband’s name of Harrison or under “Eli,” the entry was finally located under the spelling of “Rhamsey.” It doesn’t really sound any different–“h” is one of those silent letters. Of course this is the only document I’ve found on Eliza or her husband that uses this spelling, but now I’ll keep in it mind.

There’s more on this homestead entry in my Rootdig blog.

Those Quick Conclusions

Avoid jumping to a conclusion based on one document or a statement made by another researcher. This is particularly helpful when things don’t make sense or seem a little off. A correspondent told me that a relative was a bigamist, marrying his second wife after his first wife apparently was too old to have children. The document he sent me was admittedly somewhat confusing, but confusion doesn’t mean that the ancestor in question was married more than once.

Further research indicated that the ancestor was not a bigamist at all, but instead had named his oldest son after himself. It was the oldest son who married the woman that my correspondent thought was the ancestor’s “secret family.”

Before Your Hire a Professional

Sometimes records are only accessible onsite and travel is not an option. Sometimes records are in a foreign language and someone who can read and translate them is necessary. Sometimes things just don’t make sense and you need someone with expertise and experience to review your materials and make suggestions or do some research.

Before you even consider hiring a professional:

  • organize what you have–go through it, put it together, find the “sources,” transcribe it, summarize it
  • see if there are other ways to access the records you need
  • see if there’s a Facebook group, email list, or other group where you can post your questions–or get suggestions for someone who may be able to help
  • see if you can translate the records yourself--but make certain you are understanding words correctly in their context
  • coordinate with relatives to share costs
  • consider what it would cost to travel there and “get it yourself.” It may be cheaper–or not.


Moved in With the Children?

If late in their lives, you can’t trace one of your older relatives, consider the possibility that Grandma moved in with one of her children or grandchildren. This could easily have been a distance from where she lived most of her life and where her husband is buried. It is also possible that a “disappearing” grandparent moved near one of their own siblings instead of one of their own chidlren.

It’s also possible that your “disappearing” older relatives moved away and did not live near any of their children as a pair of mine did in the 1870s.

And if the census was taken before 1850 in the United States, that older relative may be hiding in one of those tic marks in the census enumeration of their son or son-in-law.