Evidence of What?

Melinda Newman’s 1860-era estate inventory in Linn County, Iowa, indicated that she owned a galvanic battery at the time of her death. These batteries were used as a “cure” for various medical ailments. It wasn’t an old battery that she used to run her buckboard wagon when the horse wasn’t feeling up to it.

And, just based on her owning the battery, it’s difficult to say exactly what ailment she suffered from–particularly because various advertisements indicated that these batteries could be used to cure a variety of ailments.

I can’t use her ownership of the battery to state she had any particular illness.

It’s always worth taking care to not reach conclusions that are not supported by the evidence. What I know is that she owned a galvanic battery at the time of her death. I can learn about what these batteries are used for and include that information in my compilation of information on Melinda and in writing up what I have on her.

I just can’t say exactly what illness she used the battery for.



This is not a tip about Oklahoma or phrases that rhyme.

Do you track favorite sayings of your relatives–particularly those who were a part of your immediate family? Some of them might not be quite as short as “okie-dokie” which my Mother often used. There might have been ones like:

  • Wait til you start paying the bills.
  • Life ain’t a bed of roses.
  • I’m still the boss around here…I’m not dead yet.
  • and so on.

These phrases can provide some insight into the person for those who never knew them. And for those of us who did know them, occasionally seeing the phrases or being reminded of them can bring back fond memories. It’s not always about preserving memories for those who will come after us. Sometimes it’s good to preserve memories for ourselves.



DNA Augments Other Sources–Does Not Replace Them

One wants to encourage relatives who have taken a new interest in their family history. One way that many people come to genealogical research now is through DNA testing. The companies that market autosomal tests lead many to conclude that the test is all you need and that the rest is automatic.

Because after all those trees tied to DNA tests are correct. Autosomal DNA tests confirm relationships, but the more distant those relationships are beyond parent/child and sibling relationships, the more potential that the relationship isn’t exactly what the site predicts. Most sites indicate that the predictions are predictions, but that doesn’t stop people from believing that they are 100% correct. The “match” confirms that two test submitters are related, but other, traditional sources, will have to be used to hopefully determine the exact relationship.

And of course those other sources will tell you all sorts of other interesting things about your relatives and their lives.

DNA only helps you figure out who reproduced with whom. There’s more to your ancestor than who they reproduced with.


While It is Fresh In Your Mind

Write it down while it’s fresh in your head. Doesn’t matter what it is, you will forget. And preserve that writing:

  • Take a picture of it and file it.
  • Email it to yourself.
  • Put it in your genealogy software.
  • Type up a word processing document.
  • Don’t just leave it in your head…for some of us that’s asking for it to get lost–permanently.

Questions Not to Ask

Family historians sometimes ask relatives questions at holiday get togethers. Here are some you might want to think twice before asking.

  • Which cousin you cannot stand and why?
  • What was the most disasterous family get together?
  • Which in-law do you never want to see again?
  • What’s the real reason Uncle Bob and Aunt Norma are never in the same room?
  • Why did Aunt Gert spend a year in Topeka?
  • What food do you absolutely hate at Thanksgiving?
  • What saying of your parents can you absolutely cannot stand?
  • What is the one thing your spouse does that drives you nuts.
  • There has to be one more thing your spouse does that drives you nuts. Name it too.
  • How come we always have to eat dinner at Aunt Wandas?
  • Why does Uncle Leon’s nose not look like anyone elses?

A genealogy colleague sent me back these (she wishes to remain anonymous):

  • Why does Uncle Fred smell like bourbon, even before the party starts?
  • How long do you think it will be before Uncle Fred says something inappropriate? (since this will likely occur within the first hour, please state your answer in minutes)
  • How long will it take after dinner before Grandpa unbuttons his pants?
  • How long before Grandma smacks him and tells him to button his pants?

Feel free to post additional suggestions. If they are clean, we’ll add them. If they are not, well…


Never Assume They Aren’t in the Paper

It can be tempting to assume that “my people won’t be in the newspaper” as they never did anything worthy of note and they “weren’t in the right class of people” to be in the paper. That can be a mistake. This rural Virginia family lost their farm to the state because their father’s will was never recorded and he was never married to their mother. They eventually had to petition the state to get the title cleared up.

It’s always worth a look. Assuming they are not in the paper can be a mistake.


Pre-Plan That Trip

Ideally before you go on a genealogy research trip, you’ve made a list of the records you want to search, where they are located, etc. The reality is that many people don’t do that.

One thing you don’t want to neglect to do: check the hours of the facilities you will visit, determine their access policies, see what cameras and scanners are allowed, etc.

It can be a waste of time if the facility is not open when you “guessed” it would be, if records are off-site for one reason or another, or if you can only take a pencil and paper into the records area. These are things you need to know before you ever think about heading to perform on-site research a distance from your home.


Lessons from a German Map

I’ve been looking at a few sample images from the new book,
Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James Beidler and I was reminded of a few things about maps–other than their general importance in genealogical research which goes without saying:

  • Space is limited on many printed maps and abbreviations not be standard–Helmershausen got abbreviated as Helmersh’n in this map.
  • Not every town is listed–a few very small hamlets near Helmershausen aren’t listed
  • Can you easily find locations “you already are aware of” on a map? It’s good to have a general idea of locations in your head to help avoid making mistakes.
  • Don’t guess where someplace is located–look it up if you can’t remember.
  • People always live near borders–at least mine do. Consider that some records may be in different jurisdictions or localities
  • The spelling you have for a location may be incorrect–sometimes extremely so.

Provenance of That Item?

Record the provenance of any family items in your possession? Do you know who the original owner was? Do you know anything about how or when the item was made? How did it come into your possession? Who else owned it?

Scratching the information into the back of the piece isn’t necessary–although if it’s already been done for you, it’s too late. And…it does add to the character of the piece and your connection to it.