How Precise Is It?

Just because the spot for the months on his age is blank does not mean that Henry Dorges was 18 years and 0 months old when this declaration was signed. He could have not provided his age with more precision than 18. He might have simply guessed at his age. It’s hard to say, but saying that this declaration was made on his birthday is a bit of a stretch. What is safe to say is that Henry indicated he was 18 when he signed the declaration.

Whether that age was correct, accidentally wrong, or an outright lie is another matter.

The year of the declaration is not included in the portion of it used to illustrate this post. There’s the second tip–screenshots and clipped versions of record images sometimes are not enough.

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Three is the “Magic” Number?

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.

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Look After You Think You Should

Stopping because you have located one record is never a good idea. By keeping on going, I discovered that an ancestor was divorced from the same man not once, but twice. By keeping on going, I also discovered that another relative’s first marriage “didn’t happen” and they were actually married two years later. Combine these unusual circumstances with the occasional record that gets entered or indexed late and you have even more reason to look for entries or documents “after you think you should.”

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Expect the Unexpected

Years ago, I was working on a family of Swiss immigrants to Davenport, Iowa. Most of the family were farmers and the vast majority stayed in the area. Except for one daughter who in the 1890s moved to New York City to become an actress. When she could not be located in Iowa records with her siblings, I assumed she’d either died young and, for one reason or another, left no local records.

Well she had left no local records because she had moved–and quite a distance. I wasn’t expecting to find her in New York.

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Was There a Short First Marriage?

If you think you are at a brick wall on a certain ancestor or relative, ask yourself: is it possible this person had a short-term marriage that I don’t know about? That marriage could have ended with the death of a spouse shortly after the marriage or a divorce not long after the wedding ceremony. If the short marriage did not result in offspring and it’s ending was highly dramatic, it’s very possible that no one in the family later mentioned it. And it can make records confusing.

Relatives don’t always tell you everything–sometimes because they don’t want you to know it and sometimes because they don’t know it.

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How Are the Names Organized?

When using a record series, do you think about how the originals were recorded and organized? It’s usually worth a thought:

  • Vital records are usually recorded by file date, not necessarily the date of the event.
  • Land records are organized by date the document was brought for recording, not the date the document was executed.
  • Baptism records are organized by date of baptism, not birth date.
  • Census records are organized geographically–with the amount of precision varying over time and from one place to another. Names may be organized in order of visit or roughly alphabetized.
  • Loose probate papers are organized by probate case and those case files are generally organized by a case number–which may have been assigned based upon when the probate process was begun.
  • And there are always exceptions and locations that seemingly invent their own system. Be flexible.
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What Have You Forgotten?

You make a discovery. A relative sends you a cache of record copies. You finally get a copy of that elusive relative’s pension file.

And then it happens: life.

When you return to your genealogy research, do you go back to those things you were working on when life interrupted? Or do you start on new projects? What un-utilized discoveries are sitting in your files?

I received copies of the entire military pension file for an uncle who served in the Civil War from Missouri. It contained several good nuggets of information that I started to organize. Then life happened several times and apparently when I returned to my research, I had forgotten all about the pension file. I picked up my research with another family and only re-discovered the files while looking for something else.

Do you keep a list of your current projects so that you know what you were working on when life happened?

Because it will.

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What Have You Not Used?

We all have gaps in our knowledge of genealogical records. Those gaps are exposed when the records we typically use to “answer our questions” either are not available or don’t provide enough information upon which to make a reasonable conclusion.

The United States Revolutionary War Pension Payment Ledgers, 1818-1872 (available on FamilySearch and on microfilm from the US National Archives) were one set of records that I initially did not use when researching individuals who received these pensions. That was a mistake. The ledger can provide additional details on the pensioner that may not be available elsewhere–particularly their date of death.

What sources are out there that you might not have used? When was the last time you asked this yourself this question and really tried to find the answer?

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