None of the Sources May Actually Be Correct

Researchers who encounter two different years of birth for a relative in records that only provide an age may wonder which is “correct.” The reality is that neither may be right. Both ages could be off and the actual year of birth could be in between the two that are suggested by the available records. Don’t just “average” them and call it a day.

Include each year of birth in your records as an alternate date and cite the source from which it was taken. There may be no other sources for the date of birth and it may be impossible to tell which of the two records is most likely to be accurate. Of course one should look for other records as much as possible, but sometimes the only sources for someone’s date of birth may be a few census records of questionable accuracy.

A Print Index?

Querying databases is great, but there’s one thing about them that sometimes is frustrating–you can’t see all the names in the database.

Years ago I used the Germans to America series of immigration books to search for various immigrant ancestors. Today the same material can be searched online at a variety of sites. One of the things I liked about the books was that I could browse all the names in the index. While I realize that one can perform Soundex and wildcard searches, sometimes it was helpful to just look at all the names that started with a certain letter and see if it fit.

Sometimes you can’t do that with database queries because they are not set up to allow you to see all the last names that start with a certain letter.

You can do that with a book.

When a Relative Dies…Others May Open Up

A relative (we’ll call them “A”) may be reticent about certain aspects of their family history and not at all responsive to gentle or not-so-gentle attempts to ask certain questions. Other relatives may refuse to answer the same questions or indicate that they “know nothing.”

After A dies, others in the family may be willing to offer up details. A short time after a relative of mine passed, others in the family willingly shared stories about the family history I had never heard before–ever. It may be worth your time to revisit family members after another family member has passed. Wait a respectful amount of time to do it, but sometimes the informational floodgates open after one member of the family dies.

AncestryDNA Class in Galesbug, Illinois, 19 October 2019

Carl Sandburg College’s Corporate and Leisure College will be hosting an all-day ” Beginning with Your Ancestry DNA Matches” with Michael John Neill on Saturday 19 October 2019 on the college’s main campus in Galesburg, Illinois (2400 Tom L. Wilson Blvd.). The sessions will run from 9:00 am until 3:30 pm.

This day-long session will discuss preparing for your Ancestry DNA test results, what matches mean and do not mean, why not every “blood relative” is a DNA match, strategies for sorting your matches, determining how matches are related (where possible), analyzing “shared matches,” determining connections of those who do not respond, and why you should try and figure out all your matches even if they aren’t on the family you really took the test to learn more about.

More information can be found on the college’s website in their Fall Corporate & Leisure Schedule.


You can register by phone between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm central time by calling the college at 309-345-3501 and paying with debit/credit card.

The Problem With Googling in the Internet Sandbox

Google and other internet searches can be great ways to find other relatives online, items that have been transcribed, pictures that have been posted publicly, blog posts about your family, message board posts about your relatives, repositories that may contain information, etc.

Of course all of that information should be evaluated for reliability, perceived accuracy, etc. Sometimes internet searches only find information that’s been shared and passed around over and over.

But there’s one thing that it won’t find.

Items that have not been put online, have not been digitally indexed, and are only available in paper format. Like the Revolutionary War pension payment record for a relative that documented her origins in the British Isles–when many postings about her online repeated speculation that she was a Native American.

Internet searches are great but they are only playing in the online sandbox. Sometimes you need to step out of the sandbox.


If you’ve done genealogy for any length of time, you’ve encountered endogamy. It’s the practice of marrying within the same community one generation after another. That community is often a geographic one, but it can be also ethnic, socio-economic, religious, etc. And there can be overlap as geographic communities often share a common ethnicity and religious heritage as well.

My maternal ancestors were Ostfriesen immigrants to a two-county area of the United States. For the first three generations in the United States, they married other members of that community–they had a shared culture and religious heritage. We’re all related to each other in more than one way which is what happens when small villages of populations under 500 people move to new areas of about the same size.

My Kentucky families who migrated to Indiana, and eventually Illinois married into other families from the same general area. The pool of potential marriage partners was somewhat larger, but the concept was the same.

And I’ve got a group of families who started out on the Virginia coast in the late 1600s and generally moved together into Orange County, then Amherst County, and eventually into Bourbon County, Kentucky. The same last names appear as neighbors in most of their documents over a one hundred and fifty year time span.

Why A Woman?

During that time period when women had fewer legal rights, if I encounter a woman being appointed a guardian or providing testimony in a case or trial, I ask myself “Why?”

Not because I don’t think women can do these things. They can. I ask that because it was unusual during the time period and a woman’s appearance in certain records when few women did is usually a clue in itself. And genealogists need to take any clues they can get?

  • Why did a female become guardian for her children in Illinois in 1855? Likely because there were no other relatives nearby who were of the male persuasion and who were willing and able to perform the duties of that position.
  • Why did a female become guardian for her child in Kentucky in 1815? Same reason.
  • Why did a female (other than the widow) provide testimony in a Revolutionary War widow’s pension case? Because the widow was trying to prove her year of marriage and the daughter was the oldest child and testified to that fact in her deposition.
  • Why did a woman become a naturalized citizen in South Dakota before women had the right to vote and when very few women bothered to naturalize on their own? So she could obtain a homestead in her own right (and you had to be a citizen to do that).

When it’s unusual for a person to do what they are doing, it’s important for the genealogist to ask why. The fact that they are doing it is a clue–sometimes a bigger one than we think.

Printed US Census Schedules

The United States government did not provide census takers with printed schedules until the 1830 enumeration. As a result, censuses before that date were taken on forms created by the enumerator. This results in handwritten forms, column headings that are often not written in, and (occasionally) additional information being requested of enumerees.

Records at All Levels

Genealogists tend to focus on records at the local level (typically county or town in the United States) because that’s often where vital records, property, and court records are located. Family history researchers are also are pretty good at using the most well-known federal record: the census. But there may be other records at the federal level (particularly military, military pension, and federal land acquisition records) that could have referenced your ancestor as well.

State-level records may be helpful as well. There may have been state census records, military enlistment records, petitions to the state legislature, prisoner pardons, etc. Some of these are indexed and some are not. The state archives or other appropriate agency is the place to start looking for these types of records as many inventories are available online.

In 1821, a group of family members in Virginia, who referred to themselves in their petition as “being destitute of any education or advisors” petitioned to have the state of Virginia vacate an escheatment of their late father’s farm due to an inheritance issue. This was a family who I never dreamed would appear in a legislative petition. They probably never thought they’d be petitioning the state either. You never know.