Draft Cards of Single Men

Looking at everything you can possibly find is the best way to get as much information as possible. But there are times when that does not happen. Draft registration cards of single men are one thing to pay close attention to. Who did they list as the person who would always know their address? It’s often a parent or sibling. This can be a good way to get additional married names of widowed mothers or sisters and residences of family members who might have been highly mobile.

Read About the Index

Indexes to print materials and printed books that are themselves indexes are not all created the same. Always read the preface to see exactly what material was used to create the index. For a book that has it’s own index, read the introduction to the index (if there is one) too see if there are any comments that are relevant.

And in books that are themselves indexes, determine how the index is sorted. It might not be strictly alphabetical–I used an index where the items were sorted by year and then by name. I’ve used indexes where the women were indexed with their first and maiden names in reverse order to facilitate finding them when only their first name was known. And I’ve seen other variations. Indexes to marriage records may have a separate series of entries for grooms and brides, or the book may be alphabetical by male with a female index in the back. Names of bondsmen (if appropriate) may be in the book, but not indexed.

This is not always explained in the index.

Don’t assume that the index you have is always a strict alphabetical index–it may not be.

Dump Them In A Big Chronology

I’m analyzing a series of documents from Bedford County, Virginia, on what are likely one woman, the two men with whom she reproduced, her grandchildren, and the spouses of the grandchildren. There are at least two people who were married twice, a few more I think might have been married twice, and too many people with the same first and last name.

I don’t have the exact family structure figured out and I’m not certain who is who and how they fit. Yet. I’m taking a back seat to putting all the relationships in my database and tying specific documents to people. After all, I’m not certain which John Carter a record refers to.

One approach that I’m trying is making a chronology of every date mentioned in every document I have for this group of people. I’m also “backtracking” to a born by date based upon those people who appear in documents when they would have had to have been of age (buying property, getting married without permission, etc. )

Tying everyone together before I get them figured out may just make the knot worse than it already is.

They Just Moved a Little Later

Years ago, when I was still new to research, I was working on a family where the husband purchased federal land in 1849–about 200 miles from where he and his wife (and her extended family) were living. They had been married about three years when the property purchase was made. The couple were easily located in the 1850 census and in later records in that county until his death.

A search of the 1850 census for the county did not turn up anyone listed with the wife’s last name. Based upon that, I assumed that her family did not move to the county with them.

The wife died before any “good” vital records were kept in the location where she died and extensive searches for her family members in the county where she and her husband married (three years before their move) located nothing.

Turned out that her family had followed them to the county where the land was purchased–approximately 1852. After the census date. That assumption that “her family didn’t move there” was an incorrect one made early in my research, simply because they were not in the 1850 census. They simply had not had time to move.

Lesson learned.

His Hers and Ours

There’s a reasonable chance that your ancestor’s family of origin was a “his, hers, and ours” family. Death of a spouse during their childbearing years was not all that unusual before 1900 and for economic or social reasons, a widow/er with children frequently chose to marry again.

That may have resulted in a family where some children were the husband’s by a first marriage, some children were the wife’s by a previous marriage, and some resulted from their marriage to each other. Sometimes records will make this clear.

Other times it will not.

Keep yourself open to this possibility.

And it’s also possible that there was a child that resulted from a relationship outside of a marriage.

Do You Really Have all the Variants?

Some names just seem to have more spelling variants that do others. Remember that vowels sometimes can be interchanged with each other, some letters can be misinterpreted, some clerks did not care, and some ancestors didn’t either.

Keep a list of variant spellings and transcriptions for your names of interest. And remember that spelling variants are different from transcription variations.

First Name “Translations”

Keep in mind that if your ancestor “translated” his or her name they might have used conventional translations others from their ethnic area used or they might have made up their own. Some non-English names had common translations (Jans and Johann for John, for example) and others did not (the Greek Panagiotis, for example). Some individuals just might take an English name that had the first letter as their original name. I have relatives whose names were actually Trientje. Some used Tena because it had part of the same sound. Others used Katherine as the names have the same original root. It just depends. 

People had options of what name they could use if they chose to “translate.”

Names of All the Grandchildren

Repeated names can be clues to names of earlier family members. Repeated names are not guaranteed to mean that any given ancestor had a particular name, but names used over and over may mean something. 

I was looking over a list of heirs of Barbara Haase who died in 1903 and realized that out of her twentysome grandchildren, two were named Kate. I had never noticed that before. Does it mean anything? At this point, I’m not certain. However, if I eventually get “candidates” parents of  Barbara, I’ll work first on any couple where the wife is named Katherine or the name Katherine appears frequently.

Don’t just look in your direct line of descent for name clues.