What’s a Relative?

In a Facebook post I referred to my daughter’s father-in-law as my relative.

Someone seeing the post and not knowing who Jim was might actually have through he was a biological relative of mine and wondered what the connection was.

Remember when interviewing family members that they may refer to individuals as “relatives” when they are not related in any biological way. They could have been related by marriage or could have been considered family for one reason or another.

Instead of trying force the “relative” to have a biological connection to your family, research them and see what the records indicate.

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When Was that Sub-Division Divided?

My immigrant ancestors Peter and Barbara Bieger came to Illinois in 1850 after a short pit stop in Cincinnati, Ohio. The officially purchased a small lot in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, in November of 1850. I had never given any thought to the subdivision where their home/tavern was located other than it’s name and it’s location. Searching for information on their neighbors in that same subdivision was on my to-do list in an attempt to learn more about the Bieger’s Germanic origins.

While searching for something else, I discovered that the subdivision was platted out originally in October of 1849. It was a “new” subdivision when my relatives purchased the property there. Did they possibly have some connection to the individual who organized the subdivision?

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Familiarize Yourself With the Index

Not all indexes are created equally. This is especially true with those that were created by local records clerks. Don’t just turn to what you think is the correct section of that printed or handwritten index without first familiarizing yourself with the organization and layout.

Some indexes are by first letter of last name only. Some separate out different sections of last names by their first two letters. Some partially index names by the last name and the first name.

Practice with the index if it is one you have not used before. Find a record at random in the series and see if you can find an entry for it in the index. Ask someone who has more experience using it or has more research experience in general.

Practice makes perfect and not learning how something was created reduces the chance you are using it effectively.

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My 1880 Residence Chart

This chart is a slightly different take on a pedigree chart back to my third and fourth great grandparents. There are no names on it. Instead the location where that person was living in 1880 has replaced their name. Most of these are based on the 1880 US census enumeration except for those ancestors who were living outside the United States. Those who were living in the same household were circled. To help retain some sense of geography, color was used.

Census years are easier to use for charts of this type, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to those years. Just try and make certain you really know where the person was living at that point in time.


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You Might Not Get a Date

This is not a tip about dating advice.

It’s a reminder that in some locations and time periods, there simply are no records of specific dates of vital events. This can often be the case with births and deaths even when marriage records are available. While a marriage is considered a “vital event” by many, it technically is a contract between the two individuals getting married. For that reason, there may be records of marriages when birth and death records are not extant.

The American South before the Civil War is one location and time period where it can be difficult to obtain precise dates of birth and death. The best that can be done is to have an estimate of when the person was born and when the person died. The key is to also try and establish the familial relationships that person had with their parents, their spouse(s), and their children. You may just never know what date the person was born on in 1670. Accept this and focus on what you can discover while keeping abreast of new records that are discovered or become available.

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Did They Have a Baby Name?

Not every baby was named immediately upon its arrival. For a variety of reasons, a couple may have waited to name their child. Sometimes it may have been to choose a name. Sometimes it may have been because they were not immediately able to have the child christened.

It was not usually because they had twins and only had one name which is one way to interpret this family’s enumeration from the 1870 census.

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Don’t Really Lose That Wrong Information

While great-grandma could only have been born in one place, don’t ignore those places that are clearly incorrect. Sometimes wrong locations as places of events are out and out lies, but more often, they are clues as to where the people had lived at some point in their lives–just not the moment the person in question was born.

My great-grandmother has three different states of birth listed for her depending upon what record is being looked at. Every location that’s “wrong” is somewhere the family lived in the early 1870s around the time that she was born.

They moved a lot.

And people sometimes get “where you were born” mixed up with “where you were from” or where someone was living.

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Choosing A Guardian in 1766

Charles Brown “chose” his guardian in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in 1766. His choice still needed to be approved the court and, if necessary, post a bond in the amount determined by the court. Charles may or may not have been fourteen years of age on 30 September 1766 when David Jewell was approved by the court as his guardian. The document only says “upwards of 14 years.” Jewel’s connection to the family is not known, but he was not Charles’ step-father. It is possible he was willing to teach Charles a trade, but any apprentice relationship is not stated in the guardianship papers.

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No Matter How Many Proofers…

No matter how many times something is reviewed and proofread, errors can creep in. That’s a reminder to proofread your own material and to keep in mind that any published item or transcription can contain the occasional error. Some writers, editors, record clerks and tombstone cutters are more careful than others.

The flip side of this is that there are not necessarily errors in all transcriptions or errors either. Don’t assume that an original record is wrong because it disagrees with you on a key statement. It could be that you are correct.

Just because published and other materials can contain errors does not mean that they always do.

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Do You Rely on Memory Instead of Checking?

In the greater scheme of things, it is probably a minor thing. I made a reference on Twitter to a relative on whom I made a discovery. I referred to her by her relationship to me second cousin twice removed. After I posted the tweet, I realized that I had not really double-checked the relationship before I posted it–I thought I knew who her grandfather was “off the top of my head” and went from there. My memory was my source.

Fortunately I didn’t refer to the cousin by name, so the error is not as bad as it could be and I realize that one tweet isn’t the end of the world.

But it was a good reminder to me to check before making statements online.

That’s good advice as well.

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