Google Won’t Know Everything

There is no doubt that Google searches can help in transcribing some family history documents. It can be particularly helpful when a legal phrase has a word “right smack dab in the middle” that is difficult to read. The transcriber should still note that the illegible word is difficult to read–just in case the suggested transcription is not applicable in that specific instance.

Google will not give an answer to everything. There are times where the best help is someone who is familiar with the type of record being transcribed, the type of information contained in the record, or the location where the record was created.

That’s the case with the farm ledger from the 1940s that I have for my grandfather. A few of the entries were determined with a little Google searching. A few of the farm terms required a little more work than a simple Google search. The names and names of local businesses really required some local knowledge in order for me to transcribe accurately. That would not require a relative to help me with–anyone with a knowledge of the local history of the area may be able to help. Anyone with a working knowledge of mid-20th century farming might be able to help with that terminology.

Searching local newspapers might be helpful as well for names of businesses. Carthage O. Buyer in the image is a reference to “Carthage Order Buyers” where Grandpa had sold some hogs at auction.

Understand Before You React

My online bank statement changed their interface recently with “new information.” It indicated that “spendable balance” in my checking account was negative.

Make certain you understand before you react!


I wasn’t in arrears and I was not overdrawn. The “spendable balance” was a projected balance including disbursements scheduled for the next seven days–including two payments set to come out a week from when I viewed the statement. The “spendable balance” did not take into account a regular deposit that would arrive in the next few days. Once I understood the “spendable balance,” I understood it and there was no cause for concern.

When you see a statement or a piece of information, think about it before you react to it. Where does that statement come from? Are there words in the statement you do not understand? Do you understand the purpose of the document that contains the statement? Do you know who is giving the statement?

And, particularly in my case, is the information complete?

Who Have you Cold Called Lately?

There is a reason why some of us do not work in sales. We hate calling or contacting someone out of the blue and asking them something.

Genealogists have to do that. It can be the only way you find things out. It can be the only way you get those family pictures or other family items. If you are the only one who knows about your interest in family history, it makes it more difficult to find family history items than it already is.

Let others know of your interest in family history. It’s not necessary to tell them repeatedly, but some reminders help. Reach out to relatives that you do not see regularly–or maybe have never seen at all. Reach out to relatives by marriage who, even if they don’t have family items, might have knowledge. That information may be just as helpful as actual items.

But reach out. You won’t lose any information by asking questions. It’s not like asking the salesman if he figured the tax right only to discover you owe more.

Our Genealogy Tip of the Day book is available by mail-in order, credit card payment from me, or through


People tend to marry and reproduce with others who share their culture and life experiences. While there are exceptions to this practice, it is not hard to see why people gravitate towards others with whom they have things in common. It’s human nature.

Some cultures encourage this in a subtle fashion. Some cultures and groups are more stringent in their requirement that members of the group marry others within the group.

That practice is referred to as endogamy. An endogamous group is one where individuals marry within the group.

My maternal ancestors who came to the United States in the late 19th century from Ostfriesland were somewhat endogamous. All of my maternal ancestors (until my mother married in 1967) married others in the same ethnic community. This was encouraged by culture and church. They were not the only group to do this. Ethnic settlements throughout the United States did this in both rural and urban settings.

It wasn’t just immigrants who had this practice. Certain religions encourage marriage within the faith, some more strongly than others. A cluster of migrants from Virginia to Kentucky who later move into Missouri may tend to have children and grandchildren who marry within the same descendant group.

That’s how some of us end up with double and triple relatives.

Those “Hobbies” that Weren’t

Your relative might have had interests or hobbies that were unrelated to his “real” occupation–the one that is always listed in census records, death certificates, etc. But those non-occupational interests or hobbies might have caused your relative to appear in certain records–most often newspapers.

A relative who was a semi-professional musician may have been mentioned in the newspaper in a write-up related to a concert, an athlete may have been mentioned in the local sports pages due to a notable performance in a game, a local actor may have been mentioned as appearing in a local play, etc.

Document these activities that your relative was involved in. It will help you when searching for newspapers and other items where activities of this type may be mentioned.

The Best Man was Waiting

Terms and phrases can change their meaning over time. Any word needs to be interpreted in the context of the document in which it was written and the cultural, historical, and sociological context.

“Waiting on the groom” is a phrase used to refer to a man’s presence at an 1817 wedding in Maryland. The phrase likely indicated that the man was serving as what today would be referred to as the “best man” at the wedding–or at least the 1817 equivalent. The “waiter on the groom” later was testifying to the date of the marriage and his capacity at the wedding was apparently mentioned to give credence to his knowledge of the date.


What You Know

When was the last time you looked up in a reliable source the definition of a genealogy word whose meaning you think you know reasonably well? Did you learn something? Were you really correct?

If you thought the definition was wrong, did you do more work to determine if the definition really was incorrect? Did it turn out that you were wrong?

Occasionally I look up the definition for words that I think I know. I always look up ones that I don’t–especially if they are words used in any record I’m analyzing for my genealogy. I may not necessarily be able to recall every definition precisely later, but I will have learned something.

And the more I know about terminology, the less likely I am to interpret it incorrectly.

There are definitions, tips, and suggestions to improve your research in our book of genealogy tips!

Don’t Press

Don’t press a family member who cannot remember a specific detail you would just love to know. Getting in someone’s face when their memory is rusty does nothing to cause them to remember the information more accurately. It only serves to frustrate the other person, to increase the chance they remember fewer pieces of information, and to tell you to leave and not come back.

Your goal when asking questions is to elicit as many memories from the person as you can, record those memories, and engage the individual in a way to encourage them to remember more. Many times, talking about something else will cause the person to remember more about that event they “couldn’t quite recall” a few minutes before.

It’s not really important if they can’t remember the precise date someone passed away. Some of us do good to remember the month something happened. Leave it at that.

Was there an Outbreak?

If your relative died of any sort of contagious disease, check local newspapers for any mention of an outbreak. The death certificate should list the cause of death, but it won’t indicate whether it was an isolated incident or if there were others.

The outbreak may be mentioned in the local newspaper–even if your ancestor is not named specifically. Newspapers can be a great way to learn about your relative even if her name is not specifically mentioned.

The Warsaw, Illinois, newspaper referenced a case of Smallpox in Stillwell, Illinois, in 1902.

Genealogy Tip of the Day Book

If Amazon’s too slow, we still have copies of the Genealogy Tip of the Daybook that can be sent directly to you via USPS. It can be a great way to refresh yourself on things you forgot, learn new things, or view research from a different perspective.

It can be read in one setting, browsed at random, or used to generate ideas for your own research. It’s easy to read, informative, and geared towards helping you with your research and not seeing how much labored prose and ten-syllable words can be used in one sentence.

If you’re “stuck at home” (or even if you are not), get your copy today!

There’s more information on the book on our website.