Clarity in Non-Biological Relationships

Not all families are composed of individuals who are biologically related to each other. In many cases, those relationships are extremely important to the individuals involved.

DNA does not track those relationships where the connection is not biological. For that reason, when it is known that two members in a family are not biologically related, it’s important for the genealogist to clarify the relationship in their database as much as possible (adopted, foster, step, etc.) to help with the DNA analysis. It’s also important to document what is known about that non-biological relationship because it mattered (or matters) to the individuals involved and can impact their lives and records in which they appear together.

An ancestor of mine in Massachusetts was raised by a neighbor (after the parents died) and that neighbor left the ancestor a significant portion of his property when he died. There does not appear to be any biological relationship between the two, but I do wish I knew a little more about their relationship.

DNA analysis can be difficult enough. Try and reduce that confusion by clearly tracking in your database which relationships are biological and which ones are not.

Wait and Let Things “Soak”

Time is what we occasionally need.

The ability to get “immediate” answers to many questions online sometimes makes us think that we should understand things immediately as well. The best realizations or awakenings about a document or a record do not always pop into our motind the moment we first read the item.

It takes some a while for connections to be made, particularly if the problem has not been an easy one to solve and the language and terminology is not familiar to us.

So give yourself time to understand. Do not expect an immediate answer. Knee jerk reactions sometimes end up kicking us in the rear end.

I know that’s not really possible to do, but the statement is not meant to be taken literally.

Surnames as Names

If your ancestor has a surname as a first name or middle name, remember that it may be a mother’s maiden name, grandmother’s maiden name, or another last name from the family’s history.

It’s also possible the name was for a family friend or notable figure. Keep in mind that not all notable figures during the time the relative was named are still notable figures today.

Stop, Summarize, Chart, Organize, and then Continue

Making discoveries is great, but there comes a time when one has to stop gathering and start organizing, summarizing, and putting information in form that can help you make more progress and get less confused.

Information from a new find needs to be compared with what is already known to determine if the right person has been located and if the information is consistent. It can be easy to latch onto the wrong person if one is not careful.

And a chart to keep track of the names and relationships is usually helpful as well. Names can easily run together.

Aunt Anna Had a Reason

My grandmother had a few genealogy-related items that her sister had copied for her in the early 1970s. Most were obituaries or biographies of known family members. There was one item that I could not fit into the rough family tree I had created in the early 1980s: a biography of a drugstore owner in Quincy, Illinois whose last name was Miller. My grandmother’s great-grandmother was a Miller which explained the possible connection.

The Miller name is extremely common, none of the names in the biography resonated with me, and none of my family during that era had any sort of occupation outside farming. He could not be a relative because nothing fit. Early in my research, I decided that the biography was something my aunt had simply collected because of the last name. I kept it, but forgot about it. It’s been sitting in a folder for decades.

Until a few days ago when I happened upon a reunion notice in a newspaper that mentioned my Miller ancestor being a cousin of the well-known pharmacy owner in Quincy, Illinois.

The same one mentioned in the biography. My aunt had been correct about their being a connection after all.

Reunions May Include Extended Kin

Reunion notices can be a great way to track down missing relatives when other records make them difficult to locate. Bear in mind that the description of the reunion may be more restrictive than attendance actually is. This 1940 reunion writeup is for the “Dirks” family appears to be for the descendants of Bernard and Heipke (Müeller) Dirks. And most of the individuals listed in attendance were descended from the couple. But there were a few attendees who were descended from Heipke’s sister and one attendee who was the widow of Heipke’s cousin.

The attendees may be from a broader set of relatives than you think.

Which makes these notices sometimes even more helpful.

Add Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–to your bookshelf!

Mother Wouldn’t Change

Not everyone in a family may have used the same spelling of a last name. In this immigrant family, the mother used the spelling of Müller and the son used Miller. The difference in this case is small, but for names that were more difficult to spell or pronounce, the change could have been more significant, making it difficult for the researcher to immediately see the possible connection between the two names.

Non-immigrant families occasionally change their names as well–often due to family squabbles, the desire to mask family origins, etc.

Doubting that Created Thomas

Her first name was Tomma and she was married to Gerhard Mueller until he died in the 1870s in Quincy, Illinois. She was a milliner after his death and is listed in numerous business dealings. Sometimes she was incorrectly listed as “Mrs. Thomas Mueller.” There was no Thomas Mueller–at least not in this situation. Any attempt to find the Mr. Thomas Mueller will only serve to confuse my research even more.

Is it possible that the person you think existed as a separate individual was actually a just a mistake?

The Enumerator’s Line

Genealogists often use the placement of two people next to each other in a census as evidence they are neighbors. That’s good advice. But just remember that a census taker (or anyone performing a similar listing of people by going house-to-house) eventually has to turn around, will have to “come back” to get the neighbor who lives adjacent to Grandma’s back forty.

Genealogists with urban ancestors, whose addresses are often included in a census, can see that neighbors around the corner or whose property backs up against the back yard may be enumerated several pages after the person of interest. Those of us with rural ancestors often do not have specific addresses to trace.

Near neighbors can be several pages apart on a census. I was reminded of this when viewing aerial photographs of farms where I grew up. My parents farm was a half a mile from my Grandmother’s. The pictures of their farms were several pages from each other–simply because of how the pilot chose to fly.

Add Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–to your bookshelf!

At This Time and Place

Things change over time. Different places have different practices and different cultures. While most of us know this, it can be easy to forget when we are waist deep in a genealogical research problem.

Just because the first always got a larger share of his father’s estate in a specific place in 1690 does not mean that same practice was taking place in 1790. Just because your immigrant ancestors in the 1870 named children for their sponsors does not mean that their parents did the same thing in the 1840s in Ireland.

Laws change. Culture changes. Religious practices change as well. Find out what was going on at the time and place your ancestor was living. Don’t assume the only differences between you and your ancestor in 1850 was the lack of indoor plumbing and modern medicine. There were other differences as well.

Add Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–to your bookshelf!