Detail Limits

Life has changed in the last one hundred years.

I can’t remember if I have ever had to provide just my year of birth on any application–credit, job, insurance, etc. If I only gave my year of birth, the recipient of the application would have handed it right back to me and asked me to complete it.

My great-grandfather, born 99 years before me might not have had any record that provided his precise date of birth. There were no civil birth certificates recorded in 1869 when he was born. Of course there may have been other records.

That’s not quite the point of this post.

There are times where no matter how diligently you research, all you will get is the year of an event. And there are times where no matter how many records you find all you will have is an approximate time frame for an event.

Those same comments apply to locations where events took place. It’s not always possible to know precisely where something happened. Not all records are that specific. A marriage record may only tell you the county where a marriage took place in 1867. You may find out the name of the minister or Justice of the Peace which may suggest a location.

But the precise spot? That may never be known.

Every Level

One way to overlook genealogical records is to get stuck at a certain level and never move beyond it.

Records may have been kept at the federal, state, county, township, town, village, or other political level. Names of the smaller jurisdictions may vary from one region of the United States to another as may some of the record-keeping responsibilities. There can be some variation in records at levels from the county on down.

That’s why it is important when searching online catalogs to make certain that you have browsed at all political and geographic levels in which the area of interest is located. Some of the most unique records available are smaller sets of records that may only have been kept in one location. You do not know if they exist if you always focus on the same level no matter where your research takes you.

In a video game you cannot move on if you can’t get past a certain level. In research, you should move between recordkeeping levels all the time.

It increases your chances of success at the genealogy game.

Seasons’ Greetings from Tip of the Day

Whether your celebration is big or small and no matter which holiday you celebrate at this time of year, greetings from Genealogy Tip of the Day.

This early Christmas picture of me–looks like it is about 1970 based on my age–has everything identified except the teddy bear I am holding. Don’t neglect any pictures you’ve put off preserving.

If you want to add to your genealogy bookshelf this year, check out my list or get your own copy of Genealogy Tip of the Day.

Consider a DNA test if paper alone hasn’t answered all your questions.

Avoid the “Teacher’s Lounge”

Mom and my Aunt Ruth always said it was best to avoid the teacher’s lounge at work.

Whether you agree with that little tidbit of advice, when it popped into my head this morning I was reminded of the importance of writing down those bits of wisdom you remember from relatives.

Even if you can’t get together physically with your relatives over the holiday season, maybe you can ask them what tidbits of wisdom they remember from other relatives. Some may be common clichés, others may indicative of the time in which your relative lived, a few may be bits of wisdom for the ages, but they are all a bit of your family history.

And they may help you to remember just a little bit those family members who have passed–like I do with Mom and Aunt Ruth.

Get Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–today!

What’s In that Church History?

If your relative was a member of a specific church, have you looked into histories of that church?

Your relative may be mentioned (if you are lucky). To be honest, few of mine are. It’s always worth a look just to be certain that nothing is overlooked. If the church was originally founded by a group of migrants, a discussion of their general origins in the church history may give you some direction in determining where your own ancestor was from.

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Any One Thing Or More

The 1956 newspaper reference indicated that the Cecil Neill family of Topeka, Kansas, visited his mother in West Point, Illinois. The only problem was that it was not Cecil Neill. It was Herschel. Cecil Neill never left Hancock County, Illinois, and did not have children named Carol and Charles.

Come to think of it, Herschel’s son was actually named Robert Charles and this is the only reference I can remember seeing where he was not called Robert or Rob.

It is easy to see how names can be confused. The writer of the West Point gossip was from West Point and would have been familiar with all of Fannie Neill’s children and could have easily have gotten them mixed up. Charles was also the first name of Fannie Neill’s last husband. form

And for any bit of gossip published in a newspaper after the invention of the telephone, there’s always the chance that communicating via that medium introduced errors as well.

Especially since it was humans who were doing the talking and the writing.

How Smart Is That Search?

Some database search interfaces will return results for Bill, Will, Billy, and William when “William” is the actual search term–as long as the user indicates they do not want an “exact” search. In a similar fashion, Maggie and Margaret will be returned when “Margaret” is entered, a search for Elizabeth will bring up the variants on that name, and so on.

Some sites preform searches in this manner by default and if the user wants to only find William–then the website needs to be told to perform an exact search only.

Some sites do not offer this flexibility at all.

One of my favorite newspaper sites does not automatically find Sam when Samuel is entered as the search term and there’s no magic “inexact” button to hit to make it happen. A wildcard search for Sam*, if allowed, will bring up Samuel and Sam–but not all sites give this functionality. I need to be aware of how the site works and create my searches accordingly.

The reminder here is that not all sites allow common nicknames and diminutives to be automatically searched. Sometimes we have to be paying attention and thinking for ourselves.

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Reunion Notice Clues

Family reunion announcements can provide more than lists of names and can help track family members who may not be mentioned in other records.

Names may be grouped by family unit or by town where relatives are living. City of residence (if given) can be helpful in tracing individuals who moved frequently.

“Non-relatives” may be friends or significant others of family members. A reunion notice may be one place to get a potential clue as to a husband or wife’s name.

Relationships are not usually stated and attendees may be related by biology, marriage, or close friendship.

Sometimes it is interesting to notice who never attends as well.


This now obsolete “residency status” was used in England, Ireland, Great Britain, United Kingdom, etc. until 1914 when legislation making naturalization easier caused it to fall from use. By default, it was also used in the American Colonies until the American Revolution. Being granted the rights of a denizen allowed an immigrant to have certain limited rights of citizenship without giving that immigrant full citizenship rights. For those in the Americas the right that mattered most was the ability to own land and vote. Denizens could not inherit land or hold political office.

Becoming a denizen was easier than becoming a naturalized citizen.

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The Source for the County History Biography

Information from those “county mug books” published in the United States in the late 19th century typically came from the biographee or their family. Sources were not checked and information was not validated. This does not mean that it is incorrect, but it does mean that the researcher should try and validate the information with other sources.

The biography is a derivative source for the information it contains because it is a compilation from a variety of sources–most likely the family Bible, other records the family may have had in their possession, and memories. Where the family got the information cannot be determined from the biography itself.

The best way to use the biography is as a springboard to additional research. One approach is to create a chronology of every event listed or suggested in the biography and a map of every location mentioned. Records can be searched based on the chronology and the map provides geographic perspective.

Get Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book– today!