After the Death…

Always think about the family that was left behind when someone died? Were there small children who would have needed looked after? Was there a spouse who would have needed some assistance? Was there an adult child who would have been unable to look after themselves?

Who would have been nearby to help these individuals?

Were there court records, guardianships, or other records resulting from issues when the person died?

That Other Perspective

It can be easy to get one perspective or viewpoint in our head. It can sometimes be difficult to get away from that viewpoint or even to realize that our perspective is somewhat skewed or even causing our research problem.

I knew my grandparents had two stillborn children and that it impacted them significantly. I learned early on in my family history research that I was not to ask my grandparents about “the babies.” It wasn’t until decades later, after my children were grown that I realized something that should have been obvious: those babies impacted my Mom as well.

My brother and I are two years apart in age. I don’t remember Mom being pregnant with him. He’s my only sibling, so I have no memory of my Mom every being pregnant. I don’t remember his birth. My memory is that he was always around. I have no memory of waiting for his arrival.

It wasn’t that way for Mom. She was old enough to know that a baby sibling was on the way (she was 5 and 12 at the time). The deaths of her baby brother and sister at birth impacted her as well. Maybe her telling me not to mention it or ask about it wasn’t just in reference to her parents, but to her as well.

But for whatever reason, that didn’t dawn on me until much later in life.

Think about how that family event may have impacted everyone. And also remember that fate and fortune likely have provided you with life experiences that, even unintentionally, can impact how we view and interpret things.

Contacted all the Cousins?

Locating living family members can be crucial to getting copies of pictures, finding other family papers, getting pieces of verbal information, etc.
There’s one first cousin left for all my grandparents (born between 1903 and 1924). Both of my parents have first cousins living Interestingly these first cousins range in age from 93 to 40.


Older ones don’t necessarily remember more or know more than younger ones. Older ones don’t necessarily have more family “artifacts” than younger ones do. It often boils down to those who got told the stories and those who helped cleaned out the house when the surviving parent died.

But don’t neglect the cousins. Even ones younger than you may know or have more than you do.

They Didn’t Move–Yeah, Right

After farming with his father in Illinois did not work out in the 1920s, an uncle moved to a nearby town in Iowa to work a factory job. That was the town where he and his wife lived for the rest of their life. At least that was the story I was told.

The reality was not that straightforward.

The two children of the uncle and his wife were born in that factory town in the 1920s and federal and state census records suggest that they lived there between at least 1920 and 1925. But, they returned to their home county in Illinois to rent a farm–apparently in two separate locations based on the 1930 and 1940 census enumerations. By World War II, the family had returned to the Iowa factory and do not appear to have ever moved back to

They were living in another rural Missouri county when the wife died in 1965. By the time my uncle died in the early 1970s, he was back in that Iowa factory town.

And according to the obituary of my uncle’s son, they also lived in another Iowa county for a time. That location has not been validated with other records.

But even when they say someone “never moved around,” don’t assume the statement was correct.

Do You Know the Limitations?

Every database, index, record, or compilation has limitations. Do you know at least one limitation for each finding aid or actual record you use?

  • Transcriptions may include errors.
  • Search engines may not work the way you think they do–or the way another site does.
  • Informants on death certificates don’t have to prove every statement they make.
  • Census takers may guess at information or ask uninformed neighbors.
  • Probate records generally will not list relatives who died without descendants.
  • Land records do not include those who rent their land.
  • Indexes are not always full-name indexes.
  • Affidavits in pension claims can contain lies or exaggerations.
  • And so it goes.

For every source you use, every database you query, every book you read–ask yourself what limitations there may be.

Knowing the limitations doesn’t mean that we don’t use the item.

Knowing the limitations makes us better informed users.

No Precise Borders

Some locations have precise geographic borders. Those borders may change over time, but often are reasonably well-established. Some places, particularly those whose names are informal and known to locals, may have more fluid boundaries or just be a general area. Ethnic regions of some urban areas can change over time and have boundaries that are in a constant state of flux or have no precise definition. In some rural areas, certain areas may have a name that known to locals but does not appear on any map, post office list, or other geographic finding aid.

Frequently these items are mentioned in newspapers, family letters and correspondence, and other unofficial records. Some thoughts on locating such places can be found in our recent post on Prairie Precinct in Winnebago County, Illinois.

Give a Reason

The note I made for a DNA match said only “likely Trautvetter.”

There was no reason given for my conclusion. All I wrote were those two words: “likely Trautvetter.” It’s even possible that I got mixed up and meant to type another name besides “Trautvetter.” Without any commentary or record of what was running through my head, there’s no way I can evaluate the “likely Trautvetter” statement without trying to reproduce the work that got me there.

That’s time wasted.

The evaluation is not time wasted. It is always beneficial to review one’s work after it has had time to cool.

Reproducing that work from scratch? That’s time wasted. My statement could have been as simple as “Reviewing the shared DNA matches I had with this unknown match on 8 March 2021 indicated 11 out of 15 of them are known descendants of Erasmus and Anna Katherine (Gross) Trautvetter.”

The actual analysis does not need to be in my notes, but if I’ve done any extensive analysis I should reference that document in my notes (or it’s location in my files).

A Reunion’s Focus

A reunion may be titled “the John and Susan Smith reunion,” but it may included a broader set of relatives and family friends.

The Dirks family of northeastern Adams County had a reunion for several years in the 1930s. I thought, based on the name of reunion that it was for the descendants of Bernard and Heipke (Mueller) Dirks of Coatsburg, Illinois, who were married in 1856. In looking through the names, I realized attendees were not just Bernard and Heipke’s descendants–there were a number of attendees who were children and grandchildren of Anke (Mueller) Adams, sister of Heipke. So it might have more accurately been termed the Mueller reunion.

That turned out to be more true than I realized. In trying to figure out who everyone was in a 1930-era list of attendees, there were a few individuals that could not be fit in the family of either Heipke or Anke. I originally thought they might have been long-term neighbors or friends of the family.

They were not.

A handful of attendees were descendants of a Mueller uncle of Heipke and Anke who arrived in the United States a few years before the sisters arrived.

So it really was a Mueller reunion after all. And tracking all those attendees gave me more information than I expected to obtain.


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There’s More than One

Do not limit yourself to one way to locate information and records. Doing so can guarantee that your “brick wall” stands strong and proud for even longer.

For information about records and accessing those records:

  • The “big genealogy fee-based” genealogy sites–Ancestry, Findmypast, Newspapers.com, Genealogybank, etc.
  • The “big free” genealogy sites–FamilySearch, FindAGrave, etc.
  • State archives websites–not all info is online
  • State record agencies websites–not all info is online
  • Regional and university library websites–not all info is online
  • Local library websites–not all info is online
  • Local record holder websites–not all info is online
  • Local genealogy/historical societies websites–not all information is online

There are probably a few other ways as well to locate records and information about those records. But looking in these places will get the researcher on their way to locating as much as possible.