Survey Plats

In addition to having record copies of local land records, the recorder’s office may have copies of old plats and surveys of farms and towns within the county. If your relative needed their property line surveyed, there may be a record copy of it. If the family had to have a piece of property split among the heirs and a survey was done to do that, there may be a copy of that as well.

If your ancestor lived in a town or village, you may be able to see exactly where his or her lot was located.

Waiting to Proof

Proofreading your transcriptions of records and your research conclusions is always advised. Don’t proofread right after you finished something. Let it sit for a day or so if possible and go back to it. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll catch when the material is cold.

And that will help you with some of those research challenges that we sometimes create ourselves.

From the Angle of the Clerk

If you are stuck trying to find a document or a record or are having difficulty in interpreting something a clerk has written in a document or in a record, remember the perspective of the clerk. The clerk may not have understood what your ancestor said, may have been poorly educated himself and cared little about the accuracy of the records he left behind.

Or the clerk may have been very concerned about the accuracy and reliability of his records and your ancestor may have been vague in his answers, less than honest, or generally grumpy and unwilling to provide information.

Identify the Identification

In the early 1980s when I was in my mid-teens, I wrote identification on the back of many of the photographs my Grandmother Neill had–including this one of my Grandpa Neill.

Grandma always referred to my Grandpa as “Dad,” rarely by his name of Cecil. So when she told me that the picture was “Dad and Pigs” that is what I wrote on the back of the photograph. The identification in this case really needs some explanation. The handwriting is clearly not that of my Grandma or her two sons–the only people who would have called him “Dad.” In hindsight I should have written “Cecil Neill” on the reverse of the photograph, but for some reason I did not.

Just a reminder that things may not always be what they seem. And explain what you can while you can.

Whose Writing?

Always identify the handwriting on old photographs, especially if multiple individuals have written on the back of the photograph. Tracking this information helps to evaluate the probable knowledge of the informant and preserves it for others who may later see your image of the photograph. It may also help someone else who has pictures from the same family that may have writing on the back.

I realize not every one has photos that are identified. Not all of mine are, but when I do have ones with writing on the back, analyzing that information as best I can is important.

A Researcher Database?

Do you keep any address book of genealogists you know who are descendants of your ancestors? For one reason or another, you may not communicate with them regularly, but it can be helpful to have such a list handy.

This was helpful to me personally when I found a DNA match who was probably connected to me through a known 5th great-grandfather. Right off my head, I knew of a fellow researcher who was also descended from that 5th great-grandfather, but was not a DNA match (it’s too distant for us all to match). Because I kept a spreadsheet of contacts, including emails, most common shared ancestral couple, and their actual name, I was easily able to message this person. My spreadsheet contains:

  • email
  • first name of contact
  • last name of contact
  • last name of most common shared (MCS) male ancestor
  • first name of MSC male ancestor
  • last name of MSC female ancestor
  • first name of MSC female ancestor

Finding Facts for Philip

Headlines after Philip Troutfetter was arrested in 1902

Like any genealogical source, newspapers can contain information that is correct, incorrect, and in varying shades of veracity in between. These 1902 references to Philip Troutfetter after his arrest in Boston make the point.

Troutfetter knew the then infamous Rathbone, but the reference to them as “friends” seems to suggest Troutfetter was involved in Rathbone’s stamp fraud activities in Cuba around the turn of the 20th century–he was not–and that Troutfetter knew Rathbone better than the investigation eventually revealed. Troutfetter was a traveler, but the newspaper headline shown here in the only known “reference” to him being in Mexico.

Troutfetter was an editor of a Kansas newspaper and was wanted on embezzlement charges in Colorado. He was from Colby, Kansas, as the one headline states. Other details in the writeups are confirmed from other records, but a few are not. Some tend to be repeated from one newspaper to another.

That’s an additional reminder that just because something is printed over and over does not mean that it is correct. Confirm what you read in old newspapers and use the information they contain as a springboard to searching in other records.