Out of Order?

If your ancestor had a first, middle, and last name, keep in mind that it is possible that those names could be in the wrong order in a record. If the names are in the wrong order on the record, then the ancestor will appear in the index under the wrong “last name.”

If the index does not include the last name of interest, consider searching for that relative with their first or middle name as their last name. And always keep the possibility in mind that you really don’t “know” your ancestor’s name as well as you think you do.

Do You Understand What You Are Using?

When using a record set with which you are not familiar, think about how someone gets into the record, how the  information in the record is obtained, how the record is organized, and how the original  record got from its original state to you.

All if these issues get to how we use and analyze the information contained in the record.

More than One Relationship?

Is it possible that two individuals who were first cousins were actually cousins on another side of the family as well? It happens.

Keep in mind that individuals may be related in more than one way. Or that individuals who are related by blood may have additional relationships too, either by marriage, employment, etc.

Sometimes the connections are not entirely crystal clear and may be multi-layered.

Homemade Abbreviations?

Abbreviations should be used in your records and transcriptions very very rarely. Will anyone else know what they mean? Will you remember them in five or ten years?

The Tree You Created for that DNA Match

You’ve got a DNA match that will not communicate with you and has a tree that names only their parents. You’ve been able to, using obituaries and other online sources get the tree back a few generations where you start using census and other online images of records. But in the more recent generations, you don’t have a large number of birth records, marriage records, etc.

You’ve got a handful of obituaries and newspaper items to “prove” the lineage in the 20th century part of the tree you have compiled for this match.

What’s the chance those items don’t distinguish between step-children and children? Is it possible, if you’ve only got a few references on each relationship that what you think are the biological relatives are actually step-relatives? While those people may have been parents/grandparents in a variety of extremely important ways and may have raised the person and been their parent, the DNA matches reflect who reproduced with whom.

Is that why the analysis of some matches is confusing?

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The Provenance

This is a previous tip we’re using again as a reminder.

The “provenance” of a family heirloom, picture, etc. is “how you know it is what it is and how you came to have it.”

Think about the provenance of every item you have. A relative pointed out to me that I have quite a few pictures from my Ufkes family. They came from my maternal grandparents. 

Then it dawned on me. The family home burned in 1924 and most of the pictures are from before that year. Did the family get the pictures out? Did other relatives share pictures with them or give them pictures? I’ll never know, but just thinking about who else might have had the pictures in 1924 got me to thinking about various family members who might have had pictures.

And thinking about provenance is never a bad thing.

Contemporary Time and Travel

Sometimes we overlook an easy solution because we get stuck in one way to solve a problem. For me it was staring at a word that I could not read.

Years ago I was trying to read the village of residence for one of the sponsors on a baptism in a Catholic church in the 1780s. The name of the Belgian village could only be partially read. Then it dawned on me. The village where the sponsor lived had to be near the village where the child was baptized. The child was only a few days old and the reality was that the sponsor lived close to the village where the ceremony took place.

Sure enough, armed with names of nearby villages I was able to interpret the location’s name.

Remember the speed of communication and transportation during the time period of your research. We can easily get trapped in the “what does this say?” abyss and end up overlooking easy solutions to our problems.

Can You Undo It?

If you have an original copy of a document or photograph, do not do anything do that paper or photograph that cannot be undone. Particularly do not do anything that could potentially cause damage. If you are going to “clean” an item, make certain that the way in which you are cleaning it does no harm. Find this out from an expert who actually knows what they are talking about and is someone with a reputation you can verify. This does not include random people online who you had never heard of before you read their post.

Putting an item in a frame or an envelope (usually) is one thing. Taping it in a book is another. Taking a digital picture of an item is usually harmless–especially if no flash is used. Running it through an auto-feed scanner may not be harmless.

If you want to somehow modify the item in some sort of artsy way, use a reproduction for that modification.

Human Maps

Genealogists use maps of political and geographical features for many reasons, including to see where records might have been maintained and where an ancestor might have easily traveled to find a spouse or a job.

But maps of human relationships, biological, legal, and social may help as well. A family tree extending for ten generations may be nice to display, but is is helpful to your research when you are stuck on a specific person? A smaller chart, showing the relatives they may have interacted with may be more helpful. Don’t neglect to include “step” relatives and “in-laws” as those are people your ancestor may have interacted with as well. Another chart showing people the “problem” ancestor interacted with may be helpful also–just be certain the nature of their interaction (witness, neighbor, etc.) so that you don’t get more confused.

Try a GenealogyBank Genealogy Search to see what you find.

Statements Sans Sources?

If you’re looking for “something” genealogical to do, are there statements in your files for which you have no sources? Probably all of us have information we obtained early in our research that we never “sourced.” So if you “need” something to do, chances are there’s a statement you could source.

And sometimes when I clean up my sources, I discover mistakes I made years ago or encounter new information.

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