Think a 3rd Time

A genealogist cropped all the pictures in a family photograph from the late 1800s and posted them as “individual portraits” in an online tree. The zoomed images are somewhat distorted, making three of the brothers who looked alike look even more alike.

I assumed that one of the brothers had been misidentified when looking at the image quickly. It was only upon looking at the image a second and a third time that I realized the identification was correct (based on the minimal background in the picture).

Take a second or two to pause and reflect before posting a comment. It could be you who are wrong.

And make certain that “enhanced” image really is enhanced.

Clues They Did Little Work

I have two relatively close direct line ancestors for whom distant cousins have assumed “nicknames” that were not true at all. When I see an online tree with that “nickname,” it tells me that the compiler did not really do any work at all because the “nickname” does not appear in any actual record (official or otherwise) for the ancestor in question and the “compiler” simply copied the information from someone else.

Repeating other known errors is usually a sign of little original work as well.

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It’s Ok to Go Low-Tech

Sometimes one needs a chart showing the relationships between several key people—not all the descendants of one person, not all the ancestors of one person, or not all the relatives of one person. Genealogical software usually doesn’t allow for charts to be created showing a select number of individuals. It may be faster (depending upon your purpose) to sketch out a chart on paper to keep the relationships clear while working on those individuals. Later a more polished chart can always be made using the hand drawn one as a starting point.


The genealogy world will not end if you use pencil and paper.

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Sold Land After Leaving Area?

Not every property owner who moves sells all their land before heading to supposedly greener pastures.

Land transactions cannot be recorded until they take place. Consequently locating record copies of deeds executed after a person has left the area requires searching during that time period when they did not live there. Searching during the time they didn’t live there is also how deeds recorded late are found as well as deeds involve inheritance.

Never assume that because a person has left the area that they will not be located in the records of that area.

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What Did the OCR Search Not Find?

Digital images of newspapers make searching for ancestral references easier. The computer reads the text (typically using what is styled as “OCR”) and returns the results. But remember that OCR is not perfect with most difficulty stemming around characters that are difficult to read, parts of the newspaper that are smeared (or town, folded on, cut out, etc.), or other challenges.

When viewing a list of search results, make certain you are finding items you expect to find like death announcements, obituaries, anniversaries, or other items. If those references do not appear in your search results, manually searching for those items may be necessary.

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No Death Dates in the Probate File

Many pre-1900 probate records in the United States do not contain the date of death for the person whose estate is being settled. That’s because usually the precise date of death does not matter. It is the fact that the person is deceased that is important.

If someone is petitioning at the May 1850 term of court that an estate be opened for John Smith, the court wants to make certain John Smith is deceased. Whether he died on 1 April 1850 or 29 April 1850 does not matter. That his estate has not already been probated and that he has an estate to probate do matter. The probate record may not mention the date of his death at all, or if it does it may simply state that he died “on or about” a certain date.

The main times that a death date may matter if children are born “too late” to have been children or the date of death somehow impacts the intestate inheritance involved (and usually it does not).

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Repetitive Reunion Listing or Clue?

Sometimes we can be tempted to ignore family reunion announcements in newspapers because the information they contains is often repetitive or we think we know “everything” about the family.

Reunions announcements that appear annually may be repetitive but they may be clues in those lists of relatives. A 1938 family reunion announcement indicated that a relative and his wife attended a family reunion, styling them as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith and Susan.” The reference (when compared to the rest of the writeup) seems to suggest that Susan is their child. The couple had been married for a slightly over a year at the time. Mr. John Smith is my relative. I know little of Mrs. Smith.

I’ve never heard of Susan. Is she a relative of Mrs. John Smith of whom I am unaware? She is not listed with the family in the 1940 census. Is she a child who died by the 1940 census enumeration and one who was never discussed by the family.

For privacy reasons, birth records during the time period are difficult to obtain. I have some more work to do.

All because of a reference in a reunion announcement that I thought I didn’t need.

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Who Else May Have It?

There may be more than one repository that has the exact same record. Some vital records were recorded at the local and state level. Some records may have been microfilmed or digitized and available in repositories other than the one that holds the original record. Those duplicated items may occasionally omit a record or have a blurry image. That’s a time to go back and view the original if possible, but many times the duplicate images are completely readable and usable. Those duplicates may be cheaper or easier to access than the original.

Your source citation should always indicate if you used an image copy or the original–that way you don’t “go back to find the ‘original’ when that was what you used in the first place.

We have corrected the link for “US Land Records on FamilySearch” webinar. More details on our announcement page.

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