It Doesn’t Matter Until It Does

A recent tip mentioned a picture where a chicken in the background went unnoticed for some time.

The chicken was not the point. The reminder was to go back and make certain that all details or pieces of information in a record (or picture) have been noticed and analyzed. I cannot decide whether or not to research the chicken if I never see it in the first place.

Of course, the chicken probably does not matter. But sometimes those seemingly innocent clues are relevant and significant discoveries are often made when one is looking at innocuous details.

We just have to remember not to get too “eggcited” about seeing the chicken.

Aunts with Military Widow’s Pensions?

Widow’s military pension applications have the potential to shed light on many aspects of that widow’s life. It’s not just direct-line ancestors for whom these pensions may be helpful. Applications for aunts and cousins may give us a broader picture of the family and, upon occasion, provide new information on direct line ancestors as well.

If she qualified for a military pension, the widow would have to have proved her husband’s service, her marriage to the husband, and her marital status after that husband’s death. Documentation of her marriage and marital status may have hinged on testimony from relatives–potentially her siblings and maybe even your direct ancestor. Those affidavits may include references to where the widow was married, where she had lived, and other pieces of information about her life. In some cases, even more detail could be included in the file–even if it was not technically needed for the application.

Try a Genealogy Search on GenealogyBank.

Don’t Be Chicken: Review Old Research

Sometimes we might want to avoid looking back at our earlier research–afraid to see the mistakes we might have made or the way we “cited” our sources. Don’t avoid it. There may be assumptions buried in that research from years ago that are causing you problems today. Don’t be a chicken–review that old stuff you did years ago.

You may be glad you did.

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Converse and Listen–Do Not Interrogate

It’s fine to have a list of family history questions to ask a relative. But do not remain rigid and insist on asking all the questions on your list. Try and actually listen to what your relative is saying so you can ask follow up questions based on what they say and not insist on asking the next random question on your list. Have a conversation with them about the past.

Instead of asking when they got married, ask them who they remember being at their wedding and where it took place. Instead of asking them when their child was born, ask them who was there for the birth, who visited later, etc. Instead of asking them when they started working, ask them how they got their first job.

Dates are important, but background details tend to get a person’s mind to work out details that the person with whom they are having a conversation never thought to ask.

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Out-of-the-County Newspapers?

When considering newspapers to search for ancestral references, it is important to remember how far away the newspaper was instead of where the county line was at.

Newspapers in the nearest “big town” may have published items from the outlying area, including obituaries, death notices, and the occasional “locals” or gossip column. In researching my own ancestors in southern Hancock County, Illinois, I’ve had success locating them in newspapers published in the Iowa town across the Mississippi River, the county seat paper in the county to the south, and a few weekly papers published in the county to the south as well.

There’s no doubt that the closer the newspaper’s location to your ancestor’s location, the more items it could contain about them. But ignoring nearby papers “across some political border” could leave references to your ancestor unfound.

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Look at that Name Again?

Once a last name gets transcribed and entered in your genealogical database, it can become official even when it might not be.

For some people, we may only have one written reference to their name–perhaps on a death certificate for a child. We transcribe that name and enter it in our database only to discover that we can find no reference to that person. Time marches on and we go to other ancestors.

Years later when we revisit that ancestor, we still cannot find them. Could it be because that transcription we did of the name all those years ago was correct? Sometimes it pays to go back and review the actual record that provided us with a name or place of birth. The transcription we did originally may be incorrect and could be the reason we cannot find the person.

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Can You Really Start Over?

A reminder from 2018:

Sometimes we may be tempted to “start over” on a genealogical problem. It’s hard to do that. You can’t unlearn what you think you have discovered and you can’t just forget the information that’s confused you–or at least the conclusions you came to from that information.

What you can do is go back and double-check each fact or piece of data to see if you made a mistake. You can determine the source of each piece of data (creating a citation while you do it). You can reanalyze something to see you made an incorrect conclusion or inference. You can make a list of your assumptions. You can learn more about the time period, location, culture, applicable laws, etc.

Don’t stress out about going back to “square one.” Start using something besides squares and work from where you are.

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Sharing Recipes as a Way to Get Stories

If that relative won’t talk about the past, ask them to share any old recipes they have. They may find talking about food less “intense” than answering family history questions and be more opening to sharing. A discussion of recipes or food in your family’s past may cause them to reveal some details they were initially reluctant to. Sometimes talking about food can get people’s memories stirring–increasing the chance they remember things they might not otherwise have.

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Naming Tendencies, Not Naming Laws

The oldest male child was always named for the father’s father.

This seems to have been the “naming law” in many cultures according to various “naming patterns” one sees posted in various online genealogy groups and forums.

Don’t misunderstand. Children were often named for relatives and some ethnic groups practiced such traditions. But do not assume that the second son is always named for the mother’s father or any of the other “rules” that are sometimes quoted. There are always exceptions even in families with a strong sense of tradition and their heritage.

Children are named for baptismal sponsors in some cases and not for a specific relative based on birth order. A certain relative may be disliked so vehemently that parents refuse to use the name for a child. A relative may be so enamored with a politician or well-known figure that they use their name instead of the relative they are “supposed” to name their child for based on birth order.

Names can be clues and if a set of parents had three children known to be named for the children’s grandparents then the next child of the correct gender may have been named for the remaining grandparent. The key word is “maybe.”

There are some laws in genealogy and there are tendencies. Naming patterns falls into the latter category.

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No Divorce Record?

If there is no divorce record of your ancestor and you think they got divorced, consider that they may have never legally gotten divorced.

If that’s the case, make certain you have exhausted all records on the “divorcing” ancestor. If they owned real estate, check all the land records as the spouse may have had to waive various rights to the property before it could be sold if they were still married. A purchaser is going to want to have clear title. If they were divorced or single at the time of the sale, the deed may reference their marital status at the time of the transaction.

Check for probate records on both members of the “divorcing” couple. If the couple were still legally married, a surviving spouse would have an interest in the estate.

If applicable, check for a military pension and widow’s pension. If the female partner of a separated couple survived her husband, she may have still applied for a pension.

Make certain you have looked in all appropriate courts for the record of the divorce. In the United States divorces are typically granted by a local court where the husband or wife lives or has established sufficient length of residence. That may not be where you think. Try searching online newspapers in case a reference to the court case made the local newspapers.

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