Read the Whole Thing

This may seem obvious and it is but based on my emails and personal experience, it bears repeating.

Reading an entire document, record, article, etc. before jumping to conclusions, researching, or commenting is advised. This cuts down on research mistakes, creating brick walls where none existed, and making comments that make no sense.

Also giving yourself time to let information digest before moving forward on it is advised as well. Slow down. Your deceased relatives are not going anywhere, but haste in your research may make you look for them in the wrong place.

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Weighing Evidence

There’s a picture of my Mom in a photo album that belonged to her grandmother. There is no writing on the picture. Several other pictures on the page have the year 1949 written on them in handwriting that appears to be that of my mother’s aunt.

My mother appears at the very least to be 10 years old in the picture and probably older.

Which evidence is stronger for when the picture was approximately taken?

Often in genealogical research we find information that conflicts. The key is to find all relevant information and sources that may provide information about something which we would like to know. Then we can evaluate all that evidence and decide which evidence should be given more credence.

In this case, the appearance of my mother would be given more credence than the years of the other photos on the same page. Not all evidence is created equally–some will be given more weight than others. But always state your conclusion and why you reached that conclusion. I personally like to include why I dismissed other evidence as being less reliable.

This picture of my mother appears to have been taken in the early 1950s based upon her age. While other photos on the same page in the album are marked “1949” my mother’s picture is not marked with that year suggesting that it wasn’t taken in 1949. The photo could easily have been placed with the 1949 photographs because there was room in the album.

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Documenting the Date

Dating photographs can be difficult. If you have an idea of when a photograph was taken, indicate how you arrived at that date.

Was it because the photograph was in an album and other items on the same page had dates written on them or were able to be dated easily based on events in the photographs?

Was it because someone wrote the date on the photograph? Do you know whose handwriting that was?

If you are using a printed date on the photograph from the facility that printed the photograph, remember that date is the date of printing–not when it was taken.

If the date can be estimated by physical items in the photograph (ie.a car), indicate how you determined the date of that physical item.

If another relative tells you the date of the photograph, indicate who that was.

If someone gave you a time frame for when the photograph was taken, indicate who gave you this time frame and what they based it on.

Just don’t write a date for the photo without documenting where that date came from. That’s how speculation becomes fact.

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Not a Prize for the Most Names

Remember that family history is not a contest to see who gets the most names. Try and learn personal details about your individual ancestors and relatives.

Newspapers, court records, military records, pension records, etc. are all great places to find out some of these details. Other sources may provide some historical context and information about your ancestor’s occupation and lifestyle.

Learning those other details helps you to get a more complete picture of your relative. It also increases the chance that you do locate information on their parents.

Contemplating Provenance

I have a photograph of my great-great-grandparents taken around 1900 on the front porch of their home with all their children. The individuals are all identified in a reprint of the photograph that was done in the family genealogy published in 1986. I’m fortunate to know who they are.

But I’m not certain exactly how I came to have the photograph. I have documented how other items came into my possession, but I’ve realized that I have things whose acquisition I’ve not documented sufficiently. The easiest way to document acquisition is to keep the items organized by how and when they were obtained and notate where you received them from.

That “how you got it” is especially important for photographs that are unidentified.

Why Bother With All Those?

Many times genealogy success is not about using the latest website or the latest iteration of “research the neighborhood” with new verbiage thrown in.

It’s about doing all the tedious grunt work of searching every record you can.

Reading through forty family reunion announcements got to be repetitive and nearly mind-numbing. But there was one reference to a couple that indicated they may have had a child. This child was not listed in any other reunion reference to these people. Further research indicated the couple had a child who did not live long…a child that was rarely mentioned after the fact.

A search of an ancestor’s long sequence of mortgages indicated there was one to his in-laws that eventually revealed some family drama of which I was unaware.

Sometimes the best way to get information is to meticulously review records. If things were easy to discover, they would already be known.

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Naturalized Via the Father

Your foreign-born ancestor who immigrated to America as a child and who was under the age of majority when his father naturalized would have become a citizen based on that father’s naturalization.

Children of the father who were over the age of majority would not have become citizens via their father’s naturalization.

One of my homesteading relatives in Nebraska in the 19th century used his father’s citizenship to prove his citizenship.

Before the early 20th century in the United States, the citizenship status of a woman was tied to that of her husband throwing an additional complication into the mix.

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Do “the” and “a” Matter?

One has to be careful inferring too much from small words.

“The” and “a” are such words.

If the marriage announcement indicated that the bride was attended by “a sister,” does that mean she had more than one sister. If a the reference to the groom indicated that “the brother of the groom was his best man” does that mean that the groom only had one brother?

One would have to assume that whoever wrote the item knew the family well enough to know who had more than one sibling and who did not. One would also have to assume that there were no errors in the account of the wedding published in the newspaper.

Wedding announcements are not the only references where “a” and “the” may suggest how many siblings (or other types of relatives) a person had. Just keep in mind that while “a” usually indicates there are others and that “the” indicates there is just one, that errors can easily be made.

How Did They Meet?

One interesting genealogical activity is to try and determine how your relatives met their spouses.

Marriage requires a geographical proximity and, with the exception of online dating and personals ads, the initial connection does as well. My parents and grandparents met through geographic proximity based upon where they grew up. For their siblings that was true as well with the addition of moves for higher education and military service being added to the mix.

I had one great-aunt whose initial connection to her husband had always puzzled me. A re-reading of her obituary suggested the likely connection. The great-aunt had finished out her high school career while living with her grandmother some thirty miles from where she grew up and where she had attended her first three years of high school. She later attended nursing training in the town that was the county seat in the county in which the grandmother lived. The husband was from in between those two towns.

My statement would be that while I don’t know exactly how they met it seems probable that their initial meeting was when she was living with her grandmother or attending nurse’s training.

When drawing inferences one needs to be careful and indicate that inferences have been made.

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What Does Contemporary State Statute Say?

Researchers claim a relative formally and legally adopted his step-children.

Following the money is the best way to find out. The relative’s estate was settled in Illinois in 1904. He had a relatively significant amount of real and personal property at the time. The step-children were alive in 1904.

The relative does not name the adopted children in his will–even to give them a token amount so they cannot say they were forgotten. They are not listed in the “Order of heirship” where his biological children were listed. A reference to contemporary state statute indicated that legally adopted children could inherit from their adopted parents. That seems to suggest that the step-children were not legally adopted by their step-father.

Reading state statutes can be tedious, but it can often answer genealogical relationship questions.

Most 19th and 20th century state statute publications have been digitized and are available online through GoogleBooks or other sites containing digital images of books. The Advancing Genealogist contains links to images of revised state code organized by state.