I have approximately fifteen years of calendars on which my Mother has written down various things that happened on most days. For 2003, I have a blank journal in which she made entries.
I’ve realized I will probably never scan these items. Instead, I’m taking pictures of them, saving the images, and creating a guidebook. That guidebook will give the probable full name of various people to whom she is referring, what I think some of the abbreviations mean, where various pieces of farm ground are that she references, and other things that I think might help someone later understand the references (eg. “PlumTree” in the illustration refers to a local restaurant). I don’t foresee having the time to completely transcribe them and pictures that get organized and saved are better than starting a project that does not get finished.
In some cases, I have pictures taken at the events she mentions and I will use the diary reference to augment the digital images I have made of the photographs.
I may be chastised for not scanning. Preserving with photographs is better than no images at all.
Quick Google searches do not answer every question. Artificial Intelligence does not answer every question either.
In June of 1936 my grandmother’s sister-in-law wrote her a letter and mentioned that grandma’s brother was “plowing corn.” I had a pretty good idea what it meant. Google searches and Artificial Intelligence prompts did not provide answers that came close. Grandma’s sister-in-law likely meant that her husband was tilling in between the recently sprouted rows of corn to turn up and kill weeds.
In my memory of growing up on a grain farm, this process was referred to as cultivating.
But this post isn’t about farm practices in the 1930s or the 1980s. It’s about realizing that Google searches and Artificial Intelligence prompts won’t answer every question. Reaching out to actual living humans who have knowledge of the time period, the location, and the specific occupation or cultural practices involved is necessary.
Many genealogists use Google to help with transcribing old documents. That’s not a bad idea, but remember that Google does not “know” everything and that while the boilerplate text of some legal documents can easily be interpreted with some help from Google, other documents are unique enough that Google won’t find another document transcription that will help.
Google won’t locate every term in an old document to help you understand it either.
Search old newspapers and full texts of old books for terms you cannot understand or find on Google. Start with newspapers local to the area in which the document was created and close to the time period in which it was created–if possible.
Also search old maps and gazetteers to help transcribe those place names. Just make certain the location makes sense for the time and place in which the record was created.
In addition to searching newspapers for names and locations, consider searching for addresses and phone numbers. For my rural ancestors, street addresses are usually not helpful. But during the time period when most people had a phone, searching for their phone number has been helpful in locating “background” details.
I even got lucky and found one newspaper issue where both my paternal grandmother and my father had advertisements. You might even want to keep a list of known phone numbers for your relatives–including where you got the knowledge of the phone number. Local libraries, genealogical societies, and the like may have copies of old phone books to help you locate numbers.
Are you certain you have all the marriages for your ancestor? There may be a short-term marriage for that relative of which you are unaware. Make certain you have completely searched appropriate local vital records, newspapers (for mention of a marriage or a divorce), and court records.
Pay particular attention to any notations regarding previous marriages on any marriage records you have located for the person of interest. For men, these marriages are easier to locate because their last names do not change at marriage–that makes it easier for us to sometimes not even bother to look for these marriages since there are not name issues.
For women perhaps the reason you cannot find that 1920 marriage is because there was a 1915 marriage (and subsequent divorce) and you don’t have the last name she used in the 1920 marriage. Sometimes women would revert to a previous last name if a marriage was of short duration, but not always.
Tombstones that are “relatively modern” may be modified after the original inscription has been made. Death dates of spouses who were the last member of a couple to die are perhaps the most common addition, but other details may be added. My mother’s maiden name was added to her stone five years after she passed when we had our father’s date of death added to the stone.
While it’s not typical, it’s possible that your relative’s maiden name is on their tombstone. It’s also possible if your female ancestor was married more than once and buried with a spouse other than their last one that a subsequent married name is inscribed on their stone with their first husband.
When requesting genealogy advice, make certain you include the approximate time and place of your problem. It is difficult to provide advice or suggestions when there’s not a location and time period on which to build an answer.
New York City in 1780 is different than New York City in 1920. Virginia in 1690 is different from Massachusetts in 1690. Urban research is often different from rural as well.
When citing a census page that has several page numbers written on it, make certain you indicate which page number you are using in your citation. Common ways to indicate include using the type of writing and the location of the page number, such as: