I had a relative who wrote a memoir that extended from his childhood through his mid-thirties. It was a mixture of his personal experiences with some remembrances of family members thrown in.
The problem was that, for one reason or another known only to himself, he ended up fictionalizing in several places. It is difficult to know where the truth ends and creative writing begins.
It is like that with some family stories as well. Fiction gets added to make an ancestor sound a little more adventurous than she was. Your aunt thinks her life was dull so she adds a romantic adventure–complete with husband–that never took place. Your uncle’s memory begins to fade as he ages.
Always write down the story as it was told to you–including who told it and the date. Then go from there to determine what aspects of the story may have generated records.
Do you have family history items where your copy is the only copy? Make digital images of the item. Write up the history of the item. Share those with people who are interested–or may be interested. Try and find a way to preserve the item long term, including who will have possession of it after you have left this existence.
If you can’t think of someone who would be interested, it is all the more important that those digital images and written up history of the item be shared with those who have an interest in family history but may not be able to keep the physical item.
Do not assume that men listed as Senior and Junior had to be father and son. Sometimes the notation was used to separate out two men of the same name–whether they were related or not.
The court deposition from Amherst County, Virginia, in the 1790s indicated that John Sledd, Junior, ,was in fact the son of John Sledd, Senior. But there are times when Junior and Senior are simply two guys in the same area with the same name and the neighbors want to distinguish them from each other–and use age as the way to do that.
Compiling the family tree of a DNA match to determine the relationship they have with you is necessary when the match is one in which you, for one reason of another, have an interest. Just make certain you are taking your time and compiling the tree as accurately as you can–especially in terms of the biological relationships.
Relying too much on one type of source (particularly obituaries) can increase the probability that compiled tree you create has non-biological relationships in it. Obituaries and some other newspaper social announcements may indicate the relationship between two people is a parent-child relationship when it fact it is not. The most frequent relationships that falls into this category is a step-parent relationship.
If you’ve got the child’s step-father in your tree as their father, it could explain why the DNA match makes no sense. Make certain you’ve looked at as many newspaper references as you can–particularly ones early in the life of the child. If the family was living during a time when census records are public, view those materials as well. Look at obituaries of all grandparents to see how grandchildren are listed–or if some that should be listed are missing. That could be a clue the child’s relationship to the parent was not biological.
The thing to remember about DNA is that it only tells you who reproduced with whom. It does not tell you who actually raised that person or was influential in their life.
There are any number of movies where a key scene involves someone “getting across the county line” so they will not be arrested. While genealogists are not usually worried about being arrested or directing movies, the fact that things change when you cross the line is one to remember.
Crossing any political line, including whether it be one of county, state, province, territory, or nation, may mean that the laws and recordkeeping system may change. In some cases, the change can be significant. Even when crossing states/provincial lines, the laws regarding what is recorded and how it is recorded may change. Learn about the new area’s records before you assume that Virginia in 1760 is just like Nebraska in 1860. That’s something of an extreme example, but it hopefully makes the point.
In frontier areas, when livestock roamed without fences, farmers often had their own peculiar notch they used to identify their hogs or cattle. Records of these notches may be found at the local courthouse, recorded with other public records. In areas where branding livestock was a common practice, one may find records of brands. At the very least the image makes for a nice illustration.
In Fleming County, Kentucky, in the 1810s, a neighbor stole a hog belonging to one of my ancestors. It was taken to a neighbor’s home where it was butchered and the head was left in the barn. The identification of the hog was done because it had my ancestor’s notch in the ear.
What is the probability that Aunt Margaret or Uncle Herman heard a last name of place of birth for a relative incorrectly? The more I listen to music from the 1980s on media where I can easily get song titles and lyrics, the more I realize there were many words and titles I had heard or interpreted incorrectly.
Any chance Aunt Margaret or Uncle Herman heard it wrong without realizing it? Might be better than you think.
Something to remember with that name or birth place that only appears on one record. It could be a mangling of the real thing.
I’m editing the last batch of Genealogy Tip of the Day for the follow-up book. One thing I’m realizing while reviewing these items is the number of leads I discovered that, for one reason or another, I never pursued any further. When reading the older tips, I realized that they served as a journal of sorts for my research.
I tend to write tips when I’m working on actual research as ideas enter my head–I can see that when I’m reading them in chronological order. For that reason, it seems like keeping a research journal of what I have discovered with brief thoughts on the item might not be a bad idea. I could periodically review it and “mark off” things that have been pursued further or more completely analyzed.
The entries in the journal would not have to be as formal as in a research log. I wouldn’t have to worry about citations or anything of that sort. The description of the materials should be enough for me to determine where I got what I did. The informal writing might be helpful in clearing out my thoughts about what I have found. Keeping the journal in an electronic format would allow me to search it for key terms, surnames, etc.
Some genealogists are great at searching newspapers and digital images of books for names of relatives, but remember that they can help you with other aspects of your family history research as well. For some of these items, searches will need to be restricted to specific newspapers or geographic regions to keep the number of search results manageable.
Here is a short list of ideas to help get your creative energy flowing:
items from an estate inventory that can be read but which you do not understand,
names of businesses in an estate inventory whose business you do not understand,
names of military units,
names of ministers,
names of churches,
street names (perhaps with house number),
name of school (perhaps restricted by graduation year if known),
Readers of the blog are free to ad suggestions of their own.
Sometimes I hate the phrase “maiden name.” I know what it means, but there are times that, for one reason or another, trying to determine a female relative’s maiden name can be problematic.
That “last name at first marriage,” which is how maiden name is defined most of the time can be difficult to determine in some families. There is usually not a problem if the woman’s parents were married before her birth, remained living and married to each other until her birth, and if the woman remained in their household until her marriage. The problem is that sometimes life intervenes.
Fathers or mothers die. Parents get divorced. Some families are unable to raise all their children. The relationship that resulted in the child did not result in marriage or was extremely short-lived. All of these situations can result in the last name of a female ancestor at the time of her first marriage to be different than last names under which she is listed in other records before her marriage.
When there are varying “maiden names” for a female ancestor, keep in mind that a lot may have been going on in her life before marriage. The changes in her last name may have just been the least of it.
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