Search By Social Security Number Where Possible

If a genealogical database includes Social Security numbers as one of their keyed data fields, search the database for the Social Security number you have for your deceased relative. Many times you will simply locate the entry that was previously located, but occasionally an additional reference or entry may be revealed.

If the database returns the Social Security number but does not provide a specific search box, try a key word for the number–both with and without the dashes.

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Keep the Time Frame In Mind

The list of alternate names for anyone in the “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” at may not contain every “alternate name” the person ever had–particularly if the person was a female who was married. It appears that Elsie’s Social Security file contains no information from before October of 1962.

In this case the likely reason the additional last name is not included is that this woman, who died as Elsie Cegas, had a first marriage that ended in the early 1930s–before the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. Elsie may have married Mr. Queen before she ever even applied for a Social Security number. It’s a good reminder to know when certain records were kept and when programs that required those records were in operation.

Some databases and records require all that “back history” and others do not.

And sometimes people do not always share everything they know either.


The Ones Who Moved Away

My family tree is more accurately a family web. I have numerous cousins who are related to me in more than one way because we share two or three sets of ancestors. I have just as many more sets of individuals where I am related to person A and to person B, person A is related to person B as well, but the three of us do not share a common ancestor.

All of which makes analyzing DNA matches more of a challenge than usual.

So when deciding with DNA match’s shared matches with me that I should analyze first, I pick the one who moved away.

  • The descendants of my uncle whose only child moved 500 miles away to a completely different rural area.
  • The descendants of an ancestral first cousin who moved 50 miles away to the “big city” and married outside the immediate area.
  • And so on.

The matches who descend through these individuals are much less likely to have the multiple relationships from my family web and more likely to have just one relationship to me and each other. This makes the match analysis easier.



Handwriting as a Memory Prompt

A long-time friend wrote a short inscription in one of his works of fiction that he recently sent to me. I have not seen him in over thirty years.

I always thought his handwriting was somewhat distinct and unique. Seeing it took me back to that time when we were kids and got me to thinking about things I had not thought of in years–memories that seeing pictures of him for some reason did not bring back.

If you have pieces of a deceased relative’s handwriting, consider using it as a memory prompt. Images can be powerful memory joggers. And if you do not know whose handwriting it is, consider asking family members if they know.


How Do I Know That’s It?

I shared a 1938 aerial image of my grandparents’ farm. The closeup only showed their house and barns and some of the nearby acreage. The closeup made it difficult to see that it was actually their farm.

There was no context. And, even showing the neighboring properties would have made it difficult for someone to “know” that the farm was theirs. The shed and the additional barn was missing from my grandparents’ farm. The subdivision across the road was not there.

I could have included a modern plat map showing the property borders and the modern location of the house. That map shows the same shape of property as the photograph does–as the railroad tracks form the western boundary of the property.

I could have included the fact that my grandparents’ farm was a few miles north of the county seat and that I spotted the county courthouse on the map, moved north until I found the city cemetery and followed the state highway as it crossed a creek and worked its way to my grandparents’ house.

But I need to make my case in some way or another. That simple cropped image that I say was my grandparents farm could easily have been just about anything. It is always a good idea to include how you know what something is when it is not crystal clear.


No Death Date On Stone

It is not unusual for a married couple to purchase a tombstone before their death and have all but their date of death inscribed on the stone. It is also not unusual to visit a cemetery and see such a stone with the death date of one individual blank.

If they were born in 1870 they are probably dead.

The question is are the buried in the cemetery or not? It is possible that they were buried there and no one bothered having the death date inscribed on the stone. It is also possible that the person was buried in another location–perhaps with another spouse.

Death certificates, cemetery records, obituaries, or funeral home records may help to answer the question.


Reminder: Preserve and Identify

It’s hard to have a new tip every day, so today is a reminder.

What have you not preserved that you have the only copy of? Do you have items that have not been identified? Do you have relatives you have not called, contacted, or reached out to in order to see if they have pictures or items you do not?

Have you backed up your own genealogy files and databases?


First Steps to Analyzing DNA Results

DNA results can be overwhelming and some are anxious to solve those decades-long brick walls the minute they get the results back.

That’s not how it works, especially if you have never analyzed DNA results before. To help in the results analysis:

  • Have your tree as complete as you can.
  • Trace as many descendants of your ancestors through your 3rd great-grandparents as possible–at least down to people born in the 1920-1930 era. This helps in analyzing short trees.
  • Identify as many matches as you can (back through 3rd/4th cousins at least)–even on the lines you are not interested in. This helps to sort out other matches and helps to build your skills.

What’s That Date? And…Context?

The author, his mother, and his brother north of Carthage, Illinois–probably winter of 1974-1975.

The picture of my Mother, my brother and I on a snowmobile has “Jun 75” stamped on the bottom of it. It was taken on a frozen pond south of the house where we grew up.

It was not taken in June of 1975. That was the month the picture was developed. There was some time where developed photographs had the month and year of development stamped on them.

At the time this was common knowledge. There did not need to be a warning phrase “this is when the photograph was developed.”

Documents often contain a variety of dates–execution, acknowledgement, recording, returning, etc.–that may be spelled out explicitly on that document. Sometimes those dates are not explained but remember that any piece of information on a record–especially if it is seemingly just randomly dropped there–may not mean what you think it means.

June of 1975 probably was when Mom had filled the roll of film and wanted to get it developed. That’s what it means.


Recorded Well After the Fact

Land records are one of those documents that typically are recorded relatively soon after they are drawn up and signed. But some relatives may have a looser definition of relatively soon than others. Deeds are occasionally recorded decades after they were executed. This may be due to temporary illness, absentmindedness, distance from the courthouse, or other reasons.

The oversight is most likely to be noticed when the purchaser dies or wants to sell the property. The decades-earlier deed of acquisition may be recorded right before the deed of sale. Two reminders here are to look for a deed in record books long after you think the property transfer was a “done deal” and always look to see what’s recorded right before and after any document you have discovered.

Add Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–to your bookshelf!