Tracking the Wrong Ones

I’m trying to find a man enumerated in an 1860 census as Philip Pipher. He may be the brother of Barbara Haase who is enumerated in Hancock County, Illinois, with her husband Conrad. Philip’s last name may actually be Siefert or some rendition of it as that was Barbara’s maiden name.

The places of birth for these individuals in this 1860 enumeration are to be taken with a grain of salt. The children 12 and under all are known to have been born in Illinois, so it’s possible that other places of birth are incorrect as well.

My attempts to find him needs to include an eliminated list of individuals who are named Philip Pipher/Siefert (or reasonable variants) and can’t be him. Creating this list requires me to use what I know about this Philip as a guide to elimination. He’s living in a certain spot in 1860 and is listed with a specific place of birth and an occupation. This means he’s probably not a man named Philip Siefert living in Chicago in 1860 as a lawyer. He’s probably not a 25 year old living in Kansas in 1875. My chart also needs to include why I’ve eliminated that Philip as being this person. Examples might include any detail that’s significantly inconsistent with what’s stated about this individual–admitting that any fact could be incorrect.

If I keep track of the ones I have eliminated and why, then I don’t waste time researching them again. Or if what I “know” about Philip changes, I can go back and review them and see if they still don’t match. But if I don’t track these failed-to-be-my-Philips, I can’t do that.

And I need to remember that this Philip may not even be a relative to the Haases at all. But I won’t know if I don’t look and track those searches and results effectively.


What Rule Did They Break?

I spent some time looking for an immigrant relative who came to the United States in the 1880s after her husband died. Several things combined to make her difficult to find, including:

  • She changed her first name. Many from her area of origin anglicized their name by directly translating it or by using a name with the same first letter. Not her. She picked something seemingly random and totally different.
  • She married again in the new area where she settled. The problem was that I didn’t know where this was or that she changed her first name.
  • She immigrated under her maiden name. Took me a while to find that.

She really didn’t “break any rules.” She either did things in a slightly unusual fashion or acted in ways that didn’t coincide with my assumptions about her. Which is why it is often good to get away from our assumptions about the subjects of our research whenever possible.

And look for extended family in hopes of finding the person of interest. That’s how this woman was finally located.


Review Those Unvisited Families

It never hurts to go back and review those families that you have not worked on in some time. An ancestor was used as an example in a seminar I gave over the weekend and while reviewing my notes, I realized that it had been some time since I had made a serious attempt to document the children and grandchildren of her second oldest daughter. It’s time. In doing so, I may learn more about the ancestor we share, but there’s more than that. I might:

  • discover relatives who have information or family ephemera that I do not;
  • get names to help me sort my DNA matches that are “unknown.”
  • connect to a new relative who is interested in genealogy.

Time to get back to work on Aunt Louise.


Who Are the Siblings?

Genealogists are often told to research the siblings of an ancestor and it was the topic of a presentation I recently gave.

I used Riley the dog as a welcome illustration and realized that it was an appropriate picture because he reminded me that in genealogical research the “siblings” are not just individuals who share two sets of parents and that researching all those individuals can be just as helpful and important. Those siblings can include:

  • half-siblings;
  • step-siblings;
  • adopted siblings;
  • foster siblings;
  • other raised in the household.

Unlike the dog, the “siblings” are usually of the same species, but it’s important to think of those who might have been effective siblings of your ancestor. Records on any of those individuals could provide answers to questions on your direct ancestor and also provide you with additional information and perspective on your genealogical problem.


How Contemporary Are You?

You are “stuck” on your ancestor in a certain time and a certain place? Do you have a good idea what:

  • The most common occupations were at the time?
  • How close were your ancestor’s neighbors?
  • Where the nearest political lines were?
  • Where was the nearest church?
  • Where was the nearest cemetery?
  • What was the most common denomination?
  • Who the ruler of the area was?
  • What sort of government was in place?
  • Was there a war going on?
  • What daily life was often like?
  • etc.

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Take A Number And Use It

When reviewing a document, have you used every number in the document as a clue? Specific dates and ages can be used to help determine a chronology or calculate approximately when an event happened. Acreages can be helpful in using land records, house numbers can be useful in determining addresses. Make certain you’ve analyzed every number for any clue it may contain.


One Thing Right or One Thing Wrong

Documents often contain multiple pieces of information potentially given by multiple informants. Even one informant can be knowledgeable about some things and not about others. Just because one piece of information on a document is wrong does not mean they all are incorrect. Just because they got the first nine pieces of information correct (that you’ve checked) does not automatically mean the tenth piece of information is correct.

There’s always shades in terms of how much is accurate and one has to look at each piece of information separately based upon who the likely informant was and how likely they were to know it.

I’ve been reminded of this while working on a Civil War veteran who gave two significantly different sets of family information in his pension application.


Figuring out Ultimo in an Instant

Ultimo means “previous” (usually month). Instant means “this” or “current” (usually month). When the Bureau of Pensions wrote on 4 January and said “Your letter of 15th ultimo,” they were referring to a letter of 15 December. When they wrote on 10 December and said “Your letter of the 4th instant,” they meant the 4th of December.



Just Late Not Dead

Late does not necessarily mean that the individual was deceased. The word can mean “formerly” or “used to be.” In these cases, it can mean that a person used to live in a certain area (think: former resident) or used to have a certain title, job, or occupation. The man in the illustration, Adam Rodgers “Late Captain of Company B,” used to be the captain of that unit but was no longer. If something indicates your ancestor, Jim Burialman was a “late undertaker of Coshocton County, Ohio,” it would mean that he used to be an undertaker in Coshocton County, Ohio. He could still be an undertaker working somewhere else or he could be living in Coshocton County and no longer working as an undertaker.

Whether he would be, as the saying goes, “late for his own funeral” is a separate issue.