Author Archives: michaeljohnneill

About michaeljohnneill

Genealogy author and speaker.

Educational Levels

For those with US ancestors…

Have you looked at the amount of schooling your relatives indicated they had in the 1940 census? Just to see if my thoughts were correct, I looked up the claimed educational level of all my living ancestors at the time of the 1940 census. Anna Habben’s 4th grade education coincides closely with the family’s immigration to the United States from Germany. The others were about where I thought they would be based upon family tradition.

  • Charles Neill (great-grandfather-St. Albans Twp.)–8th grade.
  • Fannie Neill  (great-grandmother-St. Albans Twp.)–8th grade.
  • Fred Ufkes (great-grandfather-Bear Creek Twp.)-8th grade.
  • Tena Ufkes (great-grandmother-Bear Creek Twp.)-6th grade.
  • John Ufkes (grandfather-Bear Creek Twp.)-4 years of high school.
  • Mimka Habben (great-grandfather, Prairie Twp.)-8th grade.
  • Tjode Habben (great-grandmother, Prairie Twp.)-8th grade.
  • Dorothy Habben (grandmother, Prairie Twp.) 3 years of high school (she graduated the 4th year the next year).
  • Cecil Neill (grandfather, Prairie Twp.)-8th grade.
  • Ida Neill (grandmother, Prairie Twp.)-8th grade.
  • Anna Habben (great-great-grandmother, village of Elvaston, Prairie Twp)-4th grade

Should You Overwhelm that New Cousin with Information?

It can be tempting to share everything you have with a newly discovered cousin. Sharing is not bad, but try and avoid overwhelming your recently discovered relative. Their level of interest may not be as high as yours and telling them that:

  • your uncle got drunk, threatened his mother, and ended up in jail for thirty days
  • another aunt went insane
  • a cousin was killed after he passed out on the railroad tracks and a train ran over him
  • your uncle’s body was exhumed three times to be autopsied

may be a bit overwhelming. I’m not saying to keep stories from your cousin or to paint them a reality that did not happen. Just don’t overwhelm them. You might even want to wait to share ten generations of ancestry and all the names you have.

Even if your shared past is not quite as colorful, your kinfolk may not be ready to read through forty pages of deed abstracts in an attempt to determine who the father was for your 18th century Virginia ancestor.

Your goal with the new genealogist is to not scare them off. Take it slowly, focus on helping them with the people they are currently stuck on, and go from there. They may even have information on recent relatives that you do not.



No Hint of a Previous Marriage

Many marriage records give no hint that one of the parties had been married before. This 1852 marriage certification gives nary a clue that the bride was a widow, over forty, and the mother of several children.

Assume nothing. Lack of a “Mrs.” or “Miss” before the bride’s name usually means nothing.


Organize, Back Up, Duplicate, and Back Up….

Don’t forget to organize digital images you make of records as soon as you can.

You will forget. Life will intervene. You’ll be glad you did.

I just realized today that digital images of a court case I made in 2009 are lost. They may be on my back up storage, but they didn’t get organized and filed appropriately after I made them.

Don’t delay. Don’t wait.

Don’t put it off.


Split Up When One Parent Died?

In some families the death of one parent may have left the surviving parent with more children than they could handle. Younger children may have gone to live with relatives; older ones may have gone to work nearby as a hired laborers, housekeepers, apprentices, etc.; others may have simply run off if there were too many mouths to feed.

In families that lived hand-to-mouth, the death of one parent may have sent the family into a tailspin.


Born, Died, and Reproduced–Otherwise, Well…

If someone is your ancestor, they were born (hard to avoid that), they reproduced (married or not), and eventually died (hard to avoid that as well). Everything else is somewhat negotiable–within reason.

Everything else you “think” that is true about them may not be true. This gets especially true as your research extends back in time and what a person “knows” often is based more on what we assume as opposed to things we have evidence for.

They might not have attended the same church their children did. People change churches for a variety of reasons.

They may have spelled their name differently than their descendants do or did. They might not have really cared how it was spelled.

They might not have been a member of the ethnic group their children thought they were. Ethnic prejudice might have caused them to indicate they were from somewhere other than where they were actually from.

Every detail Grandma gave you about her heritage might have been 100% correct. Or it could have been 100% false. The reality is usually somewhere in between.



Named After An Ancestor Who Died 100 Years Before I Was Born

Maiden names as middle names can be passed down for quite a number of generations. This World War II draft registrant was named for his ancestor James Rampley who died in Harford County, Maryland in 1817. Often names aren’t passed down this long, but it can happen.


These World War II draft registration cards are indexed in‘s  “U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947.” The actual card images are on