Category Archives: Uncategorized

Names Out of Order?

If your ancestor had a first, middle, and last name, keep in mind that it is possible that those names could be in the wrong order in a record. If the names are in the wrong order on the record, then the ancestor will appear in the index under the wrong “last name.”

If the index does not include the last name of interest, consider searching for that relative with their first or middle name as their last name.


Learn more about genealogy research and methods in Casefile Clues.

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We Don’t Want People Knowing That

Obituaries and family members can easily hide a key detail in a person’s life. According to family members, my great-grandfather died at home. His obituary in the paper indicated he died at home. He did not. After suffering from a series of strokes, the family could no longer take care of him and he was put in a state hospital several counties away where he died a few weeks later. They cared for him at home for years, but were no longer able to towards the end of his life.

That’s why it took me forever to locate his death certificate–I was looking in the wrong place.

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What If You Found It?

It can be frustrating to not be able to locate a record. As a problem-solving approach to try and locate it, pretend you found it. What would be on the record? Where would it be located? Where would it have been recorded? All of those are details that may help you actually find the record.

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Event Date Versus Recorded Date

When using record copies of documents, make certain to distinguish between the date the document was drawn up and the date it was filed and recorded. The dates are usually different. The person signing the document would have been alive on the date it was signed but not necessarily on the date is was recorded.

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Pick a Date and Make a Snapshot

I’m not a big fan of “genealogy games,” but here is an activity that might get you to thinking. Pick a random date–at least 100 years in the past. Determine which of your ancestors were alive on that date, where they were probably living, and what stage in their life they were in (child, young adult, newly married, widowed, etc.).

Also think about how you know what you do about your ancestors on that date.


Learn more about research methods and sources in Casefile Clues, Michael’s newsletter.

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To An Imaginary Stranger…

Can’t find that ancestor in a certain record? Can’t find the parents for a certain ancestor? Write up all the work you have done to find that record or set of parents. Explain the sources you have used, why they were used, and what was located. Pretend that you are writing it for someone who knows nothing about your family and not much about the time period or location in which you are researching.

When you explain something to someone who does not have your familiarity with the details, you are apt to notice gaps. And any of those gaps could be part of your problem.


Learn more about research methods and sources in Casefile Clues, Michael’s newsletter.

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One Is Never Enough

Avoid copying just the one item “you want” from a record book.

Copy several items if possible. This 1844 marriage record was easier to transcribe when there were others from the same time period and clerk with which to compare.

The “legal phrases” were similar from one document to another and easier to read on other entries.

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No Kids, Never Had Siblings, and Died With Some Cash

Michael’s siblings, nieces, and nephews were his heirs.

Is there a relative who never had any children of their own, had no siblings and died owning enough property to require a probate or an estate settlement?

If so, the records of that settlement may be particularly interesting. The deceased person’s heirs-at-law typically would have been their first cousins or their first cousin’s descendants. Even if there was a will, these heirs-at-law typically would have had to have been notified of the probate. Those records could help determine relationships and indicate where people were living at the time the relative died.

These estate or probate records would typically be filed at the local court level.


Check out Michael’s newsletter–Casefile Clues.

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What Is a Maiden Name?

Researching women in the United States is compounded by the fact that researchers need the woman’s “maiden name,” the surname of her biological father.

In some cases what the researcher thinks is the “maiden name” may actually be a step-father’s last name, the mother’s last name, an adopted father’s last name, or the last name of a previous husband.

All things to consider.

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Mapping it out in Pencil

Sometimes it is simply faster to mark up a map with what you know–especially when people of the same name are moving around and appearing in a variety of records.

Failing to acknowledge geography can cause problems.

And sometimes it is simply faster to notate in pencil as you are thinking. There will always be time later to make a neat copy if necessary.

Sometimes making a neat copy slows me down and I lose my train of thought.

I always have blank copies of maps on paper so I can start taking notes “geographically” when necessary.

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