When You Use Something to Help You Transcribe

The ease of accessing information online sometimes makes it easier to transcribe certain documents. We can search for what we think something might say and see if someone has transcribed a similar word or phrase. We can look at what an image of another record says the date of marriage is if we cannot quite read it on the marriage license we have.

That’s helpful and resourceful. But one has to be careful.

Just because others have transcribed a word or name as “Pine” does not mean that is what it actually is. It could really be “Jane.” Just because another record indicated the marriage date was 8 June 1842 does not mean the date was not actually written as 8 Jan. 1842 on the marriage license.

It’s sound procedure to get a little guidance in reading things that are difficult to interpret. But don’t let that guidance force an interpretation on you.

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Jump for Joy and not to a Conclusion

Every genealogist has had that moment when they’ve made a big discovery. The following excitement often motivates the researcher to immediately continue to the research. That’s not always the best idea. The thought that “I’ve solved it,” can cause us to overlook inconsistent pieces of information, new pieces of information, etc. Our euphoria at having figured it out can sometimes blind us to relevant information that doesn’t fit. It can also cause us to overlook key clues or jump to additional conclusions that aren’t supported by the information we’ve located.

And like Charlie the dog in the picture, we may be a little out of focus when we are excited. That’s not always the best time to immediately research.

After the information has been saved, printed/downloaded, copied, and filed it may be time to do something else for a little while and let the discovery simmer in the recesses of our mind. Doing something non-genealogy related for a short time can allow us to come back to the information when the excitement has worn off.

It’s all right if our excitement allows us to jump for joy. We just don’t want to jump to conclusions in that same excitement.


Is There One Thing I Don’t Know?

One reason for tripping over a stumbling block in our research is that there’s a piece of information we don’t have and that we don’t know we don’t have. When a research situation is confusing you, ask yourself:

  • Was there a historical event taking place of which I am not aware?
  • Did these two people have a relationship that I don’t know about and which might not have left a record?
  • Is there a term that I don’t understand?
  • Is there a process (legal, military enlistment, religious, cultural, etc.) that I don’t understand completely or am not aware of?
  • And so on.

The difficulty is that we don’t always know what we don’t know.

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No Worries, My Will Gives Away My Genealogy Stuff

It’s easy to give orders to be carried out after your death. But there’s one fact that happens after you die:

You are dead and things are really out of your control.

Simple, but true. When you are dead, you are dead. You won’t be around to make certain your heirs, executors, etc. do things exactly as you want. I know you can leave a will, but there are some realities of wills, executors, heirs, judges, and how they can interact with a stack of papers that have no monetary value.

Occasionally I hear people say “I’m going to have it in my will that my genealogy papers are to go to my local genealogical society (or some other group).” I took care of it. That was easy.

The old farm toys in the basement may have more value than your genealogical papers.



  • How organized are your papers? Is that group going to want several boxes (or more) of materials that are not really organized?
  • Is that group going to want all your material including that which has nothing to do with their local area of interest?
  • Is the judge, executor, and others involved in the settlement of your estate really going to be overly concerned about what’s done with your boxes of papers? Ask yourself this question honestly. Have you been intimately involved in the settlement of an estate to see how things sometimes work? You may value your papers a great deal, but others might not.
  • Things that have a measurable financial value tend to get prioritized in an estate settlement. Unfortunately genealogical papers don’t usually have financial value.
  • Photocopies of documents and books that are readily preserved elsewhere are not high priority items for any historical agency or archives. They prefer things that are unique or not already available elsewhere.
  • Will the society where your papers are going be in existence in five years, twenty years?
  • In addition to giving an organization a bunch of material they will have to pay to maintain, have you given any donation or financial compensation to this organization? Preservation costs money. They may not be able to afford to maintain your “gift.”
  • Have you asked the group if they want your stuff? Any organization is well within their rights to refuse your offer. You won’t be around to figure out a workaround because you are dead and your heirs may not care.

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What Your Ancestor Did Not Finish

Sometimes life is just about getting things done, but there are many things that a person starts in life that they do not complete. Your ancestor may have done the exact same thing. Even if your ancestor did not complete something, it does not mean that there are not some records left behind. Those “uncompleted tasks” are often ones that do not get passed down as stories from one generation to the next. It’s possible that your relative:

  • Started college and did not finish. There could still be records, yearbook pictures, etc.
  • Started a homestead and did not complete the process. There should still be an incomplete homestead application (at least the initial filings) which could provide information.
  • Declared their intention to become a citizen but never naturalized.
  • Filed for divorce, but did not go through with it.
  • Almost got foreclosed on, but managed to “pull through” before the court process was finalized.
  • Filed for a marriage license but never actually got married.
  • Etc.

Sometimes a process that is incomplete generates just about as many records as one that is finalized. Failure to complete something is one of those stories that don’t often get passed down from one generation to the next. After all, people like to pass on stories of success and not ones of failure. Our ancestors are human. They didn’t complete everything they started.

Sometimes that sounds like my research process on some families.


Not all Keepers are Genealogists

If the goal of the genealogist is to collect as many records and images as possible, then the genealogist needs to talk to the keepers in the family.

And those keepers may not be genealogists. They may have an interest in their family’s history. They may not. But for one reason or another family photographs and other ephemera may have filtered through the generations into their hands. My great-aunt had the picture that illustrates this post-including her and my mother posing two family pets in 1949. Aunt Ruth wasn’t a genealogist, but she was the one who went through her mother’s effects when she (my great-grandmother) died in 1986. And so those items fell into her hands.

Another great-grandmother lived with her daughter for several years until that great-grandmother’s death in 1965. That daughter apparently retained her mother’s family pictures and those pictures passed to the daughter’s daughter when the daughter died.

Look for genealogical relatives for collaboration and networking. Look for any relative when looking for pictures and ephemera. Those items won’t necessarily land in the hands of a genealogist.

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Widow’s Pension May Mention First Wife

Susannah and James Smith are your ancestors. After James died, Susannah married Thomas Jones. Susannah then died and Thomas married Cassandra Smithton. After Thomas Jones died, Cassandra applied for a military pension based on Thomas’ military service.

That pension may still be helpful to your research on Susannah. Cassandra would have had to mention all of Thomas’ marriages–including the one to your ancestor. There may be a detail in Cassandra’s application directly related to your ancestors or clues to help you in your research.

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Was that Age Rounded?

There’s always the chance that an age in any record is incorrect. If I’m looking at a census enumeration for someone who is a little bit older and their age ends in a 0 or a 5, I look to see how common it is for others who are a little bit older to have ages that end in a 0 or a 5.

If the ages for “those of a certain age” are entered accurately, one-fifth of them should end in a 0 or a 5. If it is significantly more than that there is the possibility that the ages have been approximated.

Just a possibility. Really determining that the ages for “those of a certain” were approximated requires a little more analysis than looking at the ages on a few pages.