No Deed of Acquisition?

If your relative was a landowner and you cannot find a deed of acquisition for the property he owned, it is possible that:

  • he inherited the land and there was no actual “deed;”
  • the deed of acquisition was not recorded (possible, but not likely);
  • the property was acquired through a grant that was not recorded with the local land records.

Acquisitions through inheritance may be documented in the local will or estate records. Deeds that were unrecorded are often impossible to locate, but consider looking at local real property tax records to determine when the ancestor started paying taxes on the property. Grants may have been colonial, state, or federal records–determine where these records are kept for the location and time period in question. Always ask researchers familiar with the local area to determine if there are any unique situations that may explain the failure to locate the record of acquisition. They may have suggestions specific to the place in question.


Trees of DNA Testers are Clues–& Based on What They Know

Many DNA matches took their test because they received it as a gift or had a passing interest in their ethnicity. If you are lucky their tree has at least a few names in it. Remember that what’s in many of those short trees are based upon what the person knew from personal memory or perhaps what close relatives told them.

As a result, maiden names may not be correct and may be last names of step-fathers or previous husbands. First names may be incorrect as well. If you are lucky these testers communicate with you and some information can be corrected and the known lineage extended.

If they don’t, you are left with what’s in their tree. Be flexible in using the information they have in their tree–but use it as a starting point.


Do You Really Know of All the Siblings?

Depending upon the time period and the location, it can be difficult to know for certain all the children or siblings of an ancestor. In places where there was no civil or ecclesiastical recording of birth records, knowing “for certain” you’ve got all the siblings can be a challenge. Probate records often don’t mention pre-deceased children if they left no descendants of their own. Some children may have life spans that don’t include a census year. Some families may not mention children who died young–not because of shame, but because of emotional upset.

Always look at birth dates of children and see if there’s a gap–there might have been children that simply migrated away and are accounted for, some might have died young, there might have been miscarriages, or there may have been no children at all.

If there’s a ten year gap and the last child was born when the mother was fifty, it’s possibly not her child but her grandchild.


Sketch Out Your Notes and Photograph or Scan Them


Sometimes it is faster to take notes on paper with pencil. Using a map as a backdrop for your notes can be helpful when people move all over or live in more than one place.

But preserve those notes. File them digitally with images of other records Your notes can be just as valuable as the records you have located–particularly if your analysis, interpretations, and ideas for further research are included on those notes


Sometimes Being Subtle Is Good

It’s best to be subtle when contacting DNA matches that are the result of an unexpected parentage. Lying is never advised, but it’s good to remember that the person you are contacting may have a different reaction than you to finding out that a near relative had a child that no one knew about.

Even if you think you know the probable connection, it might be best to initially indicate that you are trying to determine the relationship more precisely than the results page indicates. And there is still no guarantee that you will ever get a response. If the individual’s tree is public, you might even want to take screen shots or save their information just in case they decide to make the tree private or take it down entirely. One never knows just how someone will respond–particularly when the unexpected relative is a fairly close.

And if you are not certain that your analysis of the results is correct–ask someone who is knowledgeable about genealogical DNA test results to look at the information. And…when you do that don’t tell them what your conclusions are. They should be able to put those aside when doing their analysis, but that way you can really see if they reach the same conclusion that you did.


Might Does Not Make Right

There are numerous online “trees” that indicate my great-grandmother’s middle name was Ioan. It was not. It was Iona. Most of the trees list it as Ioan–one typographical error was multiplied over and over. One compiler apparently decided Ioan was a typographical error–only to “correct” it to Joan.

Just because most trees have a “fact” does not mean that fact is right. See where they got it if possible.

And if you differ with them…just make certain that you have records that are consistent with what you are stating to be true.


Those Complainers

A “neighbor” filed a complaint about a relative’s homestead claim in Nebraska. While he was a geographic neighbor, he also was related by marriage to the person whose homestead he contested. A man wrote the US pension office in the early 20th century providing information that a widow wasn’t legally married to the soldier. While he was not directly related, his sister-in-law was a daughter of the veteran by a previous marriage.

If someone is “complaining” about your relative in some way, shape, or form, find out what the connection is.

Even if you can’t find the connection, your search will likely lead to more information.

People don’t complain out of boredom–at least most of the time.


The Limits of a Record or Database?

When using any record or database, ask yourself:

how does someone get in this material?

Do they have to live in a certain place? Do they have to own property? Do they have to have a job? Do they have to be dead? Do they have to be a member of a specific religion? Do they have to be a certain gender? Do they have to be a certain age? Do they have to have a certain marital status? Do they have to  be a veteran?

If you don’t know how someone gets into a record, database, or finding aid, it is difficult to use it effectively.



Read it Over and Over–and Over

It never hurts to read over your conclusions more than once. Anyone can make typographical errors and those errors can run from ones that are irritating in a minor way (spelling “Burbon” when you mean “Bourbon”) to ones that restate facts (mixing up a father and a son).  Even if the typographical errors have been removed and the facts are straight, have someone else look at your writing. They may catch errors you don’t–particularly conclusions that may not be clear or phrases that don’t convey quite the message you think they do.