Let them Help

When visiting a remote research facility, it is advised, among other things, to look at any online inventories or catalogs of what materials they have that could be helpful in your research.

That way you have an idea of what to ask for when you are there.

But don’t be afraid to ask for help when you are there or let them offer to help you. It’s very possible the facility has materials that are not inventoried, cataloged, or even mentioned online. A local person familiar with the collection may be able to give you guidance that you cannot get any where else.

It’s great to have a list of what you want to find and to search for it while you are at a facility, but it’s also a great idea to tell them what sort of things you are trying to find (what family and time period, etc.) and see if they have any suggestions.

None of us knows everything.

Check One More Time

Always take the time to double (or triple) check reference numbers and other citations details that are being manually transcribed. The best time to catch these mistakes is when the citation is being created or the source information is being manually copied. Recently while preparing to post an image to one of my Facebook groups, I inadvertently inserted the wrong image number into the citation.

It was only when going back to grab an additional detail about the photograph that I realized the error. Fortunately at that point in time correcting the error was easily done. Sometimes it is not so easy to catch the error when time has elapsed.

At least the image number was not buried under all the snow in the picture.

When You Have Never Used It Before


When using a record or source that is new to you, here are some things to think about to make the best use of it:

  • What time period does the record cover?
  • What was the purpose of the record?
  • How did someone or something “get in” the record?
  • How were the records originally organized and stored?
  • If there is an index, is it a full-name index?
  • Are there terms in the record that I don’t understand?

There are other questions to ask about the record as you analyze the information it contains, but the answers to these questions will hopefully make your search easier.

Were the Marriages Witnesses an Unmarried Couple?

If there are two witnesses to a marriage and you can “figure out” who one of the witnesses is, consider the possibility that the other witness was the significant other of the first witness. Or the other witness could just be a friend of the couple of which you are unaware.

At That Point In Time

It can be easy to forget that records are created at one point in time and often certain details reflect the reality of that moment.

A probate settlement in 1871 lists the surviving sister of the deceased individual whose probate was being settled. The married name she is listed under in that record is one she had only for about the last fifteen years of her life and was not the last name of any of her children all of whom she had with her first husband.

If you are stuck, could it be because you have taken a piece of information that was perhaps true for a short period time and assumed it was true for a much longer period?

Check those Page Numbers

When looking at images of any book or record, pay attention to page numbers to make certain that pages in the original record or publication have not been omitted. If you focus only on looking for your ancestor’s name without ever looking at how the pages progress, you may never realize that the set of images is incomplete.


Heirs-at-law are people who are legally entitled to inherit from someone upon that person’s death in the absence of a will. State statute usually dictates who qualifies as an heir-at-law. Clues can sometimes be determined if the relationship of one of the heirs-at-law to the deceased is known as they generally fall in the same class.

A dies and has several heirs-at-law, including B who is known to have been a child of A. The other heirs-at-law are also likely children or other descendants of A.

D dies and has several heirs-at-law, including E who is a known nephew. The other heirs-at-law are also nephews or nieces of D or the descendants of nephews and nieces.

Heirs-at-law are different from individuals named specifically in a will to receive property. Those individuals are frequently called beneficiaries or legatees. A person can write a will and stipulate that property goes to individuals other than their heirs-at-law.

Another Pair of Eyes

You have found a person that you think is “yours” in a record. You are convinced the handwriting matches up.

Have someone else look at it. Do they have a different interpretation of that handwriting?

Read it All Again

If you have a new question about an ancestor, read through all those materials you have already read through before. There is a good probability that you do not remember every detail in records that were obtained some time ago and that clues that did not mean anything to you originally now do mean something.

And the chance you remember everything stated in a pension affidavit or court record you viewed years ago is small. It is easy to overlook details or forget them as time passes.

Sharing What I Knew in 1988

A brief history of the Trautvetter family that I wrote in 1988 is in the archives of the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby, Kansas. The history is incomplete and was written just to show some of the origins of the Troutfetter family in Kansas as I knew them at the time.

Yes, they spelled the name a different way. That’s not the point of this post.

Sharing your information–even if incomplete–is one way to preserve it beyond your lifetime. I had totally forgotten I had written this and, while it was typed on a computer and probably using WordStar, my original electronic copy has long since bit the dust.

Sharing can be a great way to have other copies of your information out there in case you lose what you have.