Can You Take Your Cell Phone in the Courthouse?

Find out the security policy of the courthouse before you make a trip there. I am in the habit of sometimes making notes about what to research in the notepad feature of my phone. Some courthouses will not let you bring your cell phone into the building. Find out any security issues before you leave.

It is also a good idea to find out what kinds of electronic equipment generally are allowed. Best not to find out restrictions at the last minute.

Every Link in the Chain

Make certain you really research from the most recent and work your way to earlier events. For years, I assumed (incorrectly) that an uncle by marriage was only married one time–to my ancestor’s sister. Turns out she died young and he remarried shortly after her death and had the children with her instead of my aunt.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the first marriage took place after the 1880 census and no vital records were kept and both wives were dead by the 1900 census.

Remember they are transcriptions

Virtually any pre-1920 deed or will written in a book at the courthouse is not the original. The grantee got the original deed and the courthouse made a handwritten copy. As technology developed, microfilm copies, photostatic and other kinds of copies were made. But that deed from 1850 that you found in a book with all the others, it was a handwritten copy and could contain an error or two.

Wills recorded in a will record book are the same way. Of course, the original will may be in the packet of estate papers, but anything “recorded” before photocopies and the like was a handwritten transcription. Just a little something to keep in mind the next time you make a copy of a will from 1820.

Did you jump to a conclusion?

It has been about ten years, but there used to be a local band named “DOS GUYS.” There were three ways one could take this:

  • DOS Guys meaning 2 guys from “dos,” Spanish for two.
  • DOS Guys as a way of saying “those” guys, “dos” as a slang way of saying “those.”
  • DOS Guys, meaning guys who were still using the DOS operating system on their computer.

Is there something that could be interpreted more than one way? Have you “jumped” on one interpretation that may be the wrong one? It may be that you are creating your own brick wall by doing so.

Go Back and Browse

With more and more records being indexed, it is tempting for some to quit searching when the index fails. Keep in mind that there are times where manual searching of a record is necessary. Indexes are not perfect and sometimes writing is extremely difficult to read.

The census is a good example. If you know where your ancestor lived and the index does not quickly locate him, search manually. If the relative was in a rural area, it may not take very long to page through a township or two in an attempt to find him. And in searching page by page, you may find other relatives in the process. In urban areas, you may be able to pinpoint your relative’s location down to a handful of enumeration districts. And learning more about where your ancestor lived and tracking his residences may help you research more than just locating him in the census.

Those of us who researched in the days before census indexes relied on manual searches when we first started.

Try Google Alerts

Sometimes I am behind the times. I will admit it. I finally set up google alerts for some of my more unusual surnames and for some names of ancestors. These can easily be done using your account at google (or signing up for one if you do not have one). This way instead of you searching for things, google lets you know when it has found them.

To be certain, Google is not the only search engine out there, but this is a nice tool to add to your list.

Pause and Reflect for just a Minute

Think for just a minute before making that post to a mailing list or asking that question to a friend. Is there a chance you are overlooking something obvious?

It is also good to give yourself sometime to let a conclusion “sit” in your mind before publishing it or posting it. Sometimes our first, “off the cuff” reactions are correct and sometimes they aren’t. Haste may cause you to create a brick wall where none existed.

I almost assumed a relative had military service based upon his WW2 era classification record. Turns out that the classification he received meant something different during war time than during peace time and the chart of classifications I was using were peace time classifications. When I looked at the appropriate set of classifications, what I tought was unusual was not.

Sometimes a little reflection answers our questions.

You Cannot Copyright a Fact

A complete discussion of copyright law is beyond our purpose here at “Tip of the Day,” but suffice it to say that a genealogical fact cannot be copyrighted. Your cousin in Arizona cannot copyright the fact that “John Smith was born in Maryland in 1783.”

What he can copyright is a report he compiled showing why that year of birth is correct. The report he would be within his rights to lay copyright claim to.

Of course, if he spent years uncovering a fact and you use that fact in a compilation, it might be nice to give him credit for “finding” that fact. If you don’t, he might not share anything with you again!

Do You Need to Research the In-Laws?

Sometimes a researcher is tempted to “ignore” the “in-laws” or “step” relatives because they are not “really relatives.” However, this can be a big mistake. Your relatives interacted quite a bit with these individuals and there is a chance a record on them could provide information on your ancestor. It is always possible that these indivduals have known your ancestor long before they became related by marriage.

Your ancestors did not live in complete isolation. Researching their close acquaintances may provide information on your direct line ancestors.

Could it Be in Another Place?

Official or unofficial copies of documents may be located in places where you might not think to look. My ancestor’s declaration of intention from Illinois is contained in his Nebraska homestead application. Another ancestor’s naturalization is contained in his homestead file as well.

Chicago voter’s registrations give years and places of naturalization for those who were not native born citizens.

Widow’s applications for pension may contain certified copies of their marriage records.

A cousin who got married in Illinois and divorced in Florida filed a copy of his Florida divorce decree in the Illinois county where he was married.

And the list goes on.

Where might your ancestor have had to record a copy of a document? It might not be in a place where you think.