Ask Yourself Why?

Genealogists should be asking themselves “why?” whenever they locate a document. Sometimes the answer is easy. Death certificates are created because someone dies, marriage certificates are created because someone was married. Of course, vital records (and some other records) are kept for reasons somewhat unrelated to your ancestor’s existence.

Wills are recorded because someone died and the estate needed to be settled.

Guardianships are recorded because a parent died and left an estate and minor children.

Deeds are recorded because land was sold. Sometimes deeds are recorded because the surviving spouse died and the property needed to be transferred. Sometimes this fact will not even be indicated on the deed.

Anything that falls “outside normal parameters” should really cause you to ask “why?” My wife’s Roman Catholic ancestor waited until two of her children were in elementary school to have them baptised. This is unusual. The likely reason? She had divorced her first husband and was “getting things in order” to marry her second and baptizing her children was one of those “loose ends” the church needed tied up.

Don’t be overly cynical and dream up things for which there is no reason, but keep thinking about what was the reason and what was the motivation behind an event or a document.