Tried the State Archives?

In some states, older county records have been placed at the state archives. The state archives may even have created indexes to some of these older records. For any state where you have relatives, locate the website for the state archives (a google search for “yourstate state archives,” where yourstate is the state name will probably do the trick).

You may be surprised what you find there. I located the divorce for my globetrotting relative Philip Troutfetter at the Colorado State Archives and am waiting for a copy. Never hurts to try.

Clean it Out?

They put new carpet in my office at work. The drawback was that I had to take everything out. The upside was I “found” folders and papers I had forgotten about or mislaid. Do you have stacks of copies in your genealogy workspace that have been neglected? So you even know what is in those stacks?

Go through and clean up your genealogy work area. At the very least you may be more efficient. At the very most you may find something you completely forgot you ever had.

Help Someone Else?

Have you considered helping someone else with their genealogy? I’m not suggesting spending months of intense research. But have you considered:

  • Offering to take pictures of stones in a nearby cemetery? This offer could be posted to a Rootsweb mailing list. Best to start with a small cemetery.
  • Performing lookups in a book you have at home?
  • Answering a query on a mailing list that does not relate to one of your families?

Sometimes it feels good to just help someone else with their research. Sometimes it generates good “genealogy karma.” And sometimes when you help someone else, you learn something that later helps you with your own research.

Do You Just Need Some Advice?

If you are stuck on an ancestor, you might consider hiring a professional to solve it for you. Sometimes this is cost prohibitive. Professional genealogists have bills to pay too and need to charge for their research services. However, some will do consulting work–where they read over your organized material and make suggestions. Sometimes that is all you need–suggestions of what to do next.

I did this recently and it was exactly what I needed. Also I really just needed another set of eyes to look over what I had and make certain that I had not overlooked something.

One warning. Organize your information first. Any professional receiving unorganized information will need to organize it. That takes time and increases the number of their billable hours.

A plumber will charge me for his time if he spends fifteen minutes cleaning out the cabinet under the sink before he can actually do any work. It is the same when a professional genealogist has to begin work with your unorganized information. She needs to clean first. That’s usually something you can do yourself and save a little money in the process.

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.

Look at More than One Newspaper

Do not limit your search for obituaries to just one newspaper. Your search may start with the newspaper closest to where your ancestor lived or died, but it should not end there. If your ancestor lived in an urban area, consider looking at other papers or suburban newspapers near where the ancestor lived. If your ancestor was in a rural area, look at nearby papers and always look at the newspaper from the county seat.

Also consider foreign language or ethnic newspapers if your ancestor was an immigrant or the child of immigrants.

Different newspapers do not alway give the exact same information.

Update Your Spam Filters

I do not have too much of my own ancestry posted in the public trees at because I do not have time to answer all potential inquiries. However, I do have information posted in two public trees on two of my more problematic families. My hope is that the automatic search at Ancestry will locate something I have overlooked, or that a relative crawls out of the woodwork and contacts me. I’ve already had two relatives send me e-mail messages.

The problem is that my responses are apparently not getting back to them. I have had three messages from different relatives in response to one of my trees. I sent return e-mails almost immediately. No response. Two replied to my tree again a few months later. Again I immediately replied. No response to my reply.

The likely problem? My replies are getting caught in their junk-mail filter. Messages sent in response to trees and messages sent in reply to these responses are not sent directly from the user’s email. They are instead sent a Connection Service at If you have public trees posted or have responded to any trees you can’t just sit and wait for a response and assume that it will automatically get to you. These messages are “automatic” and could get caught in many junk-mail filters.

Messages in response to trees typically come from and replies to a connection request would come from the domain Make certain you have allowed these addresses in any filters you have. If not, you may miss replies to your trees or replies to your inquiries–and we wouldn’t want that to happen!

Note: this is reprinted from a tip I wrote for in December 2008. I’m using it again because I recently had the same person post a message to me and apparently not get my reply.

Read and Review

There is a “game” going around on Facebook where you pick the book nearest to you and type in the 5th full sentence on page 56.

I learned something when I did it. The book I grabbed was Echo King’s Finding Answers in British Isles Census Records. King mentioned that in the 1841 UK Census enumerators were not requried to give full Christian names. I probably knew this at one point in time, but the remembering did not hurt me.

While I’m not going to spend all day picking out pages at random to read, the exercise did remind me that every so often it is a good idea to pull out one of those references we have not read in a while and review a chapter or two.

We may learn something. I know I did.

Another Reason to Search Every Record

Sometimes we can be tempted to not look at every record, thinking that we do not need it or that information it provides will only be the same as what we already have.

Once I almost neglected locating a 1930 census entry for a family because “I didn’t need it.” Turns out I was wrong. It listed the “birth” name for a daughter, which ended up being a clue as to the name of the father’s mother.

You just never know. And don’t assume that you do not need a record just because you “know everything.”

Exhaust One Place Before You Venture Out

I was researching a relative in Champaign County, Illinois. A vertical file on the family contained a death notice from an undated, unsourced newspaper that indicated the relative was killed by a train.

The only problem was that the newspaper clipping was a photocopy of the original. There was no reverse side I could look at for clues. There was just the clipping. I was concerned I would have a difficult time locating the person with just a clue that he died in Indiana.

Then I remembered the deceased had an interest in an estate in the county where he lived. Researching court and probate records located a file settling up his estate. Included in those court records was a transcription of the coroner’s report from the Indiana county where he died. Problem solved without looking in one Indiana county after another.

You can’t solve every problem this way, but exhausting all sources where you know the person had been may give you clues to help you pinpoint those other areas.