Get all the Maps You Need

Make certain you have maps of all the areas where you are doing your family research and that those maps are contemporary to the time when your family lived in the area. County lines change as do other political jurisdictions. Modern maps are a good idea too, particularly when trying to determine where the farm is today or where that cemetery is located.

Learn the Foreign Language Script

Remember that there is more to reading records in a foreign language than simply learing the vocabulary. Foreign language records are often written in a different script and that letter that looks like an “L” may actually be a “B.” There are script guides on a variety of how-to websites. The Family Search Site ( has online images to scripts from several countries in their section of research helps. Checking out the appropriate country’s page on Cyndislist ( or her page on handwriting may also locate links to pages to help you read the handwriting.

Review on Birthdays

Here’s an off-the-wall idea–but some days I find writing tips a little difficult.

Make a calendar with your ancestor’s dates of birth on it. Then on the ancestor’s birthday, review the information you have about that person. This might help you find something in your files that you had forgotten.

Today would have been my great-grandmother Ufkes’ birthday–she would have been 114. She was born Trientje Marie Janssen on her parents’ farm near Basco, Hancock County, Illinois.

Return Trips

Did your ancestor make a return trip home to visit family? It was not unheard of for 19th and 20th century immigrants to the United States to make one or two return trips home to visit. Records of their arrivals on these subsequent ocean crossings may provide more details on them than their original entry records do.

Look at the Eternal Neighbors

When you locate that ancestor in a cemetery, look at the neighboring stones. There is a reasonable chance they are relatives. At least copy down the names and information (or take pictures) while you have the chance. Five years later (when you have discovered their names in other records) it may be too late to get information from their stone.

Get a Legal Dictionary

For many genealogists, a legal dictionary is a great help. This is especially true when analyzing court and probate records where legal terms may be used profusely. I picked up on on Ebay several years ago. A current in print one is not necessary and may be beyond your genealogy budget. Mine dates from the 1980s and serves my purpose well. In fact, I may pick up a few more from earlier time periods if I happen to spot one at an auction.

Places of Birth at the Time of the Record

Remember that birthplaces in census and other records may have been written down as they were at the time the record was created, not the time the birth took place. At different times, my ancestor indicated she was born in Prussia, Hanover, or Germany. This was because of who was “ruling” the village where she was born at the time of the census or other record. It may just seem like great-great-grandma was confused when she really was not.

Nuncupative Will

A nuncupative will is a will that is orally dictated by the testator. These are typically deathbed type wills. This will is to be written down as soon as possible by the witnesses and presented to the court within the time allowed for probate. Not all jurisdictions have honored these as valid.