An Error May be an Error

Before you overly analyze that incorrect marital status in a census, before you get all “fussed up” over an incorrect place of birth, consider the possibility that what is wrong is simply an error.

Sometimes our ancestors do lie.
But sometimes people just make mistakes.
We were not there when they gave the information and when it got written down. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.
Something to think about before we go making up some grand reason behind the discrepancy.

Did the last name get dropped?

Does your ancestor have a middle name that is also a last name? Is it possible that he cannot be located in a census or other record because the census taker left off his actual last name and used his middle name as a last name?

It might explain when Henry Jacobs Fecht is enumerated in the 1870 census as Henry Jacobs.

And if you don’t know that middle name it’s going to be even more difficult to find him.

Using Maps with the Census?

Are you using a map when you search the census for your ancestor? If you don’t have appropriate, contemporary to your census problem year maps, you could easily be making mistakes or looking in places that are not quite right.

With indexes, manual searches of the census are not always necessary (but sometimes they are). Maps though, are not optional. You need to know where locations are and how they fit together. Even if you think you know the location, get a map. In fact, making assumptions about locations can create a few brick walls.

Get a Perpetual Calendar

They are all over the internet. When using any document or record that refers to dates, particularly one that says last Thursday, two weeks ago, etc. use a perpetual calendar. A simple google search will locate them. It will make you determination of the date a little easier. I found one helpful when analyzing obituaries for a recent Casefile Clues column.

Be Specific

Whenever you are writing or talking about a person be specific. First names are rarely specific enough, particularly in some families. First and last names are best, perhaps combined with a date of birth or date of death.

My mother has three Aunt Ruths. It usually took more than just “Aunt Ruth” to know to whom someone was referring. Sometimes it was clear from context, but not always. Don’t create additional confusion in the records you leave behind. Be specific.

Take A List

If you are going to do any research in records where the use of terms is important, land records, foreign language church records, etc. take a “cheat sheet” of key terms or words and what they usually mean. It will help.

For example a sheet for land records should include grantor, grantee, quit claim, etc.
A sheet for foreign language work should contain the main genealogy words in that language at the very least.

Look at the Search Boxes Carefully

When using online search interface, make certain you are interpreting all the search boxes correctly. It is very easy to get “ahead of the game” and waste time because you are not putting the correct things in the correct boxes. If you first do not find what you think you should, look at each search box and make certain you have (if appropriate) put in the correct item.

That Newspaper is Secondary

Remember that newspaper accounts of events can easily be incorrect and that every detail should be verified with other records if at all possible. Newspapers can easily get details of current events incorrect. I’ve seen obituaries of the same person in different papers conflict with each other over current details. The chance for error is even greater when dealing with the details of some person’s life in an obituary.

Would One Missed Word Make a Difference?

Take care in transcribing documents and in using transcriptions. One missed word can make all the difference. While it is not a genealogy example, the following makes the point.

“I put money in the envelope” means something different from “put money in the envelope.” Think about those transcriptions you are creating and using. If someone missed a word, it could make all the difference.