Records at All Levels

Don’t forget that records regarding your ancestor might have been created at several government levels:

  • local–such as town, city, or township records
  • county level records
  • state level records
  • federal level records
The importance of searching all jurisdictions is applicable anywhere, not just the United States. The names of the government levels may be different, but the layers still exist.
And don’t forget church records, which also may have local records and records at a national level—usually records of former churches or parishes that have been transferred to an “archives” for preservation.

Court Records Have Minimal Indexes

When searching local court records, remember that they typically appear in the plaintiffs’ index once and in the defendants’ index once. Cases involving several people will not usually be indexed under every name of every party. For this reason, it is imperative you search for all family members in court record indexes as the case will not necessarily be indexed under your direct ancestor’s name.

The days of full-name indexes to court records are far away-if ever. Until then, these search techniques are still necessary.

Moved Away For a Few Years?

Even if you think your ancestors never lived anywhere else, consider the possibility they were somewhere else, even if for a short time. A young married couple may have left “home” for a few years, only to return and stay for the rest of their lives. A couple with young children may have homesteaded for two or three years, only to decide it “wasn’t for them.”

Keep in mind these stories of being “gone” for a short time don’t always get passed down and sometimes even get forgotten by the time someone’s asking questions about family history.

Page by Page Search

I’ve been using the 1865 Illinois State Census at FamilySearch. Between the poor handwriting, the faded ink, and the non-English names, it has been easier to search page by page to find the people I am looking for.

If you have people you cannot find in a specific record and you have a reasonably good idea of where they were living, go back and manually search the records if at all possible. I’ve found quite a few of my 1865 people in the Illinois State Census–most of them by searching one page at a time. Sometimes that’s what has to happen.

And the guy in Chicago I may never find.

We’ve mentioned this before, but the need to sometimes manually search is one that most of us need to remember from time to time, myself included.

I Have Known You For Some Time And That’s A Clue

Court cases and pension applications often contain affidavits and statements from witnesses. Sometimes these statements will indicate how long the person providing testimony had known the applicant or one of the parties involved in the case. Think about how long that was. Was it when the parties involved lived somewhere else?

Maybe if you can’t trace the person of interest back in time and place, you can trace the witness to a previous residence and then may find the person of interest hanging out in the same location.

Your Ancestor’s Dates of Execution

Remember that the date your ancestor “executed” a document is usually the date he signed it. It is different from a date when the document might have been proved in court by witnesses or recorded in a record book by a clerk. Depending upon the type of document “proof” dates or “recording” dates might be dates on which your ancestor was deceased. Dates of document execution are usually dates when your ancestor was alive.

Dates of execution for criminal offenses may refer to a death date, however (grin!).

Your Reason for Estimating Was?

Often it is necessary to estimate a date of an event. If you have to approximate a date of birth, marriage, or death, indicate your reason in your notes or sources. If you are estimating a marriage at twenty-one and using that and the year of marriage to arrive at an approximate year of marriage, indicate your reasoning as a part of your “source” for the birth year. Otherwise what was a “guess” can easily become a “fact.” If you are using the date of execution [MJN note: this should have been “proof or recording” see note below]of a will as a “dead by” date, you still need to indicate what made you think it was a “dead by” date–and don’t confuse a “dead by” date with an actual date of death.
The date of execution is the date the will was SIGNED by the testator–which would be a good “last alive” date. The original blog post contained a typo that was not caught in editing and thanks to our readers for pointing it out–Michael.

A Few Short Thoughts on Blogging

I’m not going to make a 3,000 word long essay on starting your blog. Blogging is best done by learning. After you’ve made a few posts, messed around with a little bit, then you’ll be ready to get more out of detailed suggestions, guides, etc.

Here’s my things to think about before putting anything in a blog post:

  • Once you have put it online, you essentially have “lost control.” Someone else can use it, etc. You do have copyright to your paragraphs and pictures, but in some cases enforcing this will be difficult.
  • If it is going to upset you that someone else took “your” birthdate for great-grandma and put it on their website without crediting you, don’t put it on your blog.
Your blog posts:
  • Should include enough information so that someone could retrieve the source you used. Precise bibliographic style is not necessary (in my opinion). However, you should indicate what the record is, who originally created it, where it is now housed (if known) and what website you obtained it from (if applicable) and the date you obtained. it.
  • Should include enough information so that someone interested in the person or place, etc. could Google those words and get your site. Specific names, places, dates, etc. in the post itself will make that happen. Titles of posts probably should include at least a name or a location.
  • You may wish to tag posts with topics. 
Experiment. You are not going to break it. 
Blogging and writing your research for someone else to read is an excellent way to see gaps or omissions in your research. Once in a while someone will offer a research suggestion or be related. Do NOT expect immediate responses from distant relatives in far-flung locations. Writing about your research usually improves your research as well. 
Have fun!
Blog sites to start your own:

Are You Remembering Point of View?

The informant on any record or document has their own perspective, their own agenda, and their own set of biases. Always be aware of this when analyzing information on any document. And if the informant is not specifically stated, and most are not, try to consider who the likely informant was. Remember that for most records, “proof” of information was not required and details were not cross-checked or referenced to other records.