Your Local Library

Even if you don’t have ancestors in the area where you live, your local library may be able to help you with your research. They may have access to subscription databases, reference materials and have the ability to obtain materials via interlibrary loan. Many genealogical books do not go out on interlibrary loan, but books of a more general historical nature often do. And reading a little history rarely created a genealogy brick wall.

See what your local library has to offer. You may be surprised.

What Was the Last Non-Electronic Source You Used?

Has your research been all digital? While some of us are unable to do onsite research, there are times when the only way to get at information is an actual book or paper record. There are few ancestors that can be researched completely without using at least one record that is not in digital form. When was the last time you either used an original record or received a copy of something that was not already scanned or digitized?

Do You Have Abbreviations Lurking in Your Data?

When was the last time you used an abbreviation, either in a location or in the notes or sources portion of your genealogical software?

Is it an abbreviation that others will understand? Or is it something specialized or local that may confuse instead of enlighten? Someone in 100 years might be able to Google the abbreviation, or maybe not.

Most genealogical database programs are sophisticated enough to handle long place names. Cutting words short might only lengthen the confusion later.

Is There a Final Settlement?

When looking through a set of estate or probate papers, don’t neglect to look for a “final settlement.” It may list names of children of original heirs who died before the estate could be settled, among other nuggets of information. The temptation may be to look for just the will and the estate inventory, but that final report may hold some clues as well.

What Laws Are You Violating?

Think about the reasonableness of any information you find in a compiled database. Are people having children before they are born? Are people getting married after they died? Are there individuals who get married before their parents are born? If you have never seen entries such as these, you’ve not looked at very many online trees.

Personally I use online compilations as CLUES, sometimes very weak clues, to give me ideas. Never incorporate such information into your database and never spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it. But once in a while, compiled information in the “online trees” is correct.

But make certain when you compile your own information that you are not violating any laws of space, time, biology, or physics.

Were They Somewhere Unexpected?

It is always possible that you ancestor lived, at least for a time, in a place that seems to make no sense, fits no migration patterns, etc. I still haven’t figured out my an uncle was in Arkansas for a few years in the 1910s. There may be a reason, but even so, in his family this is unusual. Anyone who left Illinois either went west or north. South was rare.

Never discount the possibility that a relative in the “wrong” place cannot be yours.

Are There Clues In the Time of the Year?

My great-great-grandmother died in February of 1888 in rural Illinois. Her obituary indicates that relatives from two separate towns, one 8 miles away and another nearly 20 miles away, came to her funeral. The travel would not have been easy, given the time of year.

Chances are those people were related to my great-great-grandmother, even though the newspaper did not mention any relationship, and the last names were unfamiliar to me. I would have researched them even if great-great-grandmother died in the summer, but given the probable difficulty of travel in February, the chance of a connection was even greater.

Quitclaim Deeds

Most of the time quitclaim deeds are used to clean up title to a piece of property after the owner has died. Individuals who sign quitclaim deeds are literally “quitting their claim” in the real estate listed in the document.

If you see a group of individuals listed as grantors on a quitclaim deed and one other likely relative listed as the grantee, you should be asking yourself “who likely died that caused this deed to become necessary?”

Often it was the last surviving member of a couple, but not always.

Order of the Children?

For families that lived during a time of no vital records genealogists often do not have dates of birth. In some cases, it may even be difficult to estimate years of birth if records are not available. In cases such as these, make certain that you indicate the birth order is either a guess or inferred from the order of children in a will or another document. If children married, years of birth could be estimated from the marriage dates.

And ask yourself, would any of my conclusions change if the order of birth for these children change? Most times they wouldn’t, but you never know.

Not Enough to Leave a Record

Keep in mind that there’s not always a “need” for a record or a document. If a child has no “estate” or inheritance from a deceased parent, there will not be need to appoint a guardian. If an ancestor doesn’t belong to a church, his children probably won’t be christened there. If an ancestor does not own property, there will not be property tax records. If recording births was not mandatory when a relative was born far from the county seat, there might not be a record of their birth.

If your ancestor didn’t care about his reputation among his neighbors, he probably didn’t bother to have his biography included in the local county history.

It doesn’t mean that we should fail to look for records, but to keep in mind that sometimes there are pretty simple reasons why records do not exist.