Who Was Actually There?

Remember that for a person to be born in a location, their mother has to be in that location. The same is not true of the father. The father and mother have to be in the same location nine or so months before the birth.

Basic biology, but make certain your conclusions, assumptions, and premises don’t violate it.

Are You Assuming Actions?

Try and stick to information or evidence you have found in original records or sources. Avoid putting speculation into your family files, particularly regarding details of your ancestor’s life that are not even remotely suggested in the records. It is difficult for someone over a hundred years later to really understand everything about what motivated their ancestor. A woman being left as a widow in 1855 with small children may have remarried out of necessity to support herself and her children, but whether that marriage was unhappy or not is not suggested merely because it took place early in 1856.

In a similar fashion, your inability to find a marriage record does not mean the couple was not married and the failure to record the birth of a child does not necessarily mean the child was born out of wedlock.

I have wondered if a relative of mine who came home from military service in the early 1900s was somehow impacted mentally by that service. However, I leave that “wonder” out of my records. There’s no mention of it in any documents on him, including veteran’s hospital records. He seemed to fall away from his family after his mother’s death, but I have no proof of actual mental issues at all. It is also possible that he was a little eccentric and didn’t get along with his siblings. Or there may be something else entirely.

Unindexed, Offline, and Full of Details

I wrapped up a beginning genealogy class last week. One of the records sources we discussed were local court records. These materials are full of genealogical information. Yet many genealogists do not use them because they are frequently only available in their original paper form and have minimal indexes. Do not limit yourself.

Local court records (divorce, estate fights, bastardry, etc.)  involving your family could provide more information than you ever dreamed of.

Is that “s” an “f”?

Remember when using digital versions of old newspapers and relying on optical character recnognition that an “s” may appear to be an “f.”

That’s how I found Absalom in the index as Abfalom.

Human eyes might not have read it that way. But computers, reading millions of letters will do that.

The option, for those that find this irritating, is to read the newspapers one at a time.

Not Just an Obituary

When reading newspapers for information on someone’s death and funeral, be certain to check out the “gossip” columns even after the funeral for mention of relatives who came back for the funeral. Sometimes their visit will be mentioned in a “gossip” column a week or two after the obituary.

Get Beyond Yourself

A few gentle reminders:

  • When at the library, be considerate of other researchers who may need materials besides you.
  • When at any research facility, don’t have phone conversations where other researchers can hear you. They really do not care about your personal life.
  • Leave research facilities as you found them.
  • Don’t remove records from a research facility.
  • Don’t tear pages from books.
  • Be respectful of staff.
  • If you must “vent,” do away from the facility. You may need to go back later and they will remember that you had a little “fit” the last time you visited.

It Is About You

Are you leaving behind information on yourself as well as your ancestors? On those days when you are stuck on your dead ancestor, consider taking a break and writing down some information about yourself. Getting away from your long-lost relatives may give you some new perspective and leaving details about your own life behind is never a bad idea either.

Context Is Everything

If you make a copy from a published history or any reference, do you also copy enough of the material so that the item is in context?

A relative copied one page from a county history that is  only a list of names. No idea why the list was created, what year it was created, or any other detail as to how the people’s names got on the list. Without any idea at all, the list is merely a list of names. They could have been gathered arbitrarily for all I know.

Always include a complete citation and enough information from the original so that you know what you really copied.

A name by any other name is just a name.

A Date is a Date is a Date

Some documents have several dates associated with them. Make certain that you clearly indicate what each date is.

A deed may have a date of signing, a date of acknowledgement, and a date of recording.

A will may have a date of signing and a date that it was proven in court.

There is the official census date and the date on which the actual census was taken.

Record the dates as specifically as you can. This can reduce confusion.