Reverse Directories

Some city directories have reverse directories that list residents by their address, not their names. This portion of the directory can be a great way to find names of neighbors, especially in off census years. This portion of a city directory is best used along with a contemporary map to assist in visualization.

Can You Provide Primary Information Regarding Your Birth?

There’s a potential gray area here.

Information is considered to be primary is the informant reasonably had first hand knowledge of the information.  It is worth noting that all memory can be fallible. ageknowledge

I know my precise date of birth not because I remember the actual day. I remember my birthday because I’ve been told it numerous times and it’s on my birth certificate. I cannot provide primary information regarding my date of birth because I do not have personal memory of being born on that day. This does not mean the date is wrong–just that I cannot provide that primary information myself.

Can I provide primary information on my approximate age?

Sure. If I stop and think, I can remember being in the third grade during the US presidential election where the “peanut president won.” I remember it was third grade because it was when I was in Mrs. Putman’s class and she was my third grade teacher. Assuming that my memory is correct, I can fairly closely approximate my age from something that I myself remember. I also remember the year I graduated high school as well. Usually a person can “remember” their approximate age if they stop to remember ages they were at certain events, etc. That’s different from claiming to remember your exact date of birth.

Classification of information as primary or secondary merely indicates our perception of how the informant came to know something that they claim to know.

Whether they are correct is another matter entirely.


Sometimes Text Messages Will Not Do

Have you sketched out the migration of your ancestor on a map? To help sift out two men with a similar name, I put all their pre-1850 census enumerations on a map of New York, marking the locations. Sometimes a picture helps.

I was recently helping a friend with a genealogy problem and all our discussion appeared in a chat window in Facebook. I kept thinking to myself that I would have been less confused if I could have had the information in some sort of chart or chronology and another sheet with locations mapped out.

Unorganized text can make it difficult to notice things.

Did the Missing Heir?

For years, I had been unable to track down what happened to a first cousin of my great-grandmother. This was a man born in the 1870s in Illinois. While I had not extensively researched his siblings, I had located their obituaries and places of burial. I wanted the same thing for the missing man–or at least to know where he died..

When I finally began researching the family more extensively in local records, the answer (such as it was) was in the probate file of the missing cousin’s brother. That brother had died without children and his probate provided details on when the missing brother was last seen and what searches were conducted. The missing brother had an ex-wife and children who had tried to find him.

The missing cousin was never found and I’ve never found him either. But now I know why.

If your “missing person” was an heir to an estate, search those records. There may be some mention of your missing person. He may have been found years ago or could have been missing then as well.

Before Searching that Database

Before searching that “new” database, make certain you know:

  • how complete the database is
  • if it indexes just “main names”
  • if it indexes every name
  • how searches actually work

Practice searching the database for names you know are there–this is always a good technique when first performing searches or if you can’t find a “Frequently Asked Page” or “More About” page that actually tells you something.


Those Metal Boxes in the Courthouse

Court case files stored in a courthouse’s metal boxes may be in no particular order within a box and have likely been rummaged through repeatedly over the decades. There may be separate sets of boxes for different courts within the same office or records vault. Make certain you are looking in the right set of boxes for the records you need.


And always make certain you ask the courthouse staff what methods of “records reproduction” are permissible. I prefer to make digital images with a camera or phone, but not all facilities allow researchers to do that. Find out first. courthouseboxes

The Courthouse Will Still Be There: Will Grandma?

courthouseWhile it’s always fun to make a genealogical research trip to a courthouse and search through old records, remember that the most fragile genealogical source available is someone’s mind.

If, as the saying goes “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” the courthouse will still be around in a week. Great aunt Myrtle might not. The human mind can be extremely fragile and is a repository that often can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Don’t neglect it.

It is Not All Online

There is still a significant amount of genealogical material (particularly local records) that are not available online. These materials must either be accessed onsite or via microfilm. In discussing a problem with a colleague, I was told that the records most likely to help me with my problem were only available onsite or on microfilm.

It was a good reminder for me as I was hoping to access “just the right database or website” and solve my problem.

It is not possible to mouse click your way to every record, at least not yet. And that day may not come until many of us have ceased to exist among the living. not-online