Tracing the Children with No Children

In our attempts to locate living relatives, we sometimes ignore those ancestral siblings and cousins who left no children of their own. After all they have no descendants with whom we can make contact.

That is true, but records on the childless relative may provide more details on earlier family members and how the estate of the childless relative was disbursed may mention previously unknown relatives.

And completely researching the relative without children is always advised in order to obtain a complete picture of the family.

Twice as Nice

In many record sets an ancestor’s name should appear only once, but there are exceptions.

People get “double counted” in census records regularly–sometimes because they moved and other times because they had two residences.

In some cases amended birth or death certificates may be filed. This is sometimes done with birth certificates for adoptions and with death certificates if the cause of death needs to be changed.

People can easily be listed on property tax rolls in more than one location if they own property in more than one location.

And individuals (or even couples) can appear as a bride or groom on more than one marriage record.

Did They Microfilm or Digitize Everything?

When records are microfilmed or digitized, sometimes the occasional item is missed or filmed out of order.

Find someone who is familiar with the original records in their original form. They may be able to tell you if there were issues with the filming or digitization of the records.

Giving Me A Bit of My Vegemite Sandwich

A 1980s song from the group “Men at Work” mentions a Vegemite sandwich. Having no personal connections to Australia, from which the band hailed, I concluded the words were “bit of my” sandwich. It sounded correct to me and was the most logical interpretation I could come up with at the time.

There’s several quick reminders or lessons here:

  • don’t assume
  • our initial conclusions may be incorrect
  • our ancestors might not have heard a clerk’s questions correctly
  • the clerk may not have heard our ancestor’s answers correctly
  • being unfamiliar with a culture or dialect may be what is causing our “problem”


Was That Last Child Really Grandma’s?

If Grandma had an “oops” baby, try and determine if it was really her “oops” baby or whether it was the baby of one of her older daughters. Sometimes the “oops” wasn’t Grandma and Grandpa’s fault. While it’s possible your great-grandma had her tenth child when she was in her very late forties, it’s also possible that it was actually her grandchild.

But don’t conclude it was actually one of her daughter’s babies until you have some evidence. A suspicion alone does not count.

Deeds May Mention Former Names

Most deeds do not provide former names of ancestors, but there are exceptions. This 1880-era deed from Illinois includes a previous last name of one of the grantors. It’s somewhat unusual for a deed to do this, but in this case the property was purchased by the wife before her marriage to the other grantor. maiden-name-deed

Do Other Relatives Have Your Family Heritage?

Have you tracked down as many of the descendants of your great-great-grandparents as possible? It may be that your cousins have family papers, mementos, letters, etc. that could assist you in your research. These items may have passed down to other branches of the family besides yours. Even individuals who are not interested every minute detail of the family tree may have information that could help you in your search.

Your great-great-grandparents could have over 1,000 living descendants  as one set of mine do.

Your great-great-grandparents could have fewer than thirty descendants as another set of mine do.

But you will never know if you do not look.

Birth Certificate Versus Certification of Birth

When requesting vital documents, be clear about what is being offered, what you actually want, and what you end up requesting.

The county clerk and recorder in the Illinois county where I was born have a copy of my birth certificate. It was created by some photographic process from the original certificate on file in the state vital records office in Springfield, Illinois. If I request a certification of birth from the county clerk, I will get a document certifying that they have a copy of my birth certificate. That document will state what the original says–including my name, date of birth, place of birth, and names of my parents.  That certification of birth will not include a “reproduction” of the actual certificate.

Genealogists usually want an actual copy of the actual record–usually done by some sort of photographic reproduction. This cuts down on transcription errors by a records clerk reading an old record (not that MY birth certificate is all that old <grin>).

In my case the original has my mother’s signature on it–a neat addition that’s not on the “certification of birth.”