Always Check for a Divorce or Separation

Even if you think divorce “never happened in ‘our’ family,” check for one anyway.

It’s possible the couple divorced and no one in the family mentioned it. It is possible a divorce case was initiated and not completed. It’s possible that there was a court case for “separate maintenance” (where there’s no “divorce,” but the couple lives apart). In all three cases, the testimony and details in the court packets may be similar (particularly in terms of possibly providing a date and place of marriage). Children may or not be mentioned in these cases, particularly if they are of legal age.

And it’s possible that there was no court action of any type, but the couple maintained separate households. My great aunt and uncle did that until their deaths in the 1980s–living in houses directly across the street from each other.

Create an Ancestral Resume

Most of us use chronologies in our ancestral research–consider making a resume for your ancestor. List what years he worked what jobs. Census and city directories are great ways to start getting this information, but death certifiates, obituaries, estate inventories, etc. all may give occupational clues.

Don’t pad your ancestral resume like you might your own. Stick to documentable facts (grin!).

Mother of How Many Children

The 1900 and 1910 US Census asks females the number of children they have had and how many of those children are living. These answers were not “backed up” by anything other than the respondent’s memory, but in many cases are accurate. Don’t forget to check for this information for any female relative living in the US during this time period.

Is There Really Just One Newspaper Account?

There were quite a few articles on Philip.

If your relative was part of a “breaking local news story,” an account of the incident may have made the local newspaper. One account of an event can easily contain incorrect details, particularly if the event took place close to press time or witnesses were originally difficult to find. Obtain multiple newspaper references to the event and compare/contrast the details provided.

  • a reference a few days later may contain more accurate information-or it may not.
  • if the incident resulted in court action, more details may be mentioned in newspaper articles during the trial
  • if the incident was sufficiently noteworthy, there may be retrospective articles on anniversary dates of the incident
  • the incident may be mentioned when a key player dies years later
  • check other nearby newspapers for mention of the incident

Keep in mind some newspapers may have essentially “copied” what was in another paper. Two sources saying the exact same thing does not make it twice as likely to be true–just twice as likely to have been copied.

Learn more about newspaper research in Jim Beidler’s  The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide: How to Find Your Ancestors in Archived Newspapers.

How Contemporary Was That Stone?


When transcribing and analyzing the information on a tombstone, keep in mind that the stone may have been erected years or decades after the individual died.

Some stones are replacement stones erected years after the person was buried.

That doesn’t mean the information is wrong any more than a stone erected right after the death is correct.

It’s just another piece of information to help you analyze what you do find on the stone when you compare it with other information that you have.

One Source Might Not Be Right..But

One source might not always be correct, but it might not always be incorrect either. Each source containing information needs to be evaluated separately based upon the original intent of the document, the likely informant, probable reliability of the specific information, etc.

A statement in an 1830 probate case indicating that an heir had a child of a certain name is reasonably solid evidence of that parent-child relationship–even if there are no other available documents that make the same statement.

We would still look for additional sources of this relationship, including those that provided either direct or indirect evidence, but would probably not discount it just because no other references to it could be found.


As A Young Girl…

Be open to different interpretations of phrases.

Barbara Haase’s 1903 obituary indicated she came to the United States as “a young girl.” Does this mean she was a toddler, a pre-teen, or nearly twenty? The newspaper could also be wrong about the “time” of her arrival as well. I shouldn’t use this phrase to make my searches of passenger lists overly narrow.

And the failure to mention her parents doesn’t tell me anything about whether they immigrated or not.

Sort Court Papers First

Court and probate papers often are not in chronological order when the genealogist gets them. Before analyzing the materials, put them in chronological order first. Use the dates the documents were executed for this sorting, not the dates they were filed or recorded.

Sorting them will make it easier to see the flow of activity.

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Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide

Jim Beidler’s  The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide: How to Find Your Ancestors in Archived Newspapers arrived in my mail yesterday.

While I have not had time to completely read it yet, there’s a great deal of good advice in the book, including a quote from Genealogy Tip of the Day about “near” relatives. The book contains search techniques for several sites, including:

There are lots of great anecdotes and research stories in the book as well. Hopefully it will give me some motivation to revisit some incomplete newspaper work on some of my own families.