Many Conclusions are Temporary

When research in the United States gets back beyond a certain point, records are fewer and less likely to make direct statements. It is important to remember that any conclusion reached when the records are not clear may need to be revised if new information comes to light.

Keep your mind open to the chance that you may be incorrect or may have not looked at all the records. Never assume that your initial “hunch” is Gospel Truth.

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here and it’s not written to help you research your “famous ancestors.” It’s written to help with all of them. Learn more about it and get your own copy.

Monthly Reminder

A few reminders for the end of the month:

  • Don’t forget to digitize photos and papers that only you have.
  • Identify people you can in pictures–include “how” you know who they are.
  • Back up your data.
  • Back up your data–because that’s really important.

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. Learn more about it.

Edging Your Way to a Clue

The edges of a document can often contain clues just as significant as those in the main body of a document. Clerks may squeeze in additional text for legal reasons, pastors may squeeze in parenthetical comments about a parishioner, etc.

Sometimes the edges themselves can be a clue.  Many times when documents are digitized or microfilmed, it may not be crystal clear which “front” goes with which “back.” That determination can be difficult when the documents are a variety of sizes, blank sides aren’t digitized, etc. And there are times when knowing which “front” goes with which “back” is essential to completely analyzing and interpreting the document.

This relinquishment from a homestead application in Nebraska was one of those documents. Comparing the edges made it clear that I had the front and the back of the same thing.  It may require a little creativity with a graphics package to place the edges to where you can compare them, but it may be worth the effort.
There are more details about this image in our “detailed edges” post.

Reminders About Genealogy Tip of the Day

A few reminders:

  • tips are short–and not meant to be extensive, academic discussions of a topic
  • tips are reminders–all of us forget things from time to time
  • tips may send you looking–for more details on that topic
  • tips may not apply in all areas and time periods–check and see if that concept applies to your research situation
  • tips are sometimes basic–we’ve got people at a variety of levels who participate and we were all beginners at one point in time

And thanks to all who participate in Genealogy Tip of the Day! It is appreciated.

Tombstone Tales

Just about anything can appear on a tombstone–not just the dates of birth and death. Some immigrants had their place of birth inscribed on their tombstone and others may have included military service information. Any information on a stone should be compared to other sources, but never assume that the “stone won’t tell me anything I don’t already know.”

Learn more about research, methods, and sources in Casefile Clues.

Who Was the Administrator?

Sometimes the connection the adminstrator of an estate has to the deceased is obvious or easy to determine. Sometimes it’s not. It’s always worth finding out if there is a connection.

For years, I assumed incorrectly that the administrator of the estate of Michael Trautvetter who died in Hancock County, Illinois, was a neighbor, friend, or interested creditor. I knew little about Trautvetter’s family and, after a while, gave up on determining what the relationship was. Years later, after learning more about the family it was discovered that the administrator of the estate was the husband of a daughter of Trautvetter’s sister.

The sister had a marriage in Germany I was unaware of and that was the maiden name of the administrator’s wife–which meant nothing to me at the time.

Always ask yourself who that administrator is. There may be clues there.

Who Oversaw the Estate of the Young Widow’s Dead Husband?

Always pay close attention to the person who was appointed to be the administrator of the estate of a man who died with a wife and young children. If the person is not clearly a relative of the deceased individual, it very likely is a biological relative of the wife–or perhaps her second husband.

And if there is a will and the wife is appointed executor, look carefully at who signed her bond. Those bondsmen were often relatives of the widow.

There Is No Magic

It can be tempting to think that if one keeps looking and tries hard enough, that there’s “got to be” a document somewhere that answers all your questions.


But most of the time there’s not.

To be certain, I’ve found a page of court testimony that outlined the family relationships and military pension affidavits that answered many of my questions. But in most situations, determining the relationships required looking over all the snippets of information I had from a variety of records, analyzing those snippets, and trying to determine what they said in the aggregate. No clue is too small.

There might be that one piece of paper in a courthouse that will answer all your questions, but likely there’s not. Chances are it’s quite a few smaller pieces of paper that need to be analyzed together. That’s why it is important to find as much as you can about your “confusing ancestor” and his circle of relatives and friends.

AncestryDNA Class September-October

Based on many requests, we’ve added this class to our schedule for September-October:

AncestryDNA–5 weeks


  • Understanding what can and cannot be learned from the AncestryDNA test
  • Strategies for “figuring out” people who do not return communication
  • Probability of relationship based on shared DNA and relationship scenarios not presented
  • Downloading AncestryDNA matches into an Excel spreadsheet and working with those matches and that spreadsheet
  • Determining what matches you want to try and figure out
  • Tracking results and findings
  • Problem-solving
  • Looking at the results when the grandfather was an adoptee who wasn’t the birth father of one of his children
  • Analyzing tree for ethnic/geographic pools
  • Sorting matches that can’t be determined specifically
  • Keeping your list of matches up to date

More details are on our announcement page.

Anyone Could Have Crossed the Pond

Those whose families have lived in the United States for centuries sometimes think that their relatives will not appear on a passenger manifest.That is not necessarily true. It is possible that your ancestor traveled overseas for his work, for pleasure, or as a part of military service. My great-grandmother’s families had lived in the United States since at least the 1780s and her sister’s Red Cross service during the first World War caused her to be on a passenger manifest.