Did that Geographic Feature Move or Get Renamed?

Towns get renamed. Street names change. Some roads are moved. Some roads are closed entirely. Occasionally even rivers change their course. County lines get moved. Some geographic or physical political features that we think have always been a certain way have not. Use contemporary maps where possible. Determine if features or “landmarks” were always where they are now.

Some location names may fade away over time–particularly if a location was known for a family that has moved from the area. My Grandma was born on what was known locally as the “Habben Corner” in 1924. I’ve even seen an occasional newspaper reference to the area by that name. Today that name has faded from use.

Transcribe in Context

At first the location on this military discharge stymied me. Then I looked at the date and it made perfect sense. A US military discharge in 1847 could easily have been done in Mexico. A little geographic searching determined the town was Comargo.

Always transcribe a document in context–it helps.

Grabbing the First One: Does It Fit What Is Already Known?

Don’t just grab the first record that seems to match the names of the individuals for whom you are looking and assume that it’s the “right people.” It may or may not be them. There can be husband and wife couples with the same or similar names living in the same country, state, county, parish, etc.–particularly if the names are relatively common. Those couples can be unrelated to each other, particularly if the geographic distance is significant. They couple be cousins of the couple of interest–which still means that you’ve got the “wrong people” just wrong people who are related.

Records in the United States all indicate that my Irish immigrant forebears were in Canada by the mid-1860s and that they started having children by the late 1860s. US census records and later death records for the children all consistently indicate that the children were born in Canada or in the United States–some providing a specific location in Canada which helped me to locate the parents’ marriage record. Fully researching the family where they settled also resulted in the location of a brother of the immigrant and that brother’s records allowed me to locate where the family was from in Ireland.

A researcher insisted the couple was married in Ireland because a couple matching their names popped up in an index of Irish marriages–no explanation for the geographic discrepancy. The date was inconsistent with other information known about the couple and their children. It could be that the couple who popped up in the index was them–but the researcher would need to explain why since that date and place was chronologically and geographically inconsistent with what is already known. And there already was a marriage record for that couple with the same names in the place their children were born a year or so before the oldest one arrived.

That couple is probably them.



Farm Sale Ads Give Property Location Clues

Determining exactly where a property is located in a state land state in the United States can be difficult–metes and bounds descriptions may not give adequate landmarks or they ones they give are no longer in existence. This 1878 farm sale add names properties owned by my actual ancestor in 1805. The mention of the creek and the road (in particular) will assist in determining where the property is approximately located today.


A To-the-Point Opinion on the Reality of DNA for Genealogy

No matter where you have the DNA test performed (AncestryDNA ,FamilyTreeDNA, etc.) remember that the tests will not immediately answer all your genealogy questions. Fast answers rarely happen despite what the advertisements say. The ethnicity results are best viewed as entertainment or something you can use to irritate living relatives if absolutely necessary. Not all submitters will have trees. Not all submitters will respond to communication. Some submitters will be impossible to “figure out” because they have no trees and do not respond. Some submitters have mistakes in their tree that they are unaware of. Some submitters will refuse to admit when their trees are wrong.

You may tear a little of your hair out during the process.  Speaking of hair…

Don’t spend the money to find out about your hair color, ear lobe attachment, etc. Check your mirror for the ear lobe attachment and check the color of that that hair you pulled out. Be honest with yourself if you colored it-who else you confess to is your own business. If you pulled it out from a toupee or wig, take it easy next time–those things aren’t cheap. Save that money for genealogy.

That said…

Some submitters do communicate. Some submitters are willing to share. Some submitters can be “figured out” even if they don’t respond. You may be able to answer some long standing questions about your past.

It won’t happen immediately. You need to be patient. You need to be willing to learn.

You may swear during the process. The world will not end if you do.



Be Willing to Change

Part of genealogical research is evaluating what you have and altering conclusions when new and more reliable information warrants. Early in our research when we are inexperienced, it can be tempting to rely too much on family information. It can also be easy to rely on incomplete information–especially before we learn that “official” records can be incorrect or inconsistent.

And sometimes DNA and other information will cause us to re-evaluate what we thought was true even when we had a number of records and completely analyzed them.

My children’s great-great-grandfather (father of their great-grandmother) has morphed through many iterations over the nearly thirty years that I have researched him–always because I have located new information:

  • a Greek immigrant to Chicago, Illinois, born in the 1880s–turned out he was the great-great-grandmother’s second husband and not the biological father of any of her children;
  • a man born in Chicago in the 1880s (first husband of the great-great-grandmother) who was the son of English immigrants to Chicago in the 1860s–turned out the English couple adopted him as a child when his parents died young;
  • the man born in Chicago in the 1880s wasn’t actually the son of that couple who died young–he had been adopted by them shortly after his birth to unknown parents;
  • DNA indicated that the the man born in Chicago in the 1880s was not the biological father of the great-grandmother.

And so it goes. Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong, but not every research problem is quite as convoluted as this family is (our post here only scratches the surface). It can happen to all of us. Just use as many records as you can, transcribe them as they are written, and adequately cite them.

Preserve It Today!

The guy behind Genealogy Tip of the Day with his mother and an unidentified teddy bear.

One never knows when life will change in an instant. Have you preserved or shared pictures and images of items you have that cannot be replaced? Don’t wait. A sudden illness, natural disaster, or other event can alter your plans for “doing it later.” Make certain others have digital copies of items you have. Initially focus on those items that are unique–letters, pictures, etc.

You can wait to make copies of census records and other items that are probably elsewhere.

But that wedding book that has signatures of relatives? That scrapbook that has one-of-a-kind pictures? Those are the things you need to focus on initially.

Life has a way of happening and those left behind may not have the interest in the things that you do.

Declarations of Intention in the US

Before US naturalization reform in the early 20th century, any court of record could record a declaration of intention to become a United States citizen or naturalize an individual. The court that recorded the declaration of intent may not have been the same as the court that finally approved the naturalization. The declaration was a preliminary step in the naturalization process and not all who declared finally naturalized although many did. You should always look for a declaration of intention to become a citizen as it may provide information beyond what is on the naturalization–or it may not. The amount of detail can vary from one location to another and from one court to another, especially before the process was standardized in the early 20th century.

But don’t limit your search for a declaration to become a citizen to the location where the naturalization was approved. People moved. They may have filed their declaration of intention in the location where they initially settled and completed the naturalization process elsewhere. Remember also that before the early 20th century reform of naturalization laws any court of record could naturalize and that most of those courts were local county courts.


Read the Newspaper

Don’t just focus on the line in the newspaper or article that includes your relative’s name. Additional items in the paper may give you more insight into your relative’s life. Consider reading the entire issue of the paper, particularly if the event was significant in your relative’s life. You will discover what was happening nationally and locally and may even get the newspaper’s perspective on current events in the opinion pages.