The Easiest Explanation

Generally speaking, the easiest explanation is usually correct. The more logical hoops one has to jump through, the more times one has to “put away common sense,” and the like, the more likely the explanation isn’t correct. Unusual things do happen, but there is a reason that they are unusual. That “oops” baby great-grandma had at the age of 55, twelve years after her last child was born, most likely is a child of one of her daughters in their late teens. The more creative you have to get to explain something, the more likely something simply is not correct.

Now…if you find first hand evidence of those unusual events, that is a different story. Just make certain the informants are reliable.

And sober…it helps if they were sober when they told their story.

Quit Surfing and Do Something

It can be easy to waste “research” time by mindlessly looking at online sites for one thing or another.  Some ways to avoid these time wasting activities are:

  • make a list of research tasks you wish to accomplish;
  • turn your internet connection off;
  • make a list of documents to transcribe;
  • make a list of “done” ancestors that should be reviewed;
  • set a schedule of when to go back and check a site for an update to a database (daily is probably excessive);
  • lists in general are good.

Chasing some research leads down those “rabbit holes” can be a good thing–sometimes. But it can be easy to waste an inordinate amount of time chasing after half-baked, uncooked leads on your computer, when you’ve got three perfectly good cookies sitting on the counter.  The only problem is that you have to get off your chair to get them.

It Won’t Be Done and It Won’t Be Perfect

Don’t let the fact that your genealogy isn’t “done” and isn’t “perfect” prevent you from publishing your compilation.

Cite every source you have used, transcribe the documents accurately, report what they say (not what you wish they’d say), omit conjecture that has no basis, and summarize what you have found. No genealogy will ever be complete and there’s always the chance you miss something. Make certain you have used all sources that are available, not just the ones that are easy to access and not just the ones that are the easiest to understand.

Realizing that it won’t be done and that it won’t be perfect doesn’t mean that you skim the surface of what is available and that you do a sloppy job. It’s just that perfection won’t be reached.

Lessor versus Lessee

If a document refers to your ancestor as the lessor on lease–he owns the property that is the subject of the lease. If your ancestor is referred to as the lessee, he is the person being given temporary use of the property. The lessor owns it, the lessee borrows it–generally speaking.

Using that Tall Tale of a Tradition

That family story may clearly be incorrect or greatly exaggerated. Before you throw the story out completely, think about what sources or records might have been created if it were true. Consider breaking the story into the parts you could prove and the parts you could not prove.

And then go from there.

Was There a Short Term Marriage?

While divorce has not always been as common as it has been in the last forty or fifty years, it was not as rare in the time period before that either.

Is it possible that your relative had a short term marriage that did not last? It could be that the oldest child was born to a previous spouse and adopted by the next one? It could be that a female relative was married for a year or so, was divorced and took back her maiden name. A man could have easily moved to the big city to look for work, found love, found that it didn’t go so well, and returned home a single man.

That deceased relative may have had a marriage before their “first” one at the age of twenty-six. Or…it could very well have been their first. Just remain open to the possibility that there may be some details that you have not yet discovered.

Do You Really Know the Port of Entry?

Your ancestor may not have arrived at the US port that you think they did. Not everyone came through New York. Your ancestor’s original destination may not be where he settled and that destination may have impacted where he originally landed. Some immigrants to the United States originally settled in Canada and their “port of entry” into the United States may have been a land-locked one. Just because Grandma insists her Grandpa landed in New York City when he arrived as a young boy does not mean that he did.

If he arrived at that age, his granddaughter was not there to witness it.

How Accurate Is that Relationship?


A relationship given on a document may not  be quite as accurate or as precise as you would like. I’m listed as my great-aunt’s nephew on her death certificate–not her great-nephew. It’s a minor distinction, but still a distinction. A document may indicate two individuals are cousins, but that relationship may be first cousins, second cousins, or something other relationship. And sometimes a non-biological relative may be referred to by a term that is often used for biological relatives.

And keep in mind that some terms have changed their meanings over time.

Genealogy Is Not a Race

For the most part genealogy research is not a race and rushing around to research as fast as possible increases the chance that mistakes are made. Often those mistakes end up wasting time and money, but more importantly they increase the chance that incorrect conclusions are made and shared. Sometimes it can be difficult to “undo” those incorrect conclusions as once something is shared, it tends to be repeated by others over and over.

There are times in research when time is crucial:

  • interviewing relatives whose memories may be fading and who may be nearing the end of their life;
  • preserving records that are already deteriorating;
  • preserving records that are in danger of being destroyed.

Even if you “want to get it done before you pass on,” it’s still important to prioritize and it may be better to leave something that’s incomplete but accurate in what has been done. That will give others after you something solid to work from instead of having to redo what was done hastily.