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 […]
We still have openings in our three session class on using US census records 1850-1940. Join us! See more details on our informational page.  
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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.
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 […]
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.
  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.
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 […]
This appears to be a joke, but this screen shot of available FamilySearch databases was made at approximately 6:30 pm central time on 24 January 2019. The “Junk” database was displayed.
The recorded copy of a document may have several different dates on it. Make certain you understand the purpose of each date and don’t draw incorrect conclusions. Dates may include: date of the event(s) the document is documenting; date the act the document documents was acknowledged; date the document was “proved” by the witnesses; date the document was recorded; etc. Not all documents will have all these dates. Deeds are one document that are often acknowledged in front of an official in addition to being signed by the person executing the deed. The dates may not be the same. Wills often have to be “proved” by witnesses.
We are excited to offer this new class on using US census records. Virtually every US genealogist uses census records, but not everyone is aware of how those records can be maximized for what they do contain. There are limitations to these records, but there are advantages to them as well. If you’ve wondered if you are getting the most out of US census records, this class is for you. Content: This three-week session will look at US census records from 1850 through 1940. Topics discussed will include: enumerator instructions and how information “got in the census” organization of original records working with family structure in 1850-1870 records correlating a family’s census records over time evaluating accuracy of census records determining other records suggested by a family’s enumerations […]
I’ll be speaking at the San Mateo County, California, Genealogical Society’s May 2019 workshop in Menlo Park, California. The seminar will be held on 4 May 2019. Registration details are on their website. Topics: Problem Solving Applied to Genealogy Organizing Online Research Researching the Entire Family and Beyond Finding Barbara’s Beaus and Gesche’s Girls I’m looking forward to the seminar. If you’re a regular reader in attendance, please come up and introduce yourself during one of the breaks! If you’d like to have Michael present at your conference or seminar, email him at
US Census records before 1880 do not give relationship to the head of the household. The oldest male and female are often husband and wife–but occasionally they are siblings or there is another relationship. If other records provide evidence that the oldest male and female in a household were married, remember that the children may not all be theirs together. Some could be his, some could be hers, some could be theirs, and some could have another relationship to one or both of the oldest male and female in the household. Remember the pre-1880 US census indicated who was living in a household. That household may have been a married couple and their children (sometimes referred to as the “traditional household”) or another set of relationships. Those “non-traditional” […]
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