That Secret No One Tells, You Never Thought to Ask, and Just Assumed Did Not Happen

Some secrets are difficult to uncover, especially if you have no inkling that they ever happened in the first place. If you do not ask, no one will volunteer the information. Sometimes if you ask, they still will not provide any information or say that the event never took place. And sometimes you do not even know specifically what to ask and the only “clue” you have is an inkling that there’s something you are not being told about a certain family member (and…your “gut” could be wrong). And it could be that there’s a “secret” about a family member that only a few other family members are even aware of and they have an unwritten pact among themselves not to tell anyone else.

If a great-uncle lived in Kansas for two years and returned home to Illinois, don’t assume that nothing happened in Kansas. He could have been in jail, gotten married/divorced, had a child no one talked about, or lived a mundane life that only generated bills and rent receipts.

Never assume that Grandma is telling you “everything.” Even if she is telling everything she knows, someone else may have held some details from her. Just because the facts Grandma told you are correct, does not mean that she’s told you everything she knows.

She may just hope you don’t find out that her brother was married in 1920 and divorced three months later. Or no one may have told her that her own father’s brother had a first wife with whom he had three children.


Write Your Own Stories

In addition to writing about the dead, write about yourself: your own life, your own experiences, your own philosophy.
Because one day you’ll among the dead yourself and don’t we all wish more of our relatives had written something about their life?


Pictures of Your Notes

Pieces of paper can get lost, spilled on, and destroyed in several ways. But for some of us, paper is still where we take notes, make comments, etc. Always save digital images of those paper notes that you make. The notes on the page in this illustration are for my own personal use–there are no citations or any of the other niceties that genealogists need. I was simply trying to sketch out the family relationships for my own personal, internal use.

Yet I don’t want to have to repeat that process and I may want access to those notes later when my files are “not handy.” A digital image is a great way to do that.

Just make certain you get the whole page when taking the picture.


Who Else On the Same Day?

When locating a record, determine who else “did the same thing” on that same day? This is easier to do with records filed in chronological order.

Who naturalized on the same day as your ancestor? Who filed a declaration of intention on the same day as your ancestor? Who had a deed recorded on the same day as your ancestor?

Those other people could be associates of your ancestor. That chance is increased the further your ancestor lived from the courthouse.


The Importance of Sharing

Sharing genealogical information with others allows you to:

  • preserve information,
  • catch mistakes,
  • have a backup,
  • collaborate with others.

Keeping all your genealogical information to yourself may seem like a good idea, but researching in total isolation increases the chance you don’t find what you are looking for.

Riley (the dog in the illustration) may be more “in-your-face” about sharing than genealogists are, but it’s still a good reminder.


Natural Guardian and Guardian of the Estate

If a guardian was appointed for a minor relative who had a mother still living, that guardian usually oversaw the estate of the child (usually their “inheritance” from a deceased relative) and did not necessarily have physical custody of the child. When women had fewer legal rights, it was not uncommon for a guardian to be appointed for children whose father had died and whose mother still survived. The guardian oversaw the inheritance and generally did not “take in” the children and raise them.

A mother could be appointed guardian for her own children, but in many cases it was a male relative.


Am I A Reliable Source for My Aunt’s Siblings?

Note: This tip is not to say that the five individuals mentioned were not siblings–it’s intended to provide some food for thought.

My great-aunt was born in 1931, the youngest of five siblings. She was thirty-seven years of age when I was born. The first sibling died when I was a junior in high school. The others died over a period of thirty years. Am I a reliable source for their sibling relationship?

Obviously I was not around when they were born or when they were growing up. I saw and interacted with my great-aunt and her siblings, including her oldest brother who was my grandfather. I saw them together at family functions. I saw them acknowledge each other as siblings on numerous occasions. I saw four of them attend their mother’s funeral in 1986 (the youngest son died in 1984).

What I am a source for is that they acted like they were siblings. They acknowledged each other as siblings. Neighbors and other relatives acknowledged them as siblings. Everything I saw indicated they were siblings. That statement I can make confidently based on firsthand knowledge.

What I can’t say at all is:

  • where they were born;
  • where they lived before I was old enough to remember;
  • when they were born–at least not precisely–their birth sequence I would have reasonable knowledge of because I knew them for some time as adults;
  • anything I didn’t witness.

Think about that when analyzing something on a death certificate, census, interview, etc.


Every Piece of Paper

A release of a mortgage can seem like a mundane document. It essentially indicates that a mortgage has been paid off in full and that the holder of the note is releasing their interest in the property and that they no longer have a claim to the real estate that was used to secure the loan.

Because of that, I almost didn’t obtain a copy of a release for a relative from 1948. All it would do is list the property description, the name of the borrower, and that the loan was paid.

But there was a little clue. The release was structured as a quit claim deed–the holder of the note was relinquishing their claim to the property. Still pretty typical. But something had happened between the relative purchasing the property in the 1930s and their paying it off in 1948.

The release document referred to my relative as “John Smith, divorced, and now not married.”

The relative was unmarried when the purchase was acquired. Without the release quit claim, I might never have known about the marriage.



Did He Even Use That First Name of Johann?

Your Germanic ancestor’s “first name” may have technically been Johann, but he might have had a middle name that was actually his “call name,” or the name he was called. Johann George Trautvetter as given on church record in 1798 may have actually been called George Trautvetter–only using Johann George in church records.

Keep in mind that different areas of Germany may have had different naming traditions and that what may be true in one area may not be true in another.

Research and find out. Don’t assume that what “worked” in one place necessarily worked in another.