When encountering a family of parent(s) and children, always consider the possibility that the children are not full biological siblings. Some children could have been from previous relationships either parent had and others could be theirs together. Even if there were no divorces or separations, previous spouses could have either abandoned their family or died. Left with children to support, remarriage was relatively common especially if the remaining parent’s economic status made it necessary. Never assume that what appears to be a “husband wife and their children” actually is. It may not be.
I’m excited to be presenting at the May 2019 seminar of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society in Menlo Park California. I’ll be presenting four topics: Problem Solving Applied to Genealogy Organizing Online Research Researching the Entire Family and Beyond Finding Barbara’s Beaus and Gesche’s Girls The last session is about two 19th century German immigrants to Illinois, but it’s not just about Germans and it’s not just about Illinois. Barbara was married two, three, or four times–depending upon how you count and Gesche’s two daughters left no descendants but presented their own research problems. Note: One place on their website (as of this writing) indicates the seminar is in 2018–guarantee you it’s not! Email me to have me present for your seminar
How does that document or entry in a register of numerous entries compare to other documents or other entries in the register? Obviously the details identifying the specific individual are different, but other aspects of the item should be similar to other documents or entries? If your document (a death certificate perhaps) is partially typed and partially handwritten are others? If different types of handwriting appear on the document are others similar? If parts of the document are left blank do others have the same blank spaces? If the item of interest is an entry in a register of baptisms, are other entries similar to yours in how they are worded, phrased, and organized? Are there other pieces of information in most of the other entries that are […]
They do it. They find something when they aren’t expecting to and in an attempt to save it, they tuck it in a safe place out of the way quickly. The problem is that sometimes that safe place is a logical one and sometimes it is not. And because they do it, when you go through a relative’s papers you should go through everything one sheet and one page at a time. When we went through my great-aunt’s personal family papers, tucked in between two pages in the back half of a photo album was her brother’s discharge papers from the Illinois National Guard. The photo album was only half used and the discharge paper was discovered after turning from one blank page to another. There were pictures […]
One person’s “useless” is another person’s “useful.” Recently I heard someone say that naturalization records in the United States in the 19th century are “useless.” It’s true that they generally don’t provide as much information as later records do. Naturalization records in the United States in the 19th century generally only provide the name of the individual, the date/place of the naturalization, the person to whom allegiance was owed, and the names of the witnesses. Occasionally there may be a declaration of intention and those can provide more information. But even those little bits of information can be helpful. The document puts your relative in a place on a specific date. If the law was being followed, he had to have been in the United States for a […]
  If there is a chance that the person you match might decide to make their DNA results “private,” take a screen shot of the details of their match (including their tree) while it is still public. Sometimes for one reason or another a person decides to make some or all of the information they have attached to their DNA results private. If you wait to take a screen shot of that information it may disappear. Don’t wait. At long last! Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. 
This ran in 2015, but it’s worth mentioning again.  We all have relatives of whom we neglected to ask questions or otherwise probe for family genealogical information. If you have relatives who have pictures you’ve not identified, try and identify them now. If you have relatives who have pictures or other ephemera you’ve not digitized, do that now. If you have relatives to whom you’ve not talked about the past, do that now. If you have relatives who would consent to DNA testing, do that now. That should be enough of a laundry list and probably is actually more than one tip.
Years ago, a well-known genealogist wrote that her Italian immigrant ancestors in the United States in the early 1920s would have had a certain type of celebration and eaten a certain type of dessert at the holidays. The statement struck me as something of an assumption. She didn’t mention any family members who remembered being at this type of event or having memories of Grandma or a family member making a certain special pastry. The writer indicated she had read about the tradition and assumed that her relatives had to have done it. It can help your research to learn about cultural practices of members of your ancestor’s ethnic group, social class, local area, etc. It can be fun to incorporate some of these traditions into your modern […]
Family traditions are often a mix of fact and fiction–where the fiction has been slowly, and sometimes unintentionally, added to the facts over time. The teller of the story may believe it because they heard it many time or because a beloved family is the one who told it to them. Other times relatives intentionally embellish stories of their own life with details that are not true or complete events that did not happen. They may tell the story so many times over so many years that they begin to believe it is actually more true than it is. Write the story down as the person told it, including their name, date, and (if applicable) details of how likely it was their memory was accurate or if the […]
Sometimes relatives open up more about relatives after another member of the family dies. For one reason or another they may feel more comfortable telling certain stories when a certain member of the family is no longer living. These stories may about the deceased relative directly or about certain close relatives of the recently deceased family member. Consider (if possible) re-interviewing relatives after another close family member dies. It’s not just “family secrets” that may come to life. Sometimes the fact that someone died causes living relatives to remember things they could not remember before–even details that are of an innocent nature.
It can be a challenge to read records in a foreign language. It is more of a challenge when the records are written in blank books with no lines and little guidance about what is in the record. Instead of starting your foreign-language research with those records, begin with a part of your family in records that are much later. In many European countries in the mid-to-late 19th century many records are written in pre-printed ledgers with printed column headings indicating the content of each column. The script in these records is more modern which also helps in the transcription and translation. Once you are familiar with these records, start working your way back in time to when the records are less organized, the handwriting is even worse (probably), […]
Generally speaking, a witness is indicating that they witnessed the event described in the document they are signing. A witness to a marriage is saying that they saw you got married. They are not saying that they are related to either of the parties getting married. They are not saying that they approve of the marriage. They are not saying that the bride’s dress compliments the groom’s tuxedo. A witness to a will is saying that they know who the testator is and that they appeared to be able to sign the document of their own volition. They are not saying that they approve of anything in the will or that they are related to the person signing the will (although witnesses to a will generally can’t benefit […]
Some towns and counties kept records of chattel mortgages. These mortgages generally are for property other than real estate and can include: livestock, tools of a trade, merchandise in a store, household goods, and similar items. These records may or may not be available on microfilm or in digital format. Like other records, they can provide additional background on your relative’s life, social standing, and family relationships (sometimes). One advantage to these records is that your relative did not have to own real estate in order to appear in them. Some ways to determine if these records exist in the location of interest include: searching the FamilySearch catalog; asking local librarians; contacting local historical or genealogical societies; asking researchers familiar with the area  
In some locations during some time periods, probate files may not mention all property owned by the deceased. This is more likely to be the case if the deceased owned real estate and did not mention it in his will or did not even leave a last will and testament. If you have good reason to believe the deceased owned real property on his or her death, search land records to determine what happened to the property. If there is a land record for the person’s property created after their death, it will not list them as the grantor–the heirs will be listed. For this reason, search the grantor index for these records using all the names of the deceased’s heirs. Deeds are usually only indexed in the […]
An excellent way to learn about records, research, and methodology is to “rework” a family that you think you already know. Probably the best way to really understand court, probate, land, and other records is to completely research them on a family that’s “already been done.” Completely reading those records in families where you already know the family structure will allow you to focus on details (legal terms, especially) other than the family. It’s a great way to broaden your understanding of records for those times when you don’t have all the names and relationships at your disposal. And sometimes when you “redo” a “done family,” you realize that it wasn’t as done as you thought it was.  
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