The Northeast Bedroom

My great-aunt Ruth remembered a cute story that took place in my Mother’s grandparents home when my Mother was a small child. It involved Mom walking around the house and mentioned the northeast bedroom.

The northeast bedroom?

As I read it, I scrunched my nose and made that face when I am certain that something is wrong. My own grandparents had lived in the same home for thirty years. I had been in it often. There was no northeast bedroom. The entire north side of the house was the living room. Then I remembered.

My Grandparents, not needing two downstairs bedrooms and two upstairs bedrooms, had taken down a wall and enlarged the living room.  The seeming error in my great-aunt’s story was not an error at all.  My personal memory was the problem. It only extended through my life time. Fortunately upon reflection, I realized I had additional information.

In this case the discrepancy was small and my memory of what I had been told was able to rectify it. Many times that is not the case.

Don’t assume that someone else’s memory is incorrect. It could be that your personal knowledge is simply incomplete.

A Different Family Perspective

Nancy Jane (Newman) Rampley (1846 Rush County, Indiana-1923 Hancock County, Illinois)

When deciding which relatives to interview and ask questions of, get outside your “line of descent” and your “immediate family.” Others may have a different perspective, know different details, or not be “afraid” to reveal tidbits that others are hesitant to.

Family history remembered and written by nieces and nephews of Nancy Jane (Newman) Rampley indicated that when they’d go to visit her in the home she lived in West Point, Hancock County, Illinois’ after she’d moved “to town,” she’d let them play dress up with clothes in the attic and they generally always had a fun time playing at Aunt Nancy’s.

And while I know that all pictures of the era look stern, that’s a really nice contrast to her picture–or maybe not. She could be thinking let’s just get this camera nonsense over with.


Look at the Background of the Neighborhood

When you find someone in the census, do you look at the nativity of others on the same or adjacent census pages? How common or unusual was your relative’s place of birth compared to their neighbors? Were they living in a neighborhood where they were in the majority or the minority in terms of place of birth? Was there even a majority in terms of place of birth? If the census asked the question, were most people homeowners or renters? How does your relative’s occupation compare to that of his neighbors?

Sometimes the biggest clues about a relative in his census enumeration aren’t on the line that contains his name.

No Deed of Acquisition?

If your relative was a landowner and you cannot find a deed of acquisition for the property he owned, it is possible that:

  • he inherited the land and there was no actual “deed;”
  • the deed of acquisition was not recorded (possible, but not likely);
  • the property was acquired through a grant that was not recorded with the local land records.

Acquisitions through inheritance may be documented in the local will or estate records. Deeds that were unrecorded are often impossible to locate, but consider looking at local real property tax records to determine when the ancestor started paying taxes on the property. Grants may have been colonial, state, or federal records–determine where these records are kept for the location and time period in question. Always ask researchers familiar with the local area to determine if there are any unique situations that may explain the failure to locate the record of acquisition. They may have suggestions specific to the place in question.

Trees of DNA Testers are Clues–& Based on What They Know

Many DNA matches took their test because they received it as a gift or had a passing interest in their ethnicity. If you are lucky their tree has at least a few names in it. Remember that what’s in many of those short trees are based upon what the person knew from personal memory or perhaps what close relatives told them.

As a result, maiden names may not be correct and may be last names of step-fathers or previous husbands. First names may be incorrect as well. If you are lucky these testers communicate with you and some information can be corrected and the known lineage extended.

If they don’t, you are left with what’s in their tree. Be flexible in using the information they have in their tree–but use it as a starting point.

Do You Really Know of All the Siblings?

Depending upon the time period and the location, it can be difficult to know for certain all the children or siblings of an ancestor. In places where there was no civil or ecclesiastical recording of birth records, knowing “for certain” you’ve got all the siblings can be a challenge. Probate records often don’t mention pre-deceased children if they left no descendants of their own. Some children may have life spans that don’t include a census year. Some families may not mention children who died young–not because of shame, but because of emotional upset.

Always look at birth dates of children and see if there’s a gap–there might have been children that simply migrated away and are accounted for, some might have died young, there might have been miscarriages, or there may have been no children at all.

If there’s a ten year gap and the last child was born when the mother was fifty, it’s possibly not her child but her grandchild.

Sketch Out Your Notes and Photograph or Scan Them


Sometimes it is faster to take notes on paper with pencil. Using a map as a backdrop for your notes can be helpful when people move all over or live in more than one place.

But preserve those notes. File them digitally with images of other records Your notes can be just as valuable as the records you have located–particularly if your analysis, interpretations, and ideas for further research are included on those notes

Sometimes Being Subtle Is Good

It’s best to be subtle when contacting DNA matches that are the result of an unexpected parentage. Lying is never advised, but it’s good to remember that the person you are contacting may have a different reaction than you to finding out that a near relative had a child that no one knew about.

Even if you think you know the probable connection, it might be best to initially indicate that you are trying to determine the relationship more precisely than the results page indicates. And there is still no guarantee that you will ever get a response. If the individual’s tree is public, you might even want to take screen shots or save their information just in case they decide to make the tree private or take it down entirely. One never knows just how someone will respond–particularly when the unexpected relative is a fairly close.

And if you are not certain that your analysis of the results is correct–ask someone who is knowledgeable about genealogical DNA test results to look at the information. And…when you do that don’t tell them what your conclusions are. They should be able to put those aside when doing their analysis, but that way you can really see if they reach the same conclusion that you did.

Might Does Not Make Right

There are numerous online “trees” that indicate my great-grandmother’s middle name was Ioan. It was not. It was Iona. Most of the trees list it as Ioan–one typographical error was multiplied over and over. One compiler apparently decided Ioan was a typographical error–only to “correct” it to Joan.

Just because most trees have a “fact” does not mean that fact is right. See where they got it if possible.

And if you differ with them…just make certain that you have records that are consistent with what you are stating to be true.