Days Beyond Recall

Obituaries and estate notices usually appear in newspapers shortly after someone dies. There are other times a person may be mentioned years or decades after their death or departure from the area. Some small-town newspapers published snippets of items from the past as a way to engage readers and generate subscriptions. These items from ten, twenty, twenty-five, or fifty years ago were usually abbreviated versions of the original article.

Given that earlier newspapers are sometimes harder for computerized algorithms to read, a digital search may find the more recent reference easier. Don’t always set your years of search to the person’s lifespan. The most interesting references may have been published some time after they were dead.

And always go back and read the original reference for additional information.

News of Birthday Surprises

If a relative reached any birthday milestone–75, 80, 90, or 100 years–there’s a chance something about it was mentioned in a local newspaper. The same goes for wedding anniversaries. These items may be located with searches of newspapers that have been digitized. For those newspapers that have not, consider searching for these items. Digital searches of newspapers are not perfect either and these are items that one may wish to search for manually as well.

The names of the guests in attendance may be helpful. In this illustration out-of-town guests are named, but their relationships are not. Keep in mind locals during the time period knew how the guests were related so those details may not be included.

Make a List and a Chart

There are times where seeing things on your screen or being able to search quickly to “figure out who someone is” isn’t quite enough–at least for me. I’ve been working on my Ostfriesen families and the similarity of the names can lead to confusion. There are times where the names Antje Jurgens Ehmen Antje Tonjes Ehmen, Tonjes Jurgens Ehmen, Jurgen Ehmen, Willm Jurgens Ehmen, and Willm Tonjes Ehmen start to run together to the point where I’m about ready to start looking for Tonjes Antje Ehmen (there was no such person). These individuals are all children or grandchildren of the same ancestral couple (and there are more similar names that are not included here).

To keep me organized and to where I don’t have to search for them in my computer database to keep them straight, I’ve made a chart outlining their relationships. I also have an alphabetical list with years and places of birth and death and they are color-coded based upon who their parent was.

Otherwise they really do tend to run together and not quite in the way several of them ran to Dawson County, Nebraska, in the 1870s.

How’d They Meet?

I’m not a big fan of genealogy “games” as I think some of them are time wasters and that’s simply not my thing.

But have you thought about how your ancestral couples met? For some there may be family stories about how grandpa and grandma met. There are others where the best you can do is surmise that they simply lived within shouting distance of each other.

But have you given it any thought how those couples met? My maternal grandparents met at Luther League in the 1930s. My paternal grandparents met likely because they lived relatively close to each other. My great-grandparents?

  • Neill-husband was the hired man for his bride-to-be’s mother.
  • Trautvetter-no real idea other than geographic proximity of living in the same general area of Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois.
  • Ufkes–attended the same church and lived within a few miles of each other.
  • Habben–husband lived a few miles west of county seat and the wife was working as a “hired” girl for a lawyer in the county seat–the couple likely met at the German Lutheran church in that town.

Pre-Death Newspaper Mentions

When manual searches of newspapers are necessary, don’t neglect searching the gossip or local correspondents’ columns before that relative dies as well as afterwards. If the person had “taken a turn” or been ill for a few weeks or months before they died, there may be mention of it in the newspaper with details not mentioned after the death.

The illustration mentions Nancy Rampley’s illness in the paper not long before she actually died in 1923 and provided the name and residence of her sister. The name was slightly wrong, but it was a clue and the location was helpful as well.

Dabbling to Record that Deed

Joseph Daby had four deeds recorded in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in 1738–some of which had been executed nearly ten years earlier. Not everyone always had their land record recorded immediately. Some people just waited and others waited until they had more than one to record. For these reasons, always look for land records after you “think they should be recorded” and for multiple deeds to the same person recorded at the same time.

Joseph Daby may have dabbled getting his deeds recorded but he was not the only one.

How Complete Is It?

A source should never be used without the genealogist asking:

How complete is it? How was it compiled? What could be missing?

FindAGrave is perhaps the perfect example. It only includes burials that have been submitted by someone who either took a picture of the tombstone or, in some cases, learned about a burial in the cemetery or another source. It’s a great resource, to be certain, and it is a great place to start, but by its very nature it can be incomplete. Not every burial had a tombstone, deaths before death records were not recorded, and not every death or burial gets mentioned in a newspaper, etc.

Every site or set of records should be used with the same concern over completeness–not just FindAGrave.

But you should always be asking yourself “how complete is this source?”

Those Genealogy Shows

Those genealogy shows have budgets that we don’t, access to experts that many people don’t, and sometimes easier access to records than we have. The shows may be fun to watch and help to provide us with motivation, but they are not always realistic.

You’ll have to work within your budget. This can be done by finding other ways to access information, networking with other relatives to share expenses, asking other researchers for suggestions (not necessarily indepth free help).

You may not have access to “experts.” It’s possible that you won’t have access to “big name” experts, but there are groups on Facebook, genealogical societies, and other locations where you can possibly interact with individuals who are “in the know.” They may not be “big names,” but they may be just (if not more) knowledgeable. A local who “knows their stuff” is sometimes more valuable and helpful than a “big name.”

You may not have immediate access to records. You may still have access, just not as quickly, not as publicly, and not with someone holding the book and opening it to the page you need. It may take longer to access the records, but it should still be possible. Reach out to others who may be familiar with the facility (Facebook groups for the area of interest are good places to start with this, but there are other approaches), for general suggestions.

How can you increase your chance of success when you don’t have a “rock star” budget?

  • Learn as much about the area as you can.
  • Learn as much about the records in the record as you can (at all jurisdictional levels).
  • Network with other relatives if possible.
  • Network with others familiar with the geographic area and records.
  • Review your compiled materials, check your assumptions, write up your research.
  • Keep an open mind.

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