What Could Have Changed?

There’s a grade school picture of my Dad where his hair is a bright blond.

That’s certainly not the way I remember it. As long as I can remember it was black.

When researching your relative ask yourself:

what about them could have changed over time?

It could have been more than their hair color. It could have been their occupation, their marital status, their economic status, their religion, etc. Those changes could explain why they cannot be located in certain records, in a certain place, etc. Some changes are obvious. Others are not.

Depending upon how many of those changes we have had in our own lives it may be easier to see how similar ones could have impacted our relatives. If we’ve not experienced those changes, it can sometimes be more difficult to see how they might have impacted our “lost ancestors.”

Loss of hair really doesn’t impact finding our ancestors. This comes from personal experience. There are some changes that really don’t matter. Hair loss is one of those. I need to remember that.

Anything Can Be Anywhere

Lillie (Trautvetter) Short and Ida (Trautvetter) Neill

Anything can be anywhere.

This picture of my grandmother and her sister, taken in the 1920s and probably less than two inches on a side, was found tucked in the bottom drawer of my mother’s jewelry box. I nearly overlooked it.

All of Mom’s pictures were grouped together with other pictures. This one was all by itself. The girl on the right in the picture was my Mom’s mother-in-law. Fortunately I know who the girls are, but I have no idea where Mom got the picture.

I’m not certain how it got in the jewelry box, but it was likely done for safekeeping–either by my Mom or my Dad.

The point: anything can be anywhere. This not only applies to family photographs and ephemera, but pieces of information in a probate file, pension application, etc. You may think that source could never contain something you need, but you do not know until you look.

Appointed a Guardian Does Not Mean Dead Parent(s)

Most of the time when a child has a guardian appointed it means at least one of their parents is deceased and that the minor child had an interest in that parent’s estate that needed to be protected. If the father died, the surviving widow may not have been appointed the guardian.

But dead parents were not the only reason a guardian may have been appointed for a child. If another relative died and wanted to leave the child property, they may have indicated who they wanted appointed that child’s guardian upon the relative’s death. Sometimes that guardian was not the child’s parent.

The most frequent situation of a child with living parents being appointed a guardian is when a grandparent was not overly fond or trusting of their son-in-law. The grandparent, instead of giving their daughter an inheritance, gives it to the daughter’s children instead and appointing someone else a guardian.

Genealogy Tip of the Day Book

It’s available!

Genealogy can be confusing and sometimes what the family historian needs is something short and to-the-point that can help them get their research back on track. That’s the intent of “Genealogy Tip of the Day.”

Long-time genealogist Michael John Neill uses his thirty years of research experience to remind readers of things they had forgotten, make them aware of things they did not know, and encourage them to increase their research and analytical skills. This is not a typical how-to book that has a chapter for each content topic. Topics are spread throughout the book. Tips are based on actual research, actual families, and actual problems. Each day’s tip is meant to be a relatively short read, is engaging, accurate, and occasionally funny.

Tip of the Day can be read front-to-back or browsed through at the reader’s whim. Tips are about genealogical sources, pitfalls, and procedures based on Michael’s extensive experience researching ancestors in the United States and abroad. Tips are practical, easy-to-understand, and applicable to those with ancestors in a variety of locations. Tips have been edited for clarity and updated when necessary. Any content that was time-sensitive has been removed. What’s left is research advice and suggestions with some humor thrown in.

Table of Contents:

  • How Grandma Said it, Pond Crossing, Lying, and More
  • Grains of Truth, Reversed Names, and Date Fudging
  • Links, Cutting off, Soundex, Perspective, and Infants
  • Contemporary, “Paper or Plastic,” and Eternal Neighbors
  • Undoing, Discrepancies, Math, and Avoiding Court
  • Reused Names, Absolute Relationships, Leave the 21st Century
  • Nicknames, Endogamy, Census Bridges, and Vacuums
  • Popularity, Wrong Grandmas, New Wife
  • Portable Ancestors, First Purchases, and Cousin Ken
  • Dead Reasons, Getting and Giving, Just Me, and Death Names
  • 100%, Errors, Rushing Structure, and Homemade Abbreviations
  • Spousal Origins, Patronyms, and Death Causes
  • Validation, Copyright, Life Estates
  • Merging Saints, Circle Searching, Flukes, and Running Home
  • Self-Checking, Boarders, Farmed Out, and Widow Power
  • All I Need Is Love, Crossing a Line, and Joseph Conversions
  • Leaving Family, Dead Proofing, One Little Entry

Genealogy Tip of the Day can help fill in those gaps in your genealogical skill set without being overly academic or tedious. This book contains tips from 2009-2011 edited. Genealogy news, information on websites, marketing announcements, and items that were “dated,” have been removed.

Is That Even a Relative?

The picture discussed in this post is not included because the other two individuals are living.

There’s a picture of me in a suit taken in the early 1970s. I look to be approximately four-years old. When it was taken was a mystery. There’s a little girl, also dressed up and also about my age, standing next to me. I have no female first cousins, so that’s not who the person is. I did not recognize the person and she didn’t appear to be any female relative I could think of based on her age, hair color, and general face shape.

She’s not a relative.

As soon as I looked in the background of the picture and saw the woman sitting in the background in a church pew, I knew when the picture was taken. It was at the wedding of my Dad’s cousin and I was a ring bearer or something or other and I wasn’t excited about the girl my age I had to walk down the aisle with because I did not know her.

Turns out she wasn’t a relative of mine at all and must have been a relative of the cousin on the other side of her family or of the groom. I have no second cousins on that side of the family who are that close in age to me.

There may be a time where your relative appears in a document, record, or picture with someone and that person’s connection to you is more distant than you think. Don’t assume the relationship is close.

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here and it’s not written to help you research your “famous ancestors.” It’s written to help with all of them. Learn more about it and get your own copy.

Be Patient…

A little reminder about those DNA matches and other relatives (and potential relatives) who do not respond to your queries, emails, and messages.

Sometimes life intervenes and genealogy needs to take a back seat.

Other people do refuse to respond, are unable to retrieve messages, accidentally delete them, etc. But that distant cousin you communicated with may just have other things going on in their life that have to take priority.

Did You Rely on Your Memory?

The memories of the long dead people who provided information on a 1900-era death certificate can easily be wrong. So can yours.

What things about your ancestors are you using to help you research that might not be true or which you are remembering incorrectly? Are you searching the 1860 census for a relative who died in 1857? Are you looking for an obituary in the 1890s for someone who died in 1902?

Virtually any detail can be remembered incorrectly. What details are you pulling from your head when you should be pulling them from your files?

Children Named in the Newspaper

When searching digital images of newspapers, we often don’t think of small children as being named specifically. While children are not named as often as adults, they can be mentioned. Instances that come to mind are:

  • attendance at family reunions,
  • appearance in weddings,
  • survivors in obituaries.

Children are not always mentioned in situations such as these, but some times they are.

Writing Up a Picture Proof

Michael, Keith, and David Neill, taken 1974 (probably April), Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois.

Sometimes writing up genealogical proof can seem overwhelming. It does not have to be. If writing something regarding a family living in the 18th century seems like too large of a task, then start small.

Dating pictures–and including your reasons–can be a good way to start writing up genealogical analysis at a rudimentary level and getting your feet wet.

This picture of my Dad, my brother, and I was probably taken in April of 1974. My reasons for this can be stated simply:

  • The picture is stamped “Jul 1974.” This is a development date.
  • My brother and I appear to be ages consistent with a 1974 photograph date (years of birth not included in this blog post–they would be in an actual blog post).
  • The picture contains a birthday cake.
  • There are too many candles to be a cake for either of the boys in the picture.
  • We are not wearing summerweight clothes in the pictures (my birthday is in June), so it would have to be my Dad’s birthday (April) or my brother’s birthday (October).

Try to state facts in groups if possible. In this little example, there’s not too much analysis included. If you feel that you are not equipped to write genealogical analysis, try starting on your pictures.

Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here and it’s not written to help you research your “famous ancestors.” It’s written to help with all of them. Learn more about it and get your own copy.

Sections, Quarter Sections, and More

If your ancestors lived in public land states and owned real property, are you familiar with sections, quarter sections, townships, etc.? If not, you could be interpreting a property description incorrectly or missing out on a crucial detail. Theoretically, a:

  • a township is a square six miles on a side;
  • section is a mile on a side and contains 640 acres;
  • a quarter section is a half of a mile on a side and contains 160 acres.

There are exceptions to these dimensions and acreages that usually result from geography and political boundaries. For more about these methods of description and units of measure, refer to this reference guide.