No Matter How Much Is Online At FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc.

We are not in that era where every record of possible genealogical use can be accessed via the internet. No matter what your cousin in Oregon tells you and no matter what the ads say, genealogical research simply cannot be done with the click of a mouse.

One of my favorite records often found in the county recorder’s offices of federal land states are tract indexes to local land records. These indexes, created by the local records’ office staff, index land records by where the property is located–not by any name on the land record. They are a great finding aid, but rarely were they micofilmed (or later digitized) by the Genealogical Society of Utah (the Family History Library). They have to be accessed onsite.

There are many records that exist only in paper form. Local researchers, local libraries, local societies, well-written and comprehensive research guides, are ways to find out about these records. They may not be mentioned in online sources, blog posts, wikis, etc. Sometimes you have to dig for yourself. Networking with others researching in the same geographic area is essential to locate these sources.

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Your Last Visit to GoogleBooks?

You never know who will appear in a search at GoogleBooks. The site contains images of millions of pages of books–some out of copyright and others not.

An entry was even located for my uncle, a career marine during the approximate 1920-1950 time frame. I never expected to find a reference to him, but there it was. One never knows what references could be located with a search of GoogleBooks at

Her Name Is On the Stone

Anne Rampley’s name and date of birth are on a tombstone in the Buckeye Cemetery in Hancock County, Illinois. Her husband’s date of birth and death are included. While I do indicate what the tombstone says in my records, I do not indicate that Anne is buried here just based on the stone.

I realize it is possible that Anne was buried there and the date of death was never inscribed. It is also possible that the date of death is not on the tombstone because she was not buried there. What is known is that Anne survived her husband at his death in 1907 and they had no children. It is entirely possible that no one bothered to have the date inscribed there after her death–if she was buried there.

Death in the Directory

Working with city directories can be tedious, especially if someone lived in an area for some time. Occasionally surprising discoveries await those who take the time to view an ancestor’s entry for every year they lived in the location covered by the directory. This 1894 directory for the City of Davenport, Iowa, indicated that Mrs. Mary Cawiezell was the widow of Anthony Cawiezell and that shed died on 12 February of 1893.

This information should be supplanted by other records if possible, but in some locations a record of this type may be the only one available. The date could be incorrect (this is not a typical death record) and a citation to the directory as the source should be attached to the date in your genealogical database. Directories can contain unexpected annotations to the occasional entry that could result in a genealogical breakthrough.

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How Messed Up Was It?

In reviewing a twentieth-century family I have not worked on in some time, an obituary had me completely confused. The names of the children were consistent with other records, but the grandchildren and great-grandchildren made no sense to me–at least not using the information I had already located.

I put the obituary aside and looked at other records–including earlier obituaries of the family and what vital records could be found online. Going back to the obituary with more details allowed me to develop a hypothesis. It appeared that the obituary writer or editor referred to grandchildren as grandchildren and to step-grandchildren as great-grandchildren. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly when the person reviewing the information is not personally familiar with the family.

The obituary actually referred to the deceased individual’s step-children as children. Given the fact that they were raised by the deceased it made perfect sense. But earlier records made the relationship clear.

Obituaries are great clues, but they should be used along with other records where possible. Over-reliance on these items (and not locating all of them for a family) may make your DNA results look more confusing than they actually are.

When A Witness is Just a Witness

Sound genealogy research advice suggests that we research names that appear as witnesses on documents our ancestor signed. That’s good advice. Those names could be clues.

The key word is could. Like much advice it all depends on context and the specific situation.

The more often the same person appears as a witness on documents my ancestor signed, the more likely there is to be a connection between the witness and the ancestor. If the ancestor was an immigrant who did not know the language and the witness name appears to be from the same ethnic group that is suggestive of a connection. In some cases where an ancestor could not read, I have wondered if the witness was a trusted associate of the ancestor who was literate in the language in which the document was written.

But there is always the possibility that the witness was just another warm body who was of legal age when your ancestor went to the lawyer, justice of the peace, notary, etc. to have a document witnessed or drawn up.

Organize As You Go

It can be fun to find information, make discoveries, and be “hot on the trail” of tracing a lineage.

It’s not as much fun to organize and keep track of what you have found. That organization and tracking is imperative so that careless mistakes are not made and information does not have to be located more than once.

Take time to organize what you find as you find it. Later you will be glad you did. Because sooner or later you’ll need to find something in that haphazard collection of materials you’ve put in a folder on your computer or a pile on your living room floor.

Or you will realize you’ve found the same thing three times and that you are more confused than necessary.

Informal Use of Cousin

When a family letter, newspaper reference, interview or other item refers to two individuals as being “cousins,” remember that the relationship may not be a “first cousin” (an individual with whom a person shares a set of grandparents. The reference could be to one of a variety of relationships.

In informal writing, I use the word “cousin to refer to a relative with whom I share an ancestor and who is not my own direct-line ancestor or an aunt or uncle. The person may be a second cousin, third cousin, fourth cousin once removed, etc. I’m not the only one who does this and your grandma’s reference to someone as her cousin may mean what my reference to the word does or it may even indicate other relationships–including ones by marriage.

In non-genealogy writing to clarify the relationship somewhat, I may refer to someone as my “Rampley cousin,” “Ufkes cousin,” etc. Another approach is to indicate the relationship a little more specifically–cousin of my Grandma Neill, Great-grandma Habben, etc. That way someone has a sense of whether the cousin is related to them or not and how they are related to me. I avoid the “cousin/removed” statements where possible and indicate the relationship if more clarity seems necessary–“his grandma Henerhoff and my grandma Neill were first cousins,” “our Mom’s mom’s were sisters,” etc. (and give more detail if necessary).

But when you see the word “cousin,” don’t assume the two individuals shared a grandparent–the connection may have been a biological one further back, could have been a relationship resulting from a marriage, or even a family friend who was considered a relative.

Lived Here One Year and Naturalized?

Laws change.

In 1887 a widowed relative and her child immigrate to the United States. In 1888 that widow marries a United States citizen. At that point in American history, the widow and her child are now United States citizens. As a woman what rights she had at that point in time are another matter entirely.

But if the researcher encounters a later census enumeration where the date of immigration and the date of naturalization for the grown child look a little “odd” because they are one year apart–that’s the likely reason for it.