Where Do I put the “Probably?”

My relative’s tombstone in a Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois, cemetery indicated that she died in 1877. The place of death is not given and I’m not certain where she died–at least not exactly. I do have a fairly good hunch as to where she died–at least as far as the name of the township. I probably know where she died. Based on the tombstone (and the death record at the church), I have the date of death. But I need to exercise some care when I comment somewhere about her place of birth.

  • Died in 1877 probably in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois.
  • Probably died in 1877 in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

I use the first suggestion and put the “probably” after the year or date of her death. That is because the 1877 seems pretty solid based on my sources; it is the location that is more conjectural. My statement needs to reflect that.

And of course I need to cite the tombstone and the funeral entry in the church records for this person’s date of death and place of burial. There’s no “probably” in that statement.

What Could An Alien Do?

Your immigrant ancestor who had not naturalized could not vote in elections. What else could your unnaturalized immigrant ancestor not do? The way to get the specific answer to this is to view contemporary state statute and see what rights are allocated to alien citizens. Unnaturalized aliens and those who had not filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen of the US could not file a claim for a homestead.

Depending upon the time period and the location, your alien ancestor may not have been able to file suit in court, bequeath property in a will, own property, etc. These laws have changed over time–do not assume what was true in 1800 was true in 1900. The answer is in contemporary state statute, many of which are on Google Books at http://books.google.com or Archive.org http://www.archive.org in addition to other locations.

Court of Naturalization?

Before 1906, any court of record could naturalize in the United States. While there tended to be one court within each county that did this, it is possible that in certain areas there was more than one court in a county working people through the naturalization process.

Make certain you’ve search the records of all courts that could have naturalized your ancestor. Also consider the possibility that your relative may have traveled a distance to naturalize, perhaps in a location where an already naturalized relative was living.

Reading and Responding

How carefully do you read?

When reading documents, make certain you are actually reading and thinking about what the document says. Also make certain you are seeing what the document actually says and not what you want it to say.

Based on responses I see to things people post on social media and elsewhere, it seems that there are some who do not always actually read what is written before responding to it.

Make certain you don’t do that with genealogical information.

Neighboring Political Entities?

Genealogy is often about location. Where your ancestor lived and where records were kept for individuals who lived in that location are vital things to know. Do you know all the political jurisdictions in which your ancestor lived: town/city/village, township, hundred, county, state, province, etc.? Do you know what jurisdictions border those towns, cities, villages, townships, hundreds, counties, states, etc.? How close did you ancestor lived to any of those borders? What is the chance he or she crossed those borders and left records in another area? Which of those jurisdictions kept records? Which ones still keep records? Where are those records located?

More than One Opinion?

If you are stuck and in search of assistance, it might be worth it to get more than one opinion on your research problem. If you need to know where to find a specific record, one knowledgeable answer is usually all you need to get you on your way.

But if the problem is more intricate than that and you are really stuck on where to go, consider getting more than one opinion or suggestion. Decades ago when I was stuck on one of my children’s English ancestors and was at the Family History Library, I got two significantly different answers on what my next approach should be. In that situation it turned out that the second suggestion was easier to implement and gave me sufficient details to work on the problem further. Sometimes the first suggestion is on the mark and sometimes it is not. Just like it is with doctors and other professionals who give advice or recommendations.

Remember though: the more you learn about research, records, and the time period of your problem ancestor, the less often you will need help–because you’ll already have a good idea of what to do.

Died After 1830?

The last record I have for an ancestor is their enumeration in the 1830 census. Years ago I entered “died after 1830” as their date of death. The more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that the ancestor died after the 1830 census enumeration was taken in the area where they were believed to have been living.

And they could have died in 1830–just after the enumeration was taken and before the year ended.

Probably the better approach for me to take is to indicate that the last record I have for that ancestor is their 1830 census enumeration. It’s possible that they were overlooked in 1840 or hidden in one of those unnamed tick marks in that enumeration.

One needs to take care when entering any approximate date of an event in a genealogical database and the notes or sources for those approximate dates need to be twofold: the source and the reason. The reason may be obvious and simple to state or it may not. It all depends on the source and what it says.

Exact dates need sources. Inexact dates need sources and reasons.

Keeping Track of OCR Oddities

Leaving things only in your mind is the best way to forget them.

Searches of digital newspapers require a certain degree of creativity. “c” can be misread as “e,”h” can be read as a “b,” “t” can be read as an “l,” etc. The list of variants is a long one, but some are more likely than others. The newspaper’s original print quality, whether the originals or microfilm copies were used to generate images, and other image factors can create additional character recognition issues as well.

Keep a list of the main OCR variants you encounter for names that you are working on. Sites that allow wildcard searches will make it easier to find some of these variants, but not all sites allow searches to be conducted in this fashion. Remember when thinking about variants spellings in OCR search results that there are spelling variants or errors that were originally printed in the paper and that the OCR errors in transcription are on top of those errors.

Some variant readings are more likely than others. But keeping a list will help. Otherwise I might forget to look for frautvetter, troutfeller and other renderings while looking for trautvetter.

Does Order Matter When It Should Not?

I was experimenting today with searches on www.newspapers.com and noticed that a search for “james rampley” and “rampley james” brought up 331 and 57 results. That did not surprise me. Both located references written in the original newspaper as “James Rampley.” I’m not certain exactly how the ” work when querying this database. The point here is that one should experiment when searching databases.