Reminders from Watering the Dog

The dog is not going to turn on the water hose by himself. His paw simply is not made to do it.

If you are stuck on a genealogical problem, there may be tools you need that you do not have. It could be a language issue, the ability to read the handwriting or foreign-language script, or an unfamiliarity with legal terminology.

It may be that you are not accessing all the records that were created or that you are accessing only the ones that are easily available online.

Is the problem that you don’t understand the records you have located? The dog probably doesn’t understand how to turn the water on.

You may need to ask someone for help–which is what the dog is probably going to have to do in this case. You’ll also need to be able to communicate your question clearly to someone who may be able to help you–that may be a problem for the dog as well.

And never assume anything and always check your assumptions. Charlie always has access to water and doesn’t need to drink it from the hose. He’s probably just looking at a small bug on the box above the water spigot.

Never Moved But the Address Changed

Addresses can change even if your ancestor’s home never did. Street names can change house numbers can change. Using addresses as a key to tying people together is an excellent genealogical tool (in areas and time periods that have addresses), but keep in mind they can vary over time.

Determine if and when the city/town where your relative lived had any renaming or renumbering of the streets. Sometimes these changes were citywide and sometimes they were only for certain neighborhoods or areas.

Even rural ancestors can have this happen. Rural route numbers change and the adoption of a 911-address system can create modern differences as well.

Tying with an Address

Tracking certain families in urban settings can be difficult–the names are often more common than you think. One way to help distinguish individuals is by their residence–every residence listed on a document. The key in connecting members of this Sullivan family from Pittsburgh was using the residences of the informants on death records, next of kin on draft registrations, etc. The individuals moved around, but the next of kin and informants were almost always living at the same address.

Not every family has that “one person who never moves,” but it is always advised to track every address for anyone listed on your relative’s documents. Those locations can be the key to separating out families and making connections where appropriate.


There are words that can be vague in certain situations. Brother-in-law is one of those words.

If a writer uses the phrase “my brother-in-law,” to whom are they referring. Is it their sister’s husband? Is it their spouse’s brother? Is it their spouse’s sister’s husband?

Sometimes the reader will know to whom the writer is referring. Other times they will not. Always make certain your own use of terminology is clear–remember the reader may not have all the information at their fingertips that you have in your head.

Another Marriage?

When someone “can’t be found” after their spouse dies, the question to ask is “did they marry again?”

In locations where women change their last name upon marriage, the reason for the disappearance should be obvious: the name has changed. Men who remarry do not change their last name, but it is possible that they move to a new location after the marriage or relationship starts. The move may be unexpected if the individual has lived in the same place their entire life.

If the person marries near where they had always lived, finding the record and new names might not be a problem. In other situations finding them may be more difficult. Obituaries, estate records, and newspaper “gossip columns” can be some places to find what happened to this person who is “missing’ due to a marriage.

Webinars: Immigrants, Newspapers, Brick Walls, and Siblings

These were held in July–order immediate downloads.

Strategies for Crossing the Pond

Already held–see below to order.

Details: This session will discuss a variety of methods for tracing the “across the pond” origins of immigrant ancestors. It’s not just a list of sources, but focuses on process and procedures. Concepts also apply to tracing the origins of migrating ancestors who crossed the United States as well. All registrants receive a PDF copy of the session handout.

Order “Strategies for Crossing the Pond” for immediate download–$9.

Brick Wall Potpourri

Already held–see below to order.

Details: This presentation is a variety of “tips and tricks” for breaking brick walls that focusing on thinking “outside the box,” analyzing your process, getting past mind blocks, etc. It is not aimed at any one time period or location and is geared towards advanced beginner or intermediate researchers. All registrants receive a PDF copy of the session handout.

Order an immediate download of “Brick Wall Potpourri” for $9.


Already held–see below to order.

Details: This presentation will discuss how to determine what newspapers were published that could be relevant to your research, determining how to access these newspapers, and search strategies for digital and microfilm versions of old newspapers. All registrants receive a PDF copy of the session handout.

Order immediate download of Newspaper presentation for $9.

Researching the Entire Family

Already held–order below.

Details: This session will briefly discuss the importance of searching the entire family, strategies for determining who “likely other members of the family” are, what records are likely to provide clues as to these family relationships, and prioritizing your work on other family members in order to stay focused on your research goals. All registrants receive a PDF copy of the session handout.

Order immediate download for $9.

Who Helped the Pensioner?

If your military veteran ancestor (or their spouse) received a pension, was there someone who helped them obtain it? There were attorneys who specialized in military pensions–particularly for Civil War veterans. Those attorneys may have had no connection directly with your ancestor as they advertised and made veterans aware of their services in a variety of ways.

It wasn’t just out-of-town lawyers who helped people get pensions. A local attorney may have helped your ancestor get their pension a Justice of the Peace may have been involved, or even (as in the case of my aunt) the cashier at the small-town bank.

What Won’t Help…

Sometimes we are so focused on proving a relationship or establishing the date and place of event that we only look at documents or records that we think give us the best chance of specifically stating that relationship or date and location.

Focus can be good, but sometimes it can backfire as well.

Sometimes records that we think might not help can actually contain the information we need–either directly or indirectly. And even if the record “we don’t need” doesn’t immediately help us solve the actual problem, it may give us a clue to other records that might.

Any record can contain an unexpected clue. Sometimes searching what “won’t help me with my problem” can help us more than records that should.

Some genealogists call that an exhaustive search. I call it “good genealogists look for everything they can get their hands on (either literally or digitally).”

Hiding in Plain Sight?

I spent quite a bit of time looking for the mother of a relative who had married again after his father died. Her first name was relatively uncommon, but not knowing the last name made finding her difficult. In reviewing pictures I had taken of the relative’s tombstone (before I knew his mother’s name), I noticed a stone near his with that same first name.

A little searching discovered the woman buried near him was his missing mother. The problem was that I did not have her name when I first located his tombstone–and her last name was not the one she had when she was his mother so it meant nothing to me. She ended up being a permanent neighbor of her son.

It can be similar tracing other females whose last names have changed. Look carefully at the first names of neighbors of your relative–could those nearby females be relatives?

Those neighbors can be physical ones listed in census, tax lists or other items organized by geographic location. They could be listed in sponsors on baptismal records, witnesses on legal documents, etc.–what I like to call “paper neighbors.”

Look at those first names of those neighbors: paper, geographic, or permanent.

Are Your Locations Spelled Correctly?

It may seem tedious, but are all the locations spelled correctly in your genealogical database?

Double-checking can be a way to locate other errors, notice things that you’ve failed to follow up on, and perhaps see new avenues for research. It never hurts to clean up your genealogical database.

It’s Chariton County, Missouri–not Sheridan County.

Harford County, Maryland, does not have a “t” in it. Seriously.