The Lyrics You Never Read

I heard the song on a “retro” show of hits from the 1980s and when it was over the announcer gave the name of it. I had heard the song many times and knew the lyrics by heart.

That’s not the name. The announcer was wrong. My memory was correct. Apparently it was not because a Google search for the song and the band indicated the show’s announcer had the title correct. I had heard it wrong. There are a lot of genealogy lessons in the misheard song title that have nothing to do with the music.

There are errors clerks make in records because they don’t understand what the person is saying. That wrong title reminded me to look at how others have transcribed records because my impression or interpretation could be incorrect. They reminded me that my first impression of something may be wrong and it can be difficult to get that impression out of my head. They also reminded me that it is important to interact with other researchers who may have heard or understood correctly.

They also reminded me that my memory of time can be off. The song was from the 1970s, not the 1980s. Maybe that was a denial on my part of the amount of time that passed.

And there’s the last reminder: people lie about their age.

That Ancestral Employer

Even with the name of your ancestor’s employer, it can be difficult to locate additional information. Many businesses were not large enough to even keep records long-term, some have long since gone out of business, or others destroyed old records long ago.

Some options are to search newspapers for information about the employer, city directories, county histories, etc. These items are often available digitally making such searches much easier than in the past. These references probably won’t mention your relative by name, but they may provide some additional background helpful to your research.

Enumerated with the Step-Father’s Last Name?

I spent some time looking for William Neill in the 1910 census. I suspected his mother had married again after her first husband (the Neill man who was William’s father) died. The problem was that I did not have his name.

I had hoped to find the child in the census as William Neill, but it was not meant to be. He was not located until I eventually found the name of his mother’s second husband. There was William. He was enumerated as Willie Richardson.

Complicating the issue was the fact that the family had lived in Oklahoma for a short time between their time in Illinois and Montana. The lack of a complete geographic chronology compounded the issue.

A Cenotaph

A friend shared a FindAGrave memorial that included a picture of a stone that was erected in honor of his ancestor in the cemetery where the ancestor was buried.

It’s not a tombstone. It’s a cenotaph.

A tombstone is at the actual known burial site. A cenotaph is a stone erected in honor of someone other than the burial location or at an empty grave.

Divorce they Don’t Mention

Your relatives may have gotten divorced and listed themselves as widowed on every record after that. Other than the divorce record (if you know where it took place and can find), there may be no mention of how the marriage actually ended.

Census records may give their marital status as widowed, obituaries may mention just the marriage, death certificates may not indicate their marital status as divorced either. Obituaries and death certificates may contain information provided by a relative who did not want others to know of the divorce or may not have actually known about it themselves.

Mention of the court action regarding the divorce in a local newspaper may be one way to potentially find the record.

Who Paid the Property Taxes?

Real property tax records can be one place to obtain information to estimate someone’s approximate year of death. Tax records may list an individual as “deceased” or refer to them using the word “estate.” Both references suggest that the death has occurred relatively recently and that the heirs or the court have not gone through the process of settling up the affairs of the deceased individual.

Searching for Places

Searching digital county histories, newspapers, and other items for ancestral names is usually on a genealogist’s to-do list.

Another item to search for in these items are place names from your family’s past–before they lived in the area on which the publications focus.

One of my Hancock County, Illinois, families originated in Coshocton County, Ohio. Searching for “coshocton” was a way to learn of other individuals who had that word mentioned in their biography, obituary, etc. A similar approach was done to locate references to Rush County, Indiana, for digital publications that focused on Macon County, Missouri.

Searches of this type can also be a way to find references to your ancestor (that also mention the location) when the digital rendering of the name is one that cannot be found by database query techniques.

Do You Read the Whole Thing?

It happens on the internet all the time. People read a headline or the first few sentences of an article or post and then “respond” to it without reading the entire thing. The headline may not give the entire story and the first few sentences may simply be written to generate a response.

It’s not quite the same with looking at genealogical records, but there’s a good point to be made: look at the entire document or record before drawing a conclusion. A death certificate may give “new and exciting” information only to have an informant that you suspect really didn’t know anything about the family.

One legal document–especially in a court case–may be slanted towards one person’s perspective.

And anyone document in a person’s life may give so few details about that person that the information can realistically be interpreted in more than one way.

Don’t jump to conclusions and wait to react until you’ve read the whole thing. And even then–be careful reacting. There could be more to the story.

Did they Marry Within the Family?

If your ancestor had more than one spouse, consider the possibility that the spouses were siblings.

It was not unheard of for a widower to marry a sister of his deceased wife as his next wife. Sometimes the different wives can be merged into one individual–after all the maiden name of each wife is the same. This can easily happen if the first names of the wives are similar.

Occasionally a widow may marry a brother of her deceased husband as well. In this case the subsequent marriage may not be noticed as the last name of the newly married former widow does not change.