No Precise Date?

It is not always possible to get the precise date of an event. There are places and time periods where just determining the year of birth can be a challenge and researchers may only be able to get a range of years for a birth, marriage, or death.

During these times, having a year or a short range of events may be sufficient to help you research the person’s children, spouse, and parents. The key is to make certain that you have looked at all available records and that you have not inadvertently merged two distinct people into one individual.

Always make certain you have exhausted all extant records, but realize that in Virginia in the 1600s, the chance you find a precise date of birth is relatively slim. In Massachusetts in 1600 the chance is significantly higher.

Don’t fret too much if you cannot get a precise date for an event. Remember the key is to narrow the date as best you can, work to establish relationships, document your reasoning, and make certain you have used all available records.

Did Evaporators Inherit Anything?

A first cousin of my great-grandmother disappeared in the 1920s and was last seen in California and Colorado by various members of his family. he was approximately fifty years old at the time of his disappearance.

He was never found.

The last record he was mentioned in was the estate settlement of his brother. That brother died in the 1940s and his only heirs were his siblings and their children–including the missing brother. The judge overseeing the settlement of the brother’s estate declared the missing man dead in order to complete the settlement of the estate and disburse the balance to his children.

The estate settlement contained testimony from the missing man’s children regarding their father’s disappearance and what attempts were made to find him. The court record was the only documentation I could find regarding the man’s disappearance.

If your “missing” relative cannot be found by you and could not be found by his living family during his lifetime, was there an estate to which he would have been an heir? The settlement of that estate may mention what happened to the relative, confirm that he was missing, or provide information to assist you in your search.

Early Interactions

Determining where immigrants came from or where any migrant lived previously can sometimes be difficult. The problem is more difficult to solve when these “movers” die young, leave few records, don’t share information with other family members, etc.

While looking at the expanded family/kin network is always advised, for these “movers,” determine all the individuals with whom they interacted when they were new to their new area. Sometimes this can be difficult and requires a tedious search of records.

Who witnessed any of their naturalization documents? Who married them and did that person have any religious affiliation? Who were they living with in early census records? If their children were baptized, who were the sponsors? If they purchased land, who witnessed those land sales? If there was a mortgage, who held the note? Who are their near neighbors in directories or census records?

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the names of these early associates. But think of the possible connections your ancestor had and if any record may specifically state or suggest that relationship.

Those early interactions were frequently with people your ancestor had a connection with or to before he or she moved into the area and tracing your ancestor to an “old residence” might be best done by tracking those people with whom there was an “early interaction.”

What Have You Organized Today?

It is fun to collect items, obtain new information, and make genealogical discoveries. I understand that.

But if your goal is for some of your discoveries to remain found and for the connections you have made between family members to stay connected, then it is important for your to organize some of what you have found and to share it with others.

Consider how permanent your method of sharing it. Online and digital publishing are great ways to share information but not necessarily great ways to preserve it long term. Archival paper is still a great way to go. Will digital files be around in one hundred years? Will they be readable?

Search By Social Security Number Where Possible

If a genealogical database includes Social Security numbers as one of their keyed data fields, search the database for the Social Security number you have for your deceased relative. Many times you will simply locate the entry that was previously located, but occasionally an additional reference or entry may be revealed.

If the database returns the Social Security number but does not provide a specific search box, try a key word for the number–both with and without the dashes.

Add Genealogy Tip of the Day–the book–to your bookshelf!

Keep the Time Frame In Mind

The list of alternate names for anyone in the “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” at may not contain every “alternate name” the person ever had–particularly if the person was a female who was married. It appears that Elsie’s Social Security file contains no information from before October of 1962.

In this case the likely reason the additional last name is not included is that this woman, who died as Elsie Cegas, had a first marriage that ended in the early 1930s–before the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. Elsie may have married Mr. Queen before she ever even applied for a Social Security number. It’s a good reminder to know when certain records were kept and when programs that required those records were in operation.

Some databases and records require all that “back history” and others do not.

And sometimes people do not always share everything they know either.

The Ones Who Moved Away

My family tree is more accurately a family web. I have numerous cousins who are related to me in more than one way because we share two or three sets of ancestors. I have just as many more sets of individuals where I am related to person A and to person B, person A is related to person B as well, but the three of us do not share a common ancestor.

All of which makes analyzing DNA matches more of a challenge than usual.

So when deciding with DNA match’s shared matches with me that I should analyze first, I pick the one who moved away.

  • The descendants of my uncle whose only child moved 500 miles away to a completely different rural area.
  • The descendants of an ancestral first cousin who moved 50 miles away to the “big city” and married outside the immediate area.
  • And so on.

The matches who descend through these individuals are much less likely to have the multiple relationships from my family web and more likely to have just one relationship to me and each other. This makes the match analysis easier.


Handwriting as a Memory Prompt

A long-time friend wrote a short inscription in one of his works of fiction that he recently sent to me. I have not seen him in over thirty years.

I always thought his handwriting was somewhat distinct and unique. Seeing it took me back to that time when we were kids and got me to thinking about things I had not thought of in years–memories that seeing pictures of him for some reason did not bring back.

If you have pieces of a deceased relative’s handwriting, consider using it as a memory prompt. Images can be powerful memory joggers. And if you do not know whose handwriting it is, consider asking family members if they know.

How Do I Know That’s It?

I shared a 1938 aerial image of my grandparents’ farm. The closeup only showed their house and barns and some of the nearby acreage. The closeup made it difficult to see that it was actually their farm.

There was no context. And, even showing the neighboring properties would have made it difficult for someone to “know” that the farm was theirs. The shed and the additional barn was missing from my grandparents’ farm. The subdivision across the road was not there.

I could have included a modern plat map showing the property borders and the modern location of the house. That map shows the same shape of property as the photograph does–as the railroad tracks form the western boundary of the property.

I could have included the fact that my grandparents’ farm was a few miles north of the county seat and that I spotted the county courthouse on the map, moved north until I found the city cemetery and followed the state highway as it crossed a creek and worked its way to my grandparents’ house.

But I need to make my case in some way or another. That simple cropped image that I say was my grandparents farm could easily have been just about anything. It is always a good idea to include how you know what something is when it is not crystal clear.

No Death Date On Stone

It is not unusual for a married couple to purchase a tombstone before their death and have all but their date of death inscribed on the stone. It is also not unusual to visit a cemetery and see such a stone with the death date of one individual blank.

If they were born in 1870 they are probably dead.

The question is are the buried in the cemetery or not? It is possible that they were buried there and no one bothered having the death date inscribed on the stone. It is also possible that the person was buried in another location–perhaps with another spouse.

Death certificates, cemetery records, obituaries, or funeral home records may help to answer the question.