Reminder: Preserve and Identify

It’s hard to have a new tip every day, so today is a reminder.

What have you not preserved that you have the only copy of? Do you have items that have not been identified? Do you have relatives you have not called, contacted, or reached out to in order to see if they have pictures or items you do not?

Have you backed up your own genealogy files and databases?

First Steps to Analyzing DNA Results

DNA results can be overwhelming and some are anxious to solve those decades-long brick walls the minute they get the results back.

That’s not how it works, especially if you have never analyzed DNA results before. To help in the results analysis:

  • Have your tree as complete as you can.
  • Trace as many descendants of your ancestors through your 3rd great-grandparents as possible–at least down to people born in the 1920-1930 era. This helps in analyzing short trees.
  • Identify as many matches as you can (back through 3rd/4th cousins at least)–even on the lines you are not interested in. This helps to sort out other matches and helps to build your skills.

What’s That Date? And…Context?

The author, his mother, and his brother north of Carthage, Illinois–probably winter of 1974-1975.

The picture of my Mother, my brother and I on a snowmobile has “Jun 75” stamped on the bottom of it. It was taken on a frozen pond south of the house where we grew up.

It was not taken in June of 1975. That was the month the picture was developed. There was some time where developed photographs had the month and year of development stamped on them.

At the time this was common knowledge. There did not need to be a warning phrase “this is when the photograph was developed.”

Documents often contain a variety of dates–execution, acknowledgement, recording, returning, etc.–that may be spelled out explicitly on that document. Sometimes those dates are not explained but remember that any piece of information on a record–especially if it is seemingly just randomly dropped there–may not mean what you think it means.

June of 1975 probably was when Mom had filled the roll of film and wanted to get it developed. That’s what it means.

Recorded Well After the Fact

Land records are one of those documents that typically are recorded relatively soon after they are drawn up and signed. But some relatives may have a looser definition of relatively soon than others. Deeds are occasionally recorded decades after they were executed. This may be due to temporary illness, absentmindedness, distance from the courthouse, or other reasons.

The oversight is most likely to be noticed when the purchaser dies or wants to sell the property. The decades-earlier deed of acquisition may be recorded right before the deed of sale. Two reminders here are to look for a deed in record books long after you think the property transfer was a “done deal” and always look to see what’s recorded right before and after any document you have discovered.

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

Outside Where they “Should” Be?

Family tradition and initial research indicated a relative lived in one township after his immigration to the United States in the 1850s until his death in the 1910s. Every decennial census showed him living in the same township from 1860 through 1910.

Digging a little deeper it turned out he spent approximately 10 years in the county to the north–where he owned property, a few children were baptized, and where he would have been found in the 1890 census if it were extant. After he and his wife spent his time there, they moved back to where they originally settled.

This ten or so year excursion would have been more difficult to determine if the family had not owned real property and had not had their children baptized in the local church. I need to see if they ever really sold the real estate they had in the original location. They may have rented it to generate some income.

Outside the Biologicals

Biological relatives are the logical place to begin your search for family history information. And while biological relatives are the obviously place to search for others who may be willing to take a DNA test, non-biological relatives may be the place to get additional information.

If your ancestor/relative was married several times, the descendants of the final spouse may have family history items from your family in their collection of old materials. Descendants of ancestral associates may have information about your relative. Former neighbors of somewhat close family members may have stories about your family member that your immediate family do not know or are not willing to share.

One way to locate some of these individuals is to reach out to local history groups on Facebook. In other cases, it may be possible to track down descendants of a relative’s “last spouse” to see if they have pictures or other items.


For any family history photograph, letter, or other “historical” item, do you track as best you can the provenance of the item? How did it come into your possession? Who had it before you? Who told you about the item (if anyone)? Where was it when you obtained it? Do not forget to record the history of the item in addition to identifying what it is and who is mentioned or pictured in it.

Information is Primary or Secondary

Genealogists typically refer to information as primary if it is given by someone who had firsthand knowledge of the event to which the information refers. Other information is said to be secondary.

I was present at my wedding. I have first hand knowledge of that. I was present at my daughter’s birth. I have first hand knowledge of that information. I was present at my birth, but I do not have first hand knowledge of the date I was born. Similarly my own knowledge of my grandparents’ dates of marriage is secondary–I was not there.

Classification of information as primary or secondary is simply about how the knowledge was acquired by the person sharing it. How reliable they are is another issue–partially related, but also dependent on the information provider’s memory, the time that has elapsed since the event occurred, the person’s propensity to lie, etc.

Those AKAs

It was not until I went through all the newspaper references to Theodore Hoontis that I discovered why there could be more to find.

The legal notice regarding the settlement of his estate indicated that he was also known as Theodore Repas. This was the first reference indicating another last name for him. Because I already had a fair amount of information on him and no gaps in his chronology, this reference was a surprise to me. Now I have an entirely different last name to use when searching for him.

Theodore had a large number of newspaper references because he advertised in the newspaper promoting his restaurant and other businesses and most of the time when he was in the paper, it was in that capacity.

Original Versus Derivative

Sources are said to be original or derivative.

The original source is, generally speaking, the original document in its original form. My birth certificate, on file in the county office in the county where I was born is my original birth certificate. The little card my parents were given with my date and place of birth and certificate number–that is derivative because it was created from the original. The photocopy of the certificate that I had made years ago–that’s derivative because it is a copy of the original certificate. That “certification of live birth” I got a few years back because I needed it ( and that is a typed transcription of my name, date and place of birth, and names and places of birth for my parents) is also a derivative copy–because it was created from information obtained from the original. These copies are all official legal documents and have the raised seal.

But they are derivative because the original was used as the source of the information–either via a transcription or a photocopy.

Calling them derivative does not mean that they are invalid or fraudulent. It just means they were are not the original birth certificate on file in the court house.

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