Days Beyond Recall

This digital scan of a newspaper from 1858 is difficult for a human to read. It is difficult for OCR technology to convert to raw, searchable text as well. This item about a murder in 1858 was found by searching digital images of newspapers–but the reference was located in a 1958 issue of the newspaper in a section of items from 100 years ago.

The dead can be mentioned in a newspaper long after their obituary has been published and forgotten. Historical items or “days from the past” (often used for filler in smaller papers) may mention that ancestor decades after they have died.

Use More than a Title

When writing about a relative, use more than just a title such as Aunt/Uncle, Grandma, etc. Grandma Neill or Grandpa Rampley can be equally vague. Also avoid using the title and just the first name. In some families, Uncle Cecil or Aunt Ruth can easily refer to more than one person. I had two uncle Cecils and three Aunt Ruths without having to reach into the distant past of my family tree.

Sometimes even the last name will not be enough help. There were two Aunt Ruth Ufkeses in my family, although one was always referred to as Ruthie.

Use either a maiden name in parenthesis, a middle name, or additional clarifying verbiage (year of birth and deaths) when referring to these individuals in writing–especially on photographs. When writing it’s usually sufficient to clearly identify the person once and them just make certain later references are clear.

And don’t get me started on Cousin Fred because I do not know which one you are talking about.

Do You Think You Know the Informant?

Some documents used in genealogical research clearly state the name of the person providing the information. Others do not.

Knowing who provided information helps the researcher judge the probable reliability of that information. If you have a record that does not specifically state who gave the information, indicate in your notes who you think likely provided the information–and give a reason if possible.

Certain individuals are more likely to know certain details about the family or their live than others are.

Your Family Wasn’t That Dramatic

It may be fun to sketch out far-flung scenarios to explain that census enumeration or birth certificate that does not make sense. But remember that reality is often more mundane than the fiction we create in our mind and often the simplest explanation, or something close to it, is likely what actually transpired.

It can be helpful to think about possible scenarios when trying to determine what records to search next, where the family might have been from, etc. but focus on the situations that are most reasonable–unless the records indicate something more atypical was taking place.

You should not have to violate the laws of common sense, physics, and biology for a scenario to have played out. Violating state law could easily have happened–fortunately records may have been generated.

Keep the explanation as simple as possible–at least until you locate actual records that are consistent with a more dramatic reality.