One of the reasons newspapers are valuable resources for genealogists is because they are hard to “close” once they have been published. Court cases may be sealed, but a newspaper reference to that court case is “out” forever. A birth certificate may be sealed if there is an adoption, but if the baby’s birth was in the local newspaper–it is still there. If there’s a record you cannot access, ask yourself what you are trying to find out or discover and are there other records that may provide that same information?
A search for a relative on a “big” genealogy website may search records from a wide variety of sources and instantly pull up an image with the name of interest. Before you assume you’ve hit the genealogy jackpot there are some warnings: The image may not refer to your relative. The image may come up because the name is “close,” the location is “close,” or someone else thought the record was about your ancestor. The name may not really be the same, the location may be too far off, or that other person may be incorrect. If the search parameters were set too loosely, the “match” may make absolutely no sense. Search results are not divinely inspired. The transcription may not be correct. The original may be difficult […]
The reality is that there is no trick or instant solution to genealogical research problems. However, generally speaking the following approaches are helpful: citing your sources; learning as much as you can about all the records in the area; learning the history of the area; having contemporary maps; obtaining as many records as possible; using compiled sources (published genealogy books, online trees, etc. ) as stepping stones to original records; realizing assumptions may not be true; continuing to learn about genealogical research in general; proofing and double checking your work. Not one trick and not a guarantee, but these general suggestions will go a long way.
At Genealogy Tip of the Day we want you to think about your research: how you decide what material to research, how you find material, how you analyze material. We want you to think about what sources you may not have looked at, what assumptions about your ancestor may not be true, and what conclusions regarding your ancestor may need to be re-evaluated. Think, engage, and interact with what you find–don’t just react. This tip was originally published in February of 2017 but is just as true today.
When the census taker came asking questions, they didn’t require the respondent to “prove” the answers they gave. They took them at their word. If your relative gave clearly incorrect information, the census taker may have asked someone for clarification. But for the most part, what your relative said was what got written down. They didn’t ask them to validate those property values in the 1850 or 1860 census. They didn’t ask to verify ages or places of birth. Answers regarding citizenship status and eligibility to vote were taken at face value (for those enumerations that required those details). Your relative providing information may have guessed where their mother was born on their 1880 census enumeration. They may have guessed about the place of birth for their mother–in-law […]
A notice to appear in a court case can provide a clues as to the residence of the individual being required to appear. The summons will generally be issued to the sheriff of the county in which the person resides. The difficulty is that one has to determine in which court cases a person may be summoned. That requires looking in indexes to court records for ancestral siblings, friends, and associates.
A review of our stats from several years ago indicated that in 2017-2018 we had several tips that were significantly more popular than others. Here’s the list: Five Year Gap Many Conclusions are Temporary Every Step in that Provenance Mapping it out in Pencil Would a Chart Help? What Is a Maiden Name? No Kids, Never Had Siblings, and Died With Some Cash How Easy Was It For Your Ancestor to Move? Is Your DAR Patriot Still a DAR Patriot? The Paper Genealogy Tree Versus the Genetic Family Tree What’s your favorite tip?
Records related to an ancestor’s involvement in the military may take the form of service records or benefit records. Service records were those records created during the person’s actual service and relate to their service, when they were mustered in, their physical description, when they were mustered out, where they were assigned, and other information from records created during their service. Benefit records are records typically created after service related to benefits that were given to or were dur to the serviceperson as the result of their service. Those records, in the United States at least, are typically pension records and sometimes records of bounty lands that were awarded to the serviceman. In the United States these records are at the National Archives. There may be some additional […]
When identifying individuals in a photograph, use their complete name (as best as you have it including name name) and years of birth and death (if you have it). If you want to include relationships in the identification, do that with respect to other people in the photograph and not to someone not in the photograph. It can be confusing to see individuals listed as gg-grandpa of MJN, gg-aunt of MJN, 3rd cousin of MJN, etc. Personally I would leave out the relationships unless it helped to clarify who someone was in the photograph. And don’t forget the location and when the photograph was taken–if you know it. Including who made the identification is helpful as well.
There are no “boring” ancestors. Everyone has a story to tell and one person’s “boring” is someone else’s “not-so-boring.” For those who leave behind fewer records and stories that on the surface seem more mundane, have you learned about: the times in which they lived? what likely employment they had? the tools or their job or household (estate inventories are great for this)? what life was like for someone in their situation? what historical events actually impacted their life? etc.? The answers to those questions may not reveal a great Greek tragedy, but the result can be the development of more insight into your ancestor’s life.  It may also increase the chance that you actually learn more specific details about your ancestor’s existence. Not every relative lived a […]
Do not look just for your ancestor’s name in that city directory. There may be a number of other items in that directory which could be helpful with your search. Directories may include lists of churches, schools, ministers, or local officials. Some directories have additional lists of names sorted by residential address–helpful in finding neighbors. There may be additional information on local businesses, newspapers, schools, etc. Always make certain you browse the entire directory. Do not just look for your relative’s name and quit. And do not forget to copy down that list of abbreviations while you have easy access to it.
Chances are you do not need a “quick” copy of a vital record for your genealogical research. These services tend to charge fees that are significantly higher than those charged by the repository that actually holds the records. The record image may already be on FamilySearch. Search the records indexes and card catalog entries to determine if they have images of the original records. Save your money. Usually the only reason for needing a copy “really fast,” is for a legal reason–often for the settlement of an estate or insurance purposes. You may want the copy fast for your research, but you likely don’t need it that fast. And you’ll save money.
Census takers or family members may have estimated how old certain members of the household were, especially older members whose memory may not have been the best. Ages that end in a “5” or a “0” may be approximate ages. Emphasis on the “may be.” If I find a person whose ages are relatively consistent except for that one when they are listed as 80, I tend to take that one with a grain of salt as possibly being an estimate.
The desire to know where an immigrant ancestor came from can be a strong one. The problem is that sometimes finding enough information to make that determination is difficult, especially if the immigration took place before 1900. The best approach is to research the immigrant in the country of settlement in an “extremely exhaustive” manner. It’s difficult to define that phrase, but essentially it means locate everything that may directly or indirectly mention that person. Those records may mention where the person is from (either specifically or generally), they may suggest associates of your ancestor who knew them “back across the pond,” or provide additional clues. Generally speaking it requires that the researcher learn about all records that exist where the immigrant settled including civil records (local, county, […]
Some things about your ancestor change and others do not. Think about what things do not change (date of birth, place of birth, etc.) and what things do change (age, physical agility/ability to do manual labor, general health, etc.). For some people their religious affiliation remains constant their entire life. Other individuals may have attended several different churches during their life time. A change in marital status (due to death or divorce) may have resulted in a change in family dynamics, finances, etc. Those resulting changes may have resulted in additional responses–a move, court records, change in estate planning, etc. A change in your ancestor’s health may have necessitated a variety of lifestyle changes. Children moving away, getting married, or having children may have impacted your relative’s life […]
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