The Entire City Directory

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.

Avoid Those Quick Vital Record Copies

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.

Did They Round the Ages?

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.

Before Crossing the Pond

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, state, and federal) and private records (church, funeral home, newspaper, occupational, etc.). It requires searching those records even if you think your ancestor will not be mentioned in them or that they “probably would not help.”

What About Your Ancestor Could Be In Flux?

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 as well.

At any point in your relative’s life if you are stuck, ask yourself:

What changes could have taken place at that point in my ancestor’s life that could be compounding my search for more information? Are these changes things that leave indirect but not direct clues behind?

Retired from Retiring?

A relative retired from farming in the 1910s when his one son took over the operation of the farm and moved approximately twenty miles away.

Five years later, the son was unable to manage the significant debt he had taken on. The father returned to the farm, paid the son’s debts, and the son left the farm to take a factory job in another town.

Because the time period was fairly short and no census years were involved, it was some time before I discovered this relative’s short-lived foray into retirement.

Did your ancestor move away for a short time only to return later? It could explain that short-term absence. That relative you think lived their entire life in Minnesota may have spent a few years in Texas after retirement only to return later to Minnesota.

That Final Estate Accounting

Always make certain you have gone through the complete set of estate settlement papers for any ancestor. If there are final accountings and they contain a list of heirs, that “most recent” record will have married names for female heirs and should list descendants for heirs that died before the estate could be completely settled.

Gaps and What We Don’t Understand

No matter how much research experience we have, how many guidebooks we have read, and how many seminars we have attended, we all have gaps in our knowledge.

Those gaps can be because there are factual details we simply never learned about records, places, or events we think we know “everything” about either because we were never exposed to that information or when we were, for one reason or another, we ignored it.

There may be aspects of our ancestor’s social existence that we don’t “get” or understand because our own existence or experience is different. The dynamics of a large family may not quite be understood by someone whose immediate family was quite small–only children of only children have a different reference point for family interaction compared to someone who grows up in a family of eight siblings where each parent had that many siblings.

If you grew up in a family that was “close,” it can be difficult to imagine a family where close relatives lose contact forever because it’s somewhat common for people to permanently stop speaking to each other.

Genealogists can easily have gaps in their “book learning” about genealogy and in their understanding of the family dynamic in the family they are researching. It’s always advised to remember that.

Where Was the Nearest “Gretna Green?”

In slang terms a “Gretna Green” is a location where a couple can easily get married–usually just about immediately upon arrival. Often the location is “right across” a political border with restrictions and requirement that are fairly lax.

While there was a literal Gretna Green in Scotland, the requirements there have changed over the years and “immediate” marriages appear to no longer be possible.

But if you cannot find your ancestral couple’s marriage record in the location where they lived, check and see where the nearest Gretna Green was. That’s where they may have gone.

Or they may have just gone three counties over where no one knew their parents.