Forget You are a Genealogist

If you’ve researched your family history for some time or had a semi-serious interest in it for a while it is easy to forget that others do not.

If you’ve been involved with research for a while, you could probably easily (with some exceptions) give complete information for the death certificate for most close relatives. But you are not typical. Your knowledge is based upon interest you may not share with others and your own research. Your cousin who gives information on a death certificate in 1930 when her mother dies does not remember all that information–if they ever even knew it.

Sometimes when we’ve known information for years it can be easy to forget that others simply do not know and to assume that everyone knows what we do.

Get Outside the Biologicals

If you are looking for photographs or other family ephemera, keep in mind that some materials might have “left the family” at some point. Divorce or death of your ancestor’s spouse may have resulted in the relatives of a subsequent spouse of that ancestor settling up the effects of their household. Depending upon the dynamics of the time items from the home may have ended up anywhere–perhaps in a basement, attic, or storage unit of someone related to your ancestor through that subsequent marriage.

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When Searching Difficult-to-Read Records Manually

Some suggestions when searching foreign-language records when the script is difficult to read:

  • Make certain you know how the records are organized.
  • Take your time. It is not a race.
  • Do not research when you are tired.
  • Do not research when you are distracted.
  • Take copious notes. Record the notes with any downloaded images.
  • Make certain the downloaded images are actually downloaded. Make certain you can find them. Organize them for later.
  • Keep track of where you are in the image set at all times. Internet connections go down. Web pages reboot. Things crash. If you were on image 300 out of 450 images and “don’t remember where you were” when a mysterious restart happens…
  • Be patient.
  • When you start to think “I just want to get done,” it is probably time for a break. You are doing genealogy research, not piecework in a clothing factory.

Your Non-Landowning Ancestor May be in Bureau of Land Management Database

The Bureau of Land Management database of Federal land patents ( includes individuals who received a land warrant based on pre-Civil War military service. Not all of the individuals who received land warrants received real property.

Some military bounty land warrant recipients sold their warrant to someone else and that person exchanged the land warrant to obtain title to a piece of land in the Federal domain–that’s called getting the patent. Your ancestor who got a warrant will be in the BLM database as a warrantee. How that warrant was obtained (the application) will contain information on your ancestor. The National Archives has copies of those warrant applications.

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

Capture All Data as You Download

Downloading images from some sites is an easy process. Do not let the ease of the download deceive you into thinking it is all that simple. Make certain you have enough detail with the download to “know where you got it” later and what the record actually is.

Downloading entire US census pages makes tracking most of this information easy–it is often on the census record itself (except for the name of the website where you go it).

Church records kept in ledger format are another story entirely. Individual pages often do not include the date, place, or even type of record. In some cases, the type of record is obvious, but other times it is not. Track these details as you create the downloads.

Or you will have to waste more time than you will care to remember going back to get that information.

Speaking from personal experience.

Some Relative Local Perspective

Maps and pictures are a great way to help visualize what an ancestral residence looked like. It can also be helpful to be aware of the relative distances between towns and cities that were important in your ancestors’ lives–especially if your family lived for generations in a collection of villages.

While maps have a scale to give the perspective of distance, I constantly compare distances between ancestral villages to distances between locations in my own life. While the geography is not the same and the methods of transportation were different, the perspective helps–if only a little.

It also makes the whole area in which they lived seem a little less abstract.

Don’t Ramp Up Your Assumptions

There’s a World War II draft card for a man named James Rampley Seibert born in Illinois in 1906. James Rampley is a name that appears numerous times in my family starting in Maryland in the late 1700s and continuing onward for nearly 150 years. In fact one known descendant of the first James Rampley in the United States is named James Rampley Elliott–after one of those James Rampleys.

That does not mean that this James Rampley Seibert got his name in the same way. There may have been no connection between his first name of James and his middle name of Rampley. His middle name may have come from no familial connection to the Rampley family at all–the name could have been taken from a friend of the family, a neighbor, etc.

It can be easy to get taken in by an initial assumption and let your research take an exit ramp in the wrong direction. Try and avoid getting too caught up in a quick, hastily reached conclusion.

That can be even more tempting to do when the last name is one that is unusual. That unusual last name as a middle name does not necessarily mean there’s a connection.

It just means you have to ramp up your research and do some work.

Outside the Immediates

It can be tempting to only consider relatives when deciding whom to ask questions about our deceased family members. This can be a mistake. Others may be able to give you personal stories and remembrances of your parents, grandparents, etc.

One way to do this is to reach out to individuals that knew your parents or grandparents–if you happen to know who some of those people are. Another way is to see if there are Facebook groups for locations (the smaller the area the better) where those deceased relatives used to live. Ask if someone remembers the people you are asking about.

Those people outside the immediate family may have stories that are just as good as those within it.

Sometimes the stories are even better.

The artist of a painting my Mom had done was a friend from childhood who had a few stories to tell me about my Mom. The email conversation I had with her reminded me the importance to reaching out beyond the immediate family.

You Can’t Sell It When You Don’t Pay Those Taxes

Sales of real property for failure to pay property taxes are usually from the “Sheriff of Youlivedhere County” to the individual who purchased the property. Your ancestor will not appear as the grantor on the deed. If you know (based on some solid evidence and not just conjecture) that your ancestor owned real property and cannot find a deed where they sold it, consider that it was sold for non-payment of taxes.

Most counties list the Sheriff as the grantor on these transactions–your ancestor did not own it if the taxes were not paid–but find out for certain how the appropriate jurisdiction handles these matters. There may also be a lawsuit against your ancestor as well.

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