Genealogy “brick walls” come in a variety of styles. Some result from inadequate research. Some result from records that are unavailable, unindexed, or difficult search. Some result from records that were never kept. Some result from incorrect stories family members told us–either orally or in information they left in official records. And some brick walls stem from our own misconceptions or lack of understanding. Sometimes it’s a word or legal document that we do not understand. Sometimes it is a church record or process that is unfamiliar to us. And other times it’s because we assume that our ancestors were “just like us.” In some ways they are. But in other ways they are not. Your ancestor’s life was different in ways beyond how they got their food, […]
The Bureau of Land Management website ( allows users to search patent database of individuals who obtained federal land. The database contains an image of the actual patent and should describe the federal act under which the individual obtained the land. The BLM site does not contain any of supporting documentation used to obtain that land. Those files are in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Generally speaking federal land could be obtained via: cash purchase; military warrant (issued based upon military service in specific wars); homestead; pre-emption and various other claims. The amount of paperwork in the application file varies dependent upon the type of acquisition process. this tip originally ran in 2018
Understanding the record creation process can help us to understand how mistakes and errors creep into records. That entry for mother’s maiden name that we are viewing in the birth register. It could have been transcribed by the records clerk from the actual birth certificate filled out by the doctor whose handwriting was not the best. The doctor asked the baby’s mother what her maiden name was and really could not understand what was said. There are several steps from your ancestor’s mouth to your eyeball: ancestor’s mouth doctor’s ear doctor’s brain doctor wrote it down clerk read it clerk’s brain clerk wrote it down record was microfilmed record was digitized record got to you Not every record has all these steps–some have fewer and occasionally there are […]
Naturalization: An Un-natural Process This presentation will focus on US records of naturalization. There will be discussion of Colonial era naturalizations as well as those into the 20th century. Emphasis will be on records that were created, how those records fit into the larger naturalization process, and how to access and interpret those records. A variety of records and research situations will be used to illustrate key principles and concepts. Handout included. Session will be held live at 2:30 pm on 2 April 2021–recordings can be ordered for those who cannot attend live. Live attendance registration 2 April 2021 at 2:30 pm central —$14.00 (limited seating) Pre-order recording–$12.49 (recording available and sent on 3 April)
There are times where all a person needs is a snippet of material from their database to help remind them of key details on a family or group of individuals. When working on an aunt, ,her two marriages, and her husband’s two (or three?) marriages, names and dates were running together. I did not need all my data in front of me while searching. I did not need an extensive chronology in front of me. I just needed the key marriage dates and names to keep myself from getting confused and having to constantly refer to my database. The little chart is not comprehensive. It is not cited. It is for my use only to keep me from getting totally confused.
Many times when aske da question about records access–whether the records are available, what records were maintained, how are records accessed, are they still extant, etc. –the answer depends on the specific location. No one can be knowledgeable about all areas and time periods. Someone with general California knowledge can provide broad ideas about what records are available for Colusa County, California, but the best answer will be given by someone who has specific knowledge about that location. There may be localized genealogy groups on Facebook where these questions can be asked (but keep in mind that not everyone who says they “know their stuff” actually does). One may also reach out to local historical or genealogical societies, local libraries, or even the local courthouse–to see if they […]
A derivative citizenship is one that is derived from someone else’s naturalization or citizenship status. If your immigrant ancestor stated that they were naturalized and they were born outside the country, look closely at the citizenship of the parents–especially the father. Your foreign-born ancestor who claimed in a US census record he was naturalized at the age of five may have been–through his father’s naturalization. In pre-1906 US naturalization records, children and the spouse are not mentioned, but their citizenship status would have followed the father’s through his naturalization. The exception would be children at the age of majority when the father naturalized.
A relative died in Hancock County, Illinois, in the 12 month period before the enumeration of the 1870 US population census. She should have been listed in the mortality census that was taken for that year and I was anxious to find the reference to her. Online indexes did not make it “obvious” that the mortality schedule from 1870 are not extant for Hancock County. After searching for a few minutes and not finding her, I decided to look at the National Archives website to see what counties in Illinois had extant mortality schedules for 1870. The alphabetical list of counties started with Kendall. That explained why I could not find the person for whom I was looking. Before you spend too much time looking for that elusive […]
Grandma was born at her parents’ home on what’s now the highway west of town in 1924. That’s where all her siblings were born. Grandma’s birth certificate indicates she was born in Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1924. That is as precise as it gets. There is no address listed. My transcription should only indicate what is given on the certificate. If family tradition indicates the place of birth more precisely, that should be put in the notes–along with the individual who provided the information or my reason for believing it. Always include a source. Earlier records may not be as precise. Some marriage records only indicate the county of birth–so that’s what I should list as the location of the event. For some individuals my knowledge […]
When searching local land records and using the grantor/grantee indexes created by the original record holder (like the digital images of deeds at FamilySearch), go through all the indexes before you start looking at individual deeds referenced in the index. Going back and forth can be tempting, especially when you find something “really interesting.” But if you are not careful, index pages or entries can easily be overlooked in all the going back and forth. And that item that slips past you will be the one that has the good information. Sticking to one task at a time also makes it easier to concentrate.
The location of some places can be difficult to find, particularly if they were never on any map, were not an “official name,” and only known to locals who have long since passed away. One way to attempt to pinpoint these locations is to search for them in digital versions of old newspapers (using quotation marks around the phrase) or at sites that have out-of-copyright books like The location may not have been on a map but could easily have been referenced in a newspaper or 1800-era book.
The best way to get better at your DNA matches is to work on ALL of them–even the ones you are not interested in on the families you “already know everything about.” If you are having difficulty reading a document from 1720 (and it is in a language you are literate in), transcribe documents from 1850, 1800, 1750, etc. and work your way back. It may be that the document from 1720 is difficult to read, but sometimes a little extra practice with ones that are easier is what we really need. Occasionally people start to swim in the really deep end of the pool when a little more time in the shallow end might be a good idea. We all need help sometimes with one thing or […]
If you are having difficulty with your DNA results, keeping relationships straight in a family where everyone is related twice, etc. have you really allowed yourself to fully concentrate? Or are you checking the email and social media every few minutes? Are you distracted by household chores that need to be done? Are you going to search what’s “new” on your favorite genealogical website? Some genealogical tasks can be done when you are distracted, others will go better if you are not. DNA analysis, document transcription, relationship determination, etc. are best done when you have a block of uninterrupted time. Five minutes here and five minutes there does not allow you time to really process information and try to understand it.
Generalizing is necessary at times in creating a research plan. Thinking about what records were usually created and what most of them usually contained is a way to determine where to next focus research energies. But I cannot use the belief that “most of the time x usually happened at y time or at y place to enter dates or locations in my database as if they were documented facts. Peter and Barbara Bieger had their first child in Warsaw, Illinois, in January of 1851. One might assume that they were married in or near Warsaw a few years before the birth. Nope. They were married in 1849 (a few years before the birth, but…) in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they lived for a very short time before moving.
An ancestor died in 1877 and is buried in the Bethany Church Cemetery in Tioga, Illinois. There is a funeral entry for her in the records of the church which gives the same date of death as her tombstone but does not mention where she died. There is no civil record of her death as not all deaths were recorded in Illinois in 1877–this was still in the early days of recording civil records of deaths and births in Illinois). There is no obituary for her and no family Bible recording her vital events exists. My entry for her in my database should not indicate she died in Tioga. She likely died near Tioga, given that she is buried there. Tioga is close to both a township line […]
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