It’s great to ask a relative questions about your family history. Having a list of questions to ask can also make the interview process easier. But it is worth remembering that the details of an event may be remembered over a period of time and not necessarily during a one-hour interview. The interviewee may remember significant pieces of information long after the question and answer session is over. And no matter how complete or comprehensive the list of questions seems to be, there can always be aspects of a specific family’s history that is not included. There will be questions the interviewee does not think to ask. One way to ascertain this information is to maintain a relationship with the individual if at all possible–it can be via […]
We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: DNA tests for genealogical research have been heavily marketed. There are times when they will solve problems–or at least help to solve a problem. But DNA needs to be used in concert with other forms of documentation that researchers have been using for years. And DNA will not necessarily make your genealogical research easy. It will give you one more tool in your research toolbox. But it is not the only tool.
One of my wife’s ancestral surnames is Schollmeyer. Not the most common last name in Davenport, Iowa. In the village in Germany where they were from, the parish register of births contained numerous entries for that last name. In fact, in some years 1/3 of the entries had the father with the last name of Schollmeyer or the mother with that maiden name.
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Years ago, I used a series of records. I didn’t find my relatives in them and made some incorrect conclusions about how the records were organized and what time period they covered. Twenty years later, on a whim I searched them again. Knowing more about records and research, I found some of my relatives in the records. Did you make assumptions about records early in your research…and would it be worth your while to revisit those records and assumptions?
There were several migration trails across the United States beginning with the earliest days of settlement. Those trails are important and researchers need to be aware of them. However some people don’t exactly follow the trails. And some people are part of group of migrants connected by ethnicity, religion, or other shared social bonds who move together over decades. These longer, smaller, and more personal migrations are often referred to as migration chains. There are a variety of records that can provide clues as to such migration chains, including: county histories, academic studies of migration, pension affidavits, church histories, and others Such records have given me evidence of migration chains, including: Dunkards who moved from Maryland to Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois and Iowa starting in the late […]
When a person has only seen one example, it can be difficult to know what may be unique about that item. There may be clues in how that one record or item is different from other records and those clues cannot be seen when there is nothing with which to compare it. The “Pop-up-Pal” phone I had as a child is a perfect example. The “O” on my phone is painted red. I assumed that all phones had this one red button. The only toy phone of this type I had seen was the one that I had. Curious about the phone, I searched for it online. None of them had the red “O” button. Then I remembered. I was the reason the “O” was red. Pushing that […]
Sometimes before the entire family arrived in a new country, one or two family members (usually men and usually single, but not always) would immigrate first, get established, and then send back for the rest of the family. If you’ve found the “family’s passenger list entry,” consider searching for a brother or other male relative who might have immigrated first. Peter Freund and Peter Hornung immigrated in 1853, followed by Freund’s siblings and extended family along with Hornung’s wife or sister a few years later. 
Just because your ancestor uses the phrase “my now wife” in his will, it does not mean he had to have been married twice. A man might use the phrase to make it clear to whom a bequest was being made. If his will said “to my now wife I leave my farm for her life and at her demise it to go to my children” that meant his wife at the time he wrote his will. He might have been concerned that if he remarried and his “then wife” married again that his real property might fall out of his family’s hands.
If you are fortunate enough to find a biography of an ancestor or a statement they made in court, consider creating a chronology from the events and dates it contains. This can be an excellent organizational tool as biographies do not always list events in chronological order and thinking about how every event in the biography fits into a larger timeline can be helpful. Be certain to include all events–ones stated directly and ones stated indirectly. The same approach can be used with obituaries. Genealogy Tip of the Day book is here. Learn more about it and get your own copy. If you’d like to get our genealogy tip daily in your email for free, add your address here.
When viewing your DNA “matches” take some care before you assume what the connection is or that there is only one connection. It is possible that: one person has a “error” in their tree; there was an adoption early in the lineage that was completely undocumented;It’s usually easier to figure out the relationship when the matches are closer. the father (or mother) shown in an online tree really is not the father (or mother); one of the “parents” was married more than once and the “parent” is actually the step-parent; you may be related to the person in more than one distant way. Don’t jump to a conclusion about “where in the tree” the match has to be. A recent match for me indicated a distant relationship to […]
In families where the same name was used repeatedly, it can be easy to: merge two different people with the same name into being the same person confuse two different people with the same name and assign the wrong record or event to the wrong person overlookyet another relative with the same name–there could always be one more Correctly sifting out people with the same name can be difficult. Look at records that mention: age middle initials–if they even have them spouse occupational clues specific residence or residential clues relatives And look at every record you can get your hands on in the area where all these people with the same name lived.
A piece of genealogical information provided by someone who had first hand knowledge of the event is said to be primary information. Other information is secondary. The closer the information is provided to when the event took place, the more reliable the information is considered to be. My knowledge of my exact date of birth is not primary–I know it because I read it somewhere or I have been told it. My knowledge of my age, within a year or two, is primary. Having gone to school since the “age of five,” I have a good idea of just about how old I am based on my life experiences. I can provide primary information of when and where my children were born. My knowledge of my father’s date […]
Who, what, when, where, and (if you are lucky enough to know it) why a picture was taken are great things to leave behind on those digital images of photographs that you may have in your collection. This 1985-era photograph of my grandmother and her niece was one of many in my parents’ collection of family history ephemera. Fortunately it was identified on the back, albeit in a handwriting which I did not entirely recognize. The only clue was that it referred to my grandmother as “Aunt Ida,” indicating that it was written by one of her nieces or nephews. This was one of those photographs taken during my lifetime so the identification was not necessary for me, but the date was helpful. The location of the picture […]
When requesting vital documents, be clear about what is being offered, what you actually want, and what you end up requesting. The county clerk and recorder in the Illinois county where I was born have a copy of my birth certificate. It was created by some photographic process from the original certificate on file in the state vital records office in Springfield, Illinois. If I request a certification of birth from the county clerk, I will get a document certifying that they have a copy of my birth certificate. That document will state what the original says–including my name, date of birth, place of birth, and names of my parents.  That certification of birth will not include a “reproduction” of the actual certificate. Genealogists usually want an actual copy of […]
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