The Best for that Place

My ancestor was born in Kentucky, most likely in 1818 or 1819. I’m not certain of the year. I may never be certain of the year and there is actually little chance that I ever find a reasonably reliable record containing his precise date of birth.

And that’s just fine. It’s also the reality of this time period and location. There were no civil records of births when he was born in Kentucky. No bible record has been located. He was not in the military so there’s no service record, enlistment papers, or benefit application that could be helpful either. The family was not a member of a church that kept any sort of records of dates of birth–or even ages. The ancestor died in the 1880s in Missouri and no death certificate can be located–it likely would not give date of birth any way. No tombstone is known to be extant.

I’m not really that concerned that I have no precise date of birth. Census records are relatively consistent with an 1818/1819 year of birth. My bigger concerns are: tying him to his parents, his spouse, and his children–all of which has been done with a variety of original records containing primary information.

Sometimes it simply is not possible to get a date of birth for some individuals. That’s not a “brick wall.” It’s reality.

Webinar on Getting Most from FamilySearch 28 Sept 2021

Getting the Most from FamilySearch 7:30 pm. central 28 Sept 2021 (note date/time change). Attend live (handout included) or pre-order recording and handout–registration information below.

The FamilySearch site contains images of records from around the world—most available right from your internet connection. This presentation will focus on the actual records that are on FamilySearch and the finding aids that have been created to some of those records. We will not be discussing the online trees in this session and will concentrate on the “digital microfilm” and how that information can be navigated and used for your research. We will break the material down into two large categories: indexed and unindexed digital records. Presentation will be made by Michael John Neill and will include:

Generalized search strategy. It is easy to become overwhelmed with what is on FamilySearch. We will start with a generalized organizational strategy to effectively and efficiently navigate what is on the site.

Searching indexed digital record sets: determining what records are in the database, determining what names from the records are in the index, creating effective search queries, and organizing and tracking conducted searches.

Searching the catalog for non-indexed record images: making certain all political jurisdictions covering a specific location have been searched, determining if locally created indexes were created to records, and tracking manual searches of unindexed digital images.

Requesting copies of records will also be discussed.

Live presentation—via GotoWebinar—on 28 September 2021 at 7:30 pm. US Central Time.

Register for live attendance—$16.

Pre-order recording and handout from session–$12.

Read the Original Before Incorporating that Transcribed Location

Ancestry, FamilySearch, and other online genealogical data storehouses attempt to make it easier to “grow your tree” by allowing the user to directly import a transcription from a record into an “event” for a person in their tree.

It truly makes it “point and click” easy to add events and locations to an online tree. It’s the reason why many online trees indicate my great-grandmother died in Wapello County, Iowa instead of Lee County, Iowa (because the location was transcribed incorrectly). It’s the reason why ancestor Focke Goldenstein is listed as having a variety of “first names” of which several stem from incorrect transcriptions of records (some come from his name being spelled wrong, which is a slightly different problem).

Read the original record before including something from that record in your tree. Transcriptions can be incorrect.

From Whence the Estimate?

Every date you enter for your ancestor’s life needs to have a source. That includes dates that are estimated.

If you are using the fact that a man got married without permission on 2 June 1891 when the age for a man in that location to get married without permission was twenty-one as evidence for his date of birth, then indicate that. In this case, you should state he was born before 3 June 1870, cite the marriage record (and in your notes explain the age requirement and the fact that no permission was given–it might even be a good idea to read quite a few other records besides those of the ancestor to see if any of them do have permission notated).

If you are using an ancestor’s 1850 census enumeration as their “last known alive date” cite that census for the “dead after” date and in your notes indicate what searches of other records have been conducted.

Never indicate a date is exact when it is not. Often in genealogical research we know an event took place before or after a certain date. Cite your source(s) and in your notes explain–particularly if the reasoning may not be obvious to someone else (or even to you later).

Those DNA Ethnicity Results

The DNA ethnicity results that measure your “ethnicity” do so back to a time when there are extremely few records to document the existence of most individuals. You are not going to be able to paper trace your complete genealogy back to that point in time suggested by the ethnicity results. Pedigrees the extend 2000 years aren’t generally worth the paper they are written on.

Use the ethnicity results as a form of entertainment–unless they reveal something significantly different from what is expected (for example, you think you are entirely European and discover that you are 25% African or 20% Asian, etc.). Document your paper tree as best you can with as many reliable sources as you can and go from there. The part of your DNA test results that you should use are the cousin matches that you are given with the relationship estimates. Those relationship estimates are based on amounts of shared DNA.

The ethnicity results are based on a “data pool” and statistical models and, like all models and statistics, are only as reliable as the data and the assumptions–and still prone to error.

My latest results “took away” my Irish ethnicity.

No they did not. I’m still having corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.

Who Oversaw the Young Widow’s Estate?

During the time period when women had few legal rights, it’s worth remembering to look at the men who end up overseeing their affairs in one way or another.

Always pay close attention to the person who was appointed to be the administrator of the estate of a man who died with a wife and young children. If the person is not clearly a relative of the deceased individual, it very likely is a biological relative of the wife–or perhaps her second husband.

And if there is a will and the wife is appointed executor, look carefully at who signed her bond. Those bondsmen were often relatives of the widow.

1950 Census Instructions-for Canadian Natives

1950 US Census instructions for places of birth for natives of Canada

The instructions for 1950 US census enumerators indicated that a Canadian who spoke French upon their arrival in the US should be classified as “Canada-French.” All other Canadian natives should be classified as “Canada-Other.” One might be tempted to think the “Canada-French” means Quebec and “Canada-Other” means outside of Quebec. That’s not necessarily how I would have interpreted those terms had I not read the instructions.

Always read the instructions. 1950 Census instructions can be viewed online at the website.

Learn more about getting ready for the 1950 census release by viewing my webinar on that very topic.

Sources Are…

Generally speaking, genealogists who write and lecture extensively about genealogy research and methodology, put sources in one of three categories:

  • Original-the first time the document was recorded.
  • Derivative-when the document was reproduced, whether by hand or some sort of “image reproduction”
  • Authored Narrative-usually a written compilation of original and derivative records along with analysis, interpretation and summary

This classification scheme is not perfect. No scheme is perfect. This classification scheme does not comment on the accuracy of the record. That’s the job of the researcher as some original sources are virtually worthless and some derivative sources are excellent.

For more about record classification and analysis, consult  Evidence Explained

That Date in an Online Tree

I realize the errors and limitations of online trees. I never just “copy and paste” that information into my own tree. Some trees are more than riddled with errors.

But if that tree has a totally new to you date and place for an event in your ancestor’s life–an ancestor for whom you’ve never found anything regarding that event in their life. Do not just copy the information to your tree. One option would be to put the information (and source) in the notes for that ancestor. Then ask yourself “if the date and place were correct what reliable records with reliable information” could have provided that information?

A date and place of death may be mentioned in an obituary, a church record, or a death record. The date and place of death may have been suggested by a date in a probate file. The “date and place of death” may actually have been the last known date and place the person was living and their software converted “last alive date” to “death date.”

The same analysis goes for any date and location in an online tree. If it’s true (which it may not be)…where could a record actually state it or imply it? One also has to think about how much time should be spent trying to validate a date in an undocumented tree.

Some would suggest the researcher put the date/place in their database and cite the tree as their source and then analyze it. My preference is, if I am going to “use” information in undocumented online trees as all, is to put that information in my notes or “things to followup on” file—not my actual tree.