Querying for All Variants

I’m looking for a woman named Wilhelmina Senf who immigrated to the United States between 1846 and 1852. Sometimes her first name is rendered as Mina and sometimes her last name is spelled Senf, Serf, Senft, Serft, Zenf, Zerf, Zenft, Zerft, etc. I need to make certain that my searches are covering all these possible variations of her name.

To do that I made a chart with the name variants spelled out. The problem is that soundex and “sounds like” options for Senf may not catch all the variants that begin with an “S.” The same thing is true for the variants that start with a “Z.” The “n” being read as an “r” creates that problem.

I also need to make certain that while she’s usually listed with a first name of Wilhelmina/Wilhelmine, she did use the first name of Mina as well. My list of names to search for needs to reflect that. Based on the three variations for her first name and the eight variations listed for her last name, there are twenty-four possible name combinations. Using search options (based on sounds-like choices and wildcards) means that each of the twenty-four choices does not have to be performed as a separate search.

But we do need to make certain that the searches we enter will catch all the variants we have.

Do you always do that?

Track those Near Misses

I may never find the US passenger list entries for Wilhelmine (Trautvetter) Zenf and her children, but it will not be for lack of trying. It will also not be because I did not keep track of the entries that were eliminated from consideration.

To keep myself from looking at the same entry over and over (easy to do if one is using several different websites to search passenger lists), I’ve made a chart that summarizes the entry and why I eliminated it as being Wilhelmine or her children. The reason is important. That way if I discover what I “know” about the family is wrong, I can easily review my previous conclusions and look again at those entries that may now match what I know.

Additional columns could be added to the chart used in the illustration, including:

  • approximate year of birth
  • direct link to the image
  • note as to whether manifest image was downloaded to personal media

Before investing too much time in a “what I looked at to find this” chart, think about what pieces of information you’d like to know about the items that were eliminated from consideration. All those pieces of data are easiest to collect when using the index and viewing the image–not afterwards.

Organize those Loose Papers

Files of loose court papers are frequently out of order. If you are having difficulty understanding the case being tried, organize the papers chronologically. After that, extract every date listed in the papers and create a chronology. That may help you to understand what lead up to the case and how it played out. Organization of the papers may also suggest there are some holes in your understanding. Either way, you have made progress in your understanding of the case. For court records it also can be helpful to begin your work by looking at the initial filing of plaintiff and defendant in addition to the conclusions that were reached. All of those items (if available) will help provide a broad overview.

This is also a good idea for any case file of loose papers, including Civil War pension records. Those are also much easier to understand when put in order, especially if the pension was denied and repeated appeals were filed. It also helps with those items to pay attention to the specific pension act under which the application was made.

Calculated Dates of Birth

If a tombstone provides a date of death and an age at death, a date of birth can be calculated. When a date of birth is calculated in this fashion, make certain to indicate that the tombstone was the source and that the exact date of birth was calculated.

That way if better records of the date of birth are obtained that slightly differ, you will know that the “stone date” came from a date of death and an age–it is always possible that the person who determined the precise age did their math incorrectly or that the inscription was incorrect.

Always cite the source.

Stop Multi-Tasking

Ok, so it’s not just a genealogy tip.

Our laptop is on the fritz and my daughter wanted to use the desktop. I was forced to read some homestead case files without the internet and email as a distraction.

And guess what?

I noticed three things I had not noticed the first time I read through the papers. The first time I had read them while I was “waiting” on webpages or search results to load.

Is multitasking your problem? Would you notice more details in a record or a file if it had your complete attention?

Do You Really Have It All?

A cousin graciously shared with me a copy of a relative’s pension file that another cousin had shared with her. I was very glad to get it.

The relative of the cousin received the file from the National Archives years ago. I wondered if the National Archives had sent her the entire file as it looked like the original copies were made in the days when mail in requests were for “selected documents.”

Turns out there was at least one page the relative was not sent. In this case, the missing document was not a “huge” discovery, but sometimes it can be.

I do not Need Forceps: Refine those Ebay Searches

If you’ve set up Ebay searches for your genealogy research, don’t just accept the results in your email if they are not meeting your needs. Refine the search if necessary.

I noticed that my results for the name “Rampley” were giving me quite a few results for a medical forceps. I did not need these results. I still wanted to search all categories of items, but I chose to have any including the word “forceps” removed from my search. While there is always the chance that something I want has that word, I decided it was worth the risk to have it removed.

Is It Really a Different Source?

Chances are the information in great-great-grandpa’s death certificate and obituary were provided by the same person. This means that the fact they agree with other does not make them any more “right.” Getting records where there were probably different informants as to the same details increases the chance you get the “right” answer.

And sometimes no one knew the right answer. But relying on one source or several sources made at the same time from information probably provided by the same person may send your searches astray.

Get Out of the 21st Century

Remember that we do not live in the same times as our ancestors. If you are working on families from two hundred years ago, consider reading contempory material from that era. Transcribed diaries, newspapers and other materials are a great way to get a better “feel” for the times, in addition to reading non-fiction history covering the same time period.

Reading someone else’s diary from the time, even if a complete non-relative, may give you a fresh perspective on your ancestor life and times.