List of Assumptions

From a while back…

We’ve made a list of some assumptions that genealogists make. Here are a few. We will add your suggestions to a longer list which we’ll post later.

  • The county history was right.
  • That my grandparents actually got married.
  • That my grandma was my grandpa’s first wife.
  • That my relative was an immigrant.
  • That my relative was born in the United States.
  • That the entire death certificate was right.
  • That grandma had a tombstone.
  • That my grandparents were buried next to each other.
  • That no one in my family got divorced.
  • That the old genealogy was right–I just haven’t found the proof yet.
  • That my family was never in court.
  • That my family never appeared in the newspaper.

Add your own thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Do I Need Every Detail?

Some relatives are reluctant to talk to the family genealogist for fear that every detail of a family skeleton or scandal will be broadcast for the world to hear.

Ask yourself if you really need to know every detail of every family squabble. It may be sufficient to know that two uncles fought over money when their father died and never spoke again. It may be sufficient to know that a mother and daughter didn’t speak for the last twenty years of the mother’s life without going into excruciating detail of exactly what precipitated the falling out.

Sometimes, if the person to whom you are talking actually “lived through the family drama,” it may be difficult to get answers to questions because the entire situation is painful. Tread lightly. “Drama” and scandal look different when one was not in the throes of it.

Sometimes if you press too hard you end up with no information from a relative. And something is usually better than nothing.

What Does Not Change at Marriage

Searching female ancestors in many countries is complicated by the female adopting the last name of her husband at her marriage. Think about those things that do not change when trying to search for that female relative after her marriage:

  • her first and, if she has one, middle names
  • her date and place of birth
  • her parents–she may have lived near them after her marriage. They may have lived with her in their old age.
  • the names of her brothers–she may have lived near them after her marriage
  • the names of her unmarried sisters–they may have lived with her at some point in their lives.

All of these can be ways to search finding aids to some records in your attempts to find the missing married female ancestor.

All the Grandchildren’s Names

Repeated names can be clues to names of earlier family members. Repeated names are not guaranteed to mean that any given ancestor had a particular name, but names used over and over may mean something.

A relative who died in the 1880s had several grandchildren who either had Riley as a first or a middle name. It may be a clue that there is a connection to someone with that name. It may just be a coincidence. If there was a child named Riley in every set of that relative’s children, it would be an even bigger clue.

But it would still just be a clue. It’s not even what we would consider hard evidence.

Don’t just look in your direct line of descent for name clues. Make certain you have branched out.

But remember that repeated names are clues and not facts extending into earlier generations.

Are You Aiming Towards the Facts?

Remember instead of trying to prove that James is the father of Enoch, see if you can find everything you can on both James and Enoch and see what turns up. Analyze all that information you have located. Looking to prove a specific fact can cause you to overlook things that show that fact isn’t correct.

Join Michael at either the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this summer!

Who Is An Heir?

State statute defines who qualifies as the legal heir of someone who has died. While we can’t go into all possible scenarios in a short tip, generally the first heirs are a surviving spouse and any children or descendants. In the absence of those individuals, the qualifying heirs typically come from “further up the family tree,” starting with parents of the deceased and siblings of the deceased–or their descendants.

State statue will dictate the specifics of who qualifies as an heir, which heirs have higher priority, and how far up the family tree the court has to look.

Heirs have an interest in the estate, but a valid will, legally admitted to probate can direct that property be given to legal heirs, some legal heirs, or other individuals entirely. Individuals who are given real or personal property in a will are generally legally referred to as legatees, beneficiaries, or some other term. But not heirs. Heirs have a legal interest in the estate based upon their relationship to the deceased. That interest may end up being moot if a valid will gives the estate to someone else.

Generally speaking, if A dies with no will and B, C, D, E, and F are listed in legal documents as heirs of A and B is known to be a child of A, then C, D, E, and F are most likely other children of A or descendants of other children of A. There are some exceptions.

Heirs can be legatees or beneficiaries of a will. Legatees or beneficiaries of a will do not have to be heirs. For example if someone dies and leaves their home and other property in their will to the neighbors. The deceased person’s siblings are still their heirs, but their neighbors are the legatees/beneficiaries of the estate.

If someone is referred to as an heir or heir-at-law of someone else in a probate document, determine what the current probate law was at the time of the person’s death. Pay attention to everyone who is listed as an heir–not just the one person in whom you are really interested. Also try and determine what the family structure was of the deceased person to try and get a fix on what the relationship actually was at the time.

Do You Have Everything?

One of the first questions I ask someone when they say they are stuck on an ancestor is what records they have accessed that may mention that ancestor.

It’s an important question to ask and an important question to answer. Determining if you have “everything” is not always easy. There’s the records that are typically easier to access, such as vital records and census records. There may also be land records, probate records, court records, newspaper references, church records, naturalization records, military records (including pensions), a variety of federal records (besides census records), cemetery records, funeral home records, etc.

One approach is to list every document you have that mentions an ancestor on which you are stuck. Then ask someone familiar with research and records in the areas where your ancestor lived if there are materials that you might have overlooked.

It’s possible you have not overlooked anything.

It’s also possible that you have. Sometimes we can be so focused on the problem and our frustration with it that we overlook something that could help us. It’s also possible if we are researching in a new area, era, religious community, etc. that there are materials of which we are unaware.

Another question to ask in an attempt to make certain I’ve looked for everything is to ask myself, “how is this ancestor different from other ancestors I have researched?” It may be that those differences resulted in records that I have not accessed before.

Join Michael at either the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this summer!

Are Your References Clear?

When you read through your research notes, summaries, commentaries, etc. is it always clear to whom you are referring when you use the word “she,” “he,” “they,” etc.? Pronouns are great, but if you are writing about several people and then starting using “she” or “he” are the references clear from the context? If not, consider re-writing or re-phrasing.

Thomas Smith and Henry Johnson arrived in Colusa County, California, in 1856. Then he married one of the daughters of Jackson Brown and they moved to Oregon.

Who got married to the daughter of Jackson Brown?

It’s not clear, is it?