As Many As You Can or Doing as Much as You Can?

Very early in my research, I gave up on collecting as many names of relatives as I could. The goal of the biggest set of names, to me, seemed like a frivolous chase where there would always be one more ancestor, one more cousin, or one more in-law to track down in an attempt to gather the largest set of names I could.

It wasn’t about getting as many names as I could.

It was about finding out as much as I could about an ancestor, their family of origin, the family they created, their locality, their time period, and their culture. That was enough, but it gave me a better picture of that individual and that individual became more than just a name and few dates and locations in a database. Completely researching them also meant that I reduced the chance that I made errors in determining relationships between individuals and that I jumped to wrong conclusions about things my ancestors experienced.

It also means that I will never have as many names in my database as others do. That’s perfectly fine with me.

Multiple Informants on Same Document?

Even if a doctor is the only one who actually signed a birth certificate, there were other informants. The doctor (or midwife) did not provide all the information from their first hand, direct knowledge. The doctor or midwife would have probably known the details of the birth (date, time, place, mother, etc.) The parents likely provided their names and any other information about themselves listed on the certificate. The difficulty is that in records with probable multiple informants, it’s impossible to know exactly who provided which pieces of information. That doesn’t mean the information is correct or incorrect–it’s just that we need to think about who most likely provided it.

And some of those pieces of information we won’t be able to know 100% who provided it–we weren’t there.

And if you are insisting you were there when your great-grandmother’s birth was recorded, it may be time to focus on things other than genealogy for a while.

Does the Local Index Have a Clue?

When local records clerks create and maintain indexes to their records, they sometimes add extra details about the record in the index. It may be an alternate spelling of the name, a married name for a female birth, or additional detail. The clerk really is not supposed to alter anything on the original record, but they may have made a notation with an extra detail in the index.

It does not happen often, but it does happen.

An Assumption Teardown

We’ve mentioned this before, but some problems can be worked around or solved by thinking about every assumption we have made about an ancestor and “their situation.”

Every assumption.

Especially those that are near and dear to our heart. Those are the ones that can create the biggest stumbling blocks.  If you don’t have documentation for a “fact” about your ancestor, then that fact could be incorrect. Even if you do have documentation for a fact, that documentation could be incorrect.

Always consider the possibility that what you think you know could be wrong–and then ask yourself:

what would I do differently if this “fact” weren’t true?

And then do it.

The Temptation to Suppose

One must be careful sharing supposition online. The middle name of a child of an ancestor (we’ll call him “Bob”) suggested what his wife’s maiden name might have been. Extensive research on that last name in all the areas where the ancestor Bob and this wife lived revealed no trace of a connection to a family with the supposed surname.

This apparently does not prevent individuals for listing the supposed maiden name as fact on many online trees. It’s impossible and impractical to try and get the name removed from trees. The drawback is that people either copy it over again or end up grasping at straws trying to prove it.

Be careful with whom you share supposition.

Middle names of children can be clues to last names of earlier ancestors. Or they can come from other places–notable historical figures, neighbors, other family members, names a person liked, etc.

What Do You Leave Behind?

For the genealogist, there’s nothing like visiting a cemetery–especially one a distance from your home where your ancestors are buried. I love to visit and get my own pictures, even if there may be better photographs available elsewhere.

But think about what you leave behind you on that visit. I will go and get flowers to leave on the grave, but the only flowers I get are a small group of fresh-cut ones with no metal or plastic as a part of them. That way all I am leaving at the stone is a small amount of plant material that will wither and decay just like the grass clippings. I do not like to leave something that someone else will have to pick up, will get caught in a lawnmower, or otherwise require any sort of maintenance that I myself cannot deal with.

Details on Ancestral Tenants?

If your ancestor owned property and rented it out, it can be difficult to determine who the renters were. In the United States (and likely other areas as well) rental agreements and leases were not filed with any court on a regular basis.

One place to potentially learn names of tenants is in court records. The 1907 estate partition for the estate of John C. Rampley in Hancock County, Illinois, indicated that the farm tenants were Robert Lowery, Phillip Schafer, and Charles Staff. In this case, the details of their lease was not known to the widow, but they were mentioned in the court case because they had an interest in the proceedings as they were tenants on the property that was subject to the partition suit.

That’s one place to find out if your ancestor had tenants on their property: their probate records and any court records related to the settlement of their estate. In some cases the details of the lease agreement may be included.

It is also possible that your ancestor sued his tenant or was sued by his tenant for issues involving the rent, upkeep of the property, or other tenant-landlord issues. These cases would have been heard by the appropriate local court. There may be details of their lease agreement in the court papers, particularly those details that are germane to the case being heard.


I’ll be taking a group to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this summer. Our trip is no-frills, focused on research, and not full of “forced group” activities–and our price is reasonable. Check it out.

Or join me in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, at the Allen County Public Library for a somewhat shorter trip with the same focus.

Ancestral Art, Carvings, and Other Creative Works

If you are fortunate enough to have ancestral ephemera, don’t forget to preserve those items that are artistic in nature when you are preserving newspaper clippings, photographs, and other paper items. I have three pieces of framed artwork created by my Grandmother.

Paintings are not the only artwork you may have. Quilts, sketches, knitted or crocheted items, poems, and other handmade keepsakes should be preserved as well. Did Grandpa carve something you have in your possession? Remember that not all handmade items may be considered by purists as art. That’s fine–you’re not running an ancestral art gallery.

Take a picture of the item. Share the images. Digital images are a great way to share the item without actually sharing the original. These images may potentially help to preserve the information about the original (including pictures of it) past the lifetime of the original itself.

A Foreigner

Do not assume that a reference to your relative as a “foreigner” means that they were from a different country. There are times and some records (eg. some town records in New England) where a reference to someone as a foreigner may simply indicate that they are from a different town or state. My uncle’s will was probated in Indiana in the 1980s and was needed to settle some property in Illinois where it was mentioned as a “foreign will.”

Is One Record “Proof?”

It’s hard to boil down genealogical “proof” into one short tip of the day, but one document by itself is usually not considered “proof” of anything. One document may contain evidence in support of a conclusion, but it’s important to remember that any one document can easily be incorrect.

Proof, in the genealogical sense, is usually considered to be the written summary of the conclusion that is reached when a body of evidence (statements taken from individual documents) have been analyzed.