When they Can’t Pin Down a Date

Sometimes it can be difficult to get an interviewee to remember when an event precisely took place. And it does not always matter.

Instead of focusing on dates, ask what was going on at the time. If the event was a marriage or funeral, ask if they attended the event and who do they remember being there. What time of the year was it? Did snow at the cemetery make getting there difficult? See if they can put the event in the chronology of other events in the family (moves, graduations, marriages, divorces, etc.). Ask if the event took place before or after a well-known historical event.

Don’t focus on the date of the event when talking to someone. Focus instead on what went on at the event, who was there, what food was eaten, etc. These questions often lead to more interesting answers and anecdotal information and may give you enough of a clue to help you pinpoint when a certain event took place.

Confirming Confirmation

Genealogists love to make charts and lists. If you have family members who were members of a religious denomination that practiced the rite of confirmation, have you thought about where your various ancestors were confirmed?

This rite often takes place in the early teenage years. It can be a way to think about where your ancestor was living when they became a young adult. Not all denominations practiced confirmation, but if your ancestor’s church did, determining where this rite took place could help you fill in some blanks in your ancestors’ lives.

No Website Lasts Forever

No matter what they tell you, no website lasts forever. Don’t expect a genealogy website to host your information until the end of time. Never put all your genealogy eggs in one basket.

Witnesses Don’t Always Give Relationships in Pensions

From a while back…

The key word here is “may.”


Widows in pension cases sometimes had difficulty proving their marriage to the veteran. Sometimes the only witnesses to the wedding would be relatives who had lived near them for their entire lives. Sometimes the witnesses would be children of the marriage who could testify to their age and use that as an approximation of when the veteran and the widow married.

Look at how long the witness has known the widow in a pension application. Does it suggest that there might be a relationship?

Tractors, Dogs, and What I Heard and What I Drew

The grandson pointed to the toy and said he wanted me to draw something. I could not figure out what he wanted and decided to draw a cartoon character he likes instead.

What I drew does not look like the character and it certainly does not look like a tractor.

Did your ancestor not understand what the census taker was asking? Did the census taker do their best to write what your ancestor said, but their attempt to spell and interpret the name was highly inadequate? Good intentions or not, it is easy to see how it happens.

The grandson wanted a picture of a tractor. That’s how a tractor came to look like a very rudimentary dog. It’s also how Ulfert Behrens got his name spelled Woolpert Bacrus in the 1860 US Census.

Was There a Correction?

Upon occasion death certificates are corrected or amended. Typically these are filed directly after the original certificate. When viewing entire sets of death certificates online if you have the ability to browse, make certain to look at the certificate before and after the one of interest in case an amended one was filed.

Grantor/Grantee in Land Records

Your terminology reminder is:

A Grantor is the person who is transferring their ownership interest in a piece of real property to someone else. The grantee is the person to whom the ownership in a piece of real property is being transferred.

Precise Marriage Location?

Always review a marriage record completely to determine if the precise location of the marriage is given. Records may just list the county or the township, but sometimes the precise location of the marriage–a specific parsonage or residence–is listed.

That residence is a big clue. People typically do not go to a complete stranger’s home to get married. If they do, make certain that the stranger is not the same person who married them.

Dating a Manual Search

There are a few newspapers relevant to one of my ancestral struggles that have not been digitized. They are on microfilm, but there are too many for me to go through the entire set, issue by issue, for eighty years–which is how long the people of interest lived there.

I will not just run to the library that has them and start searching. I will make a list of the possible events that might have warranted mention of my relatives in the newspaper. Included on that list are:

  • Vital events in their lives (birth, marriage, and death).
  • Dates of other events that might have been mentioned in the newspaper, such as: arrests, land transactions, court actions, anniversaries, etc.
  • Events mentioned in other digitally indexed newspapers that might have been mentioned in the newspaper I am searching.

If the newspapers are not indexed and there is no time to do a page-by-page search, a list is important.

How Do You Stay Focused?

For some of us, it can be difficult to stay focused on one aspect of a genealogy research problem. Rabbit holes may be fun diversions, but many times they don’t garner us any more information that we already had and far-afield research does not often pan out with helpful clues.

If I find myself getting distracted, I stop and do a non-genealogy task. Most genealogists have plenty of those that are left undone. Another approach is to focus on small things when possible and to keep a list of what you have done and whether it was successful or not (a research log).

What do you do to help you stay focused on one specific person or family instead of getting diverted with other individuals whose names you come across?