Always Get to the Before and After Ones

When any index takes you to an image in a set of images or a page in a record book, look at images and pages before for additional images or additional pages.’s index to Missouri probate records indicated that there were a few pages for a man named George Trask who died in St. Louis in the 1860s. Scrolling beyond the initial ones indicated there were well over 100 images.

Whenever I locate a land record for a relative in the local office’s land record books, I look at the deeds recorded before and after the one I found in case the person recorded multiple deeds at the same time.

When you find any record for a person, make certain you have the whole item or set of images. Browsing before and after what you found is a good way to do that when the record is digitized or contained in a record book.

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.

Before and After

In any record where you find an ancestor, look at adjacent records and see who appears in those records. Are there any clues in those names or records that could help you learn more about your ancestor?

If it’s a death record, did they die of the same disease? If it’s a marriage record, were other family members (or friends) getting married on the same day? If it’s a naturalization petition, did other immigrants from the same area naturalize at the same time? Who filed land claims on the same day as your ancestor? Who appears next to your ancestor on a list of names that signed a petition? Did someone file three land records on the same date and they are recorded together in the records book?

No one lives in a vacuum.

A Drop of Water

If your ancestor was a landowner and a drop of water fell on the property they owned, do you know what path it would have taken to get to the ocean?

There may be a geography lesson in there for you.

The Clerk’s Perspective

If you are stuck trying to find a document or a record or are having difficulty in interpreting something a clerk has written in a document or in a record, remember the perspective of the clerk. The clerk may not have understood what your ancestor said, may have been poorly educated himself and cared little about the accuracy of the records he left behind.

Or the clerk may have been very concerned about the accuracy and reliability of his records and your ancestor may have been vague in his answers, less than honest, or generally grumpy and unwilling to provide information.

License Date May Not Be Marriage Date

The date that a couple obtained a marriage license is not necessarily the date of the marriage. Getting a license does not mean the couple was actually married. Things can happen after the license and before the ceremony. If the license was returned with the name of officiant and date of the ceremony, then the couple got married.

If you only have the marriage license date, record it as the marriage license date.

And always pay attention to the how the dates on a document are described.

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.