What Have You Shared?

It is great to know how to cite items in your personal collection of family history materials (pictures, letters, family Bibles, etc.), but what have you done to actually preserve or share those items with others? Keeping paper items in archivally safe materials is a great way to start, but making digital images of those items and sharing them is another.

Knowing where to put the comma in a citation for a family letter is great, but if no one has ever seen a copy of that letter but you and you’ve made no attempt to share its contents, will that comma really matter?


Provenance is the chain of ownership of a historical item over time and details about the origin of that item. For some items, one may be only able to track the provenance back so far. When one has archival family items, documenting their provenance is advised before that information is lost forever.

Separation of Bed and Board

This is when a couple lives apart–physically and financially–but stays legally married. There may be a court action that separates the couple’s finances and any real properties or spells out a maintenance amount given to one spouse (usually the wife).

Since the couple is not divorced they cannot marry someone else, but they can act separately in other legal acts. If you encounter this phrase in relationship to a relative, determine what it precisely meant at the point and time in question. A search of land records and court records is likely warranted. Sometimes property settlements are recorded in the land records even if real property is not owned.

But don’t ignore the phrase. Your relative likely didn’t.

Screen Shot that Surprise DNA Match?

Do you download/print/save information from your DNA matches? While it may be impractical to do this for every match, there are times where it is advisable.

Most people do not delete their DNA submissions, but it does happen and once it is gone, it is gone. Deletion is more likely when a person discovers a close misattributed parentage–in other words, their father is not their father, their mother is not their mother, a grandparent is not their grandparent, etc. Sometimes a person discovers that their parent had a child of which they were unaware. There are people who welcome these discoveries. There are people who do not.

If you discover a close match to you who is a surprise–for example, you have a first cousin match and you were unaware of any first cousins in your family–consider taking screen shots of their profile, shared matches, and the like before you contact them. Just in case they decide to remove their profile.

Also remember that predicted relationships can be slightly off in some cases when the genealogy DNA testing sites automatically predicts a relationship. That’s why they are called predicted relationships.

How you decide to contact that surprise match is a separate matter. But keep in mind that sometimes a genealogy DNA test changes a person’s world in ways they did not imagine. Consider downloading their data–for your personal use only–just in case it goes away.

Aged 82 at Death

The tombstone said my relative died on the 4th of February in 1882 at the age of 82. A distant relative concluded that the relative was born on 4 February 1800.

That’s probably not what was meant when the tombstone gave her age. Likely the age, if it was even correct, was the age she turned at her most recent birthday. It’s possible she died on her birthday, but there’s an even better chance that she did not.

If the relative was truly 82 when she died on 4 February 1882, then she could have been born between:

  • 5 February 1799–if she would have turned 83 on 5 February 1882.
  • 4 February 1800–if she turned 82 on 4 February 1882.

That’s assuming her family knew her actual age. That’s assuming the stonecutter got the correct information. All of this is conditional on the legibility of the stone as well.

Do I Need that Wrong Name?

Ignoring or throwing out those “wrong” last names can be a mistake. I have the maiden name of my ancestor born in 1851. I’ve clearly identified her father through a variety of records (vital records, estate records, and property records), but originally I thought she had a different last name–the last name of her step-father.

Do I still need that name?

Yes. Not because that last name was her last name at birth, but because at any time after her mother’s marriage to her step-father in 1859 and her marriage in 1869 this ancestor may have been listed with his last name. She still may appear under her maiden name in the occasional record after 1869 as well.

Wrong names can serve genealogical purposes. They can be clues as to non-biological relationships our ancestor had with other people and can be names under which they are listed more than once. Don’t forget about those wrong names once you have determined they are wrong. They could still be a clue.


This button from the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association 1974 reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, was found among my parents’ things.

Does it mean one of them went to the “old tractor show” in 1974? Does it guarantee one of them attended? I know my parents went to Mt. Pleasant event a few times. I remember going at least one time with them myself and my brother. My Dad might have gone at least once by himself.

Chances are that 1974 was, at the very least, the year that someone in our family went as my parents were not in the habit of collecting buttons just for the sake of collecting them. “Event buttons” usually meant they had been to the event.

Or that one of them had been to the event.

Think about any piece of genealogical evidence and what it really means versus what you think it could mean. There’s a difference. And if you are uncertain, then ask someone who has more experience.

Assuming is one of the biggest causes of genealogical confusion.

Go Back

When was the last time you went back and reviewed research you had done years ago or took the time to read some genealogy conclusion you had written “back in the day.” Recently I had cause to go back and read some writing I did ten or so years ago.

I realized there were leads I intended to follow up that were not followed up. In one case, I realized that a daughter I needed to research had never been researched. And I discovered one statement I made that I had neglected to source.

If you are stuck on your current research, reviewing what you have done before can be a good diversion…and a great way to fix errors or omissions you may have made years ago.

A Source is No Guarantee

Just because a genealogy assertion or statement has a source attached to it does not mean that the assertion or statement is correct. Look at the actual source. Understand it. Evaluate it.

I can put myself down as the “source” for the date and place of my third great-grandparents’ marriage. That does not mean it is correct.

Get that Map Right Out of Your Head

Do you create personalized maps of places in your ancestor’s life?

Modern maps show current things. Older maps show things as they were at the time the map was drawn. Neither map may show colloquial names for places or names that only your family used. Those names may be used in family records found in the home, the occasional newspaper item, or by a relative in a family history interview or conversation.

This is a work-in-progress map for the area where I grew up. Properties owned by my grandmother or my parents would be shown on plat books. The abandoned railroad tracks appear on maps drawn when the tracks were still being used. The rental property is not going to appear in any records under my parents’ names. The “Hennerson” place will not be called that on any map, but at least the previous owner’s last was Hendrickson which is not that far removed from the word we used to describe the place. The barn we called “Jurgen’s shed” likely does not appear on any map and so far I’ve not been able to determine where the name originated.

To improve the map, I should indicate the black numbers are section numbers and that sections 1 and 12 are in Hancock County, Illinois’ Prairie Township and sections 6 and 7 are in that same county’s Carthage Township.

Remember that the map you need may only exist in your head.