Contextual Transcriptions

At first the location on this military discharge stymied me. Then I looked at the date and it made perfect sense. A US military discharge in 1847 could easily have been done in Mexico. A little geographic searching determined the town was Comargo.

Always transcribe a document in context–it helps.

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The Organization of the Originals

Many indexes do not include every name, indexes can contain errors, and some records are completely unindexed. No matter the situation, there are times when the researcher needs to undertake a manual, page-by-page search. The questions to ask are:

How are the original records organized? Is it by:

  • date of the event or document–sometimes this is known, sometimes it is not
  • date the item was recorded–often not known–but it is after the event took place
  • the person’s residence, burial spot, or other geographic location–sometimes known, but not always
  • military unit or some other assigned number–can be difficult to know, is there some other record that provides this information?
  • something else–variability here

To find the person in the desired record, it may be necessary to look at other records (organized differently) that may provide the needed information to search the desired record manually. A city directory may provide an address for use in census searches. A family bible may provide a death date to use in searching death records.

Indexes won’t find everyone, but doing some homework before starting a page-by-page search can save you some time. Sometimes.

Non-Cash Bill Payments?

Reading through a relative’s entire probate file, page by page and word by word, can provide you more than just the occasional relationship clue–it can also provide insight into their life.

This 1862 reference indicated that the family paid the doctor bill of the deceased with two pigs and a rifle.

Sometimes You Cannot Argue

Obituaries for a relative and her husband indicate they were married in August of 1920. Their first child was born in May of 1922–according to the birth certificate (which I’m inclined to think is right) and a host of other records. The couple’s marriage record was not found among their effects. There is no family bible where the date was written down.

The obituary references to their date of marriage, which consistent, provide secondary information.

There is the marriage record which indicated that they were married in December of 1921. It’s pretty clear that date is the intended one on the record. It’s recorded among other records for that same month and the couple’s names, along with the names of their parents, are correct. The marriage record provides direct, primary information about the marriage date.

It seems like the discrepancy is simply to make the first child born well more than nine months after the parents married. The relative (the female) would have still been fifteen had she married in August of 1920. She would have been nearing her 17th birthday upon her marriage in December of 1921 making things just a little more plausible. Based on her correct marriage date, she would have been 16 and still in need of parental consent to marry, but at a more palatable age than 15.

Relatives are insistent upon the August of 1920 marriage date despite the evidence that it is not right. All I can do is cite the information I have obtained, transcribe it accurately, and place it in my database.

Spouses Buried in Separate Cemeteries

There no law that says a husband and wife have to be buried next to each other. In fact, I don’t always assume that both members of a couple were laid to rest in the same cemetery.

They could have died in separate locations decades apart and taking the one who died last “back” for a burial may not have been feasible.

The surviving spouse in the couple may have married again and been buried with the subsequent spouse. One spouse could have been married to a previous spouse with whom they are buried.

The couple may have eventually divorced or simply separated and, for obvious reasons were not buried together.

The spouses may be buried next to each other but, for some reason, there is no record for one of them indicating where they are buried.

There may be a separate reason that I forgot.

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Auto-Generated Text May Need Modification

May be an image of text that says 'Potential father for Anna Whitman Relationship to Michael John: Michael John's wife of great- granduncle'

Ancestry indicated that Anna Whitman was “Michael John’s wife of great-granduncle.” It took me a little while to figure out exactly what they meant. A better way to phrase it would have been wife of Michael John’s great-grandmother’s brother.

This auto-text is not the only text that is occasionally awkward. Always read any auto-generated text created by your genealogy software before publishing it or sharing it. Make certain it says what you want it to say.

Stones Don’t Imply Burials

One of my mother’s first cousins died at the age of 10. She’s buried in a cemetery where her parents were living at the time and has a tombstone with her years of birth and death on it.

The tombstone purchased at the time has the names of both of her parents on it as well with the name of their ten year old daughter in between the parents’ names both include their year of birth, a dash, and a partial death year (“19__”). One may think that they were buried there and the year of death had never been completed.

That’s not the case. The parents divorced sometime after the daughter died and are buried elsewhere.

My Now Wife–When I Signed this Document

from our archives…

Just because your ancestor uses the phrase “my now wife” in his will, it does not mean he had to have been married twice. A man might use the phrase to make it clear to whom a bequest was being made. If his will said “to my now wife I leave my farm and after her demise it to go to our children” that meant his wife at the time he wrote his will.

The phrase “property is to go to the heirs of my now wife” would have a similar import.

Data in Compiled Trees

Copying information from an online tree is a great way to repeat incorrect information. Just because something appears in an online compilation–even with a submitter name–does not mean that it is correct.

The goal of your tree should not be to see how many names you can collect. Treat researching that distant relative you just learned about the way you would a close relative–try to be as accurate as possible. If finding incorrect information on your grandma would upset you, keep in mind that person you just “copied and pasted” into your tree with out a second of validation may be someone’s grandma as well.

A Mistake or a Clue?

My aunt’s 1930-era death certificate has the wrong last name for her father. While the name is wrong, it does have a connection to the family–just not in the way indicated on the death certificate.

A 1900 census enumeration for three aunts in a different family includes the place of birth for their deceased mother. It is the wrong state–one in which their mother never lived. But it is the state where the mother’s parents were married a year before she was born. The location did have a connection to the family, just not as stated in the census enumeration.

There are times where wrong information is simply that: wrong. There are other times where wrong information is simply the right answer to a different question and an informant simply got confused for one reason or another.

Which is why it is important to locate as many sources as possible.