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20 November 2014

From Our Sponsor-GenealogyBank Discount

Our sponsor GenealogyBank is offering Genealogy Tip of the Day readers, fans, followers, etc. an annual membership rate that equates to $4.67 per month. Check it out.

And thanks to GenealogyBank  for continuing to sponsor Genealogy Tip of the Day.

19 November 2014

Use A Chronology as a Biographical Starting Point

If you are needing something to provide you with some framework for writing a biography of your ancestor, consider using her chronology of personal life events. It may not be the most "literary" approach, but it will get you started.

And sometimes getting started is half the battle.

And writing a biography of an ancestor (with citations included) may be a more manageable task than a complete five generation genealogy.

Re-Using Tips for Newsletters, Etc.

Editors of print genealogical publications are welcome to use tips from Genealogical Tip of the Day in their newsletters, quarterlies, etc. as long as the following notice is attached.

Reprinted from Genealogy Tip of the Day (c) by Michael John Neill, This tip originally ran on [insert date].


We appreciate those who wish to share tips with readers, but please remember to cite the source.

18 November 2014

Googling Your Ancestor's Attorney

Sometimes it can be insightful to perform Google searches on attorneys named in your ancestor's documents. This attorney appointment looked odd until it was discovered that he lived near the nearest land office and would handle the final paperwork in a 19th century bounty land claim.

17 November 2014

Record Copies are Copies Not Originals

Copies in record books are transcriptions made by the clerk of the original document. Consequently they do not contain any actual signatures and could possibly contain the occasional error or two. Clerks are human.

16 November 2014

Short Course-Organizing Genealogical Information

By popular demand, we're offering a new section of my "organizing genealogical information" class. Details are here. Don't wait, registration is limited.

Pencil and Paper Sometimes Will Do

Sometimes it is simply faster to use pencil and paper instead of "computerizing" everything. There are times where a quickly drawn out chart indicating relationships and names is what I need to keep me organized and to remind me of why I'm searching for a specific person.

15 November 2014

Recorded Military Discharges?

The county recorder's office where your ancestor lived after his military discharge may have a registered copy of his discharge papers. Military men were encouraged--especially during the American Civil War era and after, to have a copy of their military discharge recorded at their local county recorder's office.

Could be a good place to get a copy of the record. Records for discharges during World War II and after are probably some type of photoreproduction of the document. Earlier ones are most likely handwritten transcriptions.

14 November 2014

Is There a Method to the Order

Pay attention to the order in which children are listed in wills and other legal documents. That order may suggest the birth order for the children. The key word being suggest. If the names appear in a certain order in only one document that might not be proof of much. If the names appear in the same order in different legal documents over time, it might be a little more suggestive of child order.

But try and back that assumption up with data from other records.

13 November 2014

Openings in FamilySearch, Probate, and Court Records Webinars on 14 November

We still have openings in webinars on the following topics tomorrow, 14 November 2014:

  • Tips and Tricks for FamilySearch
  • Probate
  • Court Records
Register here---we'd love to have you join us.

Can Your Write On Your Brick Wall?

An excellent problem-solving technique is to write up your "problem" as if you were explaining it to someone totally unfamiliar with the time period, the family, and the location. Organizing your thoughts and your current research for someone else to read and to follow may be give you additional insight into where you appear to be stumbling.

Gaps are easier to notice when we try and clearly explain our problem completely to someone else.

You may be able to "write over" your brick wall!

12 November 2014

Here a W, There a W, Everywhere a W

Initials can frustrate genealogists, but at least four of these heirs of James Kile had "W" as a middle initial. That seems more than a coincidence. This would be a good thing to investigate. It turns out in this case the "W" in all cases stood for Wiggins, their mother's maiden name.

Things that seem coincidental may not be. And middle names can always be clues.

11 November 2014

Genealogy Queries: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We've finished our series on genealogical queries--with some specific suggestions. We broke it down into three parts:

Sometimes the Seat is Moved

In reading an affidavit from the early 1850s, I realized that the county seat of Mercer County, Illinois, was not where it is today. Has the county seat in your county of interest moved?

10 November 2014

Warranting the Patenting and Patenting the Warrant

Bounty land warrants indicate the number of acres in the federal domain to which a person (usually a veteran) is entitled. Holders of the warrant could use them to obtain specific property themselves or sell the warrant to someone else who would then obtain the property. The warrant was surrendered as a part of the land acquisition process to obtain the actual patent. The patent is what gave real estate title to a specific piece of property and is sometimes called the "first deed." (generally speaking, this is a US specific tip).

09 November 2014

The Whole Page Gives a Bigger Picture

I wasn't really certain the census entry in Union County, Ohio, was for the right James Kile. The index entry and transcription didn't indicate the names of the others on the census page. As soon as I saw the image, I knew I had the right person as three of his sons were listed on the same page. Sometimes you need to see the entire document to make certain it's the correct person.

Not to mention the occasional additional clue that pops up.

Openings in November Webinars

We still have openings in our November webinars, topics include:

  • Court Records
  • Probate Records
  • Female Ancestors
  • Charts, Charts, and More Charts

08 November 2014

In the Beginning There was an Ending

When transcribing a document keep in mind that there are some letters that are made in different ways depending up on their placement within a word, what the preceding letter is, etc. In the image that accompanies this post, the letter "s" is made one way when it is the first letter in a word and another way when it is the last letter in the word.

Writing Genealogical Queries

Before you post a genealogy query online, think about how easy you are making it for someone else to help you. Ideal queries provide a summary of what you know. Potential helpers may be less likely to help if they have to post a series of follow up questions to really know what you know and what you don't.

For a list of query writing suggestions, check out this post on Rootdig.

07 November 2014

Revisit Loose Ends?

When was the last time you looked over your old research materials for loose ends that never received any followup?

It's possible that there are leads just waiting to be used in your research.

Personally I have a stack of research questions that are only completely worked on. If you don't make a list of things that you've never completed, you may be surprised how many incomplete research projects you have.

06 November 2014

Eleven Sons Means Too Many First Cousins With the Same Name

War of 1812 veteran James Kile and his wife had eleven sons. Keeping the grandsons straight is difficult, considering that several were named after an uncle or other relative. I'm making a chart with the sons and grandchildren listed by their approximate year and state of birth.

In some cases that may not be helpful because given the twenty-plus year span in the births of James' sons, there could be sons of James and grandsons of James with the same name who were not very far apart in age. There could be an uncle and two (or more first cousins) with the same name who were close enough in age to be confused with each other.

05 November 2014

Do You Look at All the Notations?

Are there marks on a document that you've not analyzed or tried to interpret? Some stray marks are just stray marks, but other times those notations have a meaning. Sometimes that meaning has a genealogical significance and sometimes it does not. A recent posting to Rootdig mentioned notations on an estate inventory.

You don't know if something is relevant or not if you don't try to find out.

04 November 2014

Have You Tracked All Your Addresses?

Among the pieces of information to leave behind for your descendants, have you left a list of the addresses/locations where you have lived and when you lived there? That is something some of us wish our ancestors did and it might not be bad for us to do it ourselves.

03 November 2014

The 1950 Census and Beyond...

The 1950 United States census will not be released to the public until 2022 and the 1960 United States census is not scheduled for release until 2032. That's a while.

But have you thought about where your family was living in those census years? What makes you think your family was living in those locations?

Just because it will be awhile before these records are released doesn't mean you shouldn't think about what your ancestors and relatives were doing in the mid to later part of the 20th century.

02 November 2014

November Webinars!

We are re-recording some of my more popular webinars in November. Now is a great time to register and attend live where you can interact and ask questions during the presentation. Seating in these live online sessions is limited. Don't delay.  Registration includes PDF handout and complimentary download after session has been recorded. No special software is needed to participate. Email Michael at with questions.

Most sessions are only $6 each!

Title and Description
5 spots left
Reading and Interpreting Probate Inventories from the 18th Century—rescheduled from earlier. If you signed up before and did not get invite, email Michael at
7 November 1:00 pm  Central Time
Creating Families from Pre-1850 Census Records --This presentation discusses how to analyze pre-1850 census records in order to determine the family structure that is suggested by those records. Enumerations for one household between 1810 and 1840 are analyzed in order to determine the number of children, ranges on their years of birth, and ranges on years of birth for the oldest male and oldest female in the household.
7 November 3:00 pm  Central Time
Court Records-Pig Blood in the Snow. This lecture discusses American court records at the county level where cases were typically originally heard. Discusses cases of main genealogical relevance along with searching techniques.
14 November 10:00 am Central Time
The Probate Process—An Overview. Geared towards the advanced beginner or intermediate researcher, it covered an overview of the process and looked at selected documents from two probate settlements with a discussion of the pitfalls to watch out for along the way. Probate records are an excellent genealogical source--regardless of the time period in which you are researching and may contain clues about your ancestor, where he lived, his occupation, etc. 
14 November 12 Noon Central Time
Tips and Tricks for FamilySearch  -This webinar discusses ins and outs of using the "new" family search,   searching by family structure, global searches, interpreting searches and troubleshooting. Also discussed are strategies when approaching an unindexed set of images, a new type of record series, or incomplete records. Aimed at advanced beginners and intermediate level researchers
14 November 2:00 pm Central Time
Female Ancestors. This presentation discusses approaches and techniques for determining an ancestor's maiden name and locating "missing" females. Geared towards the advanced beginner or intermediate researcher, it focuses on American records and sources. The content is not specific to any one time period and many of the approaches can be refined for different locations or types of records. If you are stymied on your female ancestors--and half your ancestors are female.
10 November 7 pm Central Time
Sections, Townships, Base Lines, etc--Land Descriptions in Federal Land States. The presentation focused on interpreting these descriptions, determining acreages and becoming familiar with the terminology. This presentation is geared towards those who have had difficulty using land descriptions or who have avoided using land records because of the use of legal descriptions. The use of land records for genealogy and searching those records are not a part of this presentation. This presentation concentrates on how land is described
10 November 8:30 pm Central Time
Charts, Charts and More Charts. Readers of the newsletter know that I love charts--and I'm not talking about pedigree and family group charts. Instead I'm talking about charts that organize information you have in order to see what's missing, notice patterns, and organize your research. In this webinar, I talk about key elements to include in any chart, troubleshooting before you get started, brainstorming, and ways to get creative with your data. Geared towards advanced beginners and intermediate researchers
12 November at 7:00 pm Central Time
Seeing the Patterns-Organizing Your Information. This lecture discusses the problem-solving process and a variety of ways to   organize your information with the intent of getting the research to notice overlooked clues, patterns, trends, and information.
12 November at 8:30 pm Central Time
Determining Your Own Migration Trail/Chain. This lecture discusses ways to find the names of your ancestor's associates and ways to determine how your ancestor fit into a larger chain of migration. Geared towards advanced beginners and intermediate researchers
6 November 2013 at 6:30 pm Central Time
Registration Closed
American Revolutionary War Materials on  Our discussion concentrated on what items from the Revolutionary War era were on and how to search those materials. The presentation was approximately 45 minutes in length. A short handout was also included. The presentation is geared toward those who have not utilized these materials on and aren't all that familiar with how to interact with the search and navigational system of Fold3--both are discussed in addition to the records. 
6 November 2013 at 8 pm Central Time
Registration Closed

Assuming It Is a Place It Is Not

It is possible that the name you think is a variant spelling for a location may be an entirely different location? Some countries or regions have place names that sound very similar or have nearly identical spellings. Don't just grab the first "match" and assume that it is the correct place.

01 November 2014

What Record Are You Avoiding?

Is there a record type or source you avoid using because you have difficulty using it or understanding it? Doing so can easily sell your research short and cause you to overlook solutions to those brick walls.Sometimes the reasons brick walls exist is because everyone else has stuck with the "easy" approach too.

Join Michael at Salt Lake's Family History Library in 2015

We've set the dates for our 2015 research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Visit our informational page and reserve your spot!

31 October 2014

Do You Look At Those Changes?

One of my ancestors wrote his original will approximately fifteen years before he died. As time went on instead of writing a new will, he executed various codicils to his original will. These codicils changed specific clauses of his will. In reading these codicils, one realized that one was in reaction to his son-in-law's financial problems, one was in reaction to his son-in-law's death, one was in reaction to his daughter's death, and one was after his sons had traded farms.

If your ancestor's will had one or more codicils ask yourself what might have prompted the change?

30 October 2014

From Our Sponsor--GenealogyBank Offer ends 31 Oct

Genealogy Tip of the Day is proudly sponsored by GenealogyBank . We thank them for their continued support. They are offering an annual subscription at a price that works out to $4.67 a month.

Children With the Same Name

Your ancestor and their spouse may have had more than one child with the same name. In some families it was common to "reuse" names of children who had died as infants. Consequently a couple may have children named Geske born in 1852, 1856 and 1859--if the first two died. Couples may also have children with names so similar that a researcher does not realize the children are different--naming children Lucinda and Lucena can confuse researchers. And other families give children names that are different in their homeland but are different in the country where they settled--Johann and Jann may both get anglicized as John.

Don't assume those kids with the "same name" are all the same kid.

29 October 2014

A Great Deal Is Not Digital

We've mentioned it before, but...

There is still a great deal of genealogical data and information that is not available in digital format. Some is available on microfilm, but the rest remains only on paper. If you've been stuck on a problem or family for a while, have you made certain that you're not concentrating only on what you can get in digital format?

28 October 2014

Mortgages In Separate Books From Deeds

In some local records offices the mortgages are kept in a separate series of books and not in the same volumes as the actual deeds. A mortgage can help to document your ancestor's financial status and it may be that the holder of the note was an actual relative.

27 October 2014

Extractions Should Include Context

It's not always practical or possible to completely transcribe every record used in your genealogy. However any extraction should always include enough context so that what is extracted makes sense and does not mislead you or another person who uses your extract. A recent posting to ("Dead Men Swear in Mercer County")  gives a simple example of how taking some of a document out of context could create problems.

Hopefully readers wouldn't extract the way we did in that example, but it still makes a good point.

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