Do not assume that only one person wrote on a document or record you are using in your research. Carefully look at the handwriting to determine if it looks consistent throughout the document or if multiple writers could have been involved. Census records and record copies documents in courthouses are generally written by only one person. Original documents (such as a death record, or records in a pension file) may have had more than one person who wrote the information on a specific page.
And if the different handwriting means a different person wrote the information on the document, it could be that there was a different informant.
And those informants may not have been equally reliable.
We've had requests from quite a few people to offer our "organizing genealogy information class" with discussions on Sunday instead of during the week. So we've done that. The posting with details can be seen here.
Don't just assume that the first "hit" is your person of interest when searching a record or a database--make certain other non-name details are consistent. There could be more than one person in the database or the general with the same name or with a very similar name.
And, it's always possible that the wrong person's name was spelled correctly and the right person's name was spelled totally incorrect.
A recent post to Rootdig mentioned two Henry Markhams who served in the Civil War from Iowa. Different men--and only one was the person of interest.
Some military veterans and their widows submitted original family documents to back up their pension claims. These items could vary and included such items as family bibles, samplers, and the baptismal record shown here.
Is it possible that some of your "missing" family ephemera is at the National Archives, sitting in a pension file?
Do you read documents in their entirety or do you skim them over? Do you read the "important parts," skipping over what appears to be meaningless? Sometimes the biggest genealogical clues are buried in the boring legal tedium of a court document.
Which can be easy to miss if you are only looking for the "important parts."
Bible records are a great genealogical source. But researchers should remember that in some cases, the dates of birth, marriage, and death may have been written in years after the events took place--perhaps by someone who was not even present at the original event. Seeing items in the same color of ink and script is a clue that this was the case.
Clues that the entries were possibly written as the events took place include:
slightly different color of ink
slightly different handwriting--perhaps changing slightly as the writer gets older
A copyright date in the bible of 1900 would also indicate that entries from the late 1700s were not written in as they took place.
Don't assume that your ancestor was always a member of a specific denomination and ignore nearby churches of that "wrong"denomination.
You could easily be wrong about your ancestor's lifelong commitment to a specific church. They could have attended a different church for a short time, particularly if they lived on the frontier and there was no nearby congregation of the "right" denomination.
If that packet of court papers is not in the "right" file box, try the box before and the box after and remember that files in any box of court papers may not be in order.
It is also possible that a researcher was using two separate file boxes and switched the boxes in which the files were supposed have been placed. Packets of papers usually have the box number written on the outside. Look in the box where the missing file is supposed to be and see if a file is in the wrong box. The box where that file is supposed to be may be where your missing file was accidentally placed.
Land records generally record the acquisition and disposition of land. Property tax records may indicate that the owner is deceased or that the widow or someone else is paying the taxes on the property. There may not be a deed transferring the ownership from the estate of the deceased to the heirs until years after their death.
If you need to estimate a date of death for a land owner and death records are not extant, consider looking for a death clue in the property tax records.
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Genealogy Transcriber--not always every day, but a signature or piece of writing where readers are encouraged to try their hand at interpreting. Free.
Genealogy Search Tip--periodic short tips for online searching or an occasional mention about a "new to me" website. Free.
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Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of the tract books from the Bureau of Land Management. These books are supposed to notate all claims to federal land and served as a register of what claims had been established for what property.
But in searching one surrendered homestead claim, I discovered that it had not been entered in the tract book.
Any source or reference can very easily be only 99.99% complete. Remember that.
Because it seems like for most of us our ancestors lived in the land of .01%
In old style English script what was meant to be a double "s" looks like an "f." The end result is that frequently a name like DeMoss gets transcribed as "DeMofs," DeMof," etc. While it's my personal belief that it should be transcribed as "DeMoss," the fact remains that many transcriptions include the "f."
And if they do, Soundex searches for DeMoss and wildcard searches for "DeMos*" won't find your DeMoss ancestors listed as "DeMof."
It is rare for the ages of an individual to be completely consistent across all the records in which they are listed. Generally speaking, age discrepancies of a few years are not really cause for concern if the other details are consistent. As a rule of thumb, the younger a person is the more consistent their ages should be and that consistency lessons as a person ages.
Records are never entirely consistent, but if you think that two people apparently born ten years apart are in fact the same person, you better have solid grounds for that belief.
In some locations in some time periods, there was more than one court that could hear cases. Counties may have had a probate court (that dealt with estate matters to settle up the affairs of the deceased), a civil court (which could have varying names and which usually dealt with court cases between private individuals), and a criminal court (which heard cases of a criminal nature--usually centering on a violation of state law).
It's hard to generalize court records in one tip, but make certain that if you're not familiar with the court records in a specific location that you find out from someone "in the know" what courts heard what types of cases during the time period in which you are interested.
In response to yesterday's tip, a reader reminded me of the importance of going back and asking the same person the same questions that they've been asked before.
There's always the chance that your interviewee will give different answers or remember more than they did the first time. You should mix up the old questions with new ones based on things you have learned in the meantime.
But for a variety of reasons a second or third response to the same question could easily bring about a response different from what you got the first time.
When collecting family stories, try and get memories from as many family members as possible, not just one. Different family members may remember different details or different stories. And even when they do remember the same event, their perspectives on that event may differ.
An ancestral couple in their mid-50s left Ohio for Illinois in the 1840s. Most of their children came with them. One or two apparently never left Ohio and two or three returned to Ohio after living in Illinois and serving in the Civil War.
Never assume that they all moved together. Adult children sometimes did not migrate further with the parents and some people went back "home."
Published genealogical abstracts and records transcriptions often have a preface. The preface can include information about the condition of the records, their perceived accuracy, missing records, and other general background information.
It always pays to read the preface the first you use any printed compilation of records.
Even if your local library does not have a genealogical collection relevant to your actual research, do they offer services that could assist you in your search? It may be possible to get materials through interlibrary loan or your library may have access to fee-based databases that could be helpful to your search.
We've mentioned it before, but it does not hurt to repeat it.
Write down everything. Do not hesitate and do not wait. I was reviewing a War of 1812 pension file that I had printed out several months ago and when reading it I wondered how I can connected the pensioner to the actual relative.
And nowhere in my notes was that line of thought or reasoning. I had not written down my conclusions, even in a tentative fashion.
Now I have to go back and do that research over again instead of reviewing what I had already done--which is a huge waste of time.
Court files are often kept in bundles. That outer wrapping will have key elements of the case and other filing information. It's also possible that there are clues on that outer wrapper. There may notes, names, or other seemingly random pieces of information on these jackets.
And sometimes when combined with other information these seemingly random pieces of information are significant. Other times, they provide "out of the blue" clues that help to break down that brick wall.
Bible records, family diaries, and other unpublished family records can end up in unexpected locations. Don't limit your search for these materials to just the location where the family lived. I recently located a bible transcription in Pennsylvania for a Maryland family. While that distance is not very great, the bible could just have easily been in the possession of a descendant in California.
Those family items can easily travel a great distance from where the family lived or where they were created.
That one record you've found, a deed, a death certificate, a will, an estate settlement, probably was created because something else happened. For some documents it may be obvious what caused the document to have been created. But a deed? Why was the property being sold? Was the couple planning to move? Had they fallen on hard times? If a guardianship was filed and the parents were still alive, what was the reason? Was there an inheritance that someone didn't want a parent frittering away?
Always ask if what you are seeing or have located is just the shadow of a larger event. Records weren't created in isolation. And even if you know what caused a document to have been created ask yourself what other documents might also have been created.
A friend and I were joking around on Facebook about using tire tracks in the snow as permanent evidence of something and it got me to thinking.
Have I converted all my "evidence" into a more permanent format? While I obviously don't have my information in the snow, some of it is stored in just as fragile of a way. Memories that are only in my head, photographs I have the only copy of, research conclusions that I've not written up. They could all easily be gone in a moment.
When the snow melts, those tire tracks are gone--and so is the evidence that a vehicle passed through.
Are there things you need to preserve before the sun comes out?
If you can't find where your relative died, is it possible that she died in a state hospital several counties away? During the late 19th and early 20th century, it was not uncommon to institutionalize family members that relatives could no longer care for. They may have died in a state institution several counties away in a place where you have not thought to look for a death certificate.
And, if the family was of very limited means, the person of interest may have been buried in an unmarked grave on the facility's grounds.
Some married couples never see their former spouse after a divorce. Many times that is because one partner leaves and never returns. There are other possibilities. Some former spouses may continue to reside in the same area and interact with each other, especially if they have children. One divorced couple in my family appear on a mortgage with a son-in-law after their divorce. Other times couples eventually remarry, even after they've had subsequent spouses. Or they may even later live together, even if they don't remarry.
Those aren't made up examples---just situations from my own family where I've removed the names.
If you know the address where your relative lived, have you obtained a picture of the home? Make certain you have the correct current address for the location as addresses have changed over time and what was the address of a home in 1893 may not be the same address today.
Like all genealogical research, research into membership in hereditary organizations, such as the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) should not be limited to direct line ancestors. Aunts and cousins may also have been members and could have submitted applications based on patriots who are also your ancestors.
When citing a census page that has several page numbers written on it, make certain you indicate which page number you are using in your citation. Common ways to indicate include using the type of writing and the location of the page number, such as:
Do you know where your ancestors' school district borders were? This map from 1908 indicated that my relative's farm was in two school districts. I'm guessing that his children would have gone to the district in which their home was located, but I'm not certain
County and state borders aren't the only ones that can make a difference.