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31 December 2011

More Than Just the Big Wars

Do not forget that your ancestor might have had military service outside the major conflicts. He could have easily been a volunteer soldier before the Civil War, after the War of 1812, etc. Don't assume that military records only revolve around the major conflicts.

30 December 2011

One Expert is Just One Expert

If you ask another genealogist for their advice, remember that they are one person and they can make a mistake. However, if four independent experienced researchers tell you the same thing about a record or a source, it might be time to admit they are correct--even if they disagree with you.

29 December 2011

2 Free Copies of Casefile Clues

You can get two free samples of my genealogy subscription newsletter Casefile Clues, by "ordering" them here. Click "checkout." You will NOT be asked for anything other than your email for the download link. The two copies are free. You can put your real name or call yourself Bugs Bunny if you're more comfortable with that. The download is free, does not require a PayPal account, or a credit card.

There is more about Casefile Clues at http://www.casefileclues.com

Scan the Whole Thing First

I first worked on my children's Belgian ancestors years ago. When using the vital records from the 19th century, I used them the way I had other European records from the same time span. I looked in the "book" for and read through the entries for the years I thought included the person's birth date. Then, if I had the correct person and had the names of the parents, I scanned the years before and after the birth to locate siblings.

Imagine my surprise when I found indexes interspersed in the records. I had never encountered those before. While indexes are not perfect, they would have saved me a great deal of time. 

Moral-the first time you use any "new" record, familiarize yourself with the whole thing first, don't assume that it is like every other one you have ever used. 

28 December 2011

August 2012 Ft. Wayne Indiana Library Research Trip

We have released details of our August 2012 group research trip to the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 1-5 August. Join us! Details are here http://www.casefileclues.com/acpl2012.htm

Service Versus Benefit Records

Records related to an ancestor's involvement in the military may take the form of service records or benefit records. Service records were those records created during the person's actual service and relate to their service, when they were mustered in, their physical description, when they were mustered out, where they were assigned, and other information from records created during their service.

Benefit records are records typically created after service related to benefits that were given to or were dur to the serviceperson as the result of their service. Those records, in the United States at least, are typically pension records and sometimes records of bounty lands that were awarded to the serviceman.

27 December 2011

Checking In--Just a Test

This is just a test tip to see if things are fixed after Facebook messed up on me yesterday--there's not really a tip here.

Did It All Burn and Is It All Gone?

Don't take "the courthouse burned" to mean that every record before that point in time was destroyed.

It might be that in reality, records from some offices survived, some offices' records were not completely destroyed, etc. In some cases, records might have been "re-recorded" after the fire. There may also be state or federal records that provide similar information. Ask around.

26 December 2011

Facebook Bans Me From Posting for a Few Days

For the next few days, I have been banned from posting to Facebook. I tried to enter in the "security capture" code and it kept telling me I was wrong. I guess I messed it up too many times--even though those things are occasionally impossible to read. Feel free to complain to Facebook about the Security Capture code.

The Date of the Census

Every census has an official census "date." This is the date, as of which, all questions are to be answered. The problem is that sometimes the census is not taken on that date and people confuse the "real" date with the "census" date. And some genealogists forget that the date the census information was gathered, which is sometimes listed on the page, is not necessarily the census date.

25 December 2011

Data Mining From Your Software

Do you know how to make your genealogical software give you a list or report of all people in your database born in a certain location in a certain time period? If you have not learned how to "mine" your own database, find out.  Lists of this type can be helpful when searching for additional information.

24 December 2011

Research A Distant Cousin

Is there a distant cousin you have not researched? Consider spending some time researching them in various records. You may learn some new research skills in the process and even get a few leads on your more closely related family members.

Happy Holidays from Genealogy Tip of the Day

Season's Greetings from Genealogy Tip of the Day!

23 December 2011

Laws are Different From One State to Another

Remember that as your research moves from one state to another, laws governing estate settlements, property rights, ages of consent, etc. may be different.

22 December 2011

January 2012 Genealogy Webinars

Our series of January 2012 genealogy webinars have been announced:

  • Illinois Research
  • Using Archive.org
  • Newspaper Research
  • Tips and Tricks for FamilySearch.org
Sessions are an hour long and registrants who are unable to attend will receive complimentary download links. 
Details and registrations can be processed on our website at http://www.casefileclues.com/webinars_neill.htm. Registration is limited.

Lessor versus Lessee

If a document refers to your ancestor as the lessor on lease--he owns the property that is the subject of the lease. If your ancestor is referred to as the lessee, he is the person being given temporary use of the property. The lessor owns it, the lessee borrows it--generally speaking.

21 December 2011

Has That Place Name Changed?

Ever consider the possibility that the place name simply changed instead of something moving?

20 December 2011

Census Provides Clues as to Property Ownership

Remember there are several United States censuses that provide evidence of ownership of real property. Some ask for values of real property, others ask if the home was owned or rented. Documenting that land ownership through local land records may lead to additional information on your ancestor. Are you getting all the clues from the census?

19 December 2011

Did You Stop After Just One Site

Remember--no site has every record, every file, and every index.

Don't do all your research via one website, one repository, or one library.

You wouldn't just use the census only for your research would you?
Expand your research horizons and your family tree--use a resource or a facility today that you've not used in a while. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

18 December 2011

Died in 1900 at the age of 30

Remember that if someone truly died at the age of 30 in 1900, they could have been born in 1869 or 1870 depending upon when their date of birth was in relationship to the date they died.  If they were born in 4 March 1869, they would be 30 on any document in 1900 dated before 4 March and 31 on any document dated on 4 March or after.

So if a tombstone says the person died in 1900 at the age of 30, they could have been born in 1869 or 1870, if only the years are given on the stone.

Whether or not the age is correct in the first place is another matter.

17 December 2011

Not Just the Words are Different

Remember when reading any foreign language material that is handwritten, that not only are the words in a different language--the script may not be what you are used to either. What appears to be an English "L" could be a different letter entirely.

16 December 2011

Court Records Are Not Always Correct

Keep in mind that information contained in court records is only as accurate as the individuals providing the information. This can be true in any type of court action.

A deceased individual had two daughters who had children with the same man. Instead of listing the children separately in the estate settlement (as was done with children of others), the children were all listed together as if they had the same mother and father. No mention was made of the one sister.

Another estate settlement from the 1980s completely ignored a half-sibling who should have been listed in the intestate settlement.

Court records are usually accurate. But, if information they contain seems to conflict with other information, obtained independently from other sources, consider the possibility that the court record could be incorrect.

It happens.

15 December 2011

Sounds the Same

Keep in mind that the spelling of last names was not standard for a long time. The main concern when trying to determine if a last name could be the same is whether the two spellings would likely be pronounced in the same way. It is worth remembering that concern about spelling consistency of names is a fairly recent one. Your ancestor, even if he was literate, might not have worried if the record spelled his last name with one "l" or two. He still knew he owned the land, his neighbors did as well, and the tax collector knew he had paid taxes on it for the past thirty years--that was what likely mattered.

14 December 2011

Court Records Index Few Names

Local court cases usually only index the name of one defendant and one plaintiff, regardless of how many people are involved in the case as defendants and plaintiffs. Witnesses and others who may be mentioned in testimony and other court cases will not appear in indexes either.

For this reason it is important to search for names of relatives of your direct line ancestor in defendants' and plaintiffs' index to court cases. Otherwise you may easily overlook something involving your ancestor, especially if he and his siblings were sued and the name of his sibling is the one under which the case is indexed.

13 December 2011

Derivative Citizenship

A derivative citizenship is one that is derived from the citizenship of the parent, usually the father. In the easiest of cases, foreign born children under the age of majority when their father naturalized would be considered naturalized themselves and would not have to go through the process themselves.

If your ancestor immigrated as a child, indicates he is naturalized but you cannot find any papers in his name, then consider the possibility that he had derivative citizenship through a father's naturalization.

12 December 2011

Owner Doesn't Necessarily Mean Resident

Remember that just because your ancestor appears on a 1830 real property tax list for Coshocton County, Ohio, it doesn't mean he lived there. A person could have owned property in a place without living there. People on personal property tax lists are more likely to have lived in the location.

But as for the real property lists, your ancestor might have speculated on property, inherited it, acquired it through military service, etc. and never lived on it. Most property owners lived on or near the property, but don't use your ancestor's name on a real property tax list as your sole proof that he lived there.

11 December 2011

Using that Tall Tale of a Tradition

That family story may clearly be incorrect or greatly exaggerated. Before you throw the story out completely, think about what sources or records might have been created if it were true. Consider breaking the story into the parts you could prove and the parts you could not prove.

And then go from there.

10 December 2011

Is Each Record the Same Person?

You may have several different records on your ancestor, various census enumerations, city directory references, an obituary, a mention in a county history, a marriage register entry, a death certificate, a mention as a witness on a document, etc.?

How certain are you that each of these references are to the same person? Could there have been two people with the same or similar names? Have you possibly confused two first cousins, a father and a son, or two unrelated people.

It is always possible and something to keep in mind.

09 December 2011

Will the Local Library Search By Mail?

Some smaller libraries will search specific items for specific people for a nominal charge or just the cost of copies. It can be a good way to get access to material you may not be able to access otherwise. Many genealogical publications (especially out of print books that are still in copyright) can be difficult to get online or via interlibrary loan. If you find that a library has a copy of that unusual book, see if they will search it, copy the index, etc.

It is worth a try.

08 December 2011

Connect With Non-Relatives from Same Area

If you cannot locate relatives who are interested in your ancestor, have you at least tried and contacted other genealogists who are researching in the same location?

While they might not be related, they might have ideas for sources or repositories where you should conduct your research. Others might know what records have been microfilmed or digitized, etc.

Don't just limit yourself to trying to find relatives--others with similar areas of research may be able to help you even more.

07 December 2011

Is the Latest Always the Best?

In some cases the latest transcription of something might not be the best. If you've seen a published book of tombstone inscriptions from the 1990s, you still might want to look at that book of transcriptions done in the 1940s. Stones might have been more legible in 1940, some might not have been readable at all in 1990.

That book of transcribed marriage records in the 1930s might contain handwriting interpretations with different renderings of certain words. The ink might not have been as faded in 1930 as it was when a later transcription was done. And the transcriptionist from 1930 might have been more familiar with local names than was the 1980 era transcriptionist.

Do not always assume the latest publication is the best. Sometimes it is not.

06 December 2011

Palatines Indianapolis Genealogy Conference June 2012

I will be one of two featured speakers at the annual National Societies of Palatines to America conference in Indianapolis from 14-16 June 2012. I'm looking forward to making my presentations there and hope blog readers will join me if they live in the area and have an interest. You don't have to be a society member to attend the conference.

My topics are:

  • Crossing the Pond
  • Online Search Techniques
  • Germanic Research with Ancestry.com
  • German Genealogy Websites
  • Creating Your Own Blog
  • What's New for German Researchers on FamilySearch
  • Determining Your Own Migration Chain
Warren Bittner will also be presenting additional German topics. 

Mark your calendar now. I'm looking forward to meeting attendees and blog readers as well. 

Conclusions Can Be Revised

Way back in 2003, I thought I had "figured out" an 1860 census entry with a few irregular entries. I even had a list of reasons why my conclusion was correct.

Flash forward to 2012. In attempting to "redo" the research, I reached a different conclusion about the 1860 census entry--one that meant I had more work to do.

Genealogical conclusions are always subject to new information, new procedures, and the potential that a misinterpretation was made along the way. Don't be afraid to revise.

05 December 2011

Got All Those Tombstones?

Are there tombstones you have not seen, photographed, or tried to get photographs of? Tombstones are one of the most fragile genealogical sources around.

While not as fragile aunt Myrtle's mind or the paper in the family bible, stones are subject to deterioration, decay, and the ravages of time. And sometimes vandals.

04 December 2011

Let Others Know About Our Free Blogs-Thanks!

If you've found any of our websites/blogs helpful in your searches, please let your genealogy friends know about them. You can sign up for them in Google reader, get them in your email, or join the fan page on Facebook.

Genealogy Tip of the Day

Daily Genealogy Transcriber
Search Tip of the Day
  • Where I post whatever comes to mind--sometimes with opinion and attitude mixed in-we try to leave opinion and attitude out of the other blogs ;-).
  • http://rootdig.blogspot.com -- to read older ones or sign up for emails.
Thanks to everyone who has spread the word about our blogs. The ones above are all free (unless you choose the kindle version). Thanks!

Uncommon Names Are Relative

One of my wife's ancestral surnames is Schollmeyer. Not the most common last name in Davenport, Iowa. In the village in Germany where they were from, the parish register of births contained numerous entries for that last name. In fact, in some years 1/3 of the entries had the father with the last name of Schollmeyer or the mother with that maiden name.

03 December 2011

Missing the Obvious?

Are there some "obvious" clues you are overlooking in a document, record, or artifact? If your ancestors had their picture taken on their 50th anniversary with all their children, then it means those children were living on that date. It might be a small clue or a big one depending up the situation. Survivors listed in an obituary can obviously be viewed the same way--just like people listed as attending a reunion in a newspaper notice.

Are there "obivous" clues you have overlooked?

02 December 2011

More Brick Walls from A to Z-Buy the Recorded Version

Digital version of our latest webinar released--introductory rate.

More Brick Walls from A to Z -(NEW!)-This presentation is a continuation on the popular "Brick Walls from A to Z" that was released earlier. The alphabet has been reused for additional ideas and quick suggestions for getting past those brick walls--aimed at all levels--with the intent of jumpstarting people's research. Introductory recording price of $6 won't last long. Includes recording and PDF of handout. 

Read the Entire Manifest

If you are fortunate enough to find an ancestor on a ship manifest, read the entire thing--especially pay attention to families listed immediately before and after your ancestor, but you still never know.

I've found the family of a niece and her husband listed right after my ancestor and I've also found "grandma" who immigrated with her child and grandchildren listed separately on the manifest.

Sometimes names get overlooked and have to be inserted at the end of the list. The creator of the manifest could not "insert a row" in the list if he realized he'd overlooked someone.

01 December 2011

Grandma Was Right

Just because Grandma's story sounds "off," don't conclude it is wrong. My grandmother told me that she could remember getting baptized with her younger sister. I never argued with her about it, but I doubted it--Lutherans were baptized as babies.

Sure enough, for some reason (not the lack of a minister in case someone suggests it), Grandma was baptized at the age 5 or so, with her sister and baby brother. Turns out she was right after all.

However, she was wrong about her brother's middle name, but that's another story--and another tip.

30 November 2011

The Head of the Household

Remember that most census records that provide relationships do so only to the head of the household. The wife may not be the mother of all the sons and daughters that are listed. Step-children may not be indicated as step-children, they may just be listed as children. Keep an open mind when using relationship information provided in the census, particularly if there's only one census year where you have the individuals listed with the relationship.

29 November 2011

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Is There a Clue to the Order?

Never change the order of any names in a document. Children could (but not necessarily) be listed in order of age in a will. If an older child is listed last in a census enumeration it may mean that they weren't really living there or had moved back home (or it could just be an "error" on the part of the census taker). Heirs may be listed in order of age on a quit claim deed (or they may not).

The order may be a clue, but try and use other documentation to back up any conclusions you make about the order.

And remember that order, sometimes like life, may be completely random and meaningless.

28 November 2011

Are You Spelling it Correctly?

There is a spot in the road near where I grew up called Breckenridge. Consequently that's how old habits make me spell any location with that name. While searching for a family in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, I had to force myself to use the "i" and not the "e" for the second vowel.

Make certain you are spelling locations and names the way they are written--not the way another place or family spells them or the way you think they should be spelled.

Cyber Monday Discount on Recorded Genealogy Webinars

25% off on all recorded genealogy webinars today! Code and webinar descriptions at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2011/11/recorded-genealogy-webinars.html

27 November 2011

Brainstorm--Then Get Real

If a document or record does not make any sense, brainstorm on all the possible things that could have been going on at the time. Make a list. Don't worry about how likely or realistic they are. Then, when you are completely out of ideas, think about how:

  • the ones that are too far-fetched or unrealistic
  • the ones you could never prove
  • the ones that are the most likely
  • the ones that might have left other evidence
Start with the situations that are most likely and might have left behind other evidence. Work to prove or disprove those conjectures. You may still not have the answer, but at least you will have documentable research.

Brainstorming is good. Sometimes we need to think through totally crazy possibilities to get at other  more realistic ones we might have overlooked.

And occasionally the crazy situation is what happened. But usually the reality is less dramatic--but no less interesting.

26 November 2011

There Might Have Been No Divorce

Just because a 19th century ancestor was married twice, do not assume that the first spouse either died or divorced your ancestor. It is very possible that your ancestral couple went separate ways and one of them married again.

This was easier to do if the ancestor in question moved several counties away and "started over." Civil War pension files are full of stories of deceased veterans who had more than one surviving widow.

25 November 2011

Sometimes Coincidences are Just Coincidences

Sometimes what appears to be a connection is not a connection. One of my wife's Jones families in northern Missouri has another Jones family living nearby. The same last name appears to be a coincidence as one family is from Tennessee and the head of household in the other was born in Wales.

Coincidences such as these are more common when the last name is common. But even with unusual last names, remember that there may be no connection between two individuals with the same last name. Look for a connection, but if you don't see one, remember that sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

Of course, sometimes there is a connection, but try and prove is. Don't use "it has to be" as a reason for a conclusion without some evidence.

24 November 2011

Papers You Have Not Scanned and Shared?

Do you have pictures, newspaper clippings, or other family history "paper" that you have not scanned or preserved? Is the only copy the one you have?

Might be time to reproduce the image.

If yours is lost, will that be the end of it?

23 November 2011

Separating the Known from the Unknown

If information is inconsistent, and even when it isn't, ask yourself, "which records am I really certain are my ancestor?" Is there a deed that might not be his? Is there a census enumeration (especially before 1850) that might not be for the right person? Consider each source or record you think refers to your ancestor and contemplate what really makes you think that.

You might realize that there is a record or two that might not really be for the person you are researching.

And that may be causing your confusion.

22 November 2011

Never Use Grandma

When writing any genealogical note, commentary, etc. avoid the use of relationship terms without the name of the person attached to it.

"Grandma gave me this picture."

"My Uncle told me where Grandpa was born."

What Grandma? What Uncle? What Grandpa?

You may know to whom you are referring--will someone else?

If you indicate in the first paragraph that you are talking about "Grandma Matilda Johnson," it's not necessary to refer to her using that complete phrase in every sentence that follows. That makes your prose bulky. However, otherwise you should be clear about exactly to whom you are referring.

This is especially true in families where names are used more than once. My mother has three Aunt Ruths. One was always referred to with her last name, one was Ruth, and one was Ruthie.

The point is what is clear to you might not be clear to someone in fifty years.

21 November 2011

Did They Move--Or Not?

There is a good chance that within the next year, my address will change even though my residence will not. When the post office closes, we'll have a different address even though we never really moved at all. In fact our new post office will be in a different county.

Is it possible that your ancestor's address changed even though she never moved at all?

20 November 2011

US Begins Keeping Passenger Lists

The US federal government first began keeping records of passenger arrivals in 1820.

19 November 2011

Weekend Recorded Webinar Discount Ends Sunday at Midnight

Until Sunday 20 November at 11:59 PM CST, we are running a Pre-Thanksgiving Sale on my recorded webinars--Spend 30 Get 30%. There's more information here on my other site.

My Blogs

For those who don't know, I have three daily sites:

I also have two other blogs:

Rootdig--also free where I blog about general research ideas, things that confuse/frustrate/irritate me, etc. --http://rootdig.blogspot.com

Casefile Clues--where I blog about things I'm working on for my newsletter Casefile Clues--http://blog.casefileclues.com


Before You Post a Question or a Query

Before you post a question or query to a message board, email list, etc., try and remember to include enough information so that a person can help you. This typically includes the name of the person for whom you are looking, an approximation of the date of the event, a guess as to the place of the event, sources you have tried, etc. You need not go into a paragraph discussion about everything, but just asking for help finding Grandma in the 1930 census is not sufficient.

Researchers should know:

  • Grandma's name
  • Where Grandma probably lived
  • When Grandma was probably born
  • Who might have been living with Grandma in the 1930 census

18 November 2011

Undocumented Name Change

Is it possible that your ancestor changed his name simply because he wanted to and with no official paperwork to document the change? For much of American history (and possibly in other locations as well), names could be changed with little formality.

If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, his naturalization papers may mention the change. Land records may occasionally reference a change, especially if the name on a deed of purchase is different from the name on a deed of sale. Probate records may indicate if the deceased used any other names. And lastly, pension records may also provide alternate names, aliases, etc.

17 November 2011

December Genealogy Webinar Schedule-New Topics

We've announced our schedule of genealogy webinars in December of 2011. Registrants who are unable to attend can receive (at no charge) download links for the recorded webinar and handout.

Topics include:

  • More Brick Walls from A to Z
  • Constructing Families from pre-1850 Census Records
  • American Naturalization Records Before 1920
  • Sarah & Susannah: Two 18th Century Virginia Woman and Their Property
Each webinar is $8 or you can sign up for all 4 for $28.

Are There Some Easy Ones You Can Do First?

I've been working on the children of a Wesley Jones who died in Missouri in 1872. Researching the family is somewhat difficult as two daughters also married men with common last names. Completing the family group is an exercise in what is common.

To make it somewhat easier, I'm researching the son with a somewhat unusual first name first along with his sister whose husband's name was not as common as Jones. Then I'll work on the other children in the group.

The hope is that information on the children with less common names will shed light on the others.

16 November 2011

Can You Get a Better Copy Somewhere Else?

I have copies from a facility that shall remain nameless. The copies were made from a set of microfilm the facility had of the records. The copier that was used was not great and parts of my copies are very difficult to read.

There is a chance that copies made from the Family History Library's microfilm might be easier to read.

And copies made from the original records (which are in the courthouse) would  probably be even better yet if I could get there or have someone who could. 

If what you have is not a great copy, is it possible to get a better one elsewhere? 

15 November 2011

Grab the Correct Date

When using a document that contains several dates make certain you grab the right date for the right event.

A marriage record may contain the date of the license, the date of the marriage, and the date of the recording. Make certain that the date you put as the marriage date is the marriage date and not one of the other dates on the document.

14 November 2011

Clean Your Slate

If you are really stuck, consider starting over and documenting every piece of information from scratch. Don't throw away what you already have, but put it aside and start with the "most recent" facts and re-work your way through the research starting with your raw material from scratch.

It might even be advised to wait a few days before working on the family again to allow yourself time to forget some of the information.

Ask yourself along the way questions, including:

  • How do I know these two records refer to the same person?
  • Am I recording assumptions as facts?
  • Could I explain the research process to someone unfamiliar with the family?

It may seem like a lot of work, but sometimes it is what it takes.

13 November 2011

Avoiding the Trees

Sometimes I avoid using online trees, GedCom files, etc. for as long as possible--avoiding them completely if I can.

I'm working on a family of my wife's in Missouri and there are online files about this family, but most have the same gaps that I do and others repeat undocumented claims made by researchers decades ago. In this family, I'm finding that a better use of my time is to review original materials (or digital copies of them) and really research the family from scratch. Going through the compilations of others was not getting me anywhere and seemed to be an ineffective use  of time.

There are times where I have used online trees to get good suggestions or leads. This family (which I won't name), just isn't one of those times. When tree after tree repeats the exact same information without sources, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

12 November 2011

Free Copy of A to Z Webinar

We are giving away 100 copies of my "Brick Wall webinar"--free. Simply go tohttp://rootdig.blogspot.com/2011/10/recorded-copies-of-recent-webinars.htmland order the "Brick Wall webinar" use brickwall for your coupon code. That's it.

No Small Slips Of Paper

If you are using paper to take handwritten notes, never ever use slips of paper smaller than your hand. You will lose them.

I even avoid anything smaller than 8.5 by 11 inches because it's too easy to get lost.

11 November 2011

New Webinars for Download and Discount Code

Webinars on the Bureau of Land Management Site and DeedMapper were released today on our website. Thanks to our low overhead, copies of webinars are moderately priced at around $8.50 per download, a third of what others charge.

We also released recently webinars on Using Ancestry.com's Census, Seeing Patterns, and other topics.

There is more information and ordering details at:

Save $1 per webinar by using the coupon code tipoff

Don't Forget Draft Cards

Remember that even if your ancestor did not enlist or was not drafted, there still should be a World War I or World War II draft card for him if he was in the US during this time. World War I Draft Registration cards are on microfilm and available through several subscription services. World War II Draft Registrations for the "old men" are on microfilm and online at FamilySearch. World War II registrations for traditional age registrants are available via mail from the National Archives for those men who are deceased.

10 November 2011

Have You Looked at All Those Boarders?

If your ancestor has a boarder, hired man, or anyone else living in the household who is not a member of the immediate family, have you researched that person thoroughly? They may be related to the family even if the relationship is not specifically stated.

My ancestor Barbara Haase and her husband Conrad have a fellow German living with them in the 1860 census. I discovered this years ago and really had not thought about it since. I now know Barbara's maiden name which is somewhat close to the last name of this unknown individual living with them in 1860.

Researching this man further may be worth my time. He may be totally unrelated to Barbara and Conrad or there may be a connection.

09 November 2011

How Alphabetical Is It?

When using indexes to county or local records, remember that they are likely NOT strictly alphabetical. The "B" section of the index may (should) include all the last names that start with the letter "B," but they are likely entered in chronological order, not purely alphabetical.

Remember also that "Mc" and "Mac" names may have their own section of the index.

08 November 2011

What Was a Mantamaker?

The 1880 census in Clark County, Missouri, indicated that two relatives were "mantamakers." The term was foreign to me.A google search indicated that, generally speaking, a mantua is type of dress. This was discovered by just googling what the word looked like and going from there. Wikipedia has a short reference on this type of women's apparel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantua_(clothing).

Even if you think you are reading something incorrectly, consider googling the term. If nothing else, someone else might have posted a blog entry about it!

07 November 2011

Was There Ever a Stone?

If you think, based on family tradition, an obituary, a death certificate, etc. that a person is buried in a certain cemetery, keep in mind that there might not be a stone for them. Some families, for whatever reason do not erect a stone after the burial. It can be difficult to find what was never there. 

It is always possible that the marker was a wooden one that did not pass the test of time. 

And some stones fall down and are buried themselves. 

06 November 2011

Clarify the County

There are some states that have counties and towns or cities with the same name. Often these towns are not located in the county of the same name causing confusion. For this reason whenever referring to a political jurisdiction, indicate it is a county by using that word in the location. If you consistently use the word "county," you will know that Des Moines, Iowa, refers to the city of Des Moines and not the county.

05 November 2011

Are There Record Books and Originals?

In some jurisdictions that retain the original will in the packet of probate papers, there still may be a will record book that contains a transcription of the will made at the time it was admitted to probate by the court. If the original will is difficult to read, the transcription may clarify things that are illegible on the original.

04 November 2011

Are You the Only One?

Is there a newspaper clipping, photograph, family bible, etc. that you have that no one else does? Have you made a copy or digital scan of it that can be saved in a remote place from the original?

If there's something you have and your copy IS THE ONLY ONE, consider duplicating it as a way to preserve and share it so that you increase the chance that in 100 years it still exists in at least some form.

03 November 2011

What is a Relict?

A relict is that which survives. A "relict consort" (if the phrase is used) is usually referring to the widow or widower, "consort" meaning spouse. "Relict," generally used alone, usually means widow or widower.

Do not assume the word means that two people were not married.

02 November 2011

Dower versus Dowry

Generally speaking...

"Dower" is the interest a wife has in her husband's real or personal property. Depending upon the time period and location, it may be a 1/3 interest, a life estate, etc.

A "dowry" is the money/goods, etc. that a woman brings into a marriage.

01 November 2011

Not Exact, but it Matched

Put me down as confused.
This screen shot shows a search just conducted this morning on the "Illinois County Marriages, 1810-1934" database at FamilySearch.

My search was for a couple where one had the last name Tammen and the other had the last name Johnson. FamilySearch told me there were no matches that matched "strongly."

How do you get "stronger" than the same last names I entered?

Any Relatives You've Not Asked?

Have any older relatives that you've not asked questions of or asked about family pictures, etc.? Now might be a good time. One never knows what's going to happen. The courthouse and other places will probably be there next week. Aunt Martha might not.

31 October 2011

Your Local Library

Even if you don't have ancestors in the area where you live, your local library may be able to help you with your research. They may have access to subscription databases, reference materials and have the ability to obtain materials via interlibrary loan. Many genealogical books do not go out on interlibrary loan, but books of a more general historical nature often do. And reading a little history rarely created a genealogy brick wall.

See what your local library has to offer. You may be surprised.

30 October 2011

What Was the Last Non-Electronic Source You Used?

Has your research been all digital? While some of us are unable to do onsite research, there are times when the only way to get at information is an actual book or paper record. There are few ancestors that can be researched completely without using at least one record that is not in digital form. When was the last time you either used an original record or received a copy of something that was not already scanned or digitized?

29 October 2011

Do You Have Abbreviations Lurking in Your Data?

When was the last time you used an abbreviation, either in a location or in the notes or sources portion of your genealogical software?

Is it an abbreviation that others will understand? Or is it something specialized or local that may confuse instead of enlighten? Someone in 100 years might be able to Google the abbreviation, or maybe not.

Most genealogical database programs are sophisticated enough to handle long place names. Cutting words short might only lengthen the confusion later.

28 October 2011

Is There a Final Settlement?

When looking through a set of estate or probate papers, don't neglect to look for a "final settlement." It may list names of children of original heirs who died before the estate could be settled, among other nuggets of information. The temptation may be to look for just the will and the estate inventory, but that final report may hold some clues as well.

27 October 2011

What Laws Are You Violating?

Think about the reasonableness of any information you find in a compiled database. Are people having children before they are born? Are people getting married after they died? Are there individuals who get married before their parents are born? If you have never seen entries such as these, you've not looked at very many online trees.

Personally I use online compilations as CLUES, sometimes very weak clues, to give me ideas. Never incorporate such information into your database and never spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it. But once in a while, compiled information in the "online trees" is correct.

But make certain when you compile your own information that you are not violating any laws of space, time, biology, or physics.

26 October 2011

Were They Somewhere Unexpected?

It is always possible that you ancestor lived, at least for a time, in a place that seems to make no sense, fits no migration patterns, etc. I still haven't figured out my an uncle was in Arkansas for a few years in the 1910s. There may be a reason, but even so, in his family this is unusual. Anyone who left Illinois either went west or north. South was rare.

Never discount the possibility that a relative in the "wrong" place cannot be yours.

25 October 2011

Are There Clues In the Time of the Year?

My great-great-grandmother died in February of 1888 in rural Illinois. Her obituary indicates that relatives from two separate towns, one 8 miles away and another nearly 20 miles away, came to her funeral. The travel would not have been easy, given the time of year.

Chances are those people were related to my great-great-grandmother, even though the newspaper did not mention any relationship, and the last names were unfamiliar to me. I would have researched them even if great-great-grandmother died in the summer, but given the probable difficulty of travel in February, the chance of a connection was even greater.

24 October 2011

Quitclaim Deeds

Most of the time quitclaim deeds are used to clean up title to a piece of property after the owner has died. Individuals who sign quitclaim deeds are literally "quitting their claim" in the real estate listed in the document.

If you see a group of individuals listed as grantors on a quitclaim deed and one other likely relative listed as the grantee, you should be asking yourself "who likely died that caused this deed to become necessary?"

Often it was the last surviving member of a couple, but not always.

23 October 2011

Order of the Children?

For families that lived during a time of no vital records genealogists often do not have dates of birth. In some cases, it may even be difficult to estimate years of birth if records are not available. In cases such as these, make certain that you indicate the birth order is either a guess or inferred from the order of children in a will or another document. If children married, years of birth could be estimated from the marriage dates.

And ask yourself, would any of my conclusions change if the order of birth for these children change? Most times they wouldn't, but you never know.

22 October 2011

Not Enough to Leave a Record

Keep in mind that there's not always a "need" for a record or a document. If a child has no "estate" or inheritance from a deceased parent, there will not be need to appoint a guardian. If an ancestor doesn't belong to a church, his children probably won't be christened there. If an ancestor does not own property, there will not be property tax records. If recording births was not mandatory when a relative was born far from the county seat, there might not be a record of their birth.

If your ancestor didn't care about his reputation among his neighbors, he probably didn't bother to have his biography included in the local county history.

It doesn't mean that we should fail to look for records, but to keep in mind that sometimes there are pretty simple reasons why records do not exist.

21 October 2011

Change Your Perspective

Sometimes we need to forget we are a genealogist and

  • think about census taking as if it were our job
  • pretend we were the clerk that couldn't understand your ancestor
  • imagine we are a semi-literate frontiersman collecting taxes
  • imagine you are a non-English speaker with a fear of the government who sees the census taker coming
  • think what it might have been like to have 4 small children, little money to spare, and barely able to afford a burial plot, let alone a tombstone
Remember, the research is about our ancestors and the people who created the records that we use--not necessarily about us.

20 October 2011

Those Little Tics

In several post-1840 US Census records, tic marks are used to indicate a variety of things. In some cases, it is eligibility to vote, married within the census year, ability to read and write, etc. If you're using a US Census after 1840, don't ignore those tics, there may be clues hiding there.

19 October 2011

Heir versus Legatee

There is a difference between an heir and a legatee. An heir is someone who, usually by statute, is entitled to a share in someone's estate if that person leaves no valid last will and testament. A legatee is typically someone who is given property in a will.

18 October 2011

Read Some History

This has been a tip before--but it bears repeating. When was the last time you read a history book? Actually read it and not just searched for a name in the index. Either a history of the place your ancestors lived or the time period in which they lived would be excellent reading material. If a book seems too much (and it isn't), consider reading a few issues of the local newspaper during the time period of your "problem." You might be surprised what you learn.

17 October 2011

Try All the Newspapers

If your ancestor died during a time when there might have been an obituary or a death notice, search every paper that might have published something. In an urban area, consider the daily newspapers and suburban newspapers that might have included a notice as well--especially if the ancestor actually lived in a suburb. For rural areas, consider all nearby newspapers, ones in the county seat, and perhaps ones in the nearest "large" town, which could be 40 or 50 miles away--especially after auto travel became popular. Newspapers in towns where your ancestor used to live might also have published a notice as well.

And always consider ethnic or denominational newspapers, even if they were not published near your ancestor lived.

16 October 2011

A Rood is not a Rod with An Extra "O"

A rod is a unit of measure of length equal to 16.5 feet. A rood is a unit of measure for  to 1/4 of an acre.
Rod is for linear measure and a rood is for area measure. 

15 October 2011

November Webinar Schedule

November webinars we are giving include:
  • Ancestry.com US Census Searching
  • DeedMapper for Metes and Bounds Properties
  • Using the Bureau of Land Management Website
  • A Missing 1840 Census Enumeration

Trace Those Letters

If you are having difficulty reading the handwriting on a document or record, particularly one that is entirely in longhand, consider making an "extra" copy and tracing the handwriting yourself with a pencil. Getting a "feel" for the handwriting of the person may help you to transcribe those words or phrases that are giving you difficulty. This also can work with foreign language script as well.

14 October 2011

Errors Can Be Clues

Even something obviously incorrect can be a clue. On a 1900 census enumeration my great-grandfather's siblings indicated that their mother was born in Ohio. Every record indicated she was born in Illinois and there was no reason to doubt that. It turned out that her parents had lived for 2 or 3 years in Ohio before her birth and had been married there as well. Ohio was a clue to the family's past, it just wasn't where the ancestor was born.

Even errors can be clues, often because people remember the name of the place, but forget just how it fits into the family's individual chronology.

13 October 2011

Did Great-Grandpa Communicate with the Other Kin?

Remember that some families kept in contact more than others for a variety of reasons. Your great-great-great-grandfather in 1850 may have had a rough idea of at least the county where his siblings were living and might have been able to at least write a letter to them with that address and have them get it. Other ancestors might have had no idea where their siblings were located or any way to contact them.

It can vary from one family to another and one place to see evidence of it is in estate settlements or probate records. A Civil War pension for one ancestor indicates she knew where her scattered siblings were. Another indicates she had no real clue where her siblings were located.

Of course, that may also be because they might have provided testimony inconsistent with hers.

But not every family maintained the same level of contact. Don't assume that they did.

12 October 2011

Private Business Records

Records of a private business, such as a funeral home, are private records which do not have to be made available to the public. Yes, they may have provided funeral services for your great-grandparents, but they are under no obligation to tell you who paid the bill, what biographical information was provided, or anything else. So be courteous and polite when requesting these records, or any records that are not public records. This includes church records as well.

11 October 2011

Are You Recording Your Thought Process?

An 1870 estate settlement lists your male ancestor as an heir of their grandfather. The estate settlement enver indicates your male ancestor is a minor, so you (reasonably) conclude they are "of age." Based upon this you conclude that your ancestor was born by about  1849. Did you list the estate settlement as the "source" of the approximate year of birth? Did you include in the notes HOW you reached this conclusion. The estate settlement doesn't provide direct evidence of age and the indirect nature of it (which includes your reasoning) should be discussed in your notes on the specific ancestor.

10 October 2011

Genealogy Webinars in September and October

We won't be offering our September and October topics for a while and because of hosting and other costs, the registrations for future webinars will be higher.


  • Court records
  • Land records
  • Establishing migration trails
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls

The schedule, registration information, and download information (if you cannot attend) is here http://www.casefileclues.com/webinars_neill.htm

Take A List With You

If there are key terms that confuse you, consider taking a short list with you when going to a courthouse to research onsite. If you cannot remember the difference between grantor and grantee, quitclaim and warantee, executor and administrator, etc. having a list might be very helpful. It could prevent you from misinterpreting something and wasting time.

09 October 2011

What Part Can Heirs Play?

Remember that heirs to an estate are typically prevented from performing certain roles in the settlement of an estate. Heirs usually are not allowed to appraise an estate or to witness the will of a person from whom they are   inheriting. Relatives can witness a will or appraise an estate, they just cannot be heirs. And remember that relatives of a deceased person may not necessarily be their heirs.

08 October 2011

Does Music Help Jog the Mind?

If you are having difficulty getting a family member to remember things from their youth instead of getting aggravated at them, considering using names of music, music itself, names of movies, etc. as a way to get their memories started flowing. Who won the presidential election the first year they were allowed to vote? These and other things might get them started remembering.

07 October 2011

Needing Geographic Perspective?

Do you have modern maps of where your ancestor lived? Do you have maps contemporary to when your ancestor lived in the location? Geographic perspective is always good--keeping in mind that places in 1750 might not be named the same or of the same size as they are in 2011.

06 October 2011

Every Word In Context

Every word in a document, record, or newspaper account needs to be kept in context. The precise meaning of a word may have been different in 1800 than it is today. A word being used in a legal document may have a meaning that is more specific than when used by a layman and may have a slightly different meaning than in common conversation.

Is there a word or phrase that you could be interpreting in a 21st century way--and not the way it was meant when it was used in the document?

05 October 2011

What Last Name Did She Use?

While it was unusual, some women who divorced in the 1800s did revert to a previous married name. This should be stated in the divorce decree and it was not common, but it did happen. However, it is more typical for the divorced female to use the last name of her most recent husband.

And divorce in the 1800s was not as common as in the twentieth century, but it did happen.

04 October 2011

Native Born and Yet An Alien?

Do you know what until the early 20th century in the US if a native born female married an un-naturalized man that she lost her citizenship status?

Wasn't always a real big problem---until women got the right to vote.

03 October 2011

Does the Husband's Probate Give Clues About Wife's Later Marriage?

If the wife survived when the husband dies, be certain to look through all the estate and probate records for clues about subsequent marriages by the widow. In some cases, she may be listed as "Barbara, late wife of Henry Smith, deceased." In other cases, her new marital status may not be stated so clearly. The widow could be listed on virtually any document in the estate papers simply with a new last name, with no mention of the husband.

And if the wife appears in initial papers settling her deceased husband's estate and a man, whose not a known blood relative of the widow or deceased husband, suddenly "appears" in the records--check him out. There's a chance he is the new husband, just with the relationship not stated.

02 October 2011

Correct Webinar Site Address

The correct link for my series of October genealogy webinars is:


An email contained the incorrect link. My apologies for the confusion.

Topics in October are:

  • Seeing Patterns
  • Court Records
  • Land Records--Federal Land States
  • Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls
  • Determining Your Own Migration Trail
Now back to the tips! Thanks...

No Guarantees of Results

Be cautious of a researcher who guarantees to find your family for you. Genealogists can search records to which they have access and that they can guarantee. However, no one can guarantee that they will find your great-grandparents--unless they already have done it and located the information before you ever contacted them. If a search has not already been done, there is no way someone can "guarantee" they will find your family for you.

01 October 2011

Did They Have it Wrong in their Head?

Information on your ancestor's records may be inconsistent for several reasons. One to keep in the back of your mind is that maybe they "got something in their head wrong" and used that wrong information every time they answered the question. There are times where there's no real "reason" for incorrect information and "wrong" details are not given with the intent to deceive.

30 September 2011

Does Your Library Have It?

Check with your local library and determine if they have access to subscription databases that may be helpful in your research. There are obvious ones like Ancestry.com, Fold3, HeritageQuest, but also academic databases, periodicals, etc. may be useful in your research. Academic journals may contain historical articles related to the area where your ancestor lived and while they may not mention your ancestor specifically, the history may be helpful. And these articles often contain references that may provide additional information.

29 September 2011

Do You Have the Right Address at the Right Time?

In some cities, streets have been renamed and renumbered. If your family lived in the same house from 1880 through 1930, make certain the address didn't change during that time period. Chicago had major changes to addresses in 1909, and other cities did as well. Before you type that 1890 address into Google Maps or another modern map site, make certain the address hasn't changed.

28 September 2011

Do You Need More Than Just That One Page?

I was working with tax lists while at the Family History Library in May. In my excitement over finding relatives  in a 1831 tax list, I almost neglected to copy the headings for the tax lists. The headings were on the first page, not the page I copied. Fortunately I copied the page with the headings as well. If  had just copied the page with the names I wanted, I would have been out of luck. The page with the names I need is posted here (without headings)

Always make certain the headings are on the page you have or get them if they are on a previous page. It may be a cliche, but haste can make waste.

27 September 2011

Are They Hiding Right Next Door?

If you have lost a female relative, have you considered whether or not they are really lost at all? They may simply be "hiding" under a new last name due to a marriage. If the time frame is after the 1850 US census, or any census that names all household members, look at the wives in nearby households. Is there one that has a female with the name of the "missing" person who has the age to be the missing person.

It may be that what you are missing is simply the marriage record.

26 September 2011

Cleaned Up Your Files?

Have you gone through your computer and paper files and organized them lately? Do you have multiple copies of the same things? Do you have stacks of papers or files on your computer you have not organized and completed data entry on? A good task would be to organize information in that "pile," before you forget why you saved or copied it and before something happens to it.

25 September 2011

Look It Up!

If you are not certain how to spell the name of a location, do not know where it is actually located, and have never seen the place on a map, look them up.

Knowing the actual spelling, knowing the actual location (township, county, etc.) and seeing it on a map can cut down on "brick walls."

24 September 2011

Are You Looking Before and After?

When you find a deed for an ancestor in a record book, be certain that you look a few pages before and after the located record. People could not easily get to town to have legal documents recorded and materials might have been recorded in batches. There could be several of your ancestor's documents filed and recorded together.

23 September 2011

One Good Deed May Deserve Another--Record That Is

If you have found what looks like a deed where heirs are settling up real estate after a death, try and access other records if at all possible. Deeds are notorious for not clearly delineating relationships--after all, the people in the deed know the relationship and the purpose of the deed is not to leave a complete and accurate genealogy. Sellers on a settlement deed may be children and grandchildren, or nieces and nephews/great-nieces and great-grandnephews, or all cousins of varying degrees of relationships.

Try and access court and probate records along with other materials to refine relationships that are hinted at in what appears to be a deed settling up an estate.

22 September 2011

When You Think You Know Everything You Sometimes Don't

Sometimes it pays to get that document or record when you "think you know everything." One reason is that you might be incorrect in what you "think" you know. The other is that the record may contain an uncommon notation or comment providing information you never even thought about it providing.

Sometimes the greatest discoveries are in those records where we think we "don't need that record" because we already know what's on it.

You may be surprised.

21 September 2011

Descriptions Are Not Always Correct

Don't get me wrong, I love the materials that the Family History Library has on microfilm and in digital format. But the individuals who enter in the catalog descriptions are human and sometimes are not intimately familiar with the materials they are cataloging.

Once in a while years of items will be slightly off. I've seen records that indicated the materials ended in 1915, but the index was also filmed and it went through the 1930s. I've also seen church records where the first few pages of the communion registers contained a brief handwritten history of the church.

Sometimes you'll make unexpected finds in records that the LDS Family History has on microfilm. Use the catalog descriptions as a guide, not as script set in stone.

20 September 2011

Records at All Levels

Don't forget that records regarding your ancestor might have been created at several government levels:

  • local--such as town, city, or township records
  • county level records
  • state level records
  • federal level records
The importance of searching all jurisdictions is applicable anywhere, not just the United States. The names of the government levels may be different, but the layers still exist.

And don't forget church records, which also may have local records and records at a national level---usually records of former churches or parishes that have been transferred to an "archives" for preservation.

19 September 2011

Court Records Have Minimal Indexes

When searching local court records, remember that they typically appear in the plaintiffs' index once and in the defendants' index once. Cases involving several people will not usually be indexed under every name of every party. For this reason, it is imperative you search for all family members in court record indexes as the case will not necessarily be indexed under your direct ancestor's name.

The days of full-name indexes to court records are far away-if ever. Until then, these search techniques are still necessary.

18 September 2011

Webinars Start Today!

Don't forget our webinars that start today!


Moved Away For a Few Years?

Even if you think your ancestors never lived anywhere else, consider the possibility they were somewhere else, even if for a short time. A young married couple may have left "home" for a few years, only to return and stay for the rest of their lives. A couple with young children may have homesteaded for two or three years, only to decide it "wasn't for them."

Keep in mind these stories of being "gone" for a short time don't always get passed down and sometimes even get forgotten by the time someone's asking questions about family history.

17 September 2011

Page by Page Search

I've been using the 1865 Illinois State Census at FamilySearch. Between the poor handwriting, the faded ink, and the non-English names, it has been easier to search page by page to find the people I am looking for.

If you have people you cannot find in a specific record and you have a reasonably good idea of where they were living, go back and manually search the records if at all possible. I've found quite a few of my 1865 people in the Illinois State Census--most of them by searching one page at a time. Sometimes that's what has to happen.

And the guy in Chicago I may never find.

We've mentioned this before, but the need to sometimes manually search is one that most of us need to remember from time to time, myself included.

16 September 2011

I Have Known You For Some Time And That's A Clue

Court cases and pension applications often contain affidavits and statements from witnesses. Sometimes these statements will indicate how long the person providing testimony had known the applicant or one of the parties involved in the case. Think about how long that was. Was it when the parties involved lived somewhere else?

Maybe if you can't trace the person of interest back in time and place, you can trace the witness to a previous residence and then may find the person of interest hanging out in the same location.

15 September 2011

Your Ancestor's Dates of Execution

Remember that the date your ancestor "executed" a document is usually the date he signed it. It is different from a date when the document might have been proved in court by witnesses or recorded in a record book by a clerk. Depending upon the type of document "proof" dates or "recording" dates might be dates on which your ancestor was deceased. Dates of document execution are usually dates when your ancestor was alive.

Dates of execution for criminal offenses may refer to a death date, however (grin!).

14 September 2011

Your Reason for Estimating Was?

Often it is necessary to estimate a date of an event. If you have to approximate a date of birth, marriage, or death, indicate your reason in your notes or sources. If you are estimating a marriage at twenty-one and using that and the year of marriage to arrive at an approximate year of marriage, indicate your reasoning as a part of your "source" for the birth year. Otherwise what was a "guess" can easily become a "fact." If you are using the date of execution [MJN note: this should have been "proof or recording" see note below]of a will as a "dead by" date, you still need to indicate what made you think it was a "dead by" date--and don't confuse a "dead by" date with an actual date of death.
The date of execution is the date the will was SIGNED by the testator--which would be a good "last alive" date. The original blog post contained a typo that was not caught in editing and thanks to our readers for pointing it out--Michael.

13 September 2011

A Few Short Thoughts on Blogging

I'm not going to make a 3,000 word long essay on starting your blog. Blogging is best done by learning. After you've made a few posts, messed around with a little bit, then you'll be ready to get more out of detailed suggestions, guides, etc.

Here's my things to think about before putting anything in a blog post:

  • Once you have put it online, you essentially have "lost control." Someone else can use it, etc. You do have copyright to your paragraphs and pictures, but in some cases enforcing this will be difficult.
  • If it is going to upset you that someone else took "your" birthdate for great-grandma and put it on their website without crediting you, don't put it on your blog.
Your blog posts:
  • Should include enough information so that someone could retrieve the source you used. Precise bibliographic style is not necessary (in my opinion). However, you should indicate what the record is, who originally created it, where it is now housed (if known) and what website you obtained it from (if applicable) and the date you obtained. it.
  • Should include enough information so that someone interested in the person or place, etc. could Google those words and get your site. Specific names, places, dates, etc. in the post itself will make that happen. Titles of posts probably should include at least a name or a location.
  • You may wish to tag posts with topics. 
Experiment. You are not going to break it. 

Blogging and writing your research for someone else to read is an excellent way to see gaps or omissions in your research. Once in a while someone will offer a research suggestion or be related. Do NOT expect immediate responses from distant relatives in far-flung locations. Writing about your research usually improves your research as well. 

Have fun!

Blog sites to start your own:



Are You Remembering Point of View?

The informant on any record or document has their own perspective, their own agenda, and their own set of biases. Always be aware of this when analyzing information on any document. And if the informant is not specifically stated, and most are not, try to consider who the likely informant was. Remember that for most records, "proof" of information was not required and details were not cross-checked or referenced to other records.

12 September 2011

Where to Start Your Blog

Many have asked about starting your own blog for reasons discussed in today's tip.

You can create your own blog at Blogger for free on Google. The directions are fairly easy--and frankly, you'll learn more just by starting, doing, and experimenting. We'll post a followup in a few days with addition suggestions and ideas.

Why You Should Create a Blog

Creating a blog is easy. It may also help you to break down brick walls and make connections with others who could help with your research. Creating short posts about various ancestors, mentioning names, dates, places, and other details helps others to find your information.

There are people interested in their genealogy who don't post to message boards, don't create trees at Ancestry.com, Geni,com, or the other sites. They simply put some names in the search box at Google or another search engine and see what comes up. Your "trees" on one of the tree sites probably won't come up.

Your blog just might. Some people will see your information and use it without contacting you. And others will contact you--just like at any other site.

In the last month, I've had three relatives contact me simply because they found an old blog post of mine.

Consider creating your own blog. You can post weekly or monthly--daily is not necessary.

11 September 2011

Yearbooks May Have Clues Besides Pictures

Several years ago on a trip to Missouri, we stopped in the town where my mother-in-law was born. The local library didn't really have any genealogical materials, but they did have old high school yearbooks. I decided to look through them for a few of the older siblings who graduated from school there before the family moved to Moline, Illinois. I was really just hoping to get a few pictures.

Imagine my surprise when in the "biography" of one of the older brothers it stated he attended part of his junior year in a Chicago area high school. I had never thought to ask this question  might never have if it had not been for the yearbook.

Leads turn up in the most unusual of places.

10 September 2011

Sponsor Mine and I Will Sponsor Yours

If your ancestor was a member of a religious denomination that practiced infant baptism, look at the names of the individuals who were sponsors for his or her children. In some ethnic groups and faith communities, sponsors were usually family members.

Remember that it's not just who the sponsors of your ancestor were, but also if there were any children for whom your ancestor was a sponsor. Finding those children may require a manual search of all the sponsors listed in a series of church records, which usually are organized by date of christening.

09 September 2011

You Never Know What You Might Stumble on in the Cemetery

A visit to a rural cemetery to visit my grandparents' graves recently caused me to stumble a cross a couple who were using the back of the cemetery for an unintended purpose. In my case the encounter was harmless. Just remember that some cemeteries, particularly urban ones, may be in areas that today are unsafe. Find out first if the cemetery you plan to visit has any such issues. Is it better to visit in the day time? Is it wise to be there by yourself, etc.? Most cemeteries are safe places, but you never know. And always let someone know where you are going and have you cell phone with you, in addition to your genealogy supplies.

08 September 2011

They Don't Put Those Back In Order

Microfilmed and digital copies of court packets usually contain the papers in the order they are when they were filmed or digitized. They may not be organized before filming of digitalization begins. Make certain you analyze the papers in the order they are dated or created. It will make more sense, make your analysis easier, and reduce the chance you misunderstand some things.

07 September 2011

Have You Considered the Consideration?

The consideration in a land transfer is the money or other item that has been used to pay for a piece of real property. If it is a token amount, such as $1, or "love and consideration," consider that there is a relationship among the buyers and sellers, even if a relationship is not stated. The relationship does not have to be stated for the document to be binding. And remember, the purpose of a deed is to transfer title to land, not leave a record of a family relationship.

06 September 2011

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An administratrix is a female administrator of an estate. The term has fallen from use and is rarely used today. If you have a female relative as the administrator of an estate, see if certain women are unqualified to be administrators. In some time periods and locations, married women could not be appointed administrators of an estate.

05 September 2011

Do You Have Every Ancestor in Every Census?

Every so often I review various relatives and realize that I'm "missing" one or another in a certain census record. Sometimes I still don't find them, but other times I discover that when I originally looked for them I must not have really looked all that hard.

04 September 2011

03 September 2011

Look at the Entire City Directory

Don't look at just the alphabetical names in a city directory. There may be directories of businessmen that could provide more detail about your ancestor who owned a small shop, was a tradesman, etc. Rural directories may list owners of specific types of livestock in special sections and some even list who owned what type of automobiles.

City directories may also have reverse directories in the "back" of the book. The point? Get away from the alphabetical list and you may learn even more about your ancestor.

02 September 2011

You Have Perspective-Admit It

The marquee said "DOS GUYS" in all capital letters. I never went to hear them perform, so I cannot really be certain what the "DOS" meant. For the longest time I thought it meant 2 guys--the "DOS" being the Spanish word for two. Later it dawned on me that "DOS" could have been an spelling for "those" based upon the way some people say the word "those" to where it sounds like "does" or "dos."

And "DOS" could stand for the old computer operating system referred to as "dos." This might be a stretch, but someone familiar with Spanish might think the word means "two," the person who says "those" like "dose" might think it means "those," and the computer geek might think it stands for Disk Operating System.

I'm not saying which person I am. The lesson is that based upon our perspective, we might conclude something that's not true. And whether we admit it or not, we all have perspective.

Is your perspective the reason behind your brick wall?

01 September 2011

Do You Annually Review?

Set a date to periodically review those families you have not worked on in a while. It can be easy to get wrong ideas, misconceptions, or incorrect memories about your families in your head when information has not been viewed in some time. New databases or websites might have become available since you last looked at the family or you might have learned more about research in general since you last worked on the family.

Maybe your ancestor's birthday, anniversary, etc. would make a good day to annually review your files--especially on those people you gave up on or thought you had "completed."

31 August 2011

Those "Boring" Bills Can Shed Light

Reading through every bill paid by your ancestor's executor or administrator might seem as fun as watching paint dry, but I learned:

  • My great-grandfather was paid $2 in 1918 for setting posts on his deceased father's farm
  • My great-grandfather was paid $3 for hauling manure on his father's farm
  • The fire insurance on the farm in 1918 was $32.50
  • A phone call made by the executor from Tioga, Illinois, to Carthage, Illinois, cost 20 cents--no mention of how long the phone call was. 
Looking at the chronology and to whom the phone call was made, it's pretty clear the executor was calling the loan officer at the bank to inquire about the mortgage payment.

All from a look at the estate accounting. Interesting stuff. 

30 August 2011

Could Married Women Make Wills?

There was a time when in many states, married women could not make wills. If a female ancestor makes a will that is later proven in a probate court to be valid, determine what the law was in the state when she wrote the will. It could be a clue that her husband was dead at the time the will was written--depending upon the state statute in effect at the time the will was written.

29 August 2011

Can You Go Back Any Further?

There are some points, in some places, some ancestors have been researched as far back as possible. If there are no earlier records it may just be that you have reached the end of the line. If there are no records, research is somewhat difficult.

Make certain you've learned all you can about other ancestors in that same lineage--and the extended family as well. There's probably research you can do, but extending the lineage further back in time may be impossible.

28 August 2011

Heirs and Assigns Forever

Ever wonder what the phrase "heirs and assigns forever" meant on an old deed? The intent of the phrase was to convey to the grantee a fee simple title, meaning that the grantee was able to keep, mortgage, sell, or bequeath the land as he or she saw fit. This type of ownership was different from a life estate, which is where the grantee only has use of the property during their lifetime.

27 August 2011

My "Daily" Blogs

For those who were not aware, I have three daily blogs:

What Are You Trusting to Memory?

The great thing about re-reading material or records is that one realizes how easy it is to remember things incorrectly. Are you making a research  decision (particularly online late at night, or while researching in those last minutes in a library) based upon what you "think" a record says? Relying on our memory can be a big mistake.

We often realize that great-grandma might not have remembered things correctly when the census taker arrived. Can we expect her great-grandchild to be any better?

26 August 2011

Minors Choosing Their Guardians

In most US states, minors over the age of 14, could usually choose their guardian, subject to the approval of the court. If you see your ancestor choosing his guardian, it probably means he or she was over the age of 14, even if the record does not state that fact. You should check the contemporary state statute to be completely certain.

25 August 2011

Maintaining Themselves Separately?

Your great-great-grandparents may have decided to live separately without ever divorcing because "we don't believe in divorce, but can't live together either."

In cases like this, there won't be divorce records, but it is possible that a court action for "separate maintenance" might have been filed. This would have kept the couple "married," but contain information similar to a divorce.

Couples might also have lived separately without any type of court record or agreement. I had an uncle who lived on the farm while his wife lived in town and an aunt who lived across the street in a separate home from her husband. Her home did not have indoor plumbing--his did. When he would go to a nearby larger town to run errands, she'd go across the street to his home just to use the indoor restroom.

Census records and city directories may hint at these separate living arrangements without providing specifics.

24 August 2011

Even Ads Can Be Clues

Don't forget that ads in newspapers, yearbooks, etc. can also be clues. They may provide information about your ancestor's residence, occupation, or even affiliations. A 1925 yearbook in Chicago contained an advertisement from a relative (well beyond high school age) that showed his occupation and where his business was located. Too bad there wasn't a picture.

Got All Those Sibling Obituaries

I'm trying to track the movements of a relative who lived in both Chicago and upstate New York between 1900 and his death in about 1935.

Fortunately he had over a dozen siblings who survived to adulthood, many of whom he survived. The next step in my research is to track down obituaries for these siblings and see where it says he is living--assuming he is listed as a survivor.

23 August 2011

Are You Checking Every Court?

Remember that in some jurisdictions there may be separate courts for different functions. There may be a criminal court, a probate court, an orphan's court, a court of equity, etc.

Make certain you have searched all the records--not just one court. It can be easy to overlook one court and not find what you are looking for.

22 August 2011

Affidavit Filed With the Deeds

Once in a while, non-deeds may be discovered with the actual land records. An ancestor died in 1893 in Illinois--no will and no probate. There apparently were no bills from the estate, other than funeral expenses. The oldest son filed an affidavit with the land records indicating that the farm was owned free and clear at the time of his father's death. The affidavit partially explained why there was no estate settlement for the father either.

21 August 2011

Back to School Casefile Clues Offer-52 for 12

Sunday we're offering a year of my weekly newsletter Casefile Clues for $12. Samples can be downloaded as PDF files here:

Feel free to let others know about the offer--this blog post will be pulled late Sunday night--don't wait. 

One Document--Many Statements

Remember that one document, a death certificate for example, may contain many statements. Those statements (about the birth, the parents, the date of death, the place of death, burial, cause of death, etc.) are not necessarily made by the same people. Each statement must be evaluated separately as the informant might not have been equally "informed" about every statement which they gave.

20 August 2011

One Piece of Paper Isn't Proof

There is more to "proving" a date of birth, a place of marriage, or a maiden name than finding it written on one piece of paper. At the risk of oversimplifying, the researcher should be at the very least be considering:

  • how accurate that "piece of paper" probably is
  • the likely informant of that "piece of paper"
  • what other "pieces of paper" have to say
  • how reasonable the information on that "piece of paper" is
There's more to making a case than this, but these are elements of analysis that should be considered on a regular basis. And if at all possible, try and find other "pieces of paper" that mention the same date, location, or relationship. Ideally those pieces of paper will have different informants-preferably ones who had first hand knowledge of the information. 

19 August 2011

Census Taker Assumed Entire Household Had Same Last Name?

If the members of a household were not all the children of the same father, keep in mind that the census taker might have simply assumed everyone in the household had the same last name, whether they did or not. 

Step-children might be listed with the step-father's last name, even though he never adopted them at all and they never used his last name themselves. Grandchildren enumerated with grandparents might be listed with the grandparent's last name, even though they never actually used that name. 

18 August 2011

Do You Need A Separate Genealogy Email Address?

Consider getting a separate email address for your genealogy research and correspondence. There are several places to get free email addresses, Yahoo, Hotmail, Google, to name a few. You shouldn't have to change it if your service provider changes, space is usually fairly generous, and web-based interfaces make it easy to check anywhere.

And for some of us, it helps to keep genealogy emails separate from those in our "other life."

17 August 2011

Is There Something No One Ever Told You?

As you use family sources, interviews with Grandma, and stories that were passed down in your family to begin your research, keep in mind that there might be key details that relatives either forgot or intentionally neglected to tell you.

They can be as innocent as forgetting that great-grandpa lived in Idado for ten years and "came back home."

Or they can be intentional, as in forgetting that Grandpa had a wife before he married Grandma and that he had five children with the previous wife.

Omissions can be inconsequential or serious roadblocks to your research. They can also be things Aunt Myrtle simply forgot or something cousin Harold never wanted you to find out.

16 August 2011

Do You Know What That Date Is?

I was using a burial register from England in my research. I had to constantly remind myself that the dates listed in the register were dates of burial, not dates of death. In most cases, the individuals probably had not been deceased long, but I need to make certain I record the information correctly.

15 August 2011

There Might Be No Stone

Depending on the time period, the location, the number of nearby relatives and your ancestor's financial status, your ancestor might never have had a tombstone.

Don't assume that every person buried in a cemetery had a stone, even at one point in time. It's possible there never was one.

14 August 2011

StepChild How?

In the 1900 census, Tom is listed as Bob's stepchild and Bob is married to Mary. Don't assume that Tom is Mary's child and that she had a previous relationship.  Bob could have had a wife previous to Mary who was Tom's mother and that's how Tom became Bob's stepchild. 

13 August 2011

All the Papers That Could Tell Me

Regular readers may remember that I'm working on a couple who likely got married in Canada--somewhere. The difficulty is that I do not know where. I do know that the couple had children born in Canada and that the husband's brother probably lived nearby for at least a time.

To increase the chance I find the name of that town, I'm looking at all the ancestor's Canadian born children, his brother's Canadian born children, and children of all those children in case some record mentions that village. And the child from whom I descend wasn't even born in Canada.

But the hope is that one of these people may mention where they (or their parent) was born--and that's what I need!

12 August 2011

Spouses Might Not Share A Grave

Remember that spouses aren't necessarily buried in the same cemetery--or even in the same state. One ancestor died in Indiana in 1861 where he is buried and another is buried in Iowa where she died in the 1870s.

And one aunt is buried at the veteran's home in Iowa where she died and her husband was buried at the veteran's home in Kansas where he died.

So they might have been together in life, but not in burial!

11 August 2011

A Femme Covert

This phrase typically refers to a married woman and one whose legal rights are controlled by her husband.

10 August 2011

Search a Collateral You've Never Searched Before

Get yourself out of your research rut and perhaps make a discovery in the process.

I decided to spend a little time researching the man who fathered a child with my aunt in Iowa in the 1870s. They never married according to her Civil War pension. Searching him caused me to discover an error on FamilySearch and realize that this father received a pension for his own military service. Now I'm wondering if his pension mentions his daughter, which could help me find her.

All from searching for a collateral.

09 August 2011

Look Where They Stayed Not Just Where They Landed

Peter Bieger immigrated to the States about 1847, probably settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. He married there in 1849 and by late 1850, he was in Illinois, where he purchased a small home/tavern.

The best place to search for his Germanic origins: Illinois. Peter left only two records in Ohio, none of which name any witnesses or associates. His 1856 estate settlement and guardianship for his children has the names of several witnesses and associates, most of which appear to be Germanic in origin. Searching these associates may provide some clue to his origins--and should be done before continued work in the larger Cincinnati area where the number of Germans is much larger.

Sometimes the best approach to immigrants is to completely research them in the area of settlement.

08 August 2011

Were They Alive Then?

Before you spend time looking for someone in a census record, make certain they were living at the time. I realize that occasionally someone who has been dead gets enumerated in a census, but someone who died in 1875 should not be listed in the 1880 or 1881 census.