Archive for the ‘Genealogical Tips’ Category

Writing a Genealogically-Relevant Obituary

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

By Amanda Forson,

Obituaries are hit-or-miss when dealing with relative’s records, but eventually relatives will all need one as modern papers have columns devoted specifically to them, even in small towns.

Usually included within an obituary in a semi-prioritized order:

  1. Name: The full name is preferred for both women and men. For women, the maiden name should be put in parenthesis. If the person was known by a nickname, including this information in quotes is often acceptable.
  2. Death date, place, and (as wanted) how died.
  3. Birth Date and Place: If possible, include the full month and town, county, and state, especially if the deceased was born in another state or country. Especially if the deceased was born in another country, find out the town, parish, count, district, province, or any other geographically-relevant information.
  4. Parents (with maiden name in parenthesis) are always appreciated. If the person was adopted and the descendents do not mind, include adoptive parents. When there are step-parents, include the names of both biological and step-parents.
  5. Focus on life highlights that were important to the individual. Usually political affiliations are only included if the person was prominent in the party. Service or religious affiliations are included as the person may or may not be holding the funeral services at a religiously-affiliated building. Occupations, military service, fraternal or sororal organizations, clubs, or other life-items of note would be fine here also.
  6. Include all children, living and deceased including first names and to whom they are married when daughters are listed. Finding daughters is one of the hardest things to do in genealogical research and including husbands’ names in parenthesis makes for a very genealogically-useful obituary.
  7. Include all grandchildren when possible, though depending upon the space and amount. Their spouses do not have to be mentioned unless it is the desire of the family. Usually for women, simply having the different last name should indicate. Divorced partners (specifically the former relative who is no longer related) only need inclusion at the request of the family.
  8. Great grandchildren are usually only numbered if included, due to space.

Note: If being less specific, non-inclusion of grandchildren is acceptable when including locations of relatives. Generally speaking, putting in family information is preferable when possible. Space and cost limitations will reign in the size of the obituary. When dealing with a paper that has plenty of space, including a picture is a nice touch and helpful. The less information that is available or possible for entry, the more the vital information for that particular person is critical.

Pruning the Family Tree

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

By Amanda Forson,

Looking at the information passed down by other relatives, there are often pieces of information that do not quite work correctly. For example, when someone was born around 1840, it is less likely that their parents were born in the 1700’s. Connecting proper generations and family members together is important. Sometimes people who are in the same town at the same time may seem to be related, but in reality only have the same last name. Today that would be seen as a random coincidence. Some newer researchers may consider this to be evidence, the further back they research. Unless there is some sort of proof, or a source that states that X person is the daughter of Y, X and Y are not related. The original information is not necessarily wrong, but further evidence is needed to verify what is happening with the family lines.

Researchers may see a family who has lots of information surfacing many times over during research on a particular surname, and it seems so easy to relate the relatives that one has in that area to this person on the assumption of “Same place, same name, must be right.” NO! Please never do this without some sort of evidence stating the relationship as fact. Yes, researching for relationships takes longer, but it is correct. This sort of research usually brings up the correct relatives, and often brings to light long-lost stories of ancestors about whom the family never knew. Occasionally, this research may show how a direct-line ancestor is related to the famous person originally in question. In most cases, knowledge of town history increases while the knowledge of true ancestry takes time and patience to build.

Different sources of starting information often provide such leads. On one line recently worked by the author, it seemed obvious that the previous researcher wanted the family to be related to a locally famous person. The direct-line ancestor, whose parentage was in question, would have been the daughter of a military hero, and related to others who seemed to be of great importance to the previous researcher. The hopeful but inaccurate assumptions of the previous researcher led this searcher into more brick walls than were necessary. After years of trying to verify the information on the family group sheet without any degree of success, the author decided simply to look up what was available for the previously-proven ancestor. An entirely different family came out of the accurate research. This searching pruned a major branch from the family tree. However, the pruning was necessary for accuracy and allowed room for filling in the new family information. Having now checked on the accurate family, information comes to the author on a regular basis that is active and vital for the further progress of the true line.

Holding onto lines that are inaccurate in a family keeps true ancestors from being discovered. The more-accurate the family line, the more often and better the information on the actual family comes to light. It may be hard, but check brick walls for dates that are too far apart to be accurate, dates that lead to the conclusion of children having children before the age of possible reproduction, and places that “seem to come out of nowhere.” Although there are exceptions to this, genealogy usually paints a picture of people who made small moves (i.e. marrying people who lived nearby) and tended to lead lives that made sense concerning dates and places. Most genealogical software points out possible errors when it is run (as was noted in a previous Genealogy in 15 Minutes a Day article) and takes some of the guess work out of finding the ancestors that may not belong to your family, but to someone else’s.

Solving the right family relationships leads to happiness in research and interesting stories to give to descendants–often better than whatever is offered by the published tales of supposedly famous people. If the exploits do not compare, the fact that the people in the story are truly yours makes it worth the search.

Special Note: Thanks to Kathy M. for her feedback received this week concerning the GenTip and Genealogy in 15 Minutes a Day articles. It was very much appreciated.

The Importance of Genealogical Sources

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

By Sherry Lindsay,

You might have heard the saying “Genealogy without sources is mythology.” Without sources, genealogy truly is mere hearsay. Knowing only that a piece of information originated from Great Aunt Minerva’s pedigree chart does not prove much of anything. While it may be interesting, it is certainly not factual without sources.

If you are interested in doing genealogy but feel like “everything’s been done,” working on citing the information you have is an excellent way to get started. You may be able to correct bad information, find new branches of your family that no previous researchers have found, or even cut out branches of your family that aren’t actually related to you.

Perhaps the information your family has always trusted is riddled with errors. As I’ve worked on citing sources, I’ve been able to find and correct several problems within my family tree. I find that correcting these problems has helped me find more information in spots of the tree that were previously thought of as “brick walls.” As it turns out, the spots were not brick walls, but were based on incorrect information, which is why we were unable to move on.

To add sources to your tree, simply select a part of the tree that is lacking sources. Then begin working on the family as if no information is known. For instance, you might have an unproven fact such as a specific death date in 1910. For something like this, which is very specific, you should be able to locate a death certificate rather easily. As you work through your tree, you will find that proving information can be quite similar to finding information. The primary difference in research, however, is that you are basing your search on much more information than you would ordinarily have. This can help you to narrow your searches to very specific localities and types of records.

You might also find that proving your tree is easier because your searches are based more on family groups instead of single names. For instance, rather than searching for a known ancestor and her husband, you might be searching for a known ancestor, her husband, and their eight children. This sort of foundation makes searching in most resources much easier because you are more likely to find at least one relative that you are looking for, and you are more likely to prove that the person you’ve found is the right one. For example, looking for a Stephen and Ann Sexton in the 1850 U.S. Census yields many results, but knowing that they had a daughter named Mary Ann and a daughter named Sarah can help you prove that your family is a match.

Once you’ve cited sources you might find that selecting families to work on becomes easier. When you’ve spent time looking for sources, you will find that you are more familiar with the different sources that are available to you, and knowing those can help you select areas of your tree that need work and are likely to be found in readily available sources.

You might also find families that no one has discovered, which can change your mantra from “it’s all been done” to “I thought it had all been done.”

Black Sheep Ancestors Page Helps Locate “Interesting” Records

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Some subscribers to have questions concerning ancestors with criminal pasts. While we cannot claim to know everything about the court system,* we can recommend a site that puts degrees of intrigue and interest into anyone’s family history if records are found on the site. is an interesting site devoted to celebrating the ancestors that many families either do not know or who may want to forget. The “do not know about” clause comes from how many families, at the time of the event(s), do not tell children about particular relatives, or else only mention them in passing in such a manner as the family members know not to ask about them. Some relatives become forgotten in this manner, but the story is there to be found.

Information categories on the site include United States, Canadian, and UK records, along with International (pirates and buccaneers). For the United States, searches include prison and convicts, outlaw and criminals, court, executions, and insane asylum searches. For Canada, there are prisons and convicts, biographical black sheep ancestors search, court and execution records. The UK also has similar records.

Biographies on the site include the very famous and a few lesser known criminals, privateers, etc. including but not limited to: Blackbeard, Captain William Kid, Capt. Barbossa (the real story, better than Pirates of the Caribbean), Al Capone, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (again, the real stories), The Black Donnelly’s, Sir Francis Drake, Anne Bonney, Mary Reed, Captain Benito de Soto, Jack the Ripper, etc.

While unable to find any particular records on personal ancestors, it is certain that looking on this site should bring interesting reading and results whether inclusive or not of personal ancestry.

*Searching state, county, and local level court records are a good place to look for information of this manner.

“I Found Your Nose!” Using Photographs To Help Place Genealogical Identity

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Searching for ancestral names, dates, and places is fun and good, but becomes more real with artifacts and pictures. During personal research this week came unexpected pictures for two of my four-times-great grandmother’s brothers. One of them, Alfred Mosher, had a picture posted online by a distant relative that made me take notice.

Living family normally looks like predecessors in diverse ways. I look more like my mother’s side and my sister looks more like our father’s side. Researching Alfred Mosher, my father’s great-great-uncle, the picture showed my sister’s nose. A personal hobby of mine is trying to see what traits come to each person in the genetic mixing pool. My sister’s nose is not the same as either of our parents or grandparents. Although I am quite sure that she is directly biologically related to our parents, the visual evidence for that feature has never come to light until now.

Corresponding with other researchers on this line brought the photograph of Alfred to my attention. My own observance brought the nose to mind. Having looked closer at the photographs of both relatives, I notice other traits that are similar–the basic facial carriage being the most recognizable. My sister’s hair was curled for the picture, so that is not a similarity, but subtle resemblances of eye placement, etc. when pictures are placed side by side gives me no doubts that my sister takes after this branch of the family for visual comparison, if not for other possible traits. Not knowing a great deal on the activities of this side of the family, I want to find out more. I want to continue researching and finding out whether there are other similar traits beyond the cosmetic. This is the result of finding pictures.

There’s more to a person than a name and a date. Whenever possible, including photographs or other artifacts helps make a concrete connection for descendents and helps install visual evidence of existence. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but make sure to label the evidence with archival-quality implements, and digitize whenever possible. is currently offering digital preservation packages starting at $39.95. If interested, contact Customer Service at or 1-888-377-0588 for more information.