As we all know records like Birth, Marriage and Death can have some discrepancies in them. If we just take them at face value we can end up with errors in our trees. So, what else can we do to determine if the information provided by these documents are true? Census records can help but again there could be some errors there as well. Of course if our Ancestor left a Will then we have hit a gold mine, but unfortunately not everyone left a Will
One way to determine if the documents that you have are correct or not is to consider looking at other information recorded at or near the time of the event. On death records for instance, we know that that date of death and cause of death would be correct, as would the residence at the time, name of the informant, name of the funeral home and name of the cemetery (if given) would be factual. The other information; date and place of birth, names of parents and marital status would have to be verified some other way as the informant may not know the correct answers to these questions or they could be too distraught to remember.
This is the time when we will have to dig deeper, using new ideas and sources. One way to do this is to learn more about the history of the town, city or particular location. We will have to step outside the normal routine of collecting documents and harvesting other information, like exploring the history that surrounds an individual or a particular family, we may be surprised at what we may find. It is amazing how many books there are on the history of families and State counties on Google books. Many of them are free. This would be an excellent place to start.
Another way to do this is to focus on the questions of Who? What? Where? When? and Why? Genealogists are good at answering the first four questions, but they frequently ignore the “Why?” When we seek answers to a wide variety of “why” questions, we can uncover some fascinating data. Example: Did your Ancestor move from one State to another? Why? Was there financial reasons? Did they go along with several other members of their family, or did they start out on their own? Finding the answers to the “Why” can open new doors of research.
It also means identifying and studying the geographic histories where an ancestor lived. It may include such items as:
• Town histories
• County histories
• Church histories
• Trade and occupation histories
• Ethnic histories
Exploring these can lead us to more specific resources, such as diaries, newsletters, special gazetteers, business records, and school records. As with any detective work, the evidence we gather will likely lead to further discoveries.
Don’t forget about using City Directories. They have been in use for over two hundred years. The obvious usefulness of the directory is that it has alphabetical listings of names of people residing in a given location that can help us determine where our ancestors lived at a particular time. Very often it contains the person’s occupation, as well as both business and home addresses. Women are often referred to as the “widow of . . .,” thereby supplying us with a time frame as to when a male member of the family had died. An occupation may assist us in determining which person was our great-grandfather or maybe which one certainly was not.
City directories are being used to reconstruct the 1890 census. More than 20 million records have been identified for inclusion in this collection and additions will be made regularly as they become available. This in itself shows how important those directories can be.
As we search for our Ancestors remember that it can be a good thing to “think outside the box” and dig a little deeper. When we do so we may find those hidden treasures we all want to possess.
If you use any of these hints and find some valuable information on one of your Ancestors please let me know. I would love to hear about it!
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.