Genealogy tip number one, please note the proper spelling of geneAlogy and cemetEry. Thank you.
Genealogy tip two: Start at home. Are there papers in the attic? Is there an older relative you can interview….now? Ask other family members, “Gee, what happened the the photos, etc. when Aunt Bess died?” Find out if your grandparents kept their naturalization papers, passports, bank accounts, deeds, mortgages, draft notice, certificates for: birth, baptism, other religious rites, marriage, death; family bible, pension, resume, letters, cards, etc. Any of these documents could contain that small clue you need. Caveat: Don’t worry if you don’t need it now – keep it anyway. You will need it later as you become more adept at forming your family’s tree.
Genealogy tip three: Write down the source of each item you collect. I know you’re not going to do it, I didn’t, but you will wish you did later one.
Genealogy tip four: Location, location, location. Ask about other places the family lived. Did cousins move to different states? Does anyone remember when grandpa came over from the old country? What was the town, province, canton, kingdom, region, department, county and country from whence they came?
Genealogy tip five: Everything that goes into your finished family tree must be double or triple sourced. What the heck does that mean? Say you ancestor lied about their age when registering for the draft. What if you grandmother said she was 18 when she married so she didn’t need her parents’ approval? What if your great-grandfather said he was a plumber because only immigrants with an actual trade could enter the country at that time? What if they were from one country at a time when it was occupied by another county? What if the child needed to be 14 before he could work in the mill? What if the person who answered the census really didn’t know the answers to all of the questions. What if the census taker was uneducated, spelled everything phonetically and has the worst handwriting imaginable? You get the point, I hope. People record the wrong thing for different reasons. What to do?
Genealogy tip six: Gather all the available census data. There is no existing copy of the 1890 census except for Civil War veteran and widows special schedule – Thank you, Canada. You will see ages change, names come and go, addresses and township shifting – make a timeline or line them up to look at the big picture. Children’s ages are most accurate when they are with their parents and under 12 yeas old. Really. Check out all the neighbors, the street name, the township number, whatever because your family can change locations without moving. Boundaries were very flexible in the past so record them all. If the handwriting is atrocious, put a question mark in place of the mystery letter/digit. Later on you will thank yourself.
Genealogy tip seven: Say the name. When looking for your family, spelling does not count. All those years you carefully spelled your surname over the phone mean nothing. Your surname will not always be spelled that way. It’s a hard concept to release but it is what it is. Say the name in your head while you’re scanning the census, or any other document. Say the name with an accent – the pronunciation is important since many immigrants did not read or write English. If they say Schyzd in a Russian accent, it will most likely be recorded as Smith, or Schmid or something else. The irony is that the small surnames are mangled more often than the humungous and complicated ones. Example: Kinney – started as Kinne, written looks like Kume, also spelled Kinnie, Kenny, Kinny, Kimmy, McKinney, Kine, Kidney, etc. The key is matching the age of the head of household, spouse’s name, names of the children, addresses and so on.
Genealogy tip eight: Children’s names change – a lot. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the mortality rate for children under five years was quite high. The child may have been given a hideous first name such as the mother’s maiden name, a president’s name, a unpopular bible name. When they reach their teen years they may decide to use their middle name, a nickname, a different spelling, etc. If you see a child the name and age of the ancestor you’re looking for – beware! That is the most unreliable census data you can use by itself. Here’s why….
Genealogy tip nine: Naming patterns differ from country to country. In the 1700’s, every boy from several regions in Germany was named Johann (Johannes, Johan, Hans, John) The children were called by their middle names. Similarly, all the girls were named Anna (Anne, Ann, Annie) or Maria (Marie, Marianne, Mary) and called by their middle names. If you’re not confused yet, here’s the naming rule used by the French, Germans, Dutch and most strictly by the Italians. These are countries I’ve personally researched, please leave a comment if there are more.
1) First born son is named after the father’s father 1) First born daughter is named after the father’s mother
2) Second born son is named after the mother’s father 2) Second born daughter is named after the mother’s mother
3) Third born son is named after the father. 3) Third born daughter is named after the mother.
Exceptions: If the child died young, the next born child will be given that same name. The third born child is sometimes given the name of a benefactor or close friend rather than the parent, same goes for the fourth born.
Genealogy tip ten: Your ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries had large families – especially if they were farmers. Large as in ten to fourteen children or more. The family structure will rotate as the older children marry and move, usually nearby, as younger children die, as orphaned relatives come to live, as neighbors children are boarded to help on the farm or learn a trade. Be flexible.
Do the math….If John Joseph, son of John Henry and Mary Alice, and his wife Mary Margaret, daughter of John Jacob and Mary Salome have a family then their children could be named: 1) John Henry, 2) John Jacob, 3) Mary Alice, 4) Mary Salome, 5) Mary Margaret,6) John Joseph, 7) Mary Salome, 8) John George, 9) Mary Margaret, 10) Mary Catherine and 11) Mary Gertrude. Check to make sure but odds are good that the fourth and fifth children died young because their names are reused.
Here’s the fun part: 1) John Henry’s first son will be John Joseph and 2) John Jacob’s first son will be John Joseph and 6) John Joseph’s first son will be John Joseph and 8) John George’s first son will be John Joseph. As a result you’ll have four John Joseph’s of roughly the same age in the same neighbor hood. Figure this exponentially and you’ll see the problem. The daughter’s will have second son’s name John Joseph with a different surname. This can sometimes be used to find the maiden name or married name of an ancestor. Derived information like this will need to be second sourced with a primary document (a certificate of some kind.)
Happy Ancestor Hunting.