Genealogy Short Cuts and your Family Tree

You know how genealogy and family history newsletters usually include columns of tips and short cuts.  BEWARE.  Not all short cuts are created equal.

And if your computer knowledge is somewhat limited, as mine is, you may end up with your data not preserved–as happens to me more often than I want to  discover.  My back-ups are good and frequent.  And I finally found out how to retrieve when I think I have lost the data.  My webmaster is very indulgent to troubleshoot for me when I need her help.  Sometimes I am on my own and I have to search for online help.

Short cuts in research are also included in tip columns.  And again I say, BEWARE.  Not all of these are created equal either.

  1. When you discover a name on a list–use caution.  Lists are favorite things to put online–they usually supply a date (that may fit your time period).  They may supply a place (that may match where your ancestor resided).  They may include an occupation (which matches the occupation on the census for the person you think is your ancestor).  The list may even name family members which match.  The person on the list may not be your ancestor!  The list is not proof of relationship to you.
  2. Spelling is never proof of  ancestry.  Think about it.  I went to pick up some tractor parts at a supply house in Spanish Fork UT for my husband.  It took me two and 1/2 hours one way to get there.  While I waited for my order to be processed and filled, I read the announcements and fliers taped to the posts in the store.  One was especially interesting–the owner had posted 73 different spellings of his European surname! And since my surname is Eakle–most people who don’t know me cannot pronounce it, let alone spell it correctly.  Even my own mother spelled it wrong her whole lifetime.  Work out a surname list of possible spellings.  Double-check it in more than one large database to see what other spellings are also grouped with your spelling.  FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are two easily checked databases.  And update your surname list.  Now add surnames of other people who were intimately associated with your ancestors–as controls.  Search them all.  If those surnames appear in the lists as well as your surnames, stop and check the sources associated with the lists.  Otherwise, use a little caution.
  3. If you are interrupted while searching a record, make a note.  Who you were looking for–specific names.  Where you got to by page, and line, as well as call number and record.  If it is a book, give the full citation so you can find it again.
  4. Proof-read your entries. Even when you make a photocopy of a page, check to see that you got it all.  That the entry you need is not continued on the next page.  That you spelled the words and the names exactly as they appear in the record.  That the dates have not been transposed.  That the places are written as they are in the record.  And check especially for the relationships–does the record say gson and you missed the small g?  I watch people typing the entries from books and microfilms onto their laptops at libraries and archives all the time.  Few re-check the entries for accuracy.
  5. Before using an index, check the Foreword and the Introduction with any lists of abbreviations and source codes.  And always check for multiple indexes–at front and throughout the record, as well as at the end.  Table of contents may not identify other indexes.  If lists are alphabetical, they often are not indexed.  If lists are short, they can be omitted.  If sketches are alphabetical, they may not be included in the index.
  6. Watch for more than one child in a family with the same given name.  Lots of reasons for this–cultural background, use of Saints’ names as christening names, family tradition, and on and on.  So don’t stop with the first entry in a family history or genealogy.  Check them all out.
  7. Do the math–always do the math.  People live different lengths of time.  They marry at different ages.  Their birth-cycles differ.  Even so, a normal generation if 20-35 years long.  With normal overlap from one generation to another.  Check those for your family.  If girls appear to marry young, state this in your notes. But do the math.  Men can inherit property at the age set by the father under English law.  But the legal age is the age at which the son can defend his title. So when in doubt, search more records!

Good searching.  Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle  http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Stay tuned for a list of Jefferson County NY materials and where you can find them.

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