Research Tip of the Week

Maps add extra context to your research.

tip Tuesday graphic

Each week I try to provide a research tip. This week my tip is about maps. Maps are an important genealogical tool. They add extra context to the lives of the people we research. I have used maps heavily in my blog series about Fred L. Jacobs to help explain the landscape of battles.

Looking at a historical map of an area and time that your ancestors lived can help you get a better understanding of their day-to-day life. Did they live in an industrial area? Perhaps they lived on a farm.

Was the area dominated by a certain profession such as coal mine workers in a coal town. Perhaps it was a coastal area dominated by shipping and seafaring trades. Looking at a map can show the landscape and provide clues. Examining the area in which ancestors lived provides depth to genealogy research.

West Virginia Archives & History: MAPS &emdash; Ma066-14

Did your ancestor live in a wealthy area or a poverty-stricken area? By looking at a map, you might better understand if they were from a more well off area. Or a map might explain why every son in a single family enlisted in the military. That was the case in one branch of my family where the options were coal mining or war.

Maps open the door to other clues.

Using maps can also reveal information that might not be otherwise be obvious otherwise. Proximity was important in an age where people may not have traveled far during their lifetime.

Is there a church near where they lived that they may have attended? That might suggest a place to search for records. Schools and cemeteries are two other things that looking at the map may reveal. Maps are valuable because they can help direct your genealogical research on a local level.

1920 Flint, Michigan map
1920 Flint, Michigan

Maps can be helpful in locating other relatives. If you have two people and you are trying to determine if they may have crossed paths in life by comparing locations on a map it may be possible to decide if it was probable that two individuals knew each other. Maps can provide information to help us weigh the quality of other evidence we are faced with during research.

Where are some places you can get an idea of where your ancestors lived?

  • Census records
  • City directories
  • Draft cards
  • Vital records

Here is a great guide to using maps in genealogy that is really recommend.

Research Tip of the Week

Tip Tuesday

Take advantage of family gatherings.

This week many families will gather together to celebrate the things they are thankful. These multi-generational events are an excellent opportunity to share the latest genealogical discoveries because the audience is captive at least until someone cuts the pie. Beyond the chance to share family lore though, holiday gatherings can often provide a great chance to preserve family history. Holidays are a wonderful time to do family interviews.

Personal interviews do not have be a formal affair. All you really need is a willing participant, your cell phone to record the interview, and a few questions. Pick a quieter area and have a casual chat.

people at dinner
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The best idea is to start with the oldest member at the gathering if they are willing and able. Start the interview by turning on your cell to record audio and announcing the name of the interview subject and the date of the interview.

Try to guide the interview toward more positive memories but allow the conversation to flow. Family history interviews can provide some interesting genealogical tidbits, but only if you ask. After your interview make sure to thank the individual you interviewed and save your recording. Holiday season can provide many great situations for genealogical digging.

Get started with a few easy questions!

  • Where and when were you born?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Who is the oldest relative you remember?
  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • Who was your favorite relative growing up?
  • What were some of the holiday traditions of your childhood?
  • What was your childhood home like?
  • What were the names of their parents?
  • Did you have siblings?
  • What is the longest trip you have even been on?

UCLA Library has a center for Oral History Research. They have a great outline for a family history interview.

Family history is not only digging up old records. It is creating new records today to leave for future generations. Take the time to sit with an older relative this holiday season and record their memories for generations to come. It can add a great extra element for future generations to find and add a fun layer to your current holiday season.

Here is a great article from Family Search about how to easily capture audio with their app.

Research Tip of the Week

tip tuesday graphic

Last week, my tip was about keeping a research log. The research log is the document that will allow you to retrace your steps to find the document should you need to get it again. It is also important because it helps save time. Research logs save you from looking for the same record in the same place twice.

Research Plan

This week my tip is about creating a research plan. If the research log is the directions, the research plan tells you the destination. A research plan explains the purpose of your search.

Research plans can be broad or simple. It is a matter of preference. The important detail is that the research plan helps you focus your research so you accomplish your goals.

Most of my research plans have the same basic concept. I start out with an individual. The name of my research subject is my starting point. I want to know anything and everything I can find out about my subject. Each of the many things I search for become objectives toward reaching that goal. Standard objectives for any research subject are vitals such as birth, marriage, and death. I also attempt to locate the person at least every decade on census records possible.

An Example

As an example, let us say that I have a project that requires me to look up information about a man who lived Bay City, Michigan. This is just a random name I picked. We’ll say this person was my imaginary client’s grandfather. His name was Stanley Burton.

My research plan goal is learning about Stanley Burton. The events of his life then become objectives. The first aim on my list would be the first search on my research log. I used a broad search because I used a fictitious name. I wanted to get results. Here I used a general search of the name Stanley Burton and the city and state. The first fact I need to check off on my list is a record of birth. My imaginary client has a guess on his grandfather’s age but few concrete details.

The first result is a man named Stanley Burton born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1901. It is his birth record. If I had a family tree for my client, I could confirm or discard this record as a match based on the listed parents. Without further facts, I could sit this record aside and look further for information on this person later to determine if it’s the right or wrong person.

Tip Tuesday

There are a few results that come back in Ancestry.com that I might need to investigate if I lacked further information. For simplicity’s sake, I will say I know my research subject’s father was born in England. That gives me a strong clue that the birth record I found for Stanley Burton born in Detroit in 1901 is the target of my search. From that point, I would probably research this subject for further vitals. It might pan out to be the wrong individual after more digging. Or I could discover definite proof it is the correct person.

With the case of Stanley Burton born in 1901, my next step would be to locate the 1910 census. That would be aim two on the list. I’d hope to find Stanley, age 9, living with his parents listed on his birth record. I’d move on to the 1920 census, 1930 census, and so forth. Because of Stanley’s age, I would probably also check for military records from both the world wars.

Each record I searched for would become a new entry on my research log, and every detail I discovered would fill in a blank on my research plan. It might even add new objectives as I discover more information about his life. Perhaps Stanley served in the military during World War II.

With the use of a research plan and a research log, staying focused and organized becomes a much easier task.

**Disclaimer: I picked the name Stanley Burton out of a hat and just got lucky that he existed. I have done no research on this individual beyond a quick name search for a random name. **

Research Tip of the Week

Keep a research log.

Read that again. Keep a research log.

Keeping a research log is one of the most important things a genealogist can do. Hobby or expert, this is something that every family historian should be doing. There is no one item that goes further to organize research.

A research log is a simple document that allows you to make note of the places that you look for records. It helps prevent you from wasting research time by looking for the same document in the same place.

Each research session should begin with your research log and a research plan. With this strategy it will be easier to get the most out of every research session.

Here is a free research log you can use to get your started!

Research Log PDF.

Research Tip of the Week

Every Tuesday I try to provide a research tip. These are tips that I use daily in my own research to help me be the best genealogical researcher I can be.

This week my tip is in regards to records and fuzzy facts. My genealogy research right now is centered around a man who served in World War II, Fredrick L. Jacobs. I am trying to discover details of his service and the story behind his three purple hearts.

Source Documents

Fred’s records were lost in the St. Louise, Missouri records fire of 1973 which destroyed most of the Army’s personnel records. A request to the National Archives turned up only a sad form letter. I set out to see what I could discover about this interesting research subject.

One of the first details I noticed about my vitals on Fred Jacobs was that his year of birth varied from year to year on his source documents. In this instance I was more curious about the actual year than some…Fred was either 18 when he enlisted for World War II…or he lied to say he was 18 when he was in fact only 17. Sneaky, sneaky!

Primary Vs. Secondary Sources

I used the various source documents I had to determine if Fred was in fact born in 1921 or 1922. Fred’s birth record, a primary source, has been elusive so I have had to use the various documents I do have and weigh the evidence presented with secondary sources.

A source document is considered strongest if it happened at or near the time the event occurred. Birth records are considered the primary source for a person’s birth information. Without a birth record I needed to look at the records I did have located.

Fred Jacobs on the 1930 Census

Weigh Secondary Sources

The first record I have for Fred is the 1930 census. His age correlates with the younger date of birth. The 1940 census too agrees with the age of the previous census. In 1940, just a few months after the 1940 census, Fred suddenly aged one year on his enlistment papers. After his service ended Fred’s year of birth once again reverted to 1922. His headstone reads the year 1922.

Based on these various source documents it seems certain that Fred lied about his age to enlist in the Army for World War II. My research tip of the day is to compare your source documents to understand why there may be distorted facts from one document to another.

Find more on Fred L. Jacobs on my blog about his service during World War II.

Cousins Made Easy: Calculate Relationship with this Quick Video

We’re Related How?

I think anyone who has ever done any cousin fishing has asked or been asked the question about degree of relationship.

Are you my first cousin once removed, no maybe you are my second cousin. The waters get muddied pretty quickly. Here is a short video that will help you become confident with explaining cousin relationships.

Fascinating DNA Revelations. A Quick Look at Math and Matches

Genetic Puzzles

The cross roads of genetics and genealogy is a exciting new frontier right now. Individuals everywhere are quick to provide a DNA sample to one of the various testing companies. Then they sit back and wait. Anticipation builds waiting for the grand revelations that the sample will show.

Then the results come back.

When an overwhelming amount of matches and information is suddenly dumped into their laps after weeks of waiting a lot of people are chased off.

For those who actually dig into the matches and start to work out the various connections it can either be a fascinating new addiction or a confusing new version of trigonometry that will make your brain hurt. Often it can be both.

Puzzling it all out.

I went down the rabbit hole of genetic genealogy and quickly found myself hooked. Where traditional genealogy can often be questioned because people can provide incorrect information or people can be confused during records research, DNA doesn’t lie.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have been lucky in the aspect that many of my known relatives have tested with one of the various DNA testing services. It has provided me the opportunity to evaluate various connections and how genetics have passed down through different lines. There have been several revelations have have been interesting to me.

By the numbers.

I share more DNA with my maternal uncle than I do with my paternal half-sister. Both relationships match up for the correct range of shared centimorgans but I found it interesting that I share 300 more cm’s of DNA with an uncle than I do with my half-sibling.

By the chance of recombination in DNA my half-sibling and I both inherited vastly different portions of DNA from our shared parent. I share a heavy dose of DNA with relatives of our shared grandfather, she shares a heavy dose of DNA with our shared grandmother. Our shared DNA is approximately 1500 cm’s.

In fact I share so little DNA with some of the relatives that she matches up to that I would be left to question the validity of those relationships to me if not for her test results.

Final Thought

Don’t use just one test when coming to final conclusions. Just like with traditional genealogy research, it is important to build a case based on various pieces of information and not just one tiny snippet that fits a theory.

Have you had any interesting match math in DNA results?

FREE WEBINAR! Decoding Secret Societies: Finding Your Female Fraternal Ancestors

I love free webinars. They are a great way to pick up new tips and tricks for better genealogical researching. Female ancestors can be one of the toughest challenges in family history research. Check out this great free webinar that might provide a great tip to work through these often challenging ancestors with the use of secret societies.

Source: FREE WEBINAR Decoding Secret Societies: Finding Your Female Fraternal Ancestors

Research Tip of the Week

Know what you are looking for before you start searching.

It is important to know what records exist for a given time and place.

In the genealogical world it is common knowledge that a vast majority of the 1890 United States census was destroyed. A seasoned researcher will not waste time looking for a record they know doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, we all search for records that do not exist as a day to day part of the job but it is helpful to do a little pre-research homework and try to determine if the records you are looking for even exist. Work to understand the locale of your research subject. Did the courthouse burn? Did the location make any effort to record births before a certain date? Answering a few simple questions before searching can be a time saver.