Along Those Lines: Revisiting Your Past Research

If you are like most genealogists, you gather evidence in many forms and from many places-home sources, family stories, official government and medical documents, letters, books, diaries and journals, databases, courthouses, churches, schools and more.
You read and examine what you have found, add it to your database, cite your sources (hopefully!), and file it away as your proof. Most genealogists never look at the original evidence again. It is easier to consult the computer database program.
I have taken a different approach the last 12 to 15 years.
Whenever I am interested in working on a line, especially a difficult person or family group, I consult my genealogy database and then pull the original documents out. Mine are filed in binders, by surname, then by forename (given name), and then in chronological sequence as they were produced. I can then review a person’s entire life story, in documents, in a logical sequence.
Whenever I look at an old document anew, I always see it with fresh eyes.
Other information I have uncovered in my research since the time I acquired that document comes to mind, giving me new clues and ideas about new avenues of research. Even the collateral family links may become clearer as I look at something I filed months or years before.
Some of the most common documents we use can tell us volumes when we look at them and really analyze them. Here are some documents where facts may hide from us, at least temporarily.
Census Population Schedules-Were you looking at the citizenship area before? Beginning in 1900, these columns tell us the year of arrival in the United States and whether the person was naturalized.
On some forms, they tell us if the person was married in the previous year. They can tell us where the person and his or her parents were born, and what language is spoken at home. They can even tell us in 1910 whether the person was a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.
Agricultural Schedules can provide volumes of information about our farming ancestors’ crops and land usage.
And do not forget the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules, and be sure to check the Mortality Schedules for specific pointers to other types of records.
The oft-repeated dictum about tracing several neighbors on either side of your ancestral family is wise; you can often use these people to verify that your ancestors have left an area or to trace a group migration elsewhere. Perhaps, too, the families intermarried.
Land and Property Records-Look at land descriptions for references to neighbors who might be relatives. Always examine the witnesses to land transactions as these persons may also be related.
Examine land records to determine how land was passed from one relative to another. Was it an inheritance? A deed of gift? A mortgage note?
Marriage Licenses-Marriage records in the courthouses contain a crucial piece of information often overlooked.
Check the name of the officiating person at the marriage ceremony. You may find that the signature, followed by M.G. (Minister of the Gospel) can point you to other records.
A check of a city directory or of the histories of local churches may reveal the clergy’s affiliation and, along with that, a pointer to the church in which membership records of birth, christening, baptism, bar/bat mitzvah, marriage, and death and burial may be recorded.
Membership records, too, can point to previous or successive membership transfers.
City Directories-Directories often list the occupation of the head of the household whose name appears. This may also lead you to employment records, union membership records and local historical documents or publications about specific occupations.
Yearbooks-The presence of an ancestor in a year book can point you to alumni records and even to those of national or specific campus offices of fraternities and sororities.
Probate Files-Don’t overlook the full contents of probate files. While the will may list specific beneficiaries, it is not until the will goes through probate that an executor, executrix or administrator must locate and identify whether the beneficiaries and/or their heirs are living.
Copies of obituaries and public notices not available elsewhere, as well as invoices and receipts from morticians, can provide invaluable clues. Even auction records can reveal names of relatives.
Everything old is new again. Just think what “new” information you may have waiting for you in your own stacks of folders for filing. You may amaze yourself that what you were searching for was lurking there all along.
Happy Hunting!
(c) 2006 Copyright George G. Morgan. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any format is strictly prohibited without written permission. Please contact George at aha@ahaseminars .com for more information. This column is made possible through the efforts of the Questing Heirs Genealogical Society of Long Beach. For more information about that society, go online and visit

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