Math and geography are important parts of genealogy research

Analysis, evaluation, correlation, and common sense are all words that need to be in our mind as we research our family’s history. Check dates, ages, time period, and years between events. On first glance, a record may be sensible. You found them! Look again at all columns or sections on a record and a conflict may show. Start writing a paragraph about each person to see some of the information that doesn’t jibe or is missing. Do you accept hints on genealogy websites without verifying the information? That’s one of the main ways that many online trees appear far off track.

  • A woman who had been deceased for ten years (you have the death certificate) would not have given birth to the 5-year-old child in the household on a 1900 U.S. census. 
  • A man who had been deceased for five years would not have fathered the 8-year-old child shown on the 1880 U.S. census.
  • That daughter listed as a 16-year-old daughter on the 1881 Canadian census is likely not the daughter of the 25-year-old wife. 
  • Check the birth states and countries for each person listed in a tree or on a household on a census. Let’s say the oldest child is born in Germany in 1862, the next child in 1865 in Pennsylvania, the third child in Alabama in 1866, the fourth in Italy in 1868 and the family is listed in Iowa on the 1870 U.S census. Might there be a problem with the listing? Do they all have the same two parents? Is one an orphan or a relative from a sibling of one of the parents? One online tree for a part of my family is as weird as this one.
  • The parents listed on a death certificate for a deceased person appear to make sense. It might fit the family story you were told. Who was the informant for the information? Did the father die in the Civil War, yet the informant grandson knows the exact names and birth states of his great grandparents when his grandma dies in 1926? It can happen, but further research needs to be done to assure you of the correct information. Don’t add them to the family tree quite yet. 
  • You found Sam L. Griffin in the town where grandma said he was from. Several records from that county even tell that the middle initial L stands for Landon. It’s him, right? Wait, are you sure there aren’t other Sam or Samuel Griffins or Sam L. Griffins in the town or county? There are four. Ouch. You know “your” Sam was still alive in 1899 when he remarried so that would rule out the one who died in 1886. Your Sam was still in that town on the 1900 census with his second wife and five children that truly match both the family story and records. The Sam who moved to Canada from the U.S. about 1893 and was still there on the 1911 Canadian census is likely not in your family. A cousin, though? The fourth Samuel is still in the county on the 1900 cenand sus, but the wife and children do not match the other records that are pertinent to your own Sam and family. We need to compare people of the same name and even of a disparate age to be sure we have the correct person. 
  • If it’s an online tree or one in a book, try asking the author what is the source of that “detail.” A polite question is fine, a demand for information is not. No response? Use that detail as a clue for further research.

© 2022, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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