Why Turn the Page on a Found Document?

I am not exaggerating when I say, some of the best nuggets of information can be found when you turn the page on a document once you have found the person you are looking for. Let me give you some examples.

Passport Applications: Time and time again a search for a person has brought up a hit for a passport application.  When I click the link to see the document, I am given some nice goodies such as the birth date, legal name, residence, place of birth, and in the case of immigrants, possibly their arrival information. BUT!  If I stop there on just that one page, I might miss out on some even better stuff.  If you go to the next image shown after the primary one, you might just be given another page with a photograph!  Photographs of earlier times are priceless and for many people, this is the only photo I might find for them.

Military Records:  Often, the first page of a record is simply a name card and holds little information.  If I turn the page, I might then get an envelope or a page that looks like it is the end of the information.  This is a good case of turn the page more than once!  Today, I found a Revolutionary War Pension record for my 6th great grandfather Peter Van Orden.  The one page document shows a summary of what is owed to him for his service.  Good stuff, right?  I turn the page and I get a blank page.  Maybe the one page is it.  But I decided to keep turning.  Then I hit pay dirt.  What I got is about a dozen pages of a description, in my GGs own words, of his involvement in the war.  And it is is extremely detailed.  It names dates, places, and each and every person he served under.  He seemed to enlist for a month at a time under different commands as needed.  But was even better for me was the description of his family (his mother and four fatherless children) when he returned from one stint–how their home had been stripped by the enemy causing them to move to a new town.  The final page is the best of them all.  It gives a summary of each and every place he lived during his 2 1/2 years in the army and militia.  And finally, his signature!  If I had taken the first page at face value, I would have missed a dozen pages of goodies!

Census Records: Census records tend to be one my favorite genealogy records because it tells information not only about the family itself, but about the neighborhood.  I always a turn a few pages forward and backward once I find who I am looking for in a census.  Sometimes, I might even look at all of the census pages for that town if it isn’t overly large.  Why?  People tend to marry into families in their communities.  By looking at the other pages, I might find names I am already familiar with through marriages.  Also, older children often stay close to home when they strike out on their own and may have their own entries in the same town.

Another reason I like to look at other census pages–depending on the year–is it can give you an idea of the “flavor” of a town. What were the common occupations?  How much were people making or how much were their homes worth?  Was there a predominate citizen who had more wealth than others? Does it appear that most of the people were born in the same place–such as immigrants from another country?   This kind of information can help build on to the story of your ancestor.

Baptism Records: Depending on the time period and location, often baptisms were done in batches. In other words, all the newborns from the same town or the same family group were baptized at the same time.  There are many reasons for this such as the fact the priest traveled from town to town or because the families had to travel to the church. If you turn the pages forward and backward once you find the baptism record you are looking for, you may very well find other family members such as cousins to that person.  And some baptism records have a great deal of good family information.  For church registers, I often look at the same place across several years to look for any unknown siblings.  This is time intensive, but worth the work when one does show up.

Taking a document at face value can cause you to miss out on some of the best information.  On which documents have you turned the page and discovered gold?


Look for my Family Tree at WikiTree   

Photo of census page reused from WikiMedia Commons

Why Read EVERY Word of a Document? Case #1

When documents are transcribed and indexed for us, it is all too easy to write down the information given on the index page and move on.  I mean, it has all of the vital information we could want, right? And of course it must be accurate, right?  And after looking at one document which has all the information we need, we don’t need to find another similar document, right?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

Let me give you an example from a recent experience.  I went to look at a Find a Grave memorial (findagrave.com) for a deceased relative on my tree whom I will call Joseph Smith.  His parents, John and Martha Smith and several of his siblings are listed as having memorials as well.  But when I scanned the list of children, I noticed an Ezekiel Smith also listed as a child.  Wait a minute.  This Ezekiel, I happen to know, is a grandchild of John and Martha Smith not a child.  How did this happen?

Well, if I begin by looking at only the 1940 census, he is aged sixteen and is indeed listed as the son of John and Martha.  An older “sister”, Jennifer, aged 43 is also living in the home.  Based on this record and information alone, I might at first assume Ezekiel is the son of John and Martha.  But before moving on to another source for Ezekiel, if I take a closer look at this census page, I might notice something isn’t quite right.  John is aged 65 and Martha is aged 71.  This would mean Martha was aged 55 at Ezekiel’s birth. Not impossible, but not likely.  My mind immediately tells me, Ezekiel is not the child of John and Martha.  So how did he get listed as their son on this census?  Jennifer, the “sister,” is the right age to be the mother of Ezkiel.  Could that be the case?

If I backtrack to the first census in which Ezekiel appears, 1930, I get another picture of the situation. Ezekiel, aged 6, living with Martha and John Smith is listed as the grandson.  Also living in the household is his aunt Jennifer aged 33.  Well, this answers one question.  Ezekiel is actually the grandson of the household.  It is not uncommon to see in census records, for children being raised by family members, to 1) take on the family’s surname if theirs was different and 2) be listed as a biological child of the family.  But you can see why starting with the 1940 census gives a very different picture than starting with the 1930 census.

Remember my automatic assumption that Jennifer might be the mother of Ezekiel? She remained unmarried and living with her parents until at least the age of 43.  It was easy to make this assumption. But this alone is not proof.  So off to search for more documents I went.

And when I found the death certificate for Ezekiel Smith, I hit pay dirt.  His biological mother was listed as Irene Smith who happens to be the older sister of Jennifer.  Irene is listed in the 1910 and 1920 census records living with her parents, but then she marries in 1925, a little over a year after Ezekiel was born.


  • It is important to read every fact on each document you find when researching family.  In many cases, all of the facts are not indexed or transcribed.  For instance–on Ancestry.com or familysearch.org–they give you a  window of some of the vital facts from a census.  Rarely are all of the facts listed in this window and just as important to note, often many of the facts are transcribed incorrectly. Look at the original document for all of the information it offers.
  • Look at more than one document to prove facts.  Some documents have differing information about the same fact such as a birth date.  Or in this case, the names of the parents.  Some documents are simply incorrect.  The more documents you have to back up what you know about a person, the closer to the actual truth you will get.

[Because “Ezekiel Smith”  has living siblings and children all names have been changed to protect privacy]

Example of a census document transcription

Clicking on the photo will take you to

the original record on familysearch.org

{note that they recommend you view the document because,

The original may contain more information than was indexed.”}

Look for my family tree on WikiTree at: McBeth Family Tree

Down the Rabbit Hole!

Time and time again, I attempt to get my personal genealogy organized.  I read books about How to Organize your Genealogy, I create spreadsheets, I buy organizers, and I make endless t0-do lists. I make plans and goals like:  I shall work on the descendants of  so and so to complete x amount of profiles on my tree by such and such a date.  I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible time sticking to such concrete goals for my own family tree.

When new clues pop up such as a new DNA match, a new set of documents uploaded online, an email from a cousin with new information, a Gedmatch kit# to compare–what are you supposed to do?  Keep working away at the list?  No Way!  New clues are like being allowed to pick out a treat at the sweets shop.  They are exciting.  They can lead you anywhere.  And usually they do….right down the rabbit hole.

That is what we call it in the world of genealogy–falling down a rabbit hole.  When you explain to a colleague why you were up until 2 am the night before, you say, “I fell down a rabbit hole.”  Ah. that explains everything.

Picture This

You are purposefully working away on your Davis line– Adding children from the census records, going through your list of go-to places for additional sources, even uploading a photo or two.  But suddenly your email bings and since you need a break, you check it.  And what do you find, but an email from a possible DNA match from Gedmatch who wants to see how you are related.

You open a new tab and log in to Gedmatch to run a one-to-one search, double checking the match. Oooh. This person is a  fairly strong match!  They have given you a link to their tree.  You check it out, but you can’t find where your trees intersect.  So you go back to Gedmatch and upload the chromosome match  information into your mapping software.  This doesn’t tell you anything more. Bummer.

But wait!  While you have Gedmatch open, you decide to do a one-to-many search to see if you have any new matches since the last time you looked.  Sadly, you do not.  But since you have your mapping software open, you decide to upload a few more of your Gedmatch matches since you have been doing them one by one.

Okay, now you are tired of that.  The message from your new DNA cousin makes you wonder if you have any new matches on Ancestry.  You go to your DNA page there.  Sure enough, you have five new matches!  You have hit the mother load!  One by one you go through them to see if you connect.  The first one is obvious so you build their line from your most common ancestor (this is called descendancy work).  You go to the second match.  You have an idea where you might match, but this part of your tree needs work.  So you begin adding descendants trying to build until your trees intersect.

BUT!  While you are working on that you get an email from a colleague on WikiTree who needs help figuring out a DNA dilemma.   You love working with DNA so you stop what you are doing to help.

You get the idea.  This can go on for hours.  It is very much like the picture book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.   Some days I have jumped from one project to another so many times that by the end of the day I have no idea how I ended up where I am.

Is this good genealogy research practices?  No not really.  I am much more methodical when working with clients, but when it comes to my own personal research, going down the rabbit hole and following one trail after another can be quite fun!

If you have problems organizing your research or you feel a bit scattered at times, let go of the guilt.  Remember, genealogy is about the adventure of the mystery and the chase for clues.  And if you find yourself falling down a rabbit hole or two, see where it takes you.  You never know.  You might even break down a brick wall while you are there.


{Why call it going down a rabbit hole?  Stop and imagine for a moment the endless and winding tunnels rabbits create underground.  Where do they all go?}

Photos on this post used with permission from Pixabay users: SimonaR and Clker-Free-Vector-Images

Why WikiTree?





You will notice that throughout my blogging, I will mention the genealogy website WikiTree quite often.  Why?

I spend a very large amount of my free time on WikiTree–adding to my family tree, helping others to improve their trees and making connections.  Again, Why?

I first became acquainted with WikiTree when a client asked me about joining the website to add her tree there.  I had heard rumors about the website and was concerned because I was told their genealogy standards were very strict–perhaps too strict for the novice genealogist.  So I checked them out.

From day one, I was hooked!  Here are my favorite features:

  • WikiTree is free.  What is not to love about free?
  • I quickly appreciated their high standards which ask you to add good original sources to each and every family member you add to your tree.  This creates a higher accuracy rate than other sites.
  • WikiTree is about ONE GLOBAL SHARED TREE.  This means that you work to connect your tree to others.  When you find a place where you match an ancestor with another member, you merge those profiles into one.  Then you share it by collaborating on research.
  • WikiTree is about collaboration.  Not just with those with whom you share ancestors, but also those with whom you share common research interests. Collaboration may also take place in the form of helping others with their family research or with navigating aspects of the website.
  • WikiTree is friendly.  From day one you are welcomed by a Wiki Greeter–volunteers who take turns at the job.  You receive messages from mentors who check in to see if you need any help.  The Question and Answer forum, called G2G, is always kept to a friendly tone.
  • WikiTree loves input and suggestions from members who want to improve or add value to the website.  Everyone is given a place and a stake in the website.
  • There is so much to do!  WikiTree is like a genealogist’s playground.  From name studies to special events and places studies, there are dozens of research projects members can be a part of.
  • WikiTree is fun!  There is so much to do on the website including contests amongst members and ways to volunteer to help improve the website or help other members.  Points are awarded for all contributions to the website, which for those of us motivated by such things, is–well, motivating!  Which leads to…
  • BADGES!  Members are awarded badges for activities such as volunteering to help improve the website and winning contests.  Members can give badges to each other for helpfulness and going above and beyond what is expected.  You can receive badges for joining research projects as well as leading groups.  Did I already say how much I love those colorful badges?

But WikiTree is not only about fun and games.  Because we connect and collaborate with others who share ancestors, there is help for breaking down brick walls.  There are projects such as: DNA, One Name Studies, One Place Studies, Mayflower, Migration, Adoption Angels and even Black Sheep.  There is something for everyone.

So if you have a few minutes or a few hours this weekend, I highly recommend you check out the website and see for yourself what it is all about. While you are there you can see my biography on the home page as the featured member of the week.  From there you can click on my profile where you will find my spiffy badges and the winner’s cup below which I won by leading a team in the first ever WikiTree Clean-A-Thon.  The purpose was to clean database errors from the system to make it run more smoothly.  My team worked on naming errors; thus the team name: A Rose By Any Other Name.  In 72 hours we wiped 11, 977 errors away.  How awesome is that!

Wiki Winner's Cup

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