Tips & Tricks
Tips for good genealogy connections include:
Don’t assume because something doesn’t match the data you have that the person isn’t the ancestor they are searching.
Don’t assume that someone is the person they are researching just because of circumstantial evidence
Know when to say, “It’s a match” and when to move on.
Look for proof, but understand that sometimes you need to work with conjecture and sometimes that is all you will have. You just need to be clear what is proven and what is conjecture.
Can’t find your relative?
Look for other members of the family
Look for prior neighbors as the name may be spelled completely wrong
and you will find them near the prior neighbors
If you are sure of the location and the population is small enough,
manually scan census records
One possible naming convention (common in the UK) was:
First male child was named after his paternal grandfather
Second male child was named after his maternal grandfather
Third male child was named after his father
Fourth male child was named after his father’s oldest/favorite brother
First female child was named after her maternal grandmother
Second female child was named after her paternal grandmother
Third female child was named after her mother
Fourth female child was named after her mother’s oldest/favorite sister
Surnames were also often used as middle names.
Multiple of the boys in the family had the same first name with only the
middle names being unique. The same is true of girls. When these
families arrived in the U.S., they often switched the names so that the
unique name was the first name.
Handwriting & Transcription
The following letters or letter sequences are sometimes mis- transcribed:
“S” and “L”, which are very similar in older handwriting
“H” and “K”
“ss” sometimes appears as an “ff” in older handwriting
“n” and “r” at the end of names
“m” and “n”
“in” and “en” at the end of names
“e” and “i”
“o”, “a”, and “u”
“t” and “l”
Blog on interpreting handwriting and shorthand in old documents.
Be flexible when looking for names of ancestors. Remember that names were often written incorrectly or at least not as researchers today expect. You may still have a match if
the name is spelled differently than you expect
a nickname is used (check other facts)
the name sounds similar, but is wrong (remember accents)
the name visually appears to be a similar name
if other members of the household are correct
Other spelling variations to look for:
Look for the double or single letters in (E.g. Peele & Peelle)
Look for known alternate spellings
Look for names that sound similar (E.g. Winnie & Minnie)
Check for nicknames (or possible nicknames)
Check for use of middle name
Check for use of first or first and middle initial
Don’t discount based on ordering of first and middle names
Name sometimes changed when the family moved
If living with another family, that family’s last name may be
“Geo” = George
“Jn” = John
“Tho” = Thomas
“Wm” = William
The location of birth in census records is sometimes in error. It depends on who talked to the census taker. The person’s state of birth or their parents’ state of birth may be incorrect.
State and county boundaries changed. For instance, what was in Virginia at one time may have later been Kentucky.
State abbreviations that are sometimes confused:
“Ia” and “Pa” (Iowa and Pennsylvania)
The Ditto/Also abbreviation sometimes looks like “Ia”
County names show up in several states and the family may have moved from a county in one state to a county with the same name in another state. Take care to get the state correct. Records may have assumed the local county when in fact the person was referring to the county in their home state.
County/State/Town names can be the same and can cause confusion. For instance, if a census taker asked where someone was from and they said, “Ohio.” They might have meant the county or town instead of the state, which results in unexplained data in the records.
The following source contains a definition of many old disease names: http://www.ingenweb.org/inswitzer/deaths/diseaseNames.html
Dates & Ages
Birthdate often vary in different records. The dates are usually within one or two years unless a ten year mistake occurs (e.g. 46 instead of 56) or a confusion between numbers occurs. The following numbers are sometimes mis-transcribed.
“3”, *8”, & “5”
“1” and “7”
Remember that for many census records, the age is the age on the date of the census. So if they were born in a later month, they may appear to be a year younger than you expect.
Rules for Determining Relationships
There are many charts that show the relationships between two people. However, there are a few simple rules so that you can apply to any people.
Step 1: Find the common ancestor.
Step 2: Determine how many generations down each person is from the common ancestor.
Example 1: If the common ancestor is a a parent, then the number of generations is 1 for the child and 0 for the parent.
Example 2: For first cousins, the common ancestor would be a grandparent and the number of generations would be 2 for each person.
Step 3: Apply these rules in this order:
If the number of generations for either person is 0, then you have a parent, grandparent, great grandparent relationship.
Use the number of generations for Person 2 (the other person) to determine the specific relationship.
If generations = 1, then Person 1 is the parent of Person 2 and Person 2 is the child of Person 1.
If generations > 1, then Person 1 is the X great grandparent of Person 2 and Person 2 is the X great grandchild of Person 1 where the number of "greats" is equal to Person 2's generations minus 2. Note: For grandparents/grandchild this value will be 0.
If the number of generations is 1 for either person, then you have an sibling or an aunt/uncle and niece/nephew relationship.
Use the number of generations for Person 2 to determine the specific relationship.
If 1, then the people are siblings
If >1, then Person 1 is the great aunt/uncle of Person 2 and Person 2 is the great niece/nephew of Person 1 where the number of "greats" is equal to Person 2's generations minus 2. Note: For aunts/uncles this value will be 0.
If the number of generations is greater than 1 for both people, then you have a cousin relationship.
The number of generations will determine the specific relationship.
The people are X cousins Y times removed where X is equal to the number of generations for the person with the least number of generations minus one and Y is the difference between the number of generations for Person 1 and Person 2. Note: When the number of generations are the same, there are 0 removed and the two people are simply X cousins.
Note: Typically X cousins are referred to using ordinal numbers (E.g. 1 becomes 1st, 2 becomes 2nd, etc.)
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