Tuesday’s Tip – Not "Just The Facts, Ma’am!"

In the 1950’s TV show, Dragnet, one of Sgt. Joe Friday’s catchphrases was “We just want the facts, Ma’am.”  Most beginning genealogists assume that is all they are searching for – just the facts.  But as most any “seasoned” family history researcher will tell you, sometimes writing down more than “just the facts” can be the key to breaking through a brick wall later.

When I first started reaching out past the recollection of my living relatives and into letters, Census data and other records, I made a habit of keeping two notepads with me.  One, I used to record the facts that I found in a particular record and the citation for the records – good genealogical research information.  The other pad was my “Thoughts” pad.  I used this notepad to record my on-the-fly thoughts about the record I was working with.  Most of the time, the notes were a simple connect the dots such as “Record confirms birth date for Great Grandpa Link.”  Every so often, I would jot down what I call a “huh?” note.  Those are the notes about things that just don’t make sense, don’t quite seem to fit, or they fit but open up other questions.

Many times, you will find that those hunches and assumptions that you write down on the fly prove to be correct once enough proof has been acquired.  Perhaps more importantly, the questions that you write down while you are recording the facts will often lead you down another avenue of research that yields unexpected and very valuable results.  Never assume that all you want from a document is “just the facts.”  Keep track of your thoughts and questions about documents because you never know when those random thoughts and questions may just end up helping you break through that impenetrable brick wall.

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Tuesday’s Tip – GPS and the shaky leaf syndrome

We’ve all been there…you log on to Ancestry.com and there they are…just waiting for you and taunting you.  Those amazing shaky leaves!  Just like the commercials say…just click here for another clue and another ancestor.  Click them and you will build your tree!  Unfortunately, as a lot of family history researchers have found as they gain more experience, those shaky leaves can just as easily spell doom for your family tree if you don’t employ some standards in your research.  Enter, the GPS – Genealogical Proof Standard.

First of all, let’s quickly define the GPS.  A brief shorthand of the Genealogical Proof standard is:

 1. “Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event or situation in question;
2. “Collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use;
3. “Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
4. “Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the questions; and
5. “Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.”

 In short, the GPS is a way for you as a family history researcher to be reasonably sure that the information that you are putting into your family tree is accurate and won’t lead you down the wrong path.  It is no guarantee, but if you follow the GPS, you will avoid a lot of dead ends and frustrating hours of back tracking.  I have learned this lesson the hard way, as have many other genealogists when they first started out.

Going back to those shaky leaves…I will give you a personal example of how those wonderful leaves can be a detriment to your research if you don’t employ the GPS.  I logged in recently and found a “hint” for one of my great great uncles, Orville Link.  I was particularly intrigued because this man was one of my only ancestors to have moved from Ohio into the deep south, and I knew for a fact that he was buried over in Mobile, Alabama, just 50 miles from where I now live.  I decided to check out the hint and see if just maybe it would lead me toward finding some living relatives down here in the south.  As a rule, when I pull down information from Ancestry now, I save it off-line in a research file so that I can fully examine it.  I still followed all of the leaves that Ancestry gave me.  I was finding Census records, land records, death records.  On the surface, information seemed to match.  Then I went off-line and began my analysis of all of those wonderful hints thinking that I had hit the jackpot.

Everything moved along quite well, until I noticed something.  Suddenly, the trail that I had been following that had brought me all the way to his “grandchildren” in the 1940 Census made no sense.  This census showed the family’s race as being black.  That wouldn’t have necessarily been surprising since Orville had moved into the deep south, and interracial marriages back then were rare, but not unheard of.  This anomaly caused me to back up a few more census records to find the last one where I thought I had found Orville alive in the south.  This one showed that his race was listed as black.  How had I missed that as I was looking at the information?  I went back to my last known reliable piece of information on Orville to see what I had missed, and as it turned out, the shaky leaf clue that I had started following that day was the wrong man!!!  Needless to say, I trashed all of the clues I had pulled down and went back to Ancestry to decline these hints.  I have since found a few clues to the right Orville Link and will eventually find his family locally.

The moral of the story that I want to pass on to anyone beginning their family history search – do yourself a favor and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard as you do your research.  It may seem like overkill when you are just starting out, but as you see from my one day search as a somewhat experienced researcher, it will pay off for you in the long run!

Tuesday’s Tip

Back on Sunday, I mentioned that I had found my 3rd Great Grandfather in the 1860 U.S. Census under a wild variation on his last name and even first name that I never would have thought to look for.  Well let me tell you…finding him under that name taught me a very valuable lesson and is what prompts today’s “tip” – use the whole family when searching for someone!

Let me explain what happened…

When I had started my genealogy research several years back, I did some basic searching on the major surnames within the family that I knew at the time, just looking for census records to give me basic starting points.  Doing that, I was able to track most families back to about 1850 or at a minimum to 1860.  The one exception was the Hablawetz family (my grandmother’s family on my father’s side).  Her grandfather was a first generation immigrant from Austria or Germany, and while I had been able to find his obituary which gave me great clues about when he came to the country (1859) and where he first settled before coming to Indiana, I could not for the life of me find any trace of him outside of Indiana!  After 1870, Anton Hablawetz and family just seemed to vanish.

Now, you can imagine, with a surname like Hablawetz there have been an amazing number of variations on the spelling….Habliwetz, Hoblewetz, Hablewetz, Hoblewitz, and the list goes on.  But no matter what “logical” variation I used, I simply could not find the family by doing simple searches.  This weekend, I decided to revisit that “mystery” that I had abandoned several years back.

This weekend, after doing another quick basic search, I decided to not look for Anton and family, but rather look for his son, William.  William was supposedly born in Ohio in the late 1800’s, so I thought I might have a better chance of finding clues.  My trail twisted, but boy, did it ever pay off!

What I found was a marriage record for William that indicated his birthplace was Plymouth, Ohio in 1869.  So, I did direct searches on the town of Plymouth, Ohio with absolutely NO results.  Then I pulled up that obituary for Anton to see where it indicated he had lived in Ohio.  The obit said he had lived in Richland County, Ohio.  Hmmm…Plymouth is not in Richland (a county or two over, but definitely not the same county).  So I did a bit of research on Richland County and what I found was that there is a Plymouth township in Richland County.

Okay…time for a census and records search of the township….nope.  A big fat zero.  By this time, my evidence was not “substantial” but definitely enough to convince me that I was in the right place.  What I decided to do was a manual search of all of Plymouth Township’s 1860 census records.  After going through 18 pages line by line, on page 19, I ran across Andrew Hobawentz and family.  An odd variation, and definitely not the right first name, but it warranted looking at it more.  What I found was that every member of Andrew’s family matched exactly the information that I had so far for Anton’s family…. jackpot!!!

Now….I just have to employ the same tactics on finding their immigration information.  That, and keep an eye out for all kinds of name variations that I may not even be able to fathom!

So, in the end, what I found was what so many other genealogists before me have found….Census enumerators were very prone to butchering names of immigrants (and others) on early censuses, and, more importantly, it is essential to look at and search for an entire family to accurately trace your ancestors!

Happy Digging!