Tag Archives: Research tips


Until very recently, the vast and rich world of genealogical publications was limited to those who could visit a library with a specialized collection, such as NEHGS. Most genealogies are, as one would expect, privately published by the author or client in limited numbers. Sometimes only a handful of copies were made and distributed to a few, select libraries, plus a small number of relatives, and that does not even begin to cover manuscript material of all those genealogies that never saw print, or collections of multiple family research by noted genealogists.[1]

The good news, of course, is that this is a case where the Internet has had a positive influence, with nearly every book in the world being digitized and made available online and exploding access to digitized manuscript material from every library and archive to boot.[2] Continue reading Accessibility

Analyze what?

Genealogical articles, such as those published in the Register, very often address a problem or omission from a previously published genealogy. The author explains the problem, describes methods and sources used to address it, reports results and, then, if the answer is not clear cut, presents an argument as to why one conclusion is preferable to another.[1]

Every family has its share of complications that need to be addressed in their genealogy. The most common egregious element of nineteenth-century genealogies, in particular, is the claim of English/royal ancestry. Continue reading Analyze what?

Closer in time

General William Eaton (1764-1811). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Alicia’s post last week on certain advantages to older genealogies reminded me of an example where a published biography was the only contemporary source of a stated relationship (indirectly), despite the kinship being stated in numerous later genealogies.

In a post on my relatives – Tryphena and Tryphosa – I had mentioned that my ancestor Tryphena Eaton (1768–1849), was the daughter of Nathaniel and Sarah (Johnson) Eaton, and that Tryphena’s birth was not recorded.[1] Going back in time, Tryphena gets listed with these parents in Clarence Winthrop Bowen’s Genealogies of Woodstock Families, 4: 630–31 (written in 1932), which also says she married first Eli Kendall (1767–1808), and secondly, in 1809, Amos Paine (1766–1848), and also lists her older and younger siblings. Continue reading Closer in time

Age and Methodology

Although it would seem logical that an older genealogy would always be less valuable than a newer one, as we would assume that the author of the newer work had access to more and better resources and modern genealogical methodology, that is not always so.

The biggest advantage that really old genealogies have is the author’s personal and family knowledge. If the genealogy was published in 1857 by an author who was born in 1800 and contains information on his immediate family in his lifetime, one could have more confidence that he knew what he was writing about. Continue reading Age and Methodology

El Dorado 1914

Jeff Record’s post on Monday, and the comments on it, have nudged me into summarizing how I was able to use his father’s DNA results to determine Jeff’s grandmother’s biological father. Jeff has written two articles in Mayflower Descendant, one on the Young family from whom his grandmother descends, so with that, as well as his past blogposts, I’ve been aware of the general chronology on this family. Jeff also shared with me his ahnentafel with all of his known ancestors, as we both have connections to Kansas. His grandmother, Georgia Lee Young, later Katheryn Elizabeth Ogle, was born in 1914 in Newton, Kansas, which is the same place of birth as my mother. Continue reading El Dorado 1914

‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

Figure 1

Originating in an Italian proverb in 1603 and popularized by Voltaire in 1770, we have all heard the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” This phrase is very well-suited to the topic of searching genealogical databases, and particularly for AmericanAncestors.org.

Over the last year, the NEHGS web team has been researching a wide variety of things that we can do to improve the search experience for our 250,000 members. Along the way it has become clear that one of the bigger problems our members face is the dreaded “0 records returned” message (Figure 1). You just know that the record you are looking for is out there, but you can’t seem to find it when you fill out the search form. Continue reading ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’


First, does the book give footnotes, endnotes, or other citations to the sources the author used? Second, are those citations useful?

One could say that “any citation is better than none,” and citations do not have to follow all of the “manual of style” rules to be useful. Their main purpose is to tell the reader where the information came from. That said, an understanding of standardized citation rules is always better than none. Continue reading Citations

Genealogical uncertainty

Many of us are avid genealogists who want to trace our ancestry as far back as is reasonable in all lines. When filling out our family trees, we come to some dead ends where lack of information blocks us from going back further. We may also come to situations where there is some information relating to the parentage of a known ancestor but not enough to claim certainty. Continue reading Genealogical uncertainty

ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 April 2016.]

Engraving of the town of Lenox, Massachusetts, by John Warner Barber. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Genealogists and historians of Massachusetts are indebted to the works of nineteenth-century antiquarians: that is, compilers or collectors of historical information and antiquities. The works of several antiquarians – including John Warner Barber, Samuel Gardner Drake, and John Haven Dexter – have become crucial reference works in the study of Massachusetts genealogy. Knowing what these sources contain, along with their respective shortcomings, can be helpful when researching your Massachusetts ancestors. Continue reading ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

‘Of police court fame’

My grandfather, born in 1931.

The benefits of newspaper databases when conducting family research can be remarkable. One usually hopes to find valuable birth, marriage, and death notices, or, if you’re lucky, an interesting detail you may not be able to glean from the usual genealogical record. It is not so often that you discover your ancestors (and their exploits) were a favorite subject of the local newspaper, or how public family turmoil can sometimes be.

As someone with a close relationship with my maternal grandparents, it was interesting to learn that my grandfather does not know much about his own maternal grandparents – just that his grandfather, William Hatin, was such a small man that he supposedly wore children’s shoes. Continue reading ‘Of police court fame’