This world of ours is in “instant mode.” Fast food. Immediate answers to life’s pressing questions. Instant rebates taken at the cash register.
But, genealogy is not immediate nor instant, the majority of the time!
If you have searched for 20 years on the same ancestor without proving parents or documenting military service or discovering origins in Ireland–or even in New York and Vermont–I am not going to find the answer in an instant. It takes even me time.
Oh, I know where to look that you will not have thought of or known about. And I usually expand the kinship network of your ancestor as I go through the records to ensure that I have other places to look and other families to examine. Your notes and summaries provide only the beginning: There is little value in needlessly duplicating your searches–especially if you did not find your ancestor in those sources. A re-examination of the records, however, with more experienced eyes. With other names. With supporting facts from other records often tips the evidence in your favor.
The first time through the records, you often concentrate on the name of the ancestor only. If he is not there, you move on to another index, another record.
STOP. For just a minute.
- Is your surname present?
- How early does your surname appear?
- What other surnames are associated with yours?
- How early did those names appear?
- Does the record list origins for those other surnames?
- What naming patterns are present in the families of those with other surnames?
- And on, and on…
Almost always, I redo the census searches–looking for these important facts. And if your ancestor appears in the census with people of other ages or other surnames in his household, I check every one of them out–to what ever degree that place allows me to do so.
If there are multiple versions of the censuses, abstracted and indexed by different persons, I search them all: As a check on my readinof the names. As a check on all of the details recorded in each version. Where another reading is dramatically different from mine, I re-check the original copy.
Remember that the US census schedules that we read on microfilm and that have been scanned onto Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest.com are COPIES. And remember, oh remember, that for some critical areas of the United States–like Central and Western New York and some cities in Pennsylvania–the original, handwritten, corrected versions of the census do exist! For Seneca County New York, whole sections of families were omitted when the enumerator or his helpers copied the pages to send to Washington. You will think you fell asleep at the reader or clicked on the wrong page on your computer screen. No. It isn’t your fault that you have only had access to the scanned pages, often indexed by people who do not speak American English nor are they familiar with American names and nicknames. UNTIL NOW…
Now you know that the original copy, with the notes made by the deputies as they canvassed the neighborhood, may exist. So if you have only checked the internet version, you have work to do. If I am tracing your family, I do it for you. Find the originals and search them carefully.
When there are no originals to check, compare the various versions available to you. And when in doubt, always read the whole district or neighborhood where your ancestors and their families lived on the microfilmed or scanned images. Do not rely just on the index. Too often, you will find, as I do, other people not indexed on the same page or the next page or the one before.
Meanwhile, back in the instant answer line…
It takes time to re-read and compare the versions of the census. Please do not expect to have your 20-year problem resolved, with documentation, with full analysis, with pertinent comments and follow-up in supporting sources, in 20 days. Not happenin’–with your ancestry nor anybody else’s. When you engage me to solve your hardest-to-find ancestor and link him to an unknown family unit, allow sufficient time for me to do it. Your favorite genealogist of choice, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS And please, read my blogs. Here I describe how I work and how I recommend that you work on your genealogy. [Did you know that this sentence is phrased as a member of the LDS Church says it? I am a member. And I speak the Church language. I work on genealogy.] Here I describe the records and sources I use. Here I share the search strategies I follow. Here I outline the steps I take to solve difficult research challenges. Free, on my blogs, for all to use.
PPS And if you want me to take you by the hand, register for the Family History Expos Research Retreats at the Family History Library 12-17 April 2010 and 25-30 Oct 2010. Just go to http://www.fhexpos.com and sign up. I’ll be there to take you by the hand along with Jimmy Parker and Judy Wight.