A Research Strategy for American Genealogy Before 1900–That Works Every Time!

Extract onto family group worksheets, everyone with your surname of interest. Get them all out of the records at the county level, where they can be compared for fit and match. You can do this manually on paper charts or digitally on charts included in your genealogy software. Major rule:  ONEone family per chart, one source per chart.

  1. Search the marriages first. Watch for names of men who marry the daughters. Start  tentative family units, by extracting each marriage on a family group worksheet–each marriage on its own family unit. Sort by census year so each married couple can be located in the next census after the marriage and followed each census year.
  2. Search census records next. Extract all the entries for your family surname from the  census records–census decade by census decade. Extract all the men who marry the daughters–so you add to and build the family units as you go.
  3. Interim Analysis–identify the re-marriages, especially for the women. Which families appear to move away? Which ones stay in that locality? Look for “Gretna Green” marriages—where the couple runs away to be married or chooses a different place for their marriage. Spot middle names which are surnames. Identify unusual given names–Permelia, America, Europa, Cinnamon, Trauma, and so on. Watch for given names that are repeated in each family unit or each generation. Identify other families who marry into your family units.
  4. Set aside family units which clearly don’t fit for later consideration.
  5. Plan follow-up searches–in the marriage records for those re-marriages you spot. If the household shows a young unmarried male of another surname, re-search the marriages. In the probate records–if the head of house is elderly, look for a will, inventory, or estate settlement. If the head of house is a farmer, look at the deeds–what lands did he own or farm? Where are the lands located? How did he acquire his lands? If there are young males in the household, search the tax rolls. If there are males age 16-18 years old in 1820–check the militia lists.

This strategy works every time. It will separate out for you more than one family or person by exactly the same name. Multiple people combined into the same person or family is the most common problem in genealogy–in the past and today.
Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle. http://arleneakle.com

PS Usually, genealogists do not search deeply enough in marriages and census records at the beginning of each research project. You prepare for success in these two sources.

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