To supplement the Genealogy Starter Kit, here are some genealogy tips and tricks I’ve learned. These have helped me when I find myself going down the wrong path or when one branch of the family seems at first to have been lost to time.
- Doppelgangers: You need to make sure you have at least two primary sources documenting the same fact. There are too many people on the planet to assume your Margaret Boyd or your Lupe Ramirez is the first one you see in your search. The Ancestry.com commercials make it look that easy but it takes a cautious approach to make sure you have the right ancestor. Even if it’s the same birth year. That alone does not prove anything.
- Name Changes: Names change over time. Giovanni Ramazzotti may decide to go by John Ramazzotti by the time he reaches California. Janet McFee my go by Jessie once she gets married. Peggy is a nickname for Margaret; think of nicknames if you’re stumped. Also, census takers may write your ancestor’s name wrong. There are hundreds in the census with the name of Ah Chen, but you may know that within the family Ah Chen has a totally different name. Check the cultural context and history as clues to how your ancestor is named.
- Your Files: Keep a list of searches you’ve done. Many times I have found myself looking up the 1870 census record for Michael O’Neil only to realize that I had done that search before. It’s easy to get turned around because with each generation you double the number of individuals to research!
- Frontage Roads: Look for alternate sources. For example, I found numerous ancestors in the San Francisco address directories, a very rich source of information. It allowed me to see how often they moved, what they did for work, sometimes when they died – in that instance, the wife’s name appeared the following year with the note “(wid)” next to her name. It was the same address as the year before which strengthened accuracy of the fact. It also matched the death record once retrieved.
- Other Twigs and Branches: When I’ve been stuck, I’ve gone to siblings of the ancestor. You may find it was your great-uncle who cared for your great-grandparents and they appear in his census record. Voilà, you have found their names and can continue another generation.
- Ethnic/Linguistic Aids: There are other sites that could be useful depending on the ethnicity. For example, for the Italian side, you must make your request for family records in Italian. There are templates online for that. Utilize those resources.
- Geography & History: War changes boundaries, names, husbands. It forces emigration and destroys documents. My great grandfather Matteo Luscia was Italian, but his census record, while most other men in the mining community were form Italy and also spoke Italian, lists him as born in Austria. Perhaps a corner of Brescia within Lombardia was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at the time. By the time he naturalized, he had to relinquish an allegiance to the king of Italy, reinforcing that he was an ethnic Italian upon immigration to America.
I get excited just thinking about it. Good luck to you.