Quick tip – Investigate gaps between children

If you are researching a family before in the period before modern birth control methods, a gap in children is worth investigating further. Possible reasons for the gap include: You may not have found all the children yet. For example, the family may have lived elsewhere, and you have not consulted the birth or baptismal records there. There may have been stillbirths or miscarriages. Since the introduction of the civil registration (1811 in most parts of the Netherlands), stillborn … [Read more...]

Quick tip – Who was the previous owner?

When you hit a brick wall and the ancestor whose parents you're looking for owned property, try and find out who owned the property previously. The previous owner may have been related, if the ancestor inherited the property, or may have created a sale or conveyance record that mentions your ancestor. For an example of how useful tracing the previous owner can be, read my article "Griete Smith's Parentage: Proof in the Absence of Vital Records" (PDF) as it appeared in the December 2016 issue … [Read more...]

Dutch term – Bron

Bron is the Dutch term for "source." The word also means "spring," in the meaning of a place where water naturally comes to the surface. … [Read more...]

Using Proof by Contradiction to Focus your Research

Those who came to genealogy from a science background are likely familiar with “proof by contradiction”—a way to prove a theory by demonstrating that its opposite leads to an insupportable contradiction.[1] Many genealogists use this technique, often implicitly. Whatever the name, genealogists benefit from understanding how to apply the technique to improve research efficiency and focus. Using proof by contradiction, a three-step mathematical example proves the theory that there is no … [Read more...]

5 Ways to Assess Online Trees and Other Publications

Many of my research projects start with a survey of published literature: journals, books, and online trees. Here are five ways I assess the quality and reliability of these publications. Sources The first thing I look for are the sources: If the publication has no sources, there is no way to evaluate the quality of the underlying research. If the publication only lists other trees or published genealogies as sources, that implies the compiler did not do original research. If the … [Read more...]

Quick tip – Don’t Stop Looking When They’re Dead

Sometimes, relevant records are produced long after the person of interest is dead. Here are some examples:  An estate may remain undivided during the surviving spouse's lifetime. The records of how the estate was divided and who the heirs were might be decades later. A record may have been copied at a later time, for example as part of court proceedings or a chartulary. The original record may not survive, but the later copy might. Land records may include details about the … [Read more...]

Quick tip – Follow up in other records

When we find our ancestor in one record, we can often use it as a stepping stone to finding other records. The record can be like a loose thread to unravel a greater yarn. Here are some examples: A marriage record may have a note in the margin about a divorce. It should name the court and date of the divorce. You can use this to find the case file in the court records. A marriage record has supplements that are abstracts of other records. You can use these to find the originals. It … [Read more...]

Quick Tip – There’s Nothing Wrong With Speculation

When you are researching your ancestors, there is nothing wrong with speculation. Building and testing hypotheses is a great way to discover new evidence that may help you prove your case. Just don't confuse speculation with proof, and make sure to not spread speculative information without clearly labeling as such (or not at all, to prevent people from jumping to conclusions). For example, if you are trying to find the parents of your brick wall ancestor Cornelis, and you know his oldest son … [Read more...]

Column – Fake News and Alternative Facts

You see it everywhere online: fake news. Sensational stories, written to draw attention and gain clicks for ads. Fake news about the presidential candidates may even have influenced the US elections. Even in genealogy, it is often the less reliable information that draws our attention. Complete family trees can be found online, but may not be based on solid research. Indexes are easier to access than original records, but may have mistakes. And because of copyright restrictions, genealogy … [Read more...]

Quick tip – Don’t go back too far too soon

When we go back in time, we often hit a brick wall for a person for whom we only know the name. Perhaps we find a marriage record that lists the father, or we find a name with a patronymic that suggests who the father was. It is very hard to find records if you only know a name. Often, names are not unique. There may be multiple people in the town with the same name, perhaps named after the same grandparent. You will need to know more about your ancestor to be sure that the record you find … [Read more...]