1. Size him up.
|Paul Johnson||Paul Johnson|
|b. March 4, 1854||b. April 29, 1855|
|m. June 3, 1876; wife Mary Murphy||m. Oct. 18, 1880; wife Mary Watters|
|children: Kathleen, Paul, Mary, John||children: David, Anthony, Steven, Nancy, Miranda, William|
|d. Aug. 8, 1900; age 46||d. Jan. 8, 1935; age 79|
2. Do a background check.
• Census records: Start with the most recent census in which a person would be listed (the one right before he died, if you know the death date), and then methodically work backward to his birth, gathering census records for his entire lifetime. Census records are readily available online through websites such as Ancestry.com <Ancestry.com > (by subscription) and FamilySearch <pilot.familysearch.org> (free), or on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration <archives.gov> research facilities, the Family History Library (FHL) <www.familysearch.org> and other large genealogy libraries.
• Land records: Census research alone may be enough to give you a positive ID for Mr. Right. But if you’re looking for someone who lived prior to the 1850 census, before all household members (except slaves) were listed by name, land deeds will become a critical addition to your search. After all, no two men with the same name—with the possible exception of a father and son—will have owned the same piece of property.
XYZ County, State
|Date||Seller (Grantor)||Buyer (Grantee)||Neighbors||Witnesses||Other Info|
|March 5, 1857||Joe Judd||Thomas McGraw||
| John Simon
|Joe signed his name.|
|June 28, 1860||Richard Munroe||Joe Judd|| Paul Martin
| Michael Jones
|Joe made his mark.|
|Jan. 14, 1866||Joe Judd||Charles Atwood|| Paul Martin
| Thomas Mitchell
|Joe made his mark.|
• Tax records: Just as with real estate, it’s unlikely that two men with the same name owned the same personal property. Therefore, you can bet that two men with the same name wouldn’t have been taxed on the same items. You won’t find many tax records online. As with land deeds, you’ll need to look for microfilmed copies or published transcriptions of real and personal property tax lists. A table similar to the one for deeds can help you tell the men apart. Also pay attention to the name of the tax collector and his district, as your Mr. Right may have lived in a different district from Mr. Wrong.
3. Scope out his address.
4. Decide if he’s too old, too young or just right.
5. Get to know his family.
6. Analyze his handwriting.
7. Recognize red flags.
8. Learn his life story.
|circa 1701||John Riggs||Birth (presumably the John Riggs who later married Jemima Melichop)||Presumably the son of Abraham Riggs|
|Dec. 1735||John Riggs||Pays fine/cost for Jemima Page; will “bear the Parish harmless for her bastard child”||Accomack County, Va.|
|Aug. 1736||John Riggs||Complaint against “negro man owned by John Riggs”||Northampton County, Va.||Negro was ordered to give security to appear at next court.|
|July 1738||John Riggs Jr.||Southy Rew petitions for Indian corn owed him by John Riggs Jr.||Northampton County, Va.||“The original account was to John Riggs, who assigned to John Riggs Jr.”|
|Feb. 23, 1741||John Riggs||Land partition||Accomack County, Va.||“John Riggs and Jemima, his wife, late Jemima Melichop, late of Accomack County, spinster.” 216 acres in Pungoteague Neck on Assawoman Creek|
|John Riggs||John was guardian of Absabath Potter and summoned to render an account of his guardianship.||Northampton County, Va.|
|John Riggs||On a list for a proposed road||Northampton County, Va.||Also on the list is a Peter Kellum.|
|July 1743||John Riggs||Dispute over line dividing the 88A of land sold to John Riggs of Northampton by Richard Johnson of Accomack||Northampton County, Va.||Papers include the deeds and surveys now in old plat file in clerk’s office in Eastville, Va.|
|Nov. 29, 1743||John Riggs||Purchased 80 acres from Littleton Eyre||Accomack County, Va./Northampton County, Va.||Littleton Eyre of Northampton County, sold 80 acres and a plantation in Accomack County for 70 pounds to John Riggs, planter, of Northampton County. Land is on the north side of Pungoteague Creek in Accomack.|
9. Write it out.
In The Family Tree Problem Solver (Family Tree Books), Marsha Hoffman Rising describes five common genealogical pitfalls that could lead you to research the wrong family:
2. neglecting to search records thoroughly and systematically
3. moving too eagerly to a previous generation before fully exploring the generation you’re currently researching
4. relying on secondary sources, such as undocumented family histories you find in print or online
Researching common surnames
Most common US surnames
Genealogists’ big breakthroughs
Untangling ancestral names
The Sleuth Book for Genealogists by Emily Anne Croom
Brick Wall Strategies webinar recording
The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising