Sit and be quiet.
Begin with a little quiet time to get your critical-thinking brain cells firing, and then review your research. Critical thinking is an objective analysis of a topic and the use of logical judgment. Here’s a step-by-step look at the process.
- Identify a problem. How can I prove that my ancestor Samuel was born in 1852, as that undocumented online family tree says?
- Determine a course for solving the problem. What records might help me establish Samuel’s birth in 1852? Are records available online? Will I have to seek records offline?
- Gather evidence from the records. Because an 1852 birth date predates statewide vital registration, I’ll likely need to check several alternate sources that typically contain birth or age information, such as censuses, Bible records, tombstones, death certificates, church records, military service records and so forth. Seek as many records as that ancestor might have created.
- Analyze and evaluate each source’s accuracy and reliability. For example, who created the record? For what purpose was the record created? Who provided the information on the record? Would that person have direct knowledge of the information on the record? Would that person have a reason to lie?
- Make reasonable assumptions based on the analysis of all the evidence. Don’t rely on isolated individual records.
- Draw a sound, logical conclusion. Base this on the evidence, common sense, and the records and ancestors in their historical context.
We old dogs like sitting and being quiet; we often figure out strategies to solve genealogical dilemmas this way.
Cross your paws.
I couldn’t have done this kind of request by email. To get a response, all 17 requests needed to be accompanied by a donation of between $10 and $25 (one church asked for $50 to do a search) and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
About 10 days later, I began receiving responses. Several had no baptisms that matched. One sent me a baptism for a Cornelius Casey born 20 years later to other parents. Then I opened a return envelope from St. Columba Church and pulled out the 1852 baptismal certificate for Cornelius Casey. He was indeed the son of Cornelius Casey and Johanna Healy. The sponsors were James Healy (a name from the passenger list) and Catherine Healy. Crossing your paws does sometimes work.
Put your head down.
Referring back to the Morton Allan Directory, I noticed that The French Line had sent passenger ships to New York weekly except in July 1890. There was a gap in the listing between July 7 and July 21. A ship should have arrived around July 14. Maybe that list hadn’t survived—and it happened to be the manifest the family was recorded on.
It’s possible the family was never recorded on a list. That seems unlikely, but many people can’t find their ancestors on passenger arrival lists. It makes me wonder how many people didn’t get recorded for one reason or another. Perhaps the Haldemanns purchased their ticket right before the ship was due to depart, so they didn’t get recorded on the manifest. Or they might have been on a ship’s list or page that didn’t survive or was so water-damaged that it didn’t get microfilmed. All we know with certainty from the other records is that they did come to America.
For this case, I had to put my head down and accept that not all genealogical puzzles can be solved.
Unbury the bone.
Had I not known she was there, I might have given up, thinking she hadn’t been recorded. It makes you wonder how many of our ancestors’ bones are actually buried where we think they should be, but we can’t dig them up due to data-input errors.
This would have been another case requiring a page-by-page search if it hadn’t been a multifamily household. Instead, I was able to say hello to my parents in the 1940 census.
Old dogs know that if they can’t figure out which one is their ancestor, fetching and using records in combination with one another leads to a more successful search.
Social history is the history of ordinary folks and their everyday lifestyles. Unlike traditional history—usually about old, influential, famous, dead white men—social history looks at the poor, the middle class, women, children, ethnic and racial groups, and all the people in a society. By shaking hands with social history, you can understand why your ancestor traveled back and forth to the old country two or three times before he brought his family to America, or why you can’t find a naturalization record for him, or why a couple’s children appear to be baptized before they were born. Social histories explain trends of common people and give us the typical experiences of people like our ancestors.
Stay and wait.
Only a few states had been indexed for the 1930 census at the time, and Oklahoma wasn’t one of them. Jim spent the better part of the day reading the census for the whole county, page by page and line by line, with no success in locating his dad’s family. He repeated the task a few months later, but still couldn’t find them. When computerized indexes became available on Ancestry.com, he checked those, too. No luck. Jim wasn’t sure whether his dad had given him an inaccurate surname or if his grandfather had managed to avoid the census taker, as well as the Feds.
The trick here is to stay and wait. Additional records and indexes become available all the time, although maybe not online. Revisit the FamilySearch catalog for new additions.
Take a bow.
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