Sunday, September 30, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock – Day 9 - Take a Methodical Step-By-Step Approach

You need to take a methodical step-by-step approach when you are researching someone's life. It is very easy to jump forward or backward in time when you find something interesting but you will less apt to miss something important if you just plod along.

One of the first things you need to do is follow your person of interest through all of the census records for their lifetime. This will give a a skeleton of when (approx.) they were born, when (approx.) they died, All (or at least most) of the places they lived in their lifetime, who his/her parents were, who his/her spouse was, and who his/her children were. Of course it matters which censuses you are able to consult. Pre-1850 censuses only name the head of household, everyone else is referred to only by age and sex, the 1890 census is practically non existent, and the last available census is 1940. This is still a great way to start building a picture even if it is incomplete. You can then go back and start filling in some details now that you have some dates and locations. I like to work backward in time. If I have someone that died in 1901, I will start with the 1900 census. I try very hard to get this completed before I start looking at other records. One step at a time!

Having a checklist of things to search is a great idea so that you don't forget something. Your checklist of sources will vary on the time and place depending on what resources are available but here is a short list of "standard" things to check. There are certain groups of sources I check on everyone, again, this varies a bit depending on when and where the person lived.

  • Census records through the person's lifetime [federal and state]
  • Burial location and burial date [Find-A-Grave, cemetery books, obituary etc.]
  • Death date and possible death location [tombstone, death certificate, etc.]
  • Marriage date and location [marriage index and then marriage license from the county clerk]
  • Any references to this person in the newspapers?
  • Compiled genealogies for clues
  • Any published Bible records? [There are many online sources of transcribed Bibles and digital images]
  • Follow the person through the tax records
  • Land records [deeds, patents, warrants, grants]
  • Will and probate records

I will be doing a blog on checklists like this in the future which will go into this in greater detail.

Once you get your basic information on the person, then you can start investigating more specialized records. You need to at least know when and where before you know what other records are available to search.

“What steps will you take?”
“It will very much depend upon the results of my first inquiries.”
[Watson to Holmes and Holmes' response, "The Five Orange Pips"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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