Thursday, October 18, 2012

Questions From Recent Blog Posts - Find-A-Grave, Estimating Dates, Date and Location Qualifiers and Evidence Explained

Public Service Announcement:
I want y'all to read an excellent blog post by Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor that demonstrates how you analyze data. It is also a good example of looking at data and it not being what it seems to be. You can read it at, On Serendipity, and Obstinately Ignoring Conflicting Evidence.

Question from Mollie:
"When you see a error on Find-A-Grave how much luck have you had getting the person to correct it?"

Most of the time I have gotten very good responses. Once in a while I get no response at all and that usually means the person is no longer active on Find-A-Grave. In those cases I send an e-mail to and they take care of it.

Ben asks:
I have a question about your Estimating Dates post. What if you have several generations in a row with no dates? Couldn't your guesses be way off?

I suspect that you are talking about when you find a family line on one of the family trees submitted to or the like. Sometimes someone will have John Doe with a father named James Doe whose father was Michael Doe, whose father was David Doe whose father was Matthew Doe but there are no specifics at all. If you copy this into your file then you are already making a big mistake. The correct way to do research is backward in time from the known to the unknown, working on one generation at a time. Use what you find on as a clue. If you know that John Doe is your ancestor then you need to just work on him filling in as much info as you can before trying to work on his father James Doe. You also need to find the connection between John and James using direct evidence or indirect evidence. If you use indirect evidence then you will need to write up your case (indirect evidence is circumstantial evidence and you have to explain it). Then you can go on to Michael Doe, again making the paper trail connection for the father and son relationship. If you do this, then you won't have the problem you described in your question. Also, see Barbara's question below for more info that might help you.

Question from Barbara:
"I know who my ancestor's parents were because of a will dated 14 Feb 1830 but I have no other information on them and I have no idea how to estimate birth, marriage and death dates for them."

I asked Barbara when her known ancestor was born (abt 1797 per census records). The will in question named her ancestor as well as naming the deceased wife at the time the will was made. I would caution Barbara not to assume that this wife is in fact her ancestor's mother but that is another subject.

I would use the ancestor's date of birth as a starting point. Back in the 1700s it was unusual for a male to marry before age 21 so we will assume the father was at least 22 when the ancestor was born which would put his date of birth bef. 1776. I would then see if I could find the man in the 1830, 1820, 1810 and 1800 census to get birth year ranges which should narrow it down further. (His will is dated 14 Feb 1830 but I don't know when it was probated. He might have been alive for the 1830 census). I would also be looking at tax records to see the first year the man shows up (in most cases he would have been at least 21 to have been taxed). The man's death date will be between 14 Feb 1830 (the date the will was signed) and the date it was probated (Barbara didn't give me that). The wife's date of death will be aft. 14 Feb 1830. We still don't know if this is actually the mother of the ancestor but for now we will assume she is his one and only wife. Most 18th century females didn't marry before age 18 (there are exceptions of course but we have to start somewhere). We will say that she was at least 19 when Barbara's ancestor was born so her date of birth would be bef. 1779. As far as a marriage date goes, Barbara's ancestor was the only child listed in the will so for now we will assume she is an only child (probably not the case). That would put their marriage date at abt. 1796. As Barbara gets more information in she can adjust the dates. As far as where her ancestor's father was born, if Barbara's ancestor (or any siblings she uncovers) lived until the 1880 census then she could check there. The 1880 was the first to name where a person's parents were born. If not, I would put that he was "of Columbia County, Georgia" (where the will was signed) until she finds earlier records that might give a different location.

Question from Deb:
"Is it going to mess up my locations in Legacy if I use "of" a certain place?"

You are correct in thinking that Legacy isn't specifically set up for using "of" but the program tolerates you doing it. I don't know how the other genealogy database programs handle this. You can it in Legacy as long as you remember to put the "of" right in front of the location still using the 4 place holders format. For my James Simmons, I would put , , of South Carolina, United States. In the Master Location List this will sort as a legitimate state but under O. So, if I sort my locations by state, "of South Carolina" will appear right above Ohio. If I get more specific and say something like , of Perry County, Mississippi, United States, Legacy will balk a bit and tell you that there was never a county in the state of Mississippi named "of Perry." Just ignore it. Whenever you are using the word "of" it always goes in the birth location field. The point is to use the earliest known location that you know your ancestor to have been and hopefully that will lead you to where he was born. You would never put "of" in the marriage or in the death fields. In those it is more appropriate to use one of the other qualifiers like "most likely." You can use "most likely" in the birth field too if you have some indirect evidence to support it. "Of" is used when you don't have any compelling evidence for a specific location so you use their earliest known location.

Question from D. P.:
"I bought a copy of Evidence Explained and I am totally overwhelmed. Do genealogists really follow this? How are you supposed to remember it all?"

Yes, genealogists really cite their sources this way. As far as I know, no one has the book memorized (except maybe Elizabeth Shown Mills!). I constantly refer to the book. It is one of the books that has a permanent home on the floor right next to my chair. I use colored tabs that stick up at the top. I have them labeled with the sources that I use so that I can flip to the right page quickly.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. You are very welcome and you did a great job :)

  2. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems
    of plagorism or copyright violation? My site
    has a lot of exclusive content I've either authored myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any ways to help prevent content from being ripped off? I'd really appreciate it.

    my web blog :: click here to apply online

  3. Oh yes. One day I found that another genealogist had posted stuff from my blog verbatim on Facebook. I posted about it on the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list and then other genealogists also started checking. Two others found content from their blogs also verbatim on Facebook with no source. It was posted as if the person on Facebook had written it himself. All three of us sent this person a message explaining the copyright violation and asked him to take everything down. This person apologized and took all of it down. Since then he always either links directly to the blog post or he sources it correctly when he quotes. In this case it was due to ignorance and not malice which is always so much easier to forgive :)

    As far as how to prevent it. The only thing you can do is put copyright notices everywhere and keep your eyes peeled for your content popping up somewhere on the internet.