Make Sure You

Get the Whole Picture

written February 12, 2011

Recently I had the pleasure of working with another researcher online regarding her family history. She had many questions to answer regarding the original parents of the line her husband descended from. And like most of us, she had bits and pieces here and there on this one and that one. As time went on, she would discard this one and that one as "not the main line I am working on". Or.. "that info would be nice, but I am looking for this one."

It dawned on me later that perhaps the majority of researchers just don't realize the importance of NOT discarding this seemingly unconnecting data.So that is the root of this particular research tip.

Many people can find the data on the parents and grandparents, perhaps even the great grandparents. In going further back, at some point your resources run dry or maybe you are unlucky enough to have ancestors who left very few "paper trails". For those, the researcher must simply rely on other avenues to make the trip to complete the paper trails and gain data. It always amazes me that people just don't think about this.

Unfortunately for researchers, no matter how good our research is or how good our ancestors kept records- we all share that one common problem within history.


The 1880 census record was a great gift to researchers. The data it provided was much more then had previously been available. We could learn where the parents of each person was born, we learned relationship status. For many of us, these few things were invaluable to our search.HOWEVER..

As many of us know from past experience, it seems that everytime our research "opens up" and we find answers, it appears that another door slams shut on us. By this I mean that the very next census record simply is not available for love or money anywhere. So what? you might ask (or at least the new researcher might ask.)

Well, between the 1880 and 1900 census records (which we are left with) there is a 20 year gap. During that time...

a female child could conceivably have been born and married without ever appearing in a census record in between. We, the researchers would never know about this child.

The same situation exists that a child could be born and die between that time frame and we would also never know about it.

Parents who were listed as anywhere between 50-60 in the 1880 census many times died in that 20 year gap. Lifespans were not as long then as they are now for the most part.

In that 20 year gap a family could have moved across the country (and back again).

To combat those issues, the researcher must do everything possible to collect as much data as possible on each and every other family member regardless of how insignificant it might seem. This allows the researcher to later check the obituaries on these people. Why? Because obituaries can be a fantastic tool for research. The older obituaries were much more informative then they are today. Many times they told...

Names and locations of surviving siblings

Names of the parents and sometimes give "some" idea where/when they died (as in several years ago or just a few years ago).

They also sometimes give information on siblings that predeceased them. This is where the researcher can glean data missed in the census gap.

Obituaries sometimes mention where they were married, which can provide clues as to where the family might have resided during a certain time frame.

Any obituary from the years 1880-1899 are like gold in my mind as they contain valuable data that otherwise would not be found.

Some obituaries list step-children or rather designate them as such- this gives a great tip to finding "those missing children".

The researcher though...would never find this information if they didn't gather data on the other family members. I was able to find out that one female had married 3 different times through the years by viewing the obituaries of a variety of siblings. She was listed with a different surname in each one and they were of course obituaries spread over a period of 20 years.

To wrap this up-- don't be so hasty to discard the data that does not apply to your "main lineages".