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Putting the Chart before the Source

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Genealogy is certainly all about people. As we research we try to find out what we can about ancestors, their relatives, and sometimes even their whole communities. It is easy to forget that those people, and the relationships that connect them, are not the starting points for our research, but the results. Except for those […]

If at First You Succeed, Try, Try Again

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Often when we do a deep and thorough search for records it is because less deep and less thorough searching has not given a result. We search until we find what we were looking for and then search no further. There is another, and in the end much better, reason to make that thorough search. […]

A Face in the Crowd

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Oftentimes we research honed in on a single person. That is the genealogical norm. True, many of us have multiple ongoing bits of research but we are still researching individuals, one here, one there but individuals nonetheless. Any one person comes into focus sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Sometimes that way of working takes us nowhere. […]

Contrafactual Genealogy

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

The other day I heard a program that discussed whether or not contrafactual history was “real” history. Some argue that history should only be concerned with what actually happened. Playing with “what if” questions might be fun, but it is fiction, not history. Others contend that analyzing other possibilities, paths that never got a chance […]

Finding Your Way Home

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Often in genealogy we are trying to “find our way home” in a rather poetic sense. It is the broad where-are-my-roots sense. “Home” is our ancestors’ names, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. In short “home” is everything that went into making our ancestors who they were and, in turn, might have contributed something into making us […]


Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Record keepers have always had a specific problem—names often aren’t enough. We tend to think of a name as the same as, or at least a label for, an identity. Clerks, ministers, sextons and anyone else whose job included keeping track of people knew differently. A census enumerator did not care that there were ten […]

While the Shutter is Closed

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Sometimes one hears that the census is like getting a snapshot of a family taken every ten years. The time between “exposures” does change from place to place but many countries have settled into the once per decade pattern. In the U.S. state censuses can sometimes be used to cut the time that the shutter […]

Painting Your Ancestors into a Corner

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Some ancestors make life easy on us. They can be found in record after record. Their names are clearly written and spelled in a way that makes sense. They seem always to be recorded with enough extra information to really be sure that they are who we think they are. Some ancestors seem to refuse […]

Doing Odd Jobs

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

I sometimes imagine certain things that can only be called genealogists’ blessings. This week one of them has turned up over and over. It would go something like this- May all your ancestors have had truly odd occupations. Having a deeply strange occupation or even just a slightly unusual job can make the difference between […]

Researching FANs

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Summer is, perhaps, the right time to think about fans—except that the kind of fans that I’ve been thinking about aren’t for keeping cool and they don’t cheer at the ballpark. I don’t even mean entering names from my pedigree into a fan chart. I’m working with a different kind of fan for a client. […]

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