38. Elderly Parents – Elderly parents (and the widowed) often went to live with one of their children. Always consider this possibility when you lose track of someone later in their life.
39. Shotgun Weddings – A shotgun wedding is a wedding where the bride is already pregnant. Families rarely like to talk about shotgun weddings but the reality is that shotgun weddings are common. When trying to estimate the date of birth of a child from a wedding date (or visa versa) do not assume there is a minimum nine-month gap between the two dates. It could be much shorter. The child could even have been born before the wedding date. This type of situation is more common than most people realize.
40. Wills – Wills are a golden source of information for genealogists. Wills are always written by the deceased and they are legally binding documents. Therefore, wills contain accurate spelling of names, correct dates, correct addresses and a correct list of the property owned by the deceased. As an added bonus, wills typically list all of a person’s aliases and variants as well as a list of all immediate family members, such as siblings. Always ask family members if they have any old wills of your ancestors or spend the time tracking down the will at the local probate court.
41. Adopted versus Abandoned – When researching your ancestors, it is important to understand the difference between adopted and abandoned. Adoption is when someone who is not kin assumes the parenting of a child. It has been practised throughout history, but it only became a common phenomenon in the 1920s or later (depending on the country). Prior to this, most children without parents were abandoned. Abandoned children usually ended up in orphanages and were often placed out as indentured servants or apprentices for certain trades.
Oddly enough, abandoned children are usually easier to trace because they were wards of the state or a non-profit organization. To account for the funds needed to feed and maintain these children, ledgers were normally kept giving details of the children at orphanages and poorhouses.
Adoption records on the other hand can often be much more difficult to obtain and genealogists (not to mention the adopted children themselves) are often at the mercy of local legislative regulations. As well, in some jurisdictions adoption was a for-profit exercise. The people running the adoption business often had a vested interested in not keeping good records as to the origin of the children.
It is difficult to ascertain what percentage of children were historically adopted/abandoned (families rarely want to admit such issues), but adoptions in most countries today run from 1% to 3% and the numbers were almost certainly much higher one hundred years ago. Never discount adoption/abandonment as a possibility.
42. Relatives Raising Children – A very common variant of adoption/abandonment is relatives raising a child. Sometimes genealogists come across a child in a family with a name used in another branch of the family. Consider the possibility the parents are raising a relative’s child. Another possible variant that could occur is when sisters adopt children who are related to one another (typically the adopted children are brother and sister). Finally, when looking at old census records that list servants in a household, pay particular attention to the names of the servants. They could be distant relatives of the family.
43. Search Sideways - When you get stuck and have trouble tracing the parents of your ancestors, consider taking a different path. You may have inadvertently stumbled upon an ancestor who was the black sheep of the family and did not have much interaction with the parents. Take a closer look at the brothers and sisters of your ancestor instead. This may ultimately lead you to the parents.