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Genealogy Tip of the Week


This compilation presents a great collection of genealogy tips to help you find your ancestors.


Tip 1: Censuses - A frequent problem when tracing ancestors is not being able to find them on historic censuses. Have you ever considered the possibility that your ancestor may have moved repeatedly between censuses? This is more common than most people realize.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, people tended to move much more frequently than they do today. This period coincided with massive industrialization in most countries. People moved from farms to cities and from city to city in search of work. As well, widespread home ownership (particularly in cities) was not common. For many of our ancestors, housing accommodation was often a temporary rental.

People who rent tend to move more frequently than people who own (a trend that, incidentally, is still prevalent today). It is also worth noting that historically, our ancestors moved more frequently if they lived in cities, as opposed to the countryside. In addition to moving for jobs, people in the past often moved at times of marriage, childbearing, widowhood and divorce.

One trick to trying to find an ancestor on a census return who may have moved frequently is to look at all the members of the immediate family. Try to determine who in the immediate family was born, married, or died closest to the date of the census. Then obtain the appropriate certificate for this individual. The address listed on this certificate will be the closest address in time to the census date. You should therefore search census records for this address. It will provide you with the best possibility of finding your missing census record.

Another trick is to use historic online city directories or farm directories. These existed for most communities from about 1880 onwards. Many historic city directories and farm directories have been put online. Try a Google search for historic directories in your region or consult the local library. Historic directories were often updated every one or two years for major cities and thus can be a good source for locating ancestors between ten-year censuses.


Tip 2: Photographs - Historic photographs can be an important source of information for genealogists. Too bad many of our ancestors neglected to write down when and where the pictures were taken.

Dating an old photograph can be a challenge. One approach is to look at both the photographic style and the type of paper used by the photographer. This approach, however, can be very technical and requires an in-depth knowledge of photographic techniques and how they evolved over time. A simpler approach is to look for clues in the image itself.

One obvious source of dating an old photograph is to look at the style of cloths worn by the people in the photograph. Fashions changed regularly, usually at least once a decade. This was especially true for woman's fashions.

FindMyPast has put together an excellent article by Jayne Shrimpton that will help you date old photographs from what people are wearing in the picture. [Dating Photographs by Styles of Clothing]

One thing to note is that you do have to exercise some judgement when using clothes to date a photograph. It is usually best to focus on young women if possible. They tended to stay up to date with the latest fashions. Men rarely changed fashion and older women often kept wearing the same dresses into their forties and fifties that they had bought when they were in their twenties and thirties.

Tip 3: Surnames - France was one of the three main countries that helped colonize North America (the other two being Britain and Spain). As a result, many people in North America have French ancestry, even if they are not aware of it. This is most likely if you have ancestors originating from Eastern Canada, Northeastern United States and around Louisiana.

Over time, many people with a French background Anglicized their family names. Sometimes these Anglicizations are fairly easy to figure out, such as the French surname Allain being converted to the English equivalent of Allen. Often, however, the forms of an Anglicized name can be difficult to predict, even for someone well versed in the French language. For example, the French surname LaLiberte becoming the English surname Bow.

Fortunately, the Quebec Genweb project maintains an excellent and detailed list of English surnames and their North American French equivalent. This is a wonderful resource to consult if you have French ancestry in your family. Even if you don't think you have any French ancestry, it may well be worth taking a look. Who knows, it could open up a whole new avenue of exploration that you hadn't considered. [List of Anglicized French Surnames]


Tip 4: Search - One of the great challenges when searching for ancestral records on the internet is to employ a successful search methodology. In particular, using techniques that allow you to narrow down the vast number of records searched by our free Genealogy Search Engine, by Google and by other search engines. Have you ever considered using titles as part of your search term?

Many historic records contain titles such as Esq, Dr. etc. If you know one of your ancestors used such titles then it may be worthwhile incorporating titles into your search terms, such as:

<john smith, esq>

This technique is particularly effective when looking for online military records. Many military records not only list the name of the individual but also mention their rank. Thus, even if your ancestor had a fairly common name, it is possible to narrow down your search significantly by incorporating your ancestor's rank into your search terms:

<john smith, captain>

[Genealogy Search Engine] [Family Tree Search Engine]

[A Guide to Performing Online Genealogy Searches]

"Success is a journey, not a destination." - Ben Sweetland

Tip 5: Pension Records - Check to see if your ancestor ever received a military, government or private company pension. This can be an important source of information that genealogists often overlook.

Pension application forms generally required many personal details such as proof of age, current address and sometimes next of kin. They can be a great source of genealogical information about your ancestors.

Pensions also provide useful career information, which can be valuable if you want to understand the historical context of your ancestor's life.

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