Searching for Documents

You’ve probably read several “tip” blogs and articles on searching for documents regarding your ancestors. I did too and found that what is offered is mostly good for ancestors who have only been dead less than one hundred years. Prior to the 1850s, it will be much more difficult, depending on what state you’re searching in: Virginia, for example, enacted a law about 1855 requiring births and deaths in each county be recorded. It took a while for that to catch on with the general public. Marriages were already being recorded and if your people were Catholic, so much for the better. Catholic churches kept much better records than others, recording such things as births, christenings, and marriages.

Check Border States. Most of my ancestors settled in West Virginia, which may still have a three-day waiting period for marriages. Even when I was in high school, students and graduates and even adults would head off to Ohio or Virginia or North Carolina to get married, if they had the fever. My great-grandmother Nora McGrew, a widow, and her beau Jim Hedrick were married somewhere in Ohio. I’ve yet to find the record but they dropped Norma Lee with my grandparents in Eureka, Ohio to get married over there somewhere.

Check All Available Sources. I didn’t stick with just Ancestry.com. I also used FamilySearch.org as well as FindMyPast.com and state resources that are posted online, i.e. WVCulture.com/vrr or Maryland Land Records (if appropriate) at https://mdlandrec.net/main/index.cfm. Check every state in which you are searching for online records after you’ve squeezed FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. No one site has ALL the records.

Surname Misspellings. I’m talking gross errors. My 5th great-grandmother came from Germany to New Orleans, LA. Her accent must have been horribly incomprehensible because no two people spelled her name the same. A book published by Jim Comstock spelled her name “Vinkheimer.” There is no such surname. The marriage record in St. Louis spelled it “Feuker,” (FEE-ker). One child’s death record spelled it “Thuckeyre.” Do you see where I’m going with this? Her surname was butchered right and left and perhaps your ancestor’s surname spelling has been butchered, too. It wasn’t until I finally discovered her daughter’s death record in Ohio on which the son-in-law, of all people, spelled her name “Finkmire.” I typed this into FamilySearch.org and – voila – out popped Elisabeth FINKEMEYER, a servant, born 1813 in Lahn, Prussia, on the ship Leontine which arrived in New Orleans from Bremen in 1837, about 3 years before she married my 5th-great grandfather in St. Louis, MO.┬áThis record more or less fit the narrative published by Jim Comstock and I’m satisfied this is “my” Elisabeth.

One more thing: If you find info like a county narrative published a hundred or so years ago like the one mentioned above, don’t take it as absolute truth until and unless you can verify it. Sometimes ancestors embellished and sometimes they just remembered the past a little differently than it actually occurred. Take it with a grain of salt, use it as a guide, and search on.

Learn the Area History. I bought county history books to learn more about the areas to/from which my ancestors came. Yes, they were helpful because sometimes my ancestors or an allied family member were mentioned therein. Learn more about the allied families – make your “puddle” a little bit bigger – which can lead you back to your own family. Most of the time, or it has been my experience, more than one sibling married into the same neighboring family. Learn more about the inlaws.