07 June 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Not My Ancestor

In a previous post, I shared my experience with one of the first things a fledgling genealogist should do - interview family. Through interviewing family, I learned the names of my great-great grandparents and was told stories about them, including the fact that my great-great grandmother only spoke Polish and her grandchildren only spoke English.

I quickly located my great-grandmother living with her parents in the 1920 Federal Census, just as I was told. Next, I was able to find the family together in the 1910 Federal Census. Nothing unusual so far...until I look past the names. The 1910 Federal Census asks a few questions not included in 1920: Number of Years of Present Marriage and, for women, Mother of How Many Children--Number Born and Number Now Living. What I saw looked something like this:

My great-great grandfather, as shown on the top line, is noted as "M2" for marital status (married more than once) and his wife as "M1" (married once). Interesting. The next thing I see is that the couple have reportedly been married for four years. She has two children and none are living. The problem? My great-grandmother is listed on this record as living in their household and is thirteen years old. If this record is accurate, who is her mother?

My great-grandmother's death certificate, from 1942, does not have her mother's name, only "Unknown."  This supports the hypothesis that my great-great grandfather's wife is not my great-great grandmother, as she supposedly did not pass until the 1950s. It appears I have more research to do to get to the bottom of this mystery.

My tip to you, therefore, is not only to verify everything you learn in an interview with documentation, but also to take advantage of special questions asked throughout the various censuses. Go back and look beyond the names and ages...there are more clues on these records than you may realize. In my case, the census raised more questions that it answered, which is the blessing and curse of genealogy...there is always more to research.


  1. A very good tip. I have sometimes been so excited to have found someone on the census that I overlook the details. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Heather--I am guilty of the same at times. Hope you find something good!

  3. As one relatively new to blogging, but having researched my family history for over 20 years, I find that in looking at records again to discuss them in my blogs, I'm discovering things I overlooked when I first found the record; yes, a blessing and a curse!

  4. Thanks, Elizabeth--it is nice to know that even more experienced genealogists, such as yourself, can occasionally overlook a piece of information. Piece of mind for the rest of us who are in the early stages of our research.