Whether you are trying to solve a complex research question or discovering a new ancestor for the first time, you need to be sure to find as many records that document your ancestor as possible. But what sources are you overlooking or missing?
In this case study, I am investigating Winfield Underwood, born in 1857 in Taylor County, Kentucky and died in Whitesboro, Texas. Previous research discovered Winfield’s Person Page resulted in some earlier researchers attaching sources to him. After peer-reviewing their work and then organizing the sources, I was ready to look for what was missing from the research.
I had previously found:
- an index to a birth record
- an index to a marriage record
- death record for son Logan Underwood
- death record for Winfield Underwood
Vital records for this time period (1857-1932) have a high likelihood of being discovered because many counties took an interest in recording births and deaths. This is not true for every locality, but you’ll have a higher chance of finding birth and marriage records at the county level in the United States during this time period than an earlier time frame.
Marriage records were generally created at the formation of a county. Grayson County was formed in 1846 and 1848. There will be a good chance of finding marriage records for Winfield in Kentucky and his children in Texas.
WAIT! Did I just say his children?
Yes. One of the most often overlooked sources of ancestor information is their extended family. For Winfield, right now that would be the birth, marriage, and death records for his children and his wife. Whenever we do determine Winfield’s parentage, then we would also research his siblings. You never know what clues will show up on these records until you look.
To be a thorough researcher, make sure you look for original records that support indexes and then research the extended family members. So, the list of what’s missing in this case study are the following:
- original birth record source
- original marriage record
- death related records: interment, cemetery, and obituary records
- birth, marriage, and death records for all children
In the US, Census records began in 1790, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find your ancestors in all of these records. Not every locality has records from the past that survive until today. Regardless, list the possible years your ancestor would appear in the US Census. (If your ancestor is from Canada, the UK, and Germany, you can do the same thing).
For the US, it’s relatively easy to do this. Round your ancestor’s birth year up to the next decade. In this case, 1857 will become 1860.
Then ten years to that numbers for the next census. Keep adding decades until you reach the decade beginning before your ancestor’s death. You’ll have something that looks like this;
- Winfield Underwood 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
Did you notice any decade missing in this census record list?
For most families, the 1890 US Census record has been destroyed, but there are some states with fragments of the population census that survived a fire and water damage. Here’s a link to more details about which localities have census records that survived.
Many men and women served in the military or were required to register for a draft. As such, we would do well to consider a war or conflict timeline to determine if one such record would apply to Winfield.
- He was alive during the Civil War (1861-1865) but would have been far too young to serve.
- The Spanish-American War occurred in 1898 when Winfield was 41. It’s unlikely he served.
- In 1917 and 1918, Winfield was 60 years old so he would not have had to sign up for the World War 1 draft.
In short, for Winfield, we don’t need to look for military records. Your relatives might have a different story to tell. Be sure to consider the possibility of military records.
SEARCH THE EASY TRIO
- Vital Records
- Census Records
- Military Records
These are the three easy to understand and access records in genealogy right now. What source category are you missing from your ancestor’s timeline?
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