Each month I feature a genealogy tip in my newsletter. 

The following are the first two tips. 


Just Because It’s Set in Stone Doesn’t Make It True

When I started researching my Coffey family tree, the only details I knew about my ancestor who emigrated from Ireland to the US were his birth and death dates obtained from his gravestone. Both were incorrect. The Irish rarely celebrated birthdays and often didn’t know their birth years. If a gravestone states an ancestor was born in 1825 and you discover a potential baptismal certificate from 1822, don’t immediately assume it’s not your relative’s.


A different mother’s name was noted on three Watson siblings’ US death certificates. None were correct. I had their Canadian baptismal certificates with their mother’s name. She died when her children were young, so their spouses and kids may not have recalled, or ever known, her name.


Beware of inaccurate online family trees. People often click on Ancestry’s green “hint” leaf and add a “possible” relative to their tree without verifying the information. I once found a tree with a father born after his son and a couple married a century after the woman had died.


My Murtha ancestor’s obituary stated that her family lived in Maryland Heights, Maryland, after emigrating from Ireland. I searched Maryland’s genealogical documents before I happened upon the fact that Maryland Heights is located in Missouri. Who’d have thought?


In the US census, I have found Coffey spelled as Caffey, Caffrey, and Claffey. Always use the “sounds like” option on search sites. Census takers often couldn’t understand the plethora of ethnic accents, and people couldn’t spell their own last names. Also remember that people often didn’t know their birth years or didn’t have the math skills to correctly determine their ages. Little Jimmy might have been three years old in the 1870 census and only seven in 1880.


I’ve learned the hard way that it’s critical to obtain genealogical information from three sources before I consider it accurate.

Happy researching!


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 Helpful Online Resources

The following are merely a handful of online resources I’ve used for genealogy research.


You can’t turn on the TV without seeing an Ancestry.com commercial. If you are just starting to dabble in research, they offer a free 30-day trial. A great non-subscription alternative is Family Search at www.familysearch.org. Just recently, I was unable to locate a family in England’s 1891 census because their surname had been transcribed incorrectly on Ancestry. I was about to give up when I found the family in the same census on the Family Search site. I have encountered this numerous times on various sites, so always check more than one resource.


A gravestone may provide a gold mine of information, including a spouse’s name, death date, birth date, country of origin, and more. What if you can’t fly off to another country to traipse through cemeteries? Two great international sites are Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com, and Billion Graves, www.billiongraves.com. These also often provide gravestone photos, known children, and possible family members buried in the same vicinity.


If you can’t find a grave online, find a local volunteer to assist at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, www.raogk.org. I’ve had volunteers around the world searching through cemeteries for graves, local newspapers for obituaries, and courthouse records for birth, marriage, or death certificates. The volunteers charge for expenses but no fees for their time.


Besides state and local historical and genealogy organizations, don’t forget the local libraries. They will often assist with finding obituaries or other information in old newspapers. They may even have a genealogy page with an obituary index or histories of families from the area. If it’s not noted on their website, call and ask. They may be happy to help.


Collaborate with others researching your family surnames on forums. A lot of local historians also hang out on these sites and will volunteer to assist. A few of my favorites are www.genealogy.com/forum www.ancestry.com/boards and www.familytreeforum.com.


My top two sites for researching my Irish family history are www.rootsireland.ie and www.census.nationalarchives.ie.


Google your ancestor’s name and any known details. Get creative. I once traced a tree forward and was searching for possible living rellies in Ireland. I found a potential connection mentioned on a Lion’s Club website. I contacted a board member, and he put me in touch with the man, who turned out to be the missing link needed to trace the family line. In appreciation, I sent them all sweatshirts from the Wisconsin Lions Club. Also, you might search a name on Google and voilà, up pops your family tree created by an unknown rellie. I’ve only been this lucky once, but it’s St. Paddy’s Day, so maybe I should try my luck again.  


Happy researching!


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