Ellis Island Records! BEST Search Strategies

The free Ellis Island Passenger Search database is home to 65 million records of passengers arriving at the Port of New York from 1820 to 1957. Kathryn Marks, Manager at The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation explains the best strategies for finding your ancestors’ passenger list records in the Passenger Search Database on the Ellis Island website. Along the way, you’ll learn some surprising facts about Ellis Island and these invaluable records that will have your genealogy jumping for joy!

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Show Notes

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Information You Can Find in Passenger Lists

Here’s a list of the type of information you may be able to find in passengers lists, depending on the year:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of Birth
  • Physical Description
  • Occupation
  • Last Place of Residence
  • Where they are going
  • Ship name

What Else You Can Find at the Ellis Island Passenger Search

  • Crew Manifests
  • Ellis Island Detention Records and Records of Special Inquiry

How to find Ellis Island records about detained passengers:

  1. Find the manifest in the database.
  2. Look to the left of the name for markings. X or SI stands for Special Inquiry indicates the person was probably held on Ellis Island. LPC: Likely to Become a Public Charge.
  3. Detention records will tell you why they were detained. Detention records aren’t indexed. You can find them by locating the manifest first, and then scrolling through the carousel of images to find them at the beginning or end of the ship’s list.
  4. Determine the length of your ancestor’s detention by counting the number of meals recorded.

Ellis Island Records Through the Years

Ellis Island records coverage: 1820-1957

Pre-Ellis Island AKA Castle Garden Era Records: 1820-1892

Before 1892: Castle Garden was the state-run immigration station. The federal government took over the process of immigration, they built Ellis Island in 1892.

Pre-1897: Records are technically customs records. That’s why they have a very limited amount of information. Manifests were destroyed in a fire in 1897.

Peak Years at Ellis Island: 1892-1924

After 1907: Passenger lists became 2-page documents containing approximately 30 questions.

1924: Ellis Island’s focus turned to detention and deportation. Therefore, most people wouldn’t have actually stepped foot on Ellis Island.

Ellis Island closure: 1954

Records available through: 1957

Records were created at the port of departure. Upon arrival, Ellis Island inspectors asked the passenger the same questions to make sure they were answered the same way.

How to Search for Ancestors at Ellis Island Passenger Search

  1. Go to the Ellis Island Passenger Search page.
  2. Type your ancestor’s name into the search bar.
  3. Select from a variety of wild card searches. Kathryn recommends Close Matches, Sounds Like, and Alternative Spelling.
  4. If you get too many results, click Filters, or use the Wizard or One Page form. Kathryn recommends the One Page form.
  5. On the One Page form, Kathryn recommends using age at arrival, year of arrival, port of departure and/or country of origin. Pad the years to allow for errors and deviations.
  6. If you’re searching outside the peak year period, don’t use the filters. This is because the records after 1924 were indexed differently. Many passenger lists are only indexed by the year of arrival and are given a placeholder date of Jan. 1. Therefore, if you search for a month or day, you will not get results.

5 Search Strategies for Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Strategy 1: Start by running a broad search.

Strategy 2: Use the original ethnic name, because names were recorded at the port of departure. If you’re unsure of the first name, try entering just the first initial and checking the Contains wildcard. This often helps because the first letter of the name is often the same regardless of the language.

Strategy 3: Visit the Passenger List Database Search Help page and scroll down for search tips. For more tips on how best to utilize the database, check out Ellis Island’s Genealogy Primer page. If you have questions, email ContactUs@LibertyEllisFoundation.org.

Strategy 4: Be persistent. There are many factors that could lead to not initially finding your ancestor.

Strategy 5: Consider other scenarios.

  • Name variations – try searching many variations.
  • Remember that the clerks may have spelled names phonetically.
  • Many passenger lists are handwritten so they may have been transcribed and/or entered into the database incorrectly.
  • Your ancestors may have arrived at a different port of entry, such as Philadelphia, Boston, or Baltimore. Many of those passenger lists are also available online.

More Ellis Island Search Tips:

  • Italian women travel with their maiden name. Children may be under either the father or mother’s last name.
  • Jewish people may be traveling under their Yiddish name.
  • Families are listed together. If you can’t find the head of the family, try searching for the children.
  • In pre-Ellis records names may be abbreviated. Example: Wm. for William, and women may be listed under their husband’s name, such as “Mrs. Adam Smith”.

Coming to the Ellis Island Passenger Search in the Future

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation is planning on expanding and adding the records of all the other ports to the database.

Alternative Search Tool for the Ellis Island Database

Alternative search tool: Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step by Steve Morse.

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One-Step Tools for the 1950 Census with Steve Morse

One-Step Webpages by Steve Morse helps genealogists find relatives faster in the U.S. federal census. Steve Morse explains how to use his one-step tools for the 1950 census.

Show Notes

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The 1950 US federal census is going to be released on April 1 of 2022. And getting the records fully indexed, and therefore searchable is going to take a little bit of time.

If you’re anxious to get digging into the records, you’re going to need to know a couple of things like where your ancestors lived. You’ll also find the enumeration district, or what’s called the ED number.

Thankfully, Steve Morris has developed a terrific free online tool at his One-Step Webpages website that can help you find those ED numbers.

00:54
Lisa: Wow, it’s a really big year for you! I imagine it is every 10 years or so when a new census record comes out, right?

01:03
Steve: Well, yes, we’re doing what we can to get ready (for the release of the 1950 U.S. Federal Census.) I’m trying to get the interfaces to tie into the actual census pages when they come online. So that’s been a big activity right now.

01:17
Lisa: Let’s talk about that. I want to talk about the website and how people can use it. And of course, I’d love to know even more about you. First of all, why do you call it One-Step Webpages?

The History of One-Step Webpages

01:33
Steve: That goes back to the origins of the site back in 2001.

The first major tool that I put up on the site was (designed for) researching the Ellis Island database. That database had just come online at that time. I was anxious to use it because there was some real answers that I had not been able to find up until then.

But when I got into it, I realized it was very difficult to use. And I saw that I could do everything they were doing in one step many steps on their website. So, without giving it too much thought, I put up my own tool, which was called Searching the Ellis Island Database in One-Step. I didn’t realize that by choosing that name, I become branded. All tools hereafter have that One-Step name now, and it became known as the One-Step website.

If I realized the significance of that choice of name, I might have gone with my second choice which was Searching the Ellis Island Database with Fewer Tears. And in which case, we would now have the Fewer Tears website! But we have the one we’re stuck with, the One Step website.

02:37
Lisa: Well, I’d say the One-Step site certainly does mean fewer tears, that’s for sure! I remember when you first launched it, I use it to find my great grandmother’s passenger list. Using your site I found that she was listed twice in 1910. The first time was in first class, and then also in second class. I have a feeling they found her in first class and moved her down to second class! But really, I found it because of your site and not the Ellis Island site. So, thank you.

And now of course, you’ve been creating One-Step tools for census records. I’d love to have you give us an overview of those tools. Tell us a bit about what’s on the website. And how can it help genealogists accomplish their goals?

Genealogy Tools at One-Step Webpages

03:24
Steve: Well, it’s whatever strikes my fancy!

I got started with Ellis Island passenger lists records because I was trying to find a particular relative, my wife’s great grandfather. A year later, the website was used quite a bit, and the census was coming out. I got notified by a fellow that I worked with that he was working on the 1930 census. He was he was a volunteer at the National Archives, and he realized that people were going to be coming into find their records, and he wasn’t going to be able to help them. The census was not indexed. It had to be accessed by enumeration district. And these Eds were not easy to obtain.

I realized that would be a fun thing to get into. So instead of being known as a one trick pony – you know, I had the Ellis Island stuff – what if I could do two things? Maybe the site would be a little more important. So, I got involved with the census work then.

Through this fellow that contacted me who I’d worked with, he found Joel Weintraub. So, then the three of us started working on this together.

There are other sections as well. Again, it’s whatever strikes my fancy. I have the vital records section. I have a section for creating your own One-Step search application. I have things that have nothing to do with genealogy at all. They’re all on the website.

So, over all there are 300 tools. I tell people just go through them and see which ones strike your fancy and use them. I know nobody’s going to like all 300 tools, that’s impossible. But hopefully each person will like a certain subset of them. And all those subsets together will be the entire website.

05:12
Lisa: Wow, I didn’t realize there were 300 tools on the website. That’s amazing!

About Steve Morse of One-Step Webpages

So, what’s your background? Are you a computer programmer? Do you do all the programming for the website?

05:26
Steve: Well, I have a PhD in electrical engineering, specializing in computer science. It was not computer science in those days. So, I been in the field ever since – my entire career. I’ve done research, development, consulting, writing, so forth.

The 1950 US Census Project at One-Step Webpages

05:42
Lisa: The 1950 census is just about here. When did you first start working on that?

05:48
Steve: Well, we finished the 1940 census in 2012. When the 1940 census went online, it was about a year later that we first started putting out the call for volunteers. By 2013, we started fetching volunteers to do the work for the 1950 census.

It involved looking at the various cities that we were going to support. We needed to have a list of all the streets in that city, and the EDS that each street pass through. And we did that by looking at the ED maps and using other tools as well.

Working with Joel Weintraub, we’ve had our team about 60 volunteers over the years. They weren’t all working at once, but in total, we had about 60 volunteers.

We set our sights a little higher for 1950 than for preceding years. I forget what the criteria was. But for 1950 we wanted to get every rural area that had a population of more than 5000. And we have succeeded in doing that.

So, we have all those cities index on the One-Step website. You can search any of those cities, by streets. Giving the streets and cross streets, you can get down to the enumeration district.

07:05
Lisa: Oh, that is fantastic!

You know, I just did a video (How to Find Old Rural Addresses on a Map)  where we talked about how to take these rural addresses and using your tools, trying to help people figure out where their rural ancestors once lived.

I didn’t realize that there were so many people involved in creating the website. Is the National Archives pretty cooperative and kind of helping you gain access ahead of time?

07:36
Steve: No, we don’t have any access to the National Archives. We’ve had some questions from them. They’ve been very tight-lipped with the 1950 census. They’re keeping it very secret. Of course, the census pages are secretive, but even getting information as to how the census is organized or what have you. We’ve not been able to get much information out of them. We had a lot of cooperation with the 1940 census, but not so much with the census.

08:01
Lisa: Okay, interesting.

How to Find Enumeration District (ED) Numbers in One-Step

Well, we’ve talked a lot here on the Genealogy Gems channel about enumeration districts, or Eds, and the ED maps. But I would love to hear it from the one step man himself, how do we go about finding ED numbers?

08:20
Steve: I have a tool called Finding Enumeration Districts in One-Step. It covers both large cities and rural areas.

For the large cities, use our tool and put in the street. That will give you all the enumeration districts that that street passes through.

Then, you put in the cross streets. That will narrow it down to just those EDs that are common to the street and cross street that you entered. Hopefully you can get down to one ED.

Rural areas are different. We used to have two separate tools, one for large cities and one for rural areas. And that was sort of cumbersome to explain to people, but we had the two different tools. So, I’ve since merged them into one tool with one user interface. (The Unified Census ED Finder)

If you put down the streets in the streets, you’re using it in a large city mode. And there’s a drop-down list of the cities. In the state you select the state. And under City if the city is not on that list, it means we don’t have the tables for that city. So, then you select Other and you type in the name of the of the city. In that case, we’re going to search the ED definitions instead of the street to ED maps. We have the ED definitions, and we search those to see which definitions mentioned the name of that city. And for all of those that are mentioned, we report back. Hopefully there won’t be too many these for a small town. And then you know where to search.

Enumeration District Definitions

How do we give you these ED definitions? Well, the National Archives has them on microfilm, but you can’t go searching on microfilm. So, we’ve had our volunteers actually transcribe all the ED definitions for 1940 and 1950 prior to 1940.  For 1940 we did transcribe all the EDs, all the definitions from the microfilm. NARA came to us for 1940 and asked if they could have our transcriptions. They, of course, had the microfilm, but they didn’t have it transcribed. So, we said, ‘sure, absolutely.’ We were glad to give that to them. They haven’t come to us for 1950. I keep saying “yet”, but at this late date, I’m sure they’re not going to. I’m sure they’ve done their own transcriptions.

I haven’t seen their transcriptions. But I’d venture to say that ours are going to be better for the following reason. Since we’re using the transcriptions to search for small towns, and we want to get as many towns in the ED as possible. More Eds than are mentioned in the on the microfilm. So, what Joel has done with the volunteers, is to go through the ED maps and see what other towns are in each ED and add that to the definitions. So, I believe in that case, our ED definitions would be more robust than the ones that the National Archives is going to have on their website.

11:00
Lisa: It sure sounds like it. That’s an amazing undertaking, and what a difference it makes!

Using ED Numbers to Search the Census

So, the genealogist is really going to benefit by knowing the actual address because then they can use the cross streets that you have to really zero in on the exact enumeration district that the address falls within. Please tell folks how that helps when the records are released, and they want to start searching. How do they use that number?

11:33
Steve: Well, of course, we don’t have it up and running yet. But what we plan on doing is, once the census does come out, you would click on the ED number that you just found, and that will take you right to the census pages.

The pages are hosted on some other website, either on NARA’s website, or FamilySearch’s, or one of the large commercial websites whose name I’m not going to mention, because I’m not advertising for them, but you know what I’m talking about.

11:59
Lisa: So how long would that take you? I mean, when the records first get released, and everybody gets access to them? It sounds like kind of a manual job to link up digitized records with the website. Is that going to take a while?

12:16
Steve: You have to know what the structure of their site is, and how you can get onto their site with the ED number.

We’ve been talking with FamilySearch, and they’ve been very cooperative. We’re getting information from them as to how we can link into their site.

So, on opening day, they’ll be very busy ingesting all the material from the National Archives. And so hopefully, we’ll have that information ready before opening day. So, an opening day we can link right into their website. And then at the same time, I’ve also been trying to figure out the structure on the National Archives website and the large commercial website and link into those as well. But we anticipate FamilySearch will be the first one that we will link into.

Enumeration District (ED) Maps

12:58
Lisa: And of course I noticed that right now there are many different kinds of links that do work that are on the website. Tell folks about some of the extra items, the collateral items that they can actually access right now with the links from your website.

13:15
Steve: ED maps sounds like it’d be the best thing if you can get an ED map. Look at the ED map and see what the ED definition is what ED boundaries are so you know exactly what the correct ED is. Problem is the maps are not that easy to use. For one thing, they’re on the National Archives website. But it’s pretty hard to get to them from the National Archives website. You have to go to the catalog on their website, and then type in the correct string that will get you to the ED maps. And it’s not obvious what the string would be. And you can’t really navigate through them by from state to state.

What I’ve done on the One-Step website, is that I put up a tool to get the ED maps from NARA. But you get to it by entering a state and then the county, and then probably a town within the county. Entering all that information will then bring up the maps from NARA for that particular locality. Yes, it’s coming from NARA’s website, but it’s hard to get to from the NARA website. That’s why you can do it in “One-Step.”

14:18
Lisa: Yes, and I can attest to that. It’s much easier and absolutely wonderful to use.

How to Find Census ED Definitions

Maybe this is what you were discussing before, but I came across digitized pages on your website of the book that was describing each enumeration district in more detail. Is that what you were talking about when you mentioned the Census Definitions?

14:41
Steve: Yes, when he’s talking about the definitions, we have a tool that gets you to the microphone definitions. And another tool that gets you to the transcribed definitions. That’s what our volunteers did in transcribing what’s on the microfilm. So, we have tools for doing both of those.

Meaning of Census Occupation Codes

14:57
Lisa: Tell us a little bit about the codes. I know I saw occupational codes. And these are numbers that show up on the census records. If we’re wondering what they mean or the details behind those, your site can help us learn that as well. Tell us about that.

15:17
Steve: Well, for the most part, those codes don’t really tell you that much, although they do in certain cases.

They are codes that were added later by the Census Bureau to group different occupations together so they could get statistics as to how many people did various kinds of work. But you know, what your grandfather’s occupation was, it’s on the census page. So, the code will not tell you anything new, except for the following.

What if you couldn’t read what was written. It’s legible on the original, but on the microfilm copies you might not be able to read the occupation code. But, if you knew the code, you can then look up from the code to see what kind of occupations fell into that code. I have a tool that lets you decode the number that they added.

The census taker wrote down what the person said. The Census Bureau clerk’s later added a code to put people in certain categories. And then the One-Step tool lets you take that code and get back to what the actual occupation was.

You just might be curious to see what the Census Bureau thought about your ancestor if he had an unusual occupation. The example I give in my lectures is Donald Duck. His occupation was he was a trained duck. So, there’s no category “well-trained duck”. So, they had to put him in one of the standard categories. They assigned a number for that occupation. If you then decode that number it says, “hucksters and peddlers”. You now see what the census taker thought about your ancestor’s occupation.

16:59
Lisa: So, are there any other elements of the census or census records that you wish you had more time to work on or that you feel like you would want to add to your website? Or do you really feel like the One-Step webpages has reached the pinnacle of what’s possible with searching these records?

17:20
Steve: I can’t think of anything else. I think if I could, I would have done it.

17:24
Lisa: Exactly!

How to Prepare to Search the 1950 Census

17:27
Steve: With just one month ago (as of this recording), I think we’re in a good position right now. We’re ready to provide the tools that people will need on opening day.

I should mention, people should be using this before opening day to get their ED. They should have a list of the people they want to look up and get their addresses and then get the ED. Don’t leave that for opening day.

On opening day there will be an onslaught. In 2012 for the 1940 census, my website didn’t crash, but the National Archives website did. My website didn’t crash, but it flickered. I typically get between 100 and 250,000 hits a day, which is good considering this is a private website, it’s not a company, that’s a very respectable number. But in 2012, we got two and a quarter million hits! Obviously things have slowed down. So don’t leave it for opening day. Do it now. Get your ducks in a row, get all your ED numbers so on opening day, you can just dive in with the ED number and get right to the census page.

18:31
Lisa: Exactly. And in fact, in the video description for this video, here at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I have some links to a few other videos we have here at the channel to help people get ready. I mean, there is so much that we can do even before the records get released to be prepared and get the most use out of them.

More Uses for the One-Step Webpages Tools

And of course, even after the records get indexed, and are fully searchable, the One-Step tools can still really help us, can’t they? I mean, particularly if you can’t find somebody or you’re just wondering if there are other entries for a person. They can still really prove to be helpful, right?

19:13
Steve: Yeah, even after it is indexed, the Location tools we have will still be very important. I’ll give you several examples as to when you would want to use the Location tools in spite of having a name index.

Your ancestor, your grandfather, came from a foreign country, spoke with a thick foreign accent, and had a long unpronounceable name. Well, the census taker probably got it wrong when he wrote it down. In that case, he had to take his best guess as to what he thinks your ancestor said. And then they had to transcribe all this. Then, another transcriber had to take their best guess as to what he thinks that the census taker wrote down. The census takers’ handwriting were sometimes of questionable quality. So, the chances of getting this right here are less and less. It’s like the game of telephone.

In most cases, you will find your ancestor by doing a name search. But there will be those cases and you’re going to run into them, when no matter how creative you are with the name search, you just won’t be able to find him. You have to do a location search. And that’s where the ED and other location tools come into play.

The other example that I give is when searching by location is useful. Let’s say you just bought a brand-new house and you’re very proud of your house. You want to find out who else lived in this house in prior years. We don’t know the names, but you do know the address. So, you want to find your house in the 1950 census, the 1940 census, 1930 census, and location tools are the only way you can do that.

20:41
Lisa: That’s fascinating. And it’s so true. I remember looking through the 1940 census at my Nikolowski family. The census taker had a hard time spelling Nikolowski but they also got the first name as “Vaulter” because my great grandmother’s saying “Vaulter” (in her accent) not “Walter”. And that’s exactly how he recorded it!

I just want to thank you, on behalf of all genealogists really, for making these kinds of tools available to us. You help us in so many ways be more successful.

More About Steve Morse and One-Step Webpages

We don’t get a chance to talk every day, so while I have you here, I just want people to get to know you. Is there something about you that maybe they don’t know? Or would be interested to know? Perhaps what you do in your spare time when you’re not creating One-Step tools.

21:33
Steve: My hobbies or electronics. My degree is in electrical engineering. It’s really computer science. So, I’ve always loved electricity and electronics, and I play around with that. And I’m a gadgeteer, I build things.

21:48
Lisa: Oh my gosh, well, I can only imagine what’s down in your basement…the kinds of things that you must be coming up with, how interesting!

Steve Morse, thank you so much. I encourage everybody to go visit https://stevemorse.org/. Thank you for being here on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure!

22:07
Steve: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you as well.

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Genealogical Evidence and Proof: How to know if you’ve compiled enough evidence

The Genealogical Proof Standard tells us that we need to conduct reasonably exhaustive research in order for our work to be credible. If you’ve ever wondered just what constitutes “reasonable” (and if your family tree is up to snuff) my guest author Kate Eakman, professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists, has answers.  

genealogical evidence and proof

Professional Genealogist Kate Eakman explains evidence on the Genealogy Gems blog.

Genealogical Evidence: Have You Got What It Takes?

How do we know when we have compiled enough evidence to constitute proof?

Is a birth certificate or an autosomal DNA test result sufficient to declare this person is the child of that person?

Must we collect every record regarding an individual – the deeds, the tax lists, the newspaper clippings, the census reports – before we can declare a familial connection?

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)

The Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) directs us to perform reasonably exhaustive research, which requires that we identify and review all available records related to an individual.[1] This is being as thorough and accurate as possible and is a goal toward which we should all aspire in our genealogical research.

But, let’s be honest: most of us do not want to spend weeks or months (or even years) documenting one person before moving on to the next individual. We don’t want to know every detail of grandpa’s life before we turn to grandma.

We want to build a family tree which accurately provides us with the names of our ancestors so that we can identify our immigrant ancestor, or join a lineage society, or enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a balanced tree extending back a hundred years or more.

We want to be thorough and accurate, but we also want to make some progress. How do we balance the need for accuracy with the desire for results? How do we determine the necessary quality and quantity of evidence for our research?

Below are some guidelines to demonstrate how we can go about compiling the necessary information to say with confidence “this person is my ancestor.”

Genealogical Evidence Guidelines

1. One record/source is never enough.

Any one piece of data can say anything. A mother might lie on her child’s birth certificate for a number of reasons. A grieving spouse might not correctly recall the information for a husband or wife’s death certificate. There are typos and omissions and messy handwriting with which to contend. Even a lone DNA test is not sufficient evidence to prove a family connection.

We need multiple sources, and different kinds of sources, which corroborate the details of the others.

marriage license genealogy

A single source is not enough. A marriage license does not guarantee that John and Griselda married. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

A census report and autosomal DNA test results.

A deed and a will.

A birth certificate and an obituary.

Or, better still, a birth certificate, a census report, a deed, a will, an obituary, and autosomal DNA test results.

2. The more contemporary the source is to the person or event in question, the better.

Records of events made immediately after the event tend to be more accurate, and provide better details, than records created months or years later. As time passes, details become fuzzy, two events can be confused with each other, and our memories fade.

The passage of time between an event and the record of the event also allows for some revisionist history to creep in.

Here are some examples:

A birth year is adjusted to make someone appear older or younger in order to avoid the draft, enlist in the military, mask a dramatic age difference between spouses, or conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.

An obituary ignores the deceased’s first marriage because of some embarrassment associated with that marriage.

A census report enumerates everyone in the household as natives of Stepney, London, when they really were born in Stepney, and Hackney, and Whitechapel, which explains why the baptismal records can’t be found in Stepney.

newspaper obituary

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

This is particularly true when it comes to autosomal DNA testing. My autosomal DNA is more useful for identifying my ancestors than is my son’s because I am one generation closer to those ancestors. This is the reason we encourage people to test the oldest members of their family first: their DNA has the potential to be the most useful simply because they are from an earlier generation (or two).

3. It is okay to make appropriate assumptions, but be careful!

In genealogical research we must sometimes make assumptions. When research theories are based on logical reasoning, it is perfectly acceptable to make those appropriate suppositions.

Determining which assumptions are appropriate can be simple: the two-year-old child enumerated in the home of a 90-year-old woman in the 1850 census can safely be eliminated as a biological child of that woman; the man born in 1745 could not have been buried in 1739; the person with whom I share 3150 cM of DNA is my sibling.

The challenge is to avoid making what seems like an appropriate assumption but is really based on faulty reasoning or bias. For instance, we presume that every child listed in a household in the 1860 U.S. Census is son or daughter of the two adults listed first. However, the household could include step-children, cousins, or individuals not even related to the family who were erroneously assigned the same surname.

Other inappropriate assumptions can include:

  • the notion that a baby was born within a week of his baptismal date;
  • a woman’s reported surname on her marriage certificate is her maiden name;
  • there is only one person in any village, town, or city with the name of your ancestor;
  • someone who shares 2000 cM of DNA with you must be your grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, half sibling, or grandchild (they could be a ¾ sibling, the child of one of your parents and the sibling of the other parent).

4. All of the data from the various sources must correlate, and there can be no unresolved contradictions.

When the birth certificate says Richard was born in 1914, the 1938 newspaper article about his wedding reports Richard was 24 years old and the 1942 World War II Draft Registration card notes Richard’s date of birth occurred in 1914, we can confidently declare Richard was born in 1914.

If the wedding article declared the groom was 23 years old the contradiction could be explained by the time of year in which the wedding occurred – before or after Richard’s birthday.

But if his birth certificate reported a 1914 birth, and the newspaper article noted Richard was 32 years old, while the World War II Draft Registration listed his year of birth as 1920, we have some important contradictions. It is most likely the records are for three different men with the same name.

genealogy record Tenney

 

additional genealogical evidence

By collecting additional evidence, we finally learn that Griselda and John Wise did marry, and after his death Griselda married Willis Tenney. If we had collected only one of these four records we would not have had the most accurate information regarding Griselda Paul. Photos courtesy https://familysearch.org.

It’s important to remember that once we have accomplished that initial goal of building out our tree a few generations (or identifying our immigrant ancestor, or determining if we are related to that historical person) we can – and should – go back and collect other sources related to that person. This will result in uncovering a more complete story of their lives in the process.

As we can see from the four documents regarding Griselda Paul’s marriages, her story is much more than a simple list of birth, marriage, and death dates. As we identify, review, and analyze the other available sources, Griselda’s story will come alive with the facts and details we uncover.

A Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Genealogy Brick Wall

Sometimes the wrong evidence or assumptions can push us into a brick wall. A fresh set of expert eyes can help you identify the problem, and recommend the sources you need to pursue in order to compile trustworthy evidence.

If you are looking for some assistance in your genealogical research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our affordable ($100 USD)  Genealogist-on-DemandTM Virtual Consultation service provides you with the opportunity for a 45 minute one-on-one discussion of your research with one of our expert genealogists. We can help guide you in evaluating evidence and determining research strategies to move forward with your research confidently. 

 

 

 

About the Author: Kate Eckman

Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.

Kate Eakman Legacy Tree Genealogists

Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman

 

[1] “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.

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