Tips from the Pros: Go Back and Get it Again, from Michael John Neill

Have you gone back and reviewed documents that you located early in your research? Family historians should not only review copies of records in their files, but also original materials from which notes and comments were made. Re-reading the complete records from which notations were made may cause overlooked clues to be discovered.

I was fortunate that I grew up within a few miles of the courthouse that contained many court and probate records of my ancestors. My initial viewing of these materials was done early in my research when I was still partially in what I call my “name-collecting” phase. If it didn’t mention a known or obvious relative, I did not always write it down. I only copied documents that mentioned relatives and addresses or residences. For this reason, I am in the process of seeking out and reviewing documents located early in my research for unnoticed clues.

As soon as I reviewed the 1870 era probate file I remembered having seen the phrase “Kentucky mortgage” before. However, I did not deem it worthy of writing down the first time I read the file. Now, the phrase meant something to me. My “follow-up” research on that phrase located Kentucky land records and led me to discover that one branch of the family had lived for more than a decade in Kentucky¬–something which I had never known before.

Reviewing what is in your files is a good idea. But going back and looking at the original materials from which notes were taken early in your research might be a good idea as well. You may find some overlooked clues as well.

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6 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Go Back and Get it Again, from Michael John Neill

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with re-reviewing the original documents. I have noticed over 7 years of research that leads I passed over in my early research were actually fruitful ones. We gain a lot of knowledge over the years, and once we get past the obvious sources it becomes necessary to research the less obvious threads. Many times one can figure out previously unrealized familial relationships by the witnesses at weddings and baptisms, the friends who emmigrated with your ancestor, etc. And short of a Will, the familial relationships among lots of names are the hardest to figure out.

  2. I just went through this process last night and discovered a couple of pages from a book that mention ancestors who are thirteen generations removed from me! I had copied these pages from some book I found in the library when I was a teenager and I failed to write down the name of the book. Now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do that. I may have found the connection between my generation and those long before now!Remember to cite your sources. I’ve been doing genealogy for thirty three years and I’m just now learning that it is important to do it!

  3. This is so true. Besides gaining knowledge as we progress with projects, the project itself may have taken a turn, making previously inconsequential details crucial. A periodic review is an excellent idea.

  4. This is so true! I’ve found lots of clues and tidbits of interesting family relationships this way. When I was just learning to search, there were so many things I didn’t know to look for, and going through my sister’s notes also, with “fresh eyes” seeing things she didn’t notice, either! And names pop up later that didn’t seem to have any connection at first. I found that a whole bunch of people who came to Maine in the 1630’s and seemed to “know each other” were actually distantly related in my family!

  5. Good advice for anyone, especially those of us who are “babes” in the woods of genealogy! Thanks for your article!

  6. AMEN!
    As I put away my school materials for the summer and start my annual family history work, I go back over stuff (after all at my age I forget details from before). Yesterday I was re-reading my ggggrandfather’s scrapbook from 1865 – 1902). In it are news articles, helpful hints and obituaries. For years I’ve been trying to document the date of his mother-in-law’s death and place of burial. No evidence of death certificate in IL. I found a two-line death notice for her among the many pages, AND it named the cemetery! I called and there she was along with her “missing husband”(who also doesn’t have a death certificate but he does have a coroner’s report).

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