Vital For the Genealogy Services Provider:  A Thinking Cap

When the genealogy services provider is asked a difficult question, he or she must approach the answer with a set of
basic tools. Including that thinking cap!

It’s happened again and this RecordClick ancestry services provider who does professional genealogy research can only shake her head. A request came to my local genealogy society that gave some very basic information about an individual and asked if we knew when he died and where he was buried.

Simple… Right?


Someone experienced in professional ancestry research needs four things:

  • A knowledge of history and laws.
  • An atlas.
  • The desire to look around. And…
  • A thinking cap.

So, in my quest to provide genealogy services, I did a cursory internet search and found a family tree (actually several) that included the individual. The sources listed included two different censuses, a marriage record, and a family tree. The individual was listed as having died in 1885 – no sources listed – and his wife, born in the 1830s having died in the 1950s at the ripe old age of 120. The censuses and marriage records were available on the web site.

No need to look further. Sigh.thinking cap

When providing genealogy research services, censuses are a great starting point. Yet, usually, that is what they are – a starting point.

The person providing professional ancestry services should compare the information in the censuses.

Are names, ages and places of birth consistent? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Sometimes, inconsistencies are permissible. Sometimes, they are not.

That’s where the professional ancestry research thinking cap comes in.

Here’s an example.  In one of the censuses, a child is listed by a middle name. In the other census, he is listed by his first name. Then, in this type of scenario, the person providing professional genealogy research must find it the names, ages and places of birth consistent for the parents and if the siblings and their information is the same.

When you hire a genealogist, how does that genealogist get beyond names and ages?

The easy answer is:  by searching.  And by “searching”, I mean looking for original or primary documentation. For names and ages there are birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, death and burial records. They may—or may not–be found by the genealogy services professional on large, well known, web sites.

The home state of this professional genealogy services researcher, Nebraska, is rather stingy with its vital records. Some churches have placed records online or have contact information and a church history on the internet. The professional genealogical services researcher needs to put on that thinking cap and look around.

Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all method of genealogical research.

That person who contacted my genealogy society just wanted a death date and a burial location. Well, no death date or burial location can be found. So, one might think that it is, literally, a dead end. Right? No, not necessarily. When the genealogy services researchers with online trees were looking at the census information, they were collecting it because that is what they are supposed to do. But, did they read and analyze all of it? No. They did not.

This professional genealogy services specialist can tell because they neglected to mention land records. The 1870 census indicates information that the individual for whom the inquiring person is searching happened to own property. And this property was valued at $3,000. Nice.

An experienced genealogy services researcher will know that land is one of the most important investments an ancestor may have made. By purchasing land, the ancestor created a paper trail. That paper trail is treasured by the professional genealogist.

Currently, this professional genealogist is doing quite a bit of work with land patent records in the county where I live. Land patent records deal with properties an individual purchased from the government. Our ancestors were recorded when they procured land in a number of ways–by cash, homestead, and military scrip. Land patents in the United States can be found, for  free, on the Bureau of Land Management – General Land Office web site.

From working with these land patent records for my county, this genealogy services provider knows that the individual of interest did purchase the land from the government with cash. There is a deed record at the courthouse. My local genealogy group has a card file with well over 100,000 names. The individual was listed in the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Censuses. A son was married in the county in 1889. The family was still around.

Here is the next question for the genealogist:  what should be done next?

If there is a death involved, land records can be part of a will and probate. Whatever the situation, unless the courthouse burns, floods or blows away, there should be a record. It may provide insight as to where and when the property owner died and was buried. Sometimes, the genealogy services provider will find that land remains in a family for multiple generations. In the case of our local inquiry, we find that the land was sold and there were no other family members listed in the county in the 1900 U.S. Census.

There you have it. Another genealogy puzzle solved. And that is because this RecordClick professional ancestry provider has a lot of experience in looking around—and putting on that thinking cap.