How do I tell a document relates to my ancestor?

In the last post, I discussed how genealogy websites are helpful in identifying sources that might relate to your ancestor. I also noted that a source might be identified based only a name match. How do you tell which sources actually belong to your ancestor?

There are a few questions you should ask:

  1. Was this source created in or does it discuss a period in which my ancestor was alive? An ancestor who died in the 1830s won’t have a Civil War pension, but they might show up in a 20th century family history book.
  2. Was this source created in or does it discuss a location in which my ancestor might have lived? Pay attention to travel patterns for the time period in which your ancestor lived. An ancestor isn’t going to have multiple cross country jumps every year in the 1880s. Travel wasn’t that easy. However, they might have made the same trip across multiple years.
  3. Do family members recorded on this source match what we know about my ancestor’s family? Don’t just look at your ancestor’s name; check the family members as well. If you know your grandfather’s siblings and none of them are listed, it’s possible the source refers to a different person of the same name.
  4. Does the source record an activity that would be likely given my ancestor’s age? A 70 year old wasn’t typically an Army private; a teenager probably didn’t hold public office. Your ancestor’s age can provide a good hint as to whether the source does or does not belong to them.

Looking beyond the ancestor’s name and birth date can help you confirm that the source actually relates to your ancestor.

Published by Bryna O'Sullivan

Proprietor of Charter Oak Genealogy, Bryna O'Sullivan specializes in assisting clients with lineage society applications and with French to English genealogical translations.

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