Genealogical Hints

Birth Records | Census | Chicago | Galicia | Interviews | Marriage Records
Military | Miscellaneous | Ship Manifests | Surnames

Birth Records

Determining Birth Dates – A family photo can often help determine birth dates. I was fortunate to have such a photo of my grandmother and her siblings but, with the exception of my grandmother, I had no idea when the others were born. Looking at the photo I decided my grandmother appeared to be about 10 years old. Judging from the appearance and sizes of the others, I “assigned” them ages. Since I knew when my grandmother was born, I estimated the birth year of the others. After a time, as new facts came to light, I was pleased to find that the “guesses” came quite close to reality and in some instances were even exact.

RJL, April 2000

Do You Have All Your Children? – Once you think you have all the children in a family listed, you might consider, “checking the spacing.” Children born early in a marriage are usually a little less than two years apart. Later children are more likely to come at greater intervals (often 33 to 36 months). Large gaps between children, especially early on, may indicate an incomplete pregnancy, stillbirth or simply someone overlooked in the original search.

RJL, April 2000

No Twins in Our Family! – When my grandmother bore twins, the story was that her mother couldn’t understand how such a thing could happen. If great grandmother was around today, I could tell her that several families in my great-grandfather’s family as well as her own had twins. But in each case only one survived and so, most likely, none of the younger siblings was even aware that twins had been born.

RJL, April 2000

Double check, it pays– When doing research on birth records, particularly in the 1800s and earlier, always immediately check the death records from the birth date out a few years to assure that you located the correct ancestor. Infant mortality was very high in those days and many families reused the given name once or twice for a another child. Sometimes this happened with the next child of the same sex or even much later in the birth order.

Carol Wywialowski, April 2000


Look Beyond That Census Line – Considering the effort it can sometimes take to find a family in the census, the satisfaction of finally locating them is well deserved. But before you go on to the next challenge, check out other names before and after your “found” entry. Relatives, especially new immigrants, often lived close to each other and may turn up on nearby pages.

RJL, April 2000

Where in the Census Are They? – If you are having a problem locating a family in the census, check any documents in your files that were generated around the census year. A birth or death record, city directory information, etc., could provide a street name and/or number that can be of considerable help especially for families in large cities. For Chicago, the Newberry Library or Chicago Historical Society may be able to identify the ward for the address you have and help you narrow your search.

RJL, April 2000


Street Number Changes! – Is it possible your families lived in a city where street numbers and names changed. Chicago streets were renumbered in 1909 and many streets were renamed as well. The Chicago Historical Society can assist you in a cross-reference of the old and new names and numbers.

RJL, April 2000


New Parish Recieves Records – Typically in the 1800s, many churches in Galicia provided separate pages for each village’s vital records — births (baptism), marriages, and deaths. These pages were loose leaf (held together by a string), and when a new church was built in an area covered by the old church, the records were transferred. Some of the earlier records were not segregated by village and were kept in the “old church”.

In researching these areas, it is important to know when the new church was built — if after your ancestors came to the US, you may be looking in the wrong place. If it is a new church after the mid 1900s, the old church records may have been microfilmed and are available for viewing at the Family History Library.

Joan Schmidt, January 2000


You may find that interviewing family members provides some of the most interesting information about your family. Learning about hobbies, family traditions, and personalities can really bring the names in your family tree to life!

When you interview family members and record an oral history, remember that you’re an interested relative, not a hard-nosed reporter. Recording an oral history should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved, and you’re more likely to get good results if that’s the case.

Tips for Oral History Interviews:

1. Bring a tape recorder, or pen and paper, or both. If vou want to use a tape recorder, make sure you get prior permission from the person you’re interviewing.

2. Make sure you record the date and location of the interview, as well as the name of the interviewer and the interviewee.

3. Ask questions to start things off, but don’t be afraid to let the person you’re interviewing talk “off the subject.” You may get some of the best stories this way.

4. If you ask “when” something happened, the answer will often be “I don’t know,” because the individual doesn’t recall the exact date or year. Instead of asking “when,” ask the question in relation to another event. For example, did an event take place before or after the individual got married, or before or after the individual’s parents died? You can also begin the question with “About how old were you when….” Using these techniques, you’re more likely to get answers.

[email protected], January 2002

Marriage Records

Finding a Marriage Date – If you know the birth date of the oldest child in a family, in a number of cases you will find the marriage approximately a year earlier. But don’t assume this is always true. Sometimes the marriage date may be within a few months before of after the birth. (Yes, those things even happened way back then!) Also, consider that the first child in the marriage may have died and so the individual you know as the “oldest” was actually born a number of years after the parents married.

RJL, April 2000


The new WWII Memorial is nearing completion. The dedication is in May. The website for the memorial has a searchable database. You can register your own relatives who served in WWII – including a photo.

Cynthia Piech, March 2004


Creating a Composite Sketch – As in any detective work, finding someone is easier with a picture. In genealogy, a “picture” composed not of physical features but facts can be just as helpful. On a single sheet with their name at the top, record the facts you have about someone. List things you haven’t verified in a separate area and call it “Maybe” or whatever title makes sense to you. Include such items on the sheet as vital statistics, occupation, places of residence at specific times, names of spouse, parents, etc. You may me surprised at how much you do know about your “mystery person.” And on your next research trip you don’t have to carry multiple books or pieces of paper to track your person down.

RJL, April 2000

Data Gathering – There is a fundamental technique that I have found useful for maintaining some order out of chaos in my genealogical pursuits. It is the old fashioned ledger or diary. As the hours, days, weeks go by, past family events, ideas, bits and pieces of genealogical information are generated that need to be noted in a chronological way. All that is needed is a simple notebook; dated notations that can be reviewed periodically for downloading into your computer files and for follow ups at later dates. I found this simple technique indispensable as relying solely on memory doesn’t work.

Harry Kurek, July 2000

Keep a “Not Ours?” File – We all come across people that seem to have something in common with our families. . .but are they related or not? In the back of each notebook or folder you keep with your family information, keep a section called, “Not Ours?”. Put any information on potential relatives in this area. I’ve found that over the years I’ve been able to relocate a number of these individuals from their “Not Ours?” obscurity to their rightful place with other family members.

RJL, April 2000

Ship Manifests

Family Immigration History Center – The Ellis Island site went online April 30, 2001 with records from 1892 to 1924. The search is free and the actual ship manifest can be viewed online. Copies of the manifests can be purchased via the Ellis Island Foundation for 11” X 17” $25.00 or 17” X 22” $35.00. A useful feature of the database is the ability to bring up a text list of fellow travelers. Unfortunately, the database is marred with many surname and village typos. Website Address.

Hamburg’s Link to Your Roots Site – The sitebecame active in March 2000 with the years 1890 – 1892. The database will span 1890 to 1914, and finally 1850 and 1934. The initial search is free but researchers must use a credit card to retrieve the data in a text file. The actual manifest is not online. The first three passengers’ data is $20.00 USD. Website Address.

December 2003


Feminine Name Endings – Especially for those who are new to genealogy, if your grandmother’s name has an “a” on the end (such as Jankowska), don’t ignore the Jankowski name (although with that common name you will probably find more than you want to research). Names ending in “a” or “owna” often–but not always–denote that the person was female. Fred Hoffman’s, “Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings” is a great reference for those kinds of problems.

RJL, April 2000