Extracting and Organizing Clues

I love the holidays! This is the season for stories, memories and enjoying the people around us. As mentioned in the preface to this newsletter, I’ll be taking a little break after Christmas to spend some time with my family. The past couple of years have been more than a bit tumultuous years around here and most of my time off had to be used on unexpected developments that called for immediate attention. Who knows? Maybe this little vacation will allow for a little down-time and even a few hours spent with my ancestors.

This week we’re transitioning to a new Learning Center, in what’s turned out to be a very manual process. I’ve been moving a lot of the columns written over the years, either to the new newsletter archive, or to a saved file to be updated as time permits, it’s been like a trip down memory lane.

I’ve often used examples from my own family history in articles, and if there’s one thing that thirteen and a half years of writing about family history has taught me, it’s that the best way to shine a light on inconsistencies and find new clues in research is to try to write an article about it.

It’s always helpful to write your own “articles” when you run into a challenge in your family history research. This “article” doesn’t even have to be in paragraph form. Even simply extracting clues from records and inserting your own thoughts and notes can bring a little clarity. Whether it’s sorting out who’s who (and more importantly who’s yours), or trying to resolve conflicting dates, putting your thoughts in writing (handwriting or electronically—either is fine) will help you to sort out facts and clear out any assumptions that may be clouding your thinking.

Your first step is to grab the records you have for the individual and extract details from the records so that you can look for clues. Then look at the records together and add your own notes and observations. Below is a sample summary of some of the census records and a marriage index entry I found for my brother-in-law’s great-grandmother on Ancestry.com.


As I began going through each census, column-by-column, several things jumped out at me, one of the most notable of which was the notation that this was not Clara’s first marriage.

When I attached the records I had found to Clara in the online tree I created for the family on Ancestry.com, I found that Ancestry.com was showing four hints (possible matches) for other records that might pertain to her.


I could quickly rule out the first entry, since the Clara in that record had died in 1944 under her married name of Crowe. Our Clara was Clara Stitz between at least 1895 and 1930 according to what I had found. The other three entries were interesting. In addition to matching the name, down to the middle initial, Clara B. Crow had been born in 1866 in Illinois—close enough to warrant closer scrutiny. Upon inspecting the records, the three hints all referred to the same Clara and her family, but in looking at the places of birth for her parents, the father gave his birthplace as Pennsylvania and mom showed Indiana, in contrast with the consistent Illinois/Maryland birthplaces Clara gave for her parents in the 20th century censuses. Was she mistaken? It’s possible, but I won’t be banking on it.

If I hadn’t really familiarized myself with the details on those 20th century enumerations, and noticed that M2 on the 1910 census (indicating this was not her first marriage), I might have jumped at those hints and possibly wrongly attached them to the tree.

I did a couple more searches for Clara, leaving off her surname since I’m not sure of it, and using the other details I know about her. I did find a Clara B. Grove in 1880, living in Livingston County, Illinois, who was of the right age and had a father born in Illinois and mother born in Maryland. Looking at a map, I can also see that Livingston County, Illinois is closer to Jasper and Benton Counties in Indiana than Coles County, Illinois, where the hinted Clara was living. So is this perhaps our girl? Again, I won’t be jumping to any conclusions.

Fortunately, there may be a fairly simple way to solve this dilemma. It all goes back to that marriage index. Marriage records from this period often include details about the parentage of the bride and groom. I need to get a copy of the actual record, which will include more details than the index. I have several options. Since I live about an hour from the courthouse where the record is held, perhaps a road trip will be in order next week when I’m off. If I can’t manage that, the description for that marriage index tells me that many of these records are available at the Family History Library and I may find that a local Family History Center has copies of that film.


There’s still plenty to be done researching Clara and her family, but this exercise is a good reminder to step back and take a look at the whole picture before grafting new limbs onto your family tree.

Juliana has been writing and editing Ancestry.com newsletters for more than thirteen years and is hoping to find a Brick Wall Buster 2000 under her tree this year. Santa?

Other articles in the 18 December 2011 Weekly Discovery 

Scanning Sense  

Family History Tip: Clipping Tip 

Photo Corner