This post contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.
I receive a lot of reader questions in my email. You guys ask some of the best questions! I read every email and answer as many as I possibly can.
Often you have the same or similar questions, so I thought it would be best to answer some of your questions here in a post. I have tried to pick questions that are representative of common questions and/or frustrations. All posts you read here on the blog are created based on a reader’s question and/or comment. The questions below do not typically require a full post.
My great grandmother had two sons born out of wedlock and have her last name. Can’t
seem to get past this hiccup. – Margaret
Researching illegitimate children can be tough. Sometimes the answer is not found. (Sad, but true.) One thing that trips researchers up is the child’s last name. Typically, a child born out of wedlock took the mother’s last name. Even if the father’s identity was common knowledge, the child used the mother’s name. The exception to this is when the father acknowledged and/or accepted the child or if the father and mother lived in what essentially became a common law marriage.
Be sure to consider that siblings born out of wedlock could have had different fathers.
DNA and genetic genealogy has opened up new avenues of research of the illegitimate ancestor. Your research won’t be complete without utilizing DNA testing. AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA are both great testing companies.
You might also be interested in Determining An Illegitimate Ancestor’s Parents .
My biggest frustration is when I can’t find birth or death records….. – Bonnie
Perhaps one of the most common theme of genealogy questions involves finding – or not – finding birth and death records for an ancestor. Often I see researchers searching for records that do not exist. For example, birth certificates and death certificates are fairly modern records. NC did not require the use of birth certificates until 1913 and even then compliance was inconsistent until the WWI.
When searching for birth or death records, know what records were created for the time and place of the event. Don’t spend time searching for a birth certificate for an ancestor born in 1896. It did not exist. Other types of records will need to be used to determine that ancestor’s birth date.
For more information on finding birth and death records visit these posts: How To Determine Your Ancestor’s Birth Date (Even When No Birth Record is Found) and How to Find Your Ancestor’s Death Date (Even When There Is No Death Certificate)
I no longer have anyone in my family to interview, they have all passed away or have dementia. – Sheila
This is unfortunately often the reality for many researchers. Oral history is an important step in the research process when it is available. While not always accurate, oral history does hold clues to a family’s history and unique stories. I encourage you not to pass up an opportunity to interview a family member with dementia or a memory issue. Sometimes the long term memories are still intact.
For more on interviewing a relative with dementia, check out these tips: 5 Tips for Interviewing a Family Member With Dementia.
Name spellings, name changes and different names…. – Lots of readers!
Questions about your ancestors’ names came from many readers! Spellings and different forms of my ancestors’ names confused me so much in the early years of genealogy research. Still do, sometimes!
Do not get too locked in on one way to spell your ancestor’s name. Spelling was not really standardized (at least genealogically speaking) until the 1900’s and even then not always. When a census taker or other record recorder wrote your ancestor’s name, they may have spelled the name as they presumed the name was spelled. Record keepers also did not have great handwriting all the time. This can cause transcription errors and cause the researcher not to recognize an ancestor in a database or index.
Do not miss recognizing your ancestor in the records because they used one name at home or in their cultural community and one name in the formal American records. If you have an immigrant ancestor, he/she may have gone by one name – their birth name – in the family and religious community, but may have chosen to go by a more Americanized name in the formal records of their new homeland.