WHY IT'S HARD TO FIND PAPER TRAILS?
Most novices think the extent of genealogy is
searching for birth certificates, death certificates, Marriage licenses,
Federal immigration records, and tax roles. They don't think in more
in-depth terms until they looked straight into the sultry, secretive
eyes of the genealogy demon, looking for bits and pieces of our past.
Paper was invented over 2,000 years ago. For that reason, we expect to
find remnants of paper-trails left by our ancestors. While there are
some ancient records existing today, and many haven't even been found
yet, but so much has been lost for ever.
Even in America, to one degree or another, records
have been maintained over the last two centuries by individuals,
churches, old businesses, family bibles, etc. And every level of
government has made and kept [tried to keep] records and documents since
before President George Washington whacked down Papa's cherry tree. But
here's the sad part. Archived paper records don't last forever. Blame it
on mishandling, neglect, elements of nature, floods, tornadoes-you name
it. Still, human neglect has destroyed the majority of the paper trail
left to posterity over past eons; carelessness being the main culprit;
storing them on dusty shelves, in cellars, in closets, and in record
vaults to one degree or another without humidity and temperature
control. Paper disintegrates naturally as adhesives binding the pulp
breaks down. Preserving documents have always required an intense,
costly chemical process, understood and master by few. And consider
there was no means of microfilming or photo copying until the 20th
WE FIND OUR ANCESTORS BY BEING SMART DETECTIVES:
Few of us can afford to buy every roll of microfiche
or CD ROM available that "might" contain records possibly
holding clues to our ancestors. So, where does that leave us? It means
were work harder and smarter. We do it by thinking logically and using
ever available resource. Our greatest resources being our minds-brain
power. It is the most complex, most powerful computer on the face of the
If we believe a clue is but one piece of
information, we are defeated before we begin. We must wring every drop
of logical sense out of each clue we have. A clue is a tool for
research. It may not have any value in itself, but when used as a piece
of a whole puzzle, it may be a golden key for unlocking ancient doors. A
genealogist must take a clue and dissect it, examine it, then do it
again and again, until every spec of information has been dismantled and
gleaned for its value. Then write it down in a log or record in some
meaningful order. Always revisit the clue and see if it later fits with
A complex machine is nothing more than a combination
of simple machines, each doing its part of the primary process. Truth is
like a complex machine. It is a collection of small bits of information,
each telling a small part of the truth, and when we organize these clues
in a logical order, we begin reconstruct the truth. Along the way, a
clue may give rise to another theory, and we begin yet another avenue of
searching. Genealogists are some of the most tenacious detectives, in
the strictest sense of the word, to be found. If I ever committed a
crime and wanted to vanish from society, I wouldn't want them on my
trail, for a true genealogist leaves no stone unturned, no clues
Genealogists often have little to go on but common
sense, a few clues, and a gut feeling. What we must do is learn to
think, reason, collect clues, and collate facts in the same methodical,
logical, and orderly fashion as professional missing persons
investigators. We must keep records of our sources and our research to
prevent us from retracing old trails.
Suppose there is no birth certificate on file
documenting when G,G, Grandmother, Sarah Jones, was born. Finally, your
interment search located a marked grave, only the tombstone's born-date
is reportedly eroded beyond recognition. You must then ask, what I know
about her. You know when she was married in 1840. You know her Father's
name was Frank C. Jones. Her mother was Sue Ann. Here's where we give
our brains a little exercise in deductive logic.
Up through the 1980, legal accountability for a
female was age 12 or 13, especially in rural life. Usually, for a male
it was 16. The reason being, raising families was tough on the farm, and
the sooner a girl was married off, the lighter the burden of feeding and
clothing. You usually gained another male in the family to help out with
heavy chores when needed.
Considering that she had to have been at least 12
[minimum] when she was married [some exceptions]. That would make her
born at the latest, about 1928. This "proves nothing", but it
does indicate a point in time to begin working our way forward and save
wasting time and effort going back even further.
An excellent source for age determination is often a
census record, even for children, and any member living in a particular
household at the time of the census. Try locating a county/state/federal
census record(s) for all the county/counties Frank C. Jones is believed
to have lived in, starting from 1920 [five years earlier than you
estimated the minimum date Granny could have been born], then search
forward. A census won't give the DOB of any family member, but it will
give the ages of everyone in the household at that time.
Example: In an old census, suppose you found...
1830 State Census For Covington Co. AL
Jones, Frank C. M 42 Farmer Assets $820.00
Sue Ann F 36
Jones, Sarah F 6
Jimmy John M 3
Mary Lou F 1
Ezra J. Garfied M 10 (Cousin)
As you can see, Sarah Jones was age six in 1930.
Counting backwards, with confidence, you can safely conclude Granny
Jones was born in either 1824 or 1825. Therefore, 1824 is a time frame
you can use to begin searching for other information relative to her.
Also note, the live in cousin. Notes like this often come in handy later
on in research.
Genealogy is all about logic. It's all about finding
pieces that fit by deductive and inductive logic. And just because
someone doesn't show up on any census report doesn't mean anything.
Census, the early 20th century was a lot hunting and guess work, and
many, many families with many generations in rural areas were never
recorded in any census-ever. There was a lack of roads, communication,
and much of the rural areas were virtually unexplored and inaccessible,
even for government census takers. Many births or deaths were never
recorded by the government.
This situation is where things like bible records
and old church minutes come in handy. People were born, lived out their
lives, and generation after generation, had families, never paid any
taxes, never wrote mailed a single letter, and died without the outside
world knowing they ever existed. That's the way rural America was, and
that's precisely why genealogists learn it pays to become the best
detective they can be.