Fast, Easy Cheesy Citations

After learning the hard way, I always copy the “wrapper” on any legal document of which I make copies. In addition to usually indicating what the document actually is, there will be a filing date and other details of the case.

Making a copy or taking a picture means I don’t have to write all that information down.

But I do need to capture it so that I can later cite the records used.

It’s fast. It’s easy and gets the job done when you’re researching on site and time is of the essence.

Learn more about citations in   Evidence Explained or subscribe to (226) 303-6248to learn more about record analysis, documentation, and interpretation.


Every database, index, finding aid, etc. has one “pitfall.” There may be a small portion of records that are missing. There may be a location whose name is spelled wrong in the database. The search screen may not work quite like other search screens you use. Every name listed on every record may not be in the index.

Being aware of pitfalls does not mean you are focusing on the negative. It means you are aware of the limitations of the finding aid.

And that makes you better able to use it appropriately.

Do You Know the Typicals?

For every location in which you are actively researching, do you know when civil vital records start?Do you know what information is likely contained in those records during various time periods? Do you know how to locate court, land, probate, and other local records during the period of interest? Do you know when directories, county histories, and local histories were published? And if you are aware of the typical records and what they typically contain do you always look outside the box for sources that are easy to overlook or difficult to research or understand.

Don’t limit yourself to the typical. There may be more.


If you can’t find where your relative died, is it possible that she died in a state hospital several counties away? During the late 19th and early 20th century, it was not uncommon to institutionalize family members that relatives could no longer care for. They may have died in a state institution several counties away in a place where you have not thought to look for a death certificate.

And, if the family was of very limited means, the person of interest may have been buried in an unmarked grave on the facility’s grounds.

Going Poof to the Lead Mine in 1847

A man and his son who lived in Southern Illinois enlisted in the Mexican War in 1848 from Galena, Illinois–in the northwestern part of the state. I wasn’t certain it was him. His widow’s pension explained why they were so far from home.

They had gone to work in the lead mines.

What economic factors might have made your ancestors move? Don’t forget that even farmers may have taken an off-farm job for a while–and that may have been a distance from home.

That’s exactly what this man and his son did. After the war they returned to farming.


If a document refers to two men as brothers is it possible that they are not full brothers? Could they be:

  • half-brothers?
  • step-brothers?
  • brothers-in-law?
What type of “document” makes a difference? Was it an obituary–who gets listed as a “brother” might not be a full biological sibling? Was it an inheritance document? Was it a reference a letter or a story passed down?
From the standpoint of trying to determine parentage and relationships, the difference makes a difference.
Sometimes things might not mean exactly what we think they mean.

Please Copy

It is not unusual in pre-1900 newspaper articles to see the phrase “please copy” at the end of the article along with a name of a newspaper or city. That was a notation that the story would hold some interest for the readers of that paper as well.

That phrase “please copy Warsaw Signal” could be a clue the person mentioned in the article would be known to readers of that paper.

And that could be a clue.