Thinking outside the box to enhance your genealogy research? How to…

Even the most experienced genealogist forgets sometimes to think outside the box or to return to the basics of genealogy research. You don’t need fancy terms or methods to realize that genealogy research is really about asking questions and locating documents to support your findings. You can begin with drafting a timeline and then develop a “research plan” that will guide your research. When drafting a plan, first think about what you want to know about your ancestor. For example, you want to locate more information about Joseph Brand Davis, i.e., birth, marriage(s), death, military service, and land ownership. Ask, what do I know about this ancestor? What records & resources do I need and who else might know about Joseph, now make a list, set up the plan, and a timeline. The timeline is outlining any and all events that happened during your ancestor’s life. With the list & timeline look for clues, leads, gaps and new questions that might come up.

What I know about Joseph Brand Davis: born in Philadelphia, PA, per oral history, parents were William and Mildred Brand. His father was born in PA, mother born in VA. Two siblings were born in Ohio. Joseph homesteaded 160 acres next door to his father in Benzie Michigan. He was married to Mary Bell Imes, Rose Koerner and Rose Davis and has children from each marriage. Joseph donated two acres of land to the Reorganized Church of the LDS in Joyfield Township. He died in 1915.


What I want to know about Joseph Brand Davis: where in PA was he born, where in Ohio were his siblings born, when & where did each marriages occur, when did he donate the land, did he serve in the military and where did Joseph die. What else can you add?


What records do I need and where do I locate them: birth, death, marriages are at the state vital statistics office, local courthouse, historical society and the local library might have birth records & land records, land & taxes check county or city tax assessors and the state & federal land office, in addition don’t forget to check local history’s, biographies, etc. Joseph had three families, research “each” family member. What other records do you need and where do you locate them?

If you have obtained a record remember to ask yourself-what record is created by another record. For example, I was reminded to become more creative with death records while attending the Family Tree University Virtual Conference ( Listening to Diana Crisman Smith’s session on “Getting more creative with death records” Diana shared that typically, once we have retrieved a death record we conclude that is it, it’s a death record, nothing else will be found about this ancestor. So, now is the time make a list of what records create other records. Make this a column on your timeline.

What records create other records: death records create funeral records, coroner’s record, obits, which leads to a possible newspaper notice, hospital records, information in the family bible and more. Land record-there are two sides to a real estate transaction, but actually there are three sides: a buyer and seller and when land ownership is transferred the local government will also be involved and another record is created, such as, inventories, survey’s, collecting doc stamps, recording and filing fees. Can you think of more?

Remember to write where you acquired the known information about this ancestor. A good example is –state the resource, such as a personal interview with Grandma (her full name), write down the date, and list where you were for the interview. This could also be a record-retrieved from land records from, Michigan Land Records for 1880-1903, page # or certificate number 123.

Sample timeline

Date Event Location Resource Other records Notes Check off when Completed
1839 Birth son, Joseph Brand Davis Chambersburg, Franklin County, PA Baptism record, from ROLDS, Announcements, newspaper, church, family bible, birth Not born in Philadelphia. Mother should be Mildred Brand Davis, b. Richmond, VA 1825 done
1840 Census Franklin Co. PA 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line] Public records, land, taxes, follow neighbors & children, indexes No other record located yet done
1849 Birth, son, James Buchanan Shippenburg, FR, PA Death record-Michigan 1867-1897 Announcements, newspaper, indexes, church, family bible, coronor, was it an accident or? FR=Franklin Co. note the gap from birth of Joseph to James, there must be more children that were born/died, or was Joseph not the son of William and Mildred? done
1850 Census Franklin Co. PA Census record retrieved 1850; Census Place: Antrim, Franklin, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_782; Page: 461B; Image: 420. Public records, land, taxes, follow neighbors & children, indexes   done
1858 Land sold Antrim Twp. Franklin Co. Pa Deed retrieved from Franklin Co. Court house, 2009 Public records, land, taxes, follow neighbors Land sold to Rev. Wm. Coursey for $1,000 done
1859 Land purchased, 25 acres Medina Co. Ohio Deed retrieved from Medina public records (get book and page) Public records, land, taxes, indexes, mortgages ,follow neighbors William and family was living in Wayne Co, Ohio when purchasing in Medina Co. $900 per deed done
1860 Census Medina Co. PA 1860; Census Place: Westfield, Medina, Ohio; Roll: M653_1007; Page: 54; Image: 111; Family History Library Film: 805007 Public records, land, taxes, follow neighbors & children Joseph also listed in Wayne Co. census-double counted  

Good luck and share your ideas of thinking outside the box.

About familytreegirl

Shelley Murphy, aka “familytreegirl”, a native of Michigan residing in Central Virginia, Shelley has been an avid genealogist for over 25+ years researching the Davis, Marsh, Goens/Goins/Goings, Roper, Boyer, Worden, Cureton, and Murphy family lines. She is a Coordinator and faculty for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI), presents Genealogy 101 workshops at the local community college, state and national genealogy conferences. She holds a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership and works as an adjunct professor for Averett University. Murphy is known for her inspiring and interactive “Getting Started” Methods and Strategies for genealogy research, “Time and File management” along with interesting problem-solving methodology lectures. Shelley currently has 20+ publications with Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner and the Central Virginia Heritage, a publication of the Central Virginia Genealogical Association. She is an instructor for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI). Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Adjunct Professor, Professional Genealogist. Volunteers for American Red Cross as a Disaster Services Instructor, facilitates financial education workshops for the last 8 years, and former licensed Real Estate Broker
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