Casefile Clues

04 July 2011

Problem Solving: An Example--

Problem Solving: An Example

From the Ancestry Daily News 18 May 2005

Thanks to all who sent me additional problem solving strategies based upon last week's column.

The key, as several pointed out, is that methodical and reasoned research is preferable to research that is unfocused and unorganized. This week we look at an example in light of the framework discussed last week.

Louise Mortier
Louise was born in Belgium in the 1850s and immigrated with her husband and one child in 1880. Our long-term project is to research her ancestry as completely as possible. Realizing that such a goal may never be achieved in one lifetime, my initial problem is to find a record of her christening or her birth. Such a document would provide the names of her parents and the date and place of her birth. With the goal now simply stated, we continue in our attempt to understand the problem as completely as possible.

Understand the Problem
Using research guides on the Family History Library website (www.familysearch.org), the Belgium Roots Project at RootsWeb (http://belgium.rootsweb.com), and the CarPark Introduction to Dutch and Belgian Genealogy Page (www.rabbel.info), I obtained some good background information. Based upon these guides it was apparent that there are records of births and christenings for the time period I need. However the use of these resources requires knowledge of the specific place of birth, which I do not have. My attempt to locate a christening record is put on hold while I work on my new problem: locating the village of birth.

This is still a specific problem. However, my search needs to remain focused in the United States, and I will need to use records created after Louise immigrated, documents I can probably locate using information I already have. Initially settling in Rock Island County, Illinois, in 1880, the family spent a few years across the Mississippi River in Scott County, Iowa, before returning to Illinois. Fortunately, Louise did not move much after her immigration. That will make this search easier.

This problem (and its solution) reinforces the importance of researching the more recent information on a person and working back in time, even when the real goal is to use earlier records and locate earlier generations. Researching a person‘s life from the end to the beginning is usually the best approach.

Sources that might provide Louise's place of birth include:

  • Her death certificate
  • Church records
  • Her obituary
  • Death records on her children
  • Family sources

The location of each of these records is a problem in and of itself. But that is the great thing about having a focused problem (locating her place of birth). It allows you to brainstorm for all the possible sources that might contain the desired information. I need to think, “What document could contain the name of that village?”

One Search at a Time
Given when Louise died, there are two paper copies of her death certificate: one at the county in which she died and one at the state department of vital records. While each record should contain the same information, one may be easier to access or cheaper to obtain than another. There may even be additional ways to access the records, such as microfilm copies in alternate locations. In this case, the records from the state office have been reproduced on film and are available through a personal visit to the Illinois State Archives or via loan to my local Family History Center. Again, learning about the records indicates that I have several options.

Records from Louise's church may also indicate information about her origin. A mention of her death or funeral is the most likely item to mention her birthplace, but other types of church records may provide similar information. Some denominations may include in their records where members were baptized or confirmed. Such a location would obviously be helpful for Louise.

Louise's obituary may also provide information on her origin. It is imperative to think about every newspaper that might have carried such a notice. There were several newspapers in the Rock Island area that should be searched. Morning and the evening editions should be referenced if appropriate. Rock Island also had a large Belgian ethnic community and the potential for a Flemish language newspaper should also be considered.

I may even need to go beyond Louise's death to locate her place of birth. The death records for Louise's children may also provide information on her origin as well. All of Louise's children died during a time when the death record has a space for place of birth of parent. The record may simply say “Belgium” but there is always the chance that it says something more. I will not know until I look.

There Are Other Sources as Well
The listing of items mentioned here is not complete. They are the sources I would search for first based upon the time period, the location, the denomination, and the ethnic origin of the focus person. Different times, different places, and different people will call for different solutions. This is one reason why reading and studying case studies of similar problems is vital for the genealogist. How someone else solved another problem may provide you with the clues to solve your own.

Some Records Might Not Help
While every extant record should be included in a comprehensive research plan, there are some records that are probably not going to provide the desired information.

Naturalization records are not likely to be helpful in this situation. Given the era, Louise was not naturalized in her own right and her husband's pre-1907 naturalization reveals little information on his origins and none on hers. The family's appearance on a ship manifest, located initially through the Immigrant Ship Transcriber's Guild (www.immigrantships.net) and later confirmed by accessing the actual manifest, also provide no specific clues as to the family's origins.

Devising the Plan
So far, we have just worked to understand our problem. This is always the first and most detailed step. We continue the process. For each source, I will determine how that source will be accessed.

Carrying Out the Plan
The source will be searched and the search and the search results will be recorded.

Going Back
With every completed search, I will:

  • Compare what I have found with what I already had located.
  • Learn more about the records if necessary.
  • Check my assumptions.

In a future column, we'll see what record provided the missing place of birth and look at problems where the location of such information requires even more analysis and problem solving.


This article originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 18 May 2005. We are posting old articles here on the Rootdig.com blog.