Or, what you think you know versus what you really know.
My daddy was born in rural Effingham County, Georgia, in an old house my grandparents lived in for years and years and years. The house was so old that about 25 years ago it finally just collapsed in on itself. Now there’s not even a pile of rubble left. I’ve known this all my life. That my grandparents were from Effingham County. That my daddy was born there and grew up there. I knew Daddy had two older brothers, and since he was born in 1934, one was two years older than him and one about four years older, so I guessed that Granddaddy and Grandma were married about 1925-1930. So I went to Graddaddy’s Overview page in Ancestry and clicked on the “Search Historical Records” link. Over 1.8 million results and nothing relevant on the first page. So I clicked on the “Birth, Marriage & Death” link under “Narrow By Category.” That dropped it to half a million, still too many and still nothing on the first page of results.
I clicked on the button “Edit Search” and entered the year 1928 and +/- 2 years for the date range, and added the location “Effingham County, Georgia, USA” to the search panel. 209 results, but nothing on the first page for Effingham County or where the names matched my grandparents. So I went back into “Edit Search” and clicked on the “Exact” check box for the marriage location and clicked “Search”.
Nothing. Nada. Zip. No results to display.
What?? Now I started digging. If you go back up to the “Search” button at the top of any page and hover over it you can click on “Birth, Marriage & Death”. In the right column under “Narrow by Category” click on “Marriage & Divorce”. Under “Browse Catalog” click on USA. Now under “Filter by Location” in the left column scroll down and click on the state, Georgia. Ancestry has three primary databases for marriage records in Georgia: Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944 (216,770 records), Georgia Marriages to 1850 (167,492 records) and Georgia Marriages, 1851-1900 (83,321 records). There is some overlap, but in some of my early research I had had great luck finding marriages using these three indexes. But guess what? They aren’t complete indexes. Not by a long shot.
Click on the first one, Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944. This takes you to a page that allows you to search just that database. But if you scroll down you’ll also see details about the database. There’s “Source Information” and “About Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944”. Take a look at that. Notice anything funny? Effingham County is only covered for 1815-1850. Drat! So I started looking again at some of the people I hadn’t been able to find marriage citations for in the indexes. In every case, where I thought I knew the probable date range for a marriage and a probably county, the county in question wasn’t covered by the indexes for those years, or only covered for part of the date span.
It gets worse.
So I was talking to my dad one day, and guess what. Daddy was born in Brier Patch, in Bulloch County, not Effingham County. I got a wedding date for his parents, 6 Oct 1928, but he thinks they might have been married in Evans County near where my grandma was growing up, not in Bulloch County. But if you see the list of counties for the marriage index of Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944, Evans isn’t even there! I also finally found Grandma on the 1910 and 1920 censuses. She was born in 1907. In 1910 she lived in Tattnall County. In 1920 she was living in Evans County. I’m not sure if they moved. Evans County was created out of Tattnall and Bulloch Counties in 1914. Granddaddy was apparently born and raised in Bulloch, and Granddaddy and Grandma were living there in 1930 with his father and brothers and sisters.
So, just because you can’t find your relatives in an index search, don’t give up hope. Check the details of the index. It may not cover as much as you think it does. Every index and database in Ancestry.com has such a page which explains what is covered by the index or database and where the data came from and usually who created it.
And ask your relatives questions about themselves and other relatives. You may not “know” as much about them as you think you know. But remember, the same thing applies to what they tell you. Great Aunt Tilly may not know as much as she thinks she does, either! To change up the old Russian phrase, “Don’t trust; verify!”
That’s it for now. Here’s your summary:
- Get started. Don’t wait another day! I waited until after both sets of grandparents were deceased, and not a day goes by but that I wish I could ask just one question!
- Ancestry.com is a wonderful website, but you still need to double-check their data.
- Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Just because you can’t find a record in a particular index or database doesn’t mean the document doesn’t exist. Check the details of the database and make sure the location and time span are covered. Even then don’t give up hope. After all, people create these indexes and people make mistakes. You can add it to you list of items in need of an original records search.
(The two images in today's posted are screenshots of the Ancestry.com website and used for illustrative purposes only.)