When the records don’t give answers, use GENEALOGY EVIDENCE

Are you having trouble finding the records that identify an ancestor’s parents, or the place where they were born? Then you might need to master the art of genealogical proof in order to prove, on your own, who their parents were or where they were born.

Proving the relationships, events, or identities of the past  is something that I’ve been doing for years as a professional genealogist, but ALL researchers can master this skill with the right tools. Below are some infographics I use when teaching the basics of genealogy proof and evidence to my students. I’ll also include some must-have guides for learning how to prove what happened in the past when you just can’t find the records that spell it out for you:


Because my students struggled most often to differentiate between information and evidence, I made a special graphic to walk you through that difference, just to make sure everybody understands where the two diverge:

An example from the infographic above would be in the statement, “The exclusion of his daughter Mary from his will and testament is evidence that either she was disinherited or that she had died before this date.”

How to Find Evidence


For those who want to learn how to uncover evidence in genealogical records to help prove what happened in the past (even when the records don’t come right out and say what happened), here are the must-reads for your family history library:

Mastering Genealogical Proof is on my shelf and I’ve read it cover-to-cover; it will walk you through exercises like a textbook, so you get to learn from the author as if you were taking a class from him!

Genealogical Proof Standard is a quick read (small, pamphlet-like book) by one of the greatest genealogy authors in the industry, and will teach you how to present your findings according to the most trusted and reliable genealogical conventions, so that future generations don’t discard your conclusions as uninformed or wishful thinking. I found this book extremely helpful when I first began writing proof arguments!

Evidence Explained is perhaps THE most crucial guide on every genealogist’s shelf (I own it in both hard copy AND digital!), because, in addition to defining all the key concepts pertaining to genealogy evidence and proof, it also is a giant citation guide (akin to the MLA guides and APA guides we used in college) for the very unique discipline of genealogy, to help researchers know how to cite everything from unpublished diaries found at your local historical society to a newspaper clipping that you copied out of Grandma’s scrapbook. It covers everything you need to know in order to properly cite all the sources that you draw from when building your family tree. Without citations, all of your years of research will be deemed untrustworthy to future researchers, thanks to the Internet, where so much falsehood circulates.

Also, Robert Charles Anderson’s book, Elements of Genealogical Analysis teaches readers how to prove kinship via evidentiary linkage, a type of “logic for genealogists” guide that none of the other books offer. Since formal logic/deduction is no longer taught in the schools, this book is also a must-have:

With these tools, you can write a fully cited, “proven” family history that will pass the “suspicious Internet junk” test and endure through the ages. Good luck! 🙂

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***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂


Porting Genealogy Data to Word via Scrivener

Several weeks ago, many countless genealogy customers were stunned to learn that their genealogy software would be discontinued. I posted some professional advice to my blog readers: the only truly universal and long-lasting program for recording family history data is Word. You can read that blog post here: http://tdgen.com/2015/12/09/protect-your-genealogy-when-software-discontinued/

Now a reader has written to ask me about moving their family history data to Word. What does this look like, they want to know? How do they get started?

In this post, I will share with you how I am doing this very same thing for a relative whose genealogy database I recently inherited, as I shared with you in some past posts here and here.

~ Word to the Wise

Please keep in mind, taking thousands and thousands of names and records that have been entered into a databases over a period of DECADES is not something that you can just cut and paste into Word all at once. At least, I can’t. I can’t just open a blank Word doc and start entering or cutting and pasting from a genealogy program. That would take me hundreds of hours to untangle the mess!

Instead, to get started moving your family history database from family history software to Word, there are a few shortcuts that I use, instead.

**Please note: I came up with this little process after asking around for years and never being quite satisfied with other methods out there for organizing genealogy in narrative format or word processing programs, so please, if you use it, mention you got it from me, will you? Thanks! 🙂

~ What I Do

Here’s how I am transferring my relative’s LARGE database from genealogy software to Word:

1) First, I make an RTF file of the individual’s paternal  and maternal ancestry (an “Ahnentafel”) that includes all notes and footnotes but excludes images, leaving out the first living relative who compiled the database, and starting with the researcher-relative’s parents, thereby cutting the two sides of their family tree in half so that I can make two separate files. (Otherwise, the computer has a meltdown when I try to make one gigantic Ahnentafel with everybody in it!) Obviously, I can skip this division if the family file is very small.

2) I import this file to Scrivener

3) I use Scrivener’s “split” feature, which divides the huge Ahnentafel file into separate generations with their own folders–thanks to Scrivener’s “Command-K” shortcut, this takes mere seconds. I simply put my cursor next to each generation and hit “command K” to start a new file, as this video shows:

4) Next, I cut and paste the former genealogy software’s endnotes into Scrivener’s footnote fields, since Scrivener makes footnoting easier than Word does. I can then export the document into Word when I am done, where the footnotes will be perfectly formatted per Word footnoting conventions.

5) I then look at what my relative has done for each ancestor and make a list of things I need to do to clean up and perfect their work before I export the data from Scrivener into Word.

I spend a LOT of time editing erroneous citations, or moving a lot of data from “notes” into an actual family history narrative–things that the relative had culled and filed away in the notes section but not realized were actually helpful evidence. I also highlight and/or re-do questionable research, and go in search of records for unanswered questions. It is slow going!

My task list usually includes research, looking up records, and fixing footnotes. As I go, I refer often to my handy dandy copy of Evidence Explained so I can cite my findings properly, because as I look up and verify evidence, records, and relationships in this narrative and then straighten out the data and its footnotes, the information in this pedigree goes from heresay to verified!

I also refer often to Numbering Your Genealogy as I go, just in case the genealogy software didn’t do its job properly when it numbered tricky relationships.

But Scrivener is my greatest bridge to porting everything from the genealogy software to Word–I would be lost without it! Here is what my screen looks like as I work in it:


**NOTE: I’m not a Scrivener affiliate, in any way, though I should be, because I tout it so much! 🙂

Note how I organize my ancestors into Scrivener’s files and sections, numbering them according to Ahnentafel structure to keep them organized.

6) Then in the media folders below the ancestor folders (not visible here), I store the ancestors’ records so I can pull them up and look at them while I am crafting their citations, etc.

So as you can see, I basically keep the project in Scrivener for the duration I am cleaning it up and organizing it as it transitions, then I export it into Word only after I feel like it has been sufficiently scrubbed from the effects of the database it used to inhabit (for example, all the “<>” are gone).

This is because Scrivener makes it easier for me to see each generation at a glance, as well as each footnote at a glance, and I can also pull up each record while I am entering its data much more easily in Scrivener than I can with Word, so this is my go-to program for transferring genealogy files from genealogy software to Word. It is my go-to for many other types of projects, too, but this is one of its many uses! 🙂

Then, once everything is all cleaned up and organized, I can export this family’s file into Word–Scrivener will send it to Word as all one file, divided into chapters. A book, basically.  But for now, it is a collection of separate files in Scrivener to make my editing process much easier–I love it!

I hope this helps anyone else out there who is contemplating protecting your family history data by preserving it in Word! If you have any questions about this type of project, please feel free to contact me! 🙂
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© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

How to Identify an Ancestor of Uncertain Identity

Trent has a question about his West Virginia ancestor’s identity:

My ancestor, Ivy Inice Powell (1874-?) is the most elusive ancestor I’ve researched. I believe I found her on an 1874 Birth record for Marion County, West Virginia. The thing is the person is listed as Ivines Powell. I searched every similar name I could think of, I even used “Iv*” to see if anything would come up. I found no other person in West Virginia that matched her information as closey as Ivines did, the birtdate is only a month apart, and she was born in the right county. She was also married in the same county as Ivines’ parents.I have tried every name variation for both first and last, but I believe it is the same person based on the unusual name “Ivy Inice” it seems that “Ivines” is a mixture of the two. I only found her on a marriage record and the 1900-1910 census, and then she disappears. Do you think that, based on the similarities between the two people, that they are actually the same person?

This name has only been used 1 time for her, I have tried online searches and went to the library (Downtown Columbus has a huge Genealogy department) but nothing ever turned up. I tried looking for name similarities in the children but found none. I found her name listed as Alice on her daughters death record, but every other record has ver as Ivy or Inice. I cannot find a death record, I know she divorced her husband but I don’t believe she remarried, so she either kept Hillberry or went back to Powell. I used the West Virginia archives and history website for the records.

Trent also included two record copies:

The supposed birth record for Ivy Inice/Ivines:


And the marriage record between of “Ivy Inice” to Trent’s ancestor:


Trent, misspelled names and name variations are a hallmark of genealogy research!

Because of literacy rates, re-copying of records from original sources into indexes, and other human errors, it is very common to find several different names for one person. To locate more records for Ivy/Ivines/Ivy I. so that you can more clearly establish who she was and what name she went by most often, I recommend you take the following three steps:
  1. Make a chart of everything you already know about Ivy, from the records you’ve already found. I’ll provide an example below.
  2. Expand your research to include offline records and known associates, as shown below. Note that the records you sent to me are only index entries–the actual birth records and marriage certificate remain to be found!
  3. If all the entries in the chart (from online AND offline records) don’t clearly tell you who Ivy is, draft a proof argument in which you make that conclusion on your own. I will show you how, below.

Now I’m going to give you the breakdown for these three steps:

1) Make a chart.

Take all the records–even interviews with relatives about Ivy!–and plot their information on a spreadsheet. I have started one here, based on the two records you provided to me, to show you how this might look:

Sample chart for Ivy's records

Sample chart for Ivy’s records

2) Expand your research to include offline records.

If you’ve never worked in offline records before, You can learn how it is done in the following tutorial: http://jennyalogist.com/2013/07/30/genealogy-research-offline-10-easy-steps/

When I followed the steps in the offline research article, I found a lot of great records on film for Taylor County, West Virginia, where Ivy was married:


In the image above, note how there are 13 different vital records collections (posted at the bottom of the page)? Well, when I click on the arrow next to “vital records,” I’m shown a list of collections that will definitely be of interest to you:


Be sure to look in these records for Ivy, her husband, her siblings, and any known associates, as their records will tell you a lot as well! Enter their information into your chart whenever it pertains to Ivy’s identity, or provides you with the smallest clues to her whereabouts at any given time

3) If the online AND offline records don’t clearly tell you Ivy’s name, whereabouts, and parentage, you can prove her identity and parentage yourself, by drafting a proof summary.

You can also read a sample proof summary here, and a how-to article here.

One example of a proof argument–that you will definitely want to study for ideas!–is available in this summer’s edition of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Here are the article’s details:

Laurel T. Baty, “Parentage of Martha Smith of Alabama and Mississippi: Overcoming Inconsistent, Incorrect, and Mission Records,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly101 (June 2013): 85-102.

Trent, once you are able to prove Ivy’s identity–whether via the records or your proof summary–you will have a story worth publishing in periodicals like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, so be sure to keep a detailed set of research notes as you go! 🙂

Good luck, and please keep me posted as you progress through these three steps!

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How to Find an Ancestor’s Missing Parents

Blog reader Mary J. can’t find her ancestor’s parents. Sometimes, when the records don’t tell you who an ancestor’s parents are, you have to prove it yourself. My blog post today will show how this is done.

Here is Mary’s question:

My 2nd great grandmother might have been named Mary Smith, born abt 1818 and died aft 1885, all in Adams Co. Ohio I believe.  I found  marriage information for her and Job Washington Denning (1817-1904) for the year 1846, I think they married in West Union township Adams Co. Ohio.  There are several children documented being born to Job and Mary after the year 1846.
The problem is that my great grandmother Mary Jane Denning Blakemore was born in the year 1844.

My mother told me that her  grandmother ( my great-grandmother) Mary Jane Denning Blakemore 1844-1925 had two older sisters named Harriet G. Denning Vance 1841-1924 and another sister I have not been able to find any information, her name was Julia Denning. They were all born in Adams Co. I believe.


Click the image to see the entire entry.

I found information through Ancestry for Harriet Denning Vance.  One source claimed that Harriet’s mother was named Mary Grimes. I proceeded to look for Grimes families in Adams co. and did find several but really nothing specific for a Mary Grimes.

In the 1840 census for Tiffin township Adams co. Ohio I found Washington Denning ( the first name Job was omitted) listed  with two other individuals both in the 20-30 age column, one was male and the other female. Of course I am thinking the female was his wife…Mary Grimes?  But no way of finding anything else in this census decade…of course.

I also have not been able to find Job Washington Denning listed in the 1850 or 1860’s census on Ancestry I think due to  spelling errors in each census.

I am guessing that I would need to search church records for Tiffin town ship and surrounding areas for marriage and birth records.

I also  found information for my great-grandmother Mary Jane Denning that her mother was named Mary Smith….

What I ultimately would like to know my Maternal lineage going past my great grandmother Mary Jane Denning Blakemore.

Mary, what you are experiencing here is a common circumstance in genealogy: lots of “maybe” matches, but no records that point, 100%, to your ancestor’s parents.

When this happens, you should:

1) Sort out the different Marys and their records in a spreadsheet.

Using Excel, I made a sample sheet based on the limited information I received in your question to me:


Take all the information you have collected, put it into a chart, then you can begin to discover if Mary’s mother will be found via records, or via a case of circumstantial evidence.

As you can see, this spreadsheet has some holes in it. For example, you mention that “One source claimed that Harriet’s mother was named Mary Grimes.” But what source was it? This needs to be listed in the spreadsheet, so that we can weigh the information presented by different sources. Also, you never said where you got Mary Jane Denning’s birthdate (so that part is blank on the spreadsheet)

2) Expand your search to include offline records.

The records available on the internet are often riddled with scanning or indexing errors, so you will learn much more about your ancestors if you look for them in offline records. Be sure to read this article: http://tdgen.com/2014/02/22/how-to-find-microfilmed-genealogy-records/

Here are some offline records available for Adams County, Ohio:

These are the types of records on film that can be rented at any FamilySearch Center (there is one in almost every county in the US). Click on this image to view and navigate the actual list.

Within that list, I would start with “Vital Records,” first:


Vital records for Adams County that can be rented on film at a FamilySearch Center–there is a lot that can be searched!

You will also want to look at the records for Tiffin Township, which aren’t as extensive as the county records, but worth checking out nonetheless:


Click on the image to view and navigate the actual list of records/collections


A closer look at the Tiffin Town records collections available to rent on film. Click on this image to view more.

You can also find more of Adams County’s offline records at the FamilySearch wiki page for Adams County, Ohio; it lists lots of other places you can find their records online, too. And don’t forget to use Google for genealogy–quickly Googling a couple of your ancestors’ names, I found great stuff like this Rootsweb entry.

3) Write a proof argument.

If–after extensive research in offline records–the records don’t come right out and tell you who Mary Jane Dennings’ parents are, you will have to prove who they are yourself.

To prove an ancestor’s identity without the help of direct evidence from historical records, you write a “Proof Summary” based on the circumstantial evidence (or “indirect evidence” some people call it) that the records seem to imply. To learn how this is done, I recommend that you buy a copy of The Legal Genealogist’s Legacy Webinar, entitled “Building a Family from Circumstantial Evidence.”


When the records don’t give you a smoking gun, you can sometimes piece it together yourself, with evidence from a number of sources. This lecture on CDROM will teach you how!

You can also read a sample proof summary here, and a how-to article here.

If you still feel lost or uncertain after completing steps #1 and #2 in this post, please send me your evidence log (excel sheet) and I would be happy to look over it and help you decide how to proceed. Personally, I think proof summaries are tons of fun–they really bring out the inner detective/lawyer in all of us! 🙂

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Good luck!