The marriage certificate is the only civil record that actually records a union between two individuals, whereas other marriage records indicate that a marriage was “projected or planned.” So be cautious regarding which marriage document is being reviewed and understand the difference.
Information you will always expect to find on a marriage certificate:
- the name of the bride and groom
- the date of the marriage
- location of the marriage (at least the county in which the marriage was filed)
- the individual who married the couple
- name of the clerk who recorded the marriage with the county
The type of information recorded on a marriage document will change over time and will vary from county to county and state to state.
The US Federal Census can also help with finding a marriage record. What kind of marriage information can the census provide? While the 1850 to 1870 census doesn’t record marital status, it does note if the person was married within the year. The 1900 through 1940 census will provide the marital status “married, single, widow, or divorced,” the “age at first marriage” (1930), or the “number of years of present marriage” (1900, 1910).
In our modern society (the 20th and 21st century), marriage records are typically kept at both the county in which the ceremony took place and the state bureau of records. There is a central gathering point in each state, typically known as the Bureau of Vital Records or Statistics (or something similar).
For most states, marriage records began being kept at the time a county was formed at the county level. These early records are not kept by the state, unless they have been transferred to the state archives.
With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more about obtaining marriage records and the information they hold in your genealogy research.
Your FAN Club
FAN is an acronym that stands for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. The “FAN Club,” coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills, represents a person’s network of people to whom they connect. You may also hear the term “cluster research,” which is essentially the same thing.
The idea behind using the FAN principle or cluster research is to identify and research the people involved with your ancestors, as those other people may have left a trail or clues that your ancestor did not. For example, you could be looking for the maiden name (and perhaps the parents and/or siblings) of a female ancestor. Studying the people in her FAN Club, as well as those in her husband’s, may provide clues or may even reveal the answer.
Oftentimes, the FAN methodology is implemented when all resources have been exhausted and there is still no answer to our research question. Instead of throwing in the towel, we turn to the people around our ancestor and explore their lives.
Keep in mind that studying an ancestor’s associates will add more work to your plate, but the benefits are usually well worth your time and energy. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more about applying the FAN principle to your research.
Why Use Timelines
A timeline is a visual representation of events in sequential order. Timelines are often used in genealogy to place an ancestor in a historical context giving us a better understanding of their lives and how they fit into the world around them. Timelines can help break down brick walls allowing us to see:
- Where a person was and when.
- Gaps in time where information is missing.
- Instances where two people of the same name might be combined.
- Possible scenarios (for example, finding a large gap in the birth of children during the Civil War period).
But also keep in mind timelines are a great basis for writing biographies and genealogies, as well as a visual component to share with others.
Timelines are great tools to help us put our research in a different perspective. The visual nature of a timeline often reveals clues for additional research. There are three general types of timelines: basic, comparative, and historical.
With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more about building your own timelines and how to use them in your research.
Tracking Your Ancestors Associates
So how do you keep track of all your ancestor’s associates? First, you will want to create a list that represents each of the three categories of the FAN Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors). You should incorporate connection details and research notes and maintain this list as a master. Keeping this master list will pay dividends in the future when the same associates become a recurring theme in your ancestor’s life.
While a list is great (and a highly-recommended starting point), you may also want to create a visual representation of your ancestor’s network. Many people like to use the idea of a mind map when dealing with cluster research. The possibilities are endless, so experiment and find something that works for you.
It is also important to show connections between associates. When you see the same person involved in the life of your ancestor and his other associates, this could be a person high on your priority list to investigate. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn even more on the methods for tracking your ancestors’ associates.
Time to Analyze
Once you have developed your timeline, take a step back and really study it. What does it tell you? Are their gaps in your timeline that need to be accounted for? Is there a new location you are not familiar with? And perhaps most importantly for brick wall busting, has the timeline revealed an answer to your question, and if not, do you have some leads to follow up on? You will use this analysis to record your thoughts and plan your next steps.
The timeline gives you a period of time to investigate and locations relative to the period of time. Put your analysis and plan of action in writing, this helps to keep all of your thoughts organized. As you uncover new items of information, be sure to update any timelines you have created and review and analyze them again with the new data.
Also, keep in mind that timelines may identify other questions that either need answering or something you might want to explore to understand your ancestor better. The timeline can easily be your basis for developing a plan related to these new research ideas. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn how to develop these timelines and analyze your results. All helping you to break down that brick wall.
Patterns and Relationships of our Ancestors
Analyzing your ancestor’s network can be challenging. There are usually many people and often times, they are interconnected. Additionally, there are many different variables at play so you may be on the lookout for something specific for one question you are trying to answer. As you explore your ancestor’s FAN Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors), be sure to keep track of your discoveries by making notes to yourself.
- Are there people in your ancestor’s network, not identified as family, that have the same surname as that person?
- Does the same person keep appearing as an associate over a long period of time or as a neighbor across two or more locations?
- Do you see clusters of associates and neighbors that share a surname?
The people identified from the questions above are usually the ones that deem further research at a higher priority. This does not mean you want to discard the others that do not fit these criteria. Of course, if after researching the “high priority” people you still have no answers, you will want to move on to the other people in the FAN Club.
In addition to exploring patterns to figure out who requires further research, the FAN Club may reveal the possibility of two or more people merged into one. Learning to analyze your ancestor’s patterns and relationships is part of our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course.
Comparative timelines can be used to compare two or more people/families. For example, the objective may be to determine the migration of two separate families joined together by marriage. A timeline showing both families will help to focus the research.
Unlike a basic timeline, a comparative timeline shows each year, whether there is an event or not. Constructing a timeline whether simple, detailed or comparative, can help illustrate gaps of time. The timeline can help determine where to look for records.
You can take comparative timelines a step further by adding additional family members or associates to the mix. For example, you could follow, and ultimately compare, children, siblings, in-laws or even neighbors, to see if other connections can be made.
A comparative timeline is also useful when trying to sort out identities. Sometimes we run across instances of name changes or aliases, and of course, we all have those female ancestors with unknown maiden names or parents. A comparative timeline can help you track each of the individuals to see if any fit the pattern to be your ancestor. For more information on Comparative Timelines and our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course.
Building a Basic Timeline
More often than not, you will want to create a basic timeline for your problem ancestor. Start with information about all of the events in their life, including their birth and death dates, any marriages, birth and death of any children, the death of a spouse, and death of parents. You might also want to incorporate relevant information about the locations you are working with, for example, boundary changes.
You may choose not to indicate the source to begin with or you may use footnotes to cite the source. Creating footnotes in a spreadsheet program cannot be done with ease so you may want to include a short source reference instead.
One of the other uses of a timeline is to help illustrate instances where two people may have been combined. You can usually see this by just looking at the dates and locations and notice that something does not quite add up.
In addition to helping solve tough genealogy problems, this type of basic timeline is a great tool to keep handy when doing research. There are multiple ways to approach timelines and with our Skills-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more.
Based on your research log and evaluation log, you will want to take some time to analyze your findings. Some of the important things to keep in mind while analyzing your data are:
- Is the record for the right person/family?
- Is the record original or derivative?
- Are there other records that need to be checked?
Look for clues that can lead to other record types. For example, if you find a civil marriage record that indicates a couple was married by a minister, try to determine the church the minister served so you can look for the marriage and other records of family events.
You may need to do additional analysis to make your determinations, our “Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls” course will help with this.