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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill   11/17/2004

Have You Looked at All Your Links?

How solid are all the links in your genealogical chain? The links in your family tree tie two people together. These links are usually relationship based and most of the relationships that records establish are either parent-child ones or sibling ones. Have you gone through your records (and more importantly your conclusions) to make certain your links are as solid as they can be? Not every link can be established with complete certainty, but some weak links may not be actual links at all.

Previous columns have discussed my work on William Apgar, also known as William Frame. William was born in Chicago, Illinois, in the late 1880s and was living in the city as late as 1918. Census and marriage records seem to indicate that the man who used the name William Apgar beginning in 1909 was really born as William Frame, a name used as late as 1910. That discussion will not be repeated here, but the key item in our proof is a marriage record for William Frame Apgar to Mary Demar in Chicago in 1909.

The known William Frame was born of English parents and had an older brother born in England in 1863. This brother's 1925 death certificate indicated he was born in Brampton, England, and that his father, Thomas Frame, was born in Newcastle and his mother, Elizabeth Watson, was also born in Brampton. I thought I was ready to start working on the English portion of this lineage. I was excited.

But wait. When we get a little too excited, it is time to slow down and think.

Before I spend significant time and money establishing the English ancestry of the Frame and Watson families, I should make certain I have established as best as I can that their son William Frame is really William Apgar. There are additional records I should search to make certain that the William Frame, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Watson Frame, is the same William Frame Apgar who married Mary Demar in 1909. Estate records for Thomas and Elizabeth Frame should be accessed (or at least a diligent search should be made).

If there are no estate records, then I should determine if Thomas and Elizabeth owned their house in Chicago. As mentioned in previous columns, quitclaim deeds from the heirs after have been drawn up if the parents still owned the property at the time of the parent's death. These quitclaim deeds should mention all living heirs at the time of the property transfer. Records of name changes at the county level should also be accessed, but William's name change (if there was one) might have been informal and never recorded. If these records exist, they may answer my question about William Frame and William Apgar.

City directories should also be searched to determine when (and if) William Frame disappears. While searching these directories, I should keep in mind that both William Frame and William Apgar apparently worked at unskilled labor. Finding a William Frame or a William Apgar in a city directory listed as a lawyer in the downtown area probably means I do not have the same person. If my theory is correct, William Frame should disappear about the same time William Apgar appears.

Another source to search during this time frame is the World War I draft cards. Once the index is completely posted at, I should search for William Frame. I already have the card for William Apgar. If I find a card for a William Frame that matches the information for the one who is the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Frame, then my conclusions will have to be significantly altered.

There are ways to avoid making the wrong link and spending time on the wrong lineage.

Are Your Conclusions Reasonable?
Do you have to ignore laws of human behavior, geography, or physics in order to make the story hold? Would your ancestor have had to have traveled from Maryland to Ohio in two days in January of 1815 to make the situation work? Would the mother of your ancestor had to have had ten children in eight years starting at the age of twelve to make the data “fit?” Would your ancestor have witnessed a deed at the age of thirteen? If it smells a little fishy chances are the conclusion warrants another look.

Have You Held Your Assumptions in Check?
Are you assuming something about your ancestor (where he was born, where he lived, etc.) that might be creating your brick wall? Is there some cherished tradition that possibly might not be true? Consider stripping your ancestor of every fact that you cannot prove with some document or record. Then look at the other “facts.” Could some of them be incorrect, at least partially?

Make a Chronology
A chronology is an excellent way to determine if all the things that supposedly happened could actually have happened. This organizational technique may allow you to see that the details do not support the conclusion based upon time constraints.

Learn about Records
Having a general knowledge about all the records available for the locale and time period of the research will better equip you to obtain as much information as possible. Using only one or two types or records because they are on the Internet or are easily accessible may cause you to overlook significant information. Offline and unindexed records can easily yield significant clues when they are accessed.

Look at It from a Different Perspective
If you are having difficulty proving yourself right, think about how you would prove yourself wrong.

Consider All Reasonable Scenarios
Are there other situations that could fit the information besides your conclusion? Remember that records generally tell us only a small part of what was actually going on at the time the record was created. Consider that there might be other interpretations and then analyze these interpretations and contemplate how they could be proven or disproven.

Ask Someone Else to Look at It
A different person has a different perspective. Perhaps an online genealogical acquaintance or a fellow member of your local genealogical society will give you a different interpretation of what the records say.

Wrapping It UP
It is okay to get excited and do the happy dance. Just remember that before the next installment of your research begins, you might want to slow the music down so you don't stumble in the process of continuing your research.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,

Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill