The following is from the Message Forum on Dick Eastman's EOGN, and is a wonderful entry made by Mary L.B. Everyone should read this!
"Following are just a few of the many PITFALLS that you need to be aware of:
l. JR. and SR: Don't EVER ASSUME that "Jr" and "Sr" are father and son!!! Often they are, but sometimes they are NOT. They may be uncle and nephew, grandfather and grandson, cousins, or even no relation. These are merely titles to distinguish an older man from a younger one with the same name. To add to the confusion, these titles shift as "SR" dies and "JR" becomes "SR", and a younger person often becomes "JR". Without sufficient research in official records, one can not detect these changes and identities. It only takes ONE misidentification to cause a researcher to spend years researching the WRONG PEOPLE.
2. PLACE OF DEATH AND PLACE OF PROBATE: A person's death record will be found in the county in which death occurred (if records were kept then). Examples would include death while traveling, visiting, hospitalized, in prison, etc. outside his or her county of residence. PROBATE records, (if there was property to be distributed) would be found in the person's county of residence. It is possible that additional probate records might be found in other counties / states where the deceased owned property. Why use death records??? Because they should contain parent information and various other important data. Why use probate records??? Because they can prove family relationships that may be found nowhere else.
3. ASSUMING THAT FAMILY STORIES ARE TRUE: Often there is partial truth in them but details have become distorted through the years. A common one might be "Great-great Grandma was an Indian". Someone may have said "She looked like an Indian", or, "She MIGHT have been an Indian", or "She lived near Indians". ALWAYS seek out official records that can prove or disprove components of the story. I once had a client who refused to pay me the balance owed because the records I found did not support her fantasy of an Indian connection. She said I just didn't want to believe her story!!! Thorough research can reveal the facts. Another client had me research the WRONG branch of the family for a supposed Indian connection.
4. ASSUMING THAT CHILDREN IN A PRE 1880 CENSUS HOUSEHOLD (when relationships began to be stated) ARE CHILDREN OF THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD: They may or may NOT be. They may be nieces, nephews, step-children, grandchildren, or no relation. Study the ages and birthplaces when shown of ALL household members. Other year's census records, probate, guardianships, deeds, etc. could help identify relationships and reveal the true children of the head of household. Understanding these relationships can be crucial to building your pedigree and can unlock mysteries. Census through 1840 can be very helpful when analysed with other records, but they can also be misleading if you insist on "accounting" for everyone. Various circumstances affected household members, and therefore one can only GUESS about what they see in census records before 1850.
5. WILLS DON'T ALWAYS MENTION ALL CHILDREN OF A DECEASED PERSON. Often a child has already been given property and it simply does not specify that in the Will. If the gift was real estate or other personal property, then there likely would be a DEED saying something like "For love and affection for my daughter and son-in-law Sarah and John Clark". Beautiful!!!! There is your proof of relationships. Wills are only a small part of probate records. Much, much more can be revealed in ESTATE records, INVENTORIES, BILLS OF SALE, ADMINISTRATOR BONDS, ORDER BOOKS, etc. ALL heirs are likely to be named in ESTATE SETTLEMENTS. LAW SUITS among family members often occurred and these can be a goldmine of factual information on which to build. Knowing the names of siblings and in-laws helps you to recognize key people in the indexes. Develop your family group sheets so the information will be handy.
6. MARRIAGE "LICENSE" VERSUS MARRIAGE "RETURNS": Occasionally couples obtained a license or bond to marry but never carried out their intentions. It is the Minister's or Justice Of The Peace's RETURN / CERTIFICATE that PROVES that a marriage took place. Also learn about the different types of records that are included in "Marriage Records". Marriage APPLICATIONS should be very informative.
7. HAVING THE MINDSET THAT COURT HOUSE RECORDS AND EVIDENCE ARE "JUST FOR PROFESSIONAL RESEARCHERS". Of course they are not!!! Court house records are essential for everyone's research project, as is evidence. All are there for everyone who wants to learn who their ancestors were. Begin with your parents / grandparents and work on back on your pedigree chart, building on the supporting evidence you find. Research is usually not difficult, but it does require understanding the basics. Basics are easily learned, and, with experience, productive research will become easy.
SUMMARY:For helpful information about genealogical research see these websites:
indgensoc.org (click research tab, and then "Articles");
RootsWeb.com (click on RootsWeb's Guide To Tracing Family Trees);
Subscribe to Ancestry's free newsletters. Read the many helpful articles on Ancestry Weekly Journal and their blog;
And, of course, read the wonderful articles Mr. Eastman is providing written by George Morgan, Lloyd Bockstruck, and Michael John Niell. These men all know their subjects VERY well.
Mary L. B."
Thanks Mary!!! This is all wonderful advice!!! - cbh