Researching someone with a common name can be challenging. Sometimes you will find too many records, and without more identifying information it can be almost impossible to determine which is the correct record. Or, if you do find a promising record, how do you know if it is for the person being researched or someone else with the same name? To overcome these problems, you need to find enough information to come to a solid conclusion.
I had this problem recently while researching Charles McDermott, who lived in New York City. I found a possible naturalization record for Charles in 1896. The record showed this Charles was about the right age and had immigrated around the right year. However, his occupation was listed as a carpenter and the Charles I was researching sold fish … according to the 1900 census. To determine if the 1896 naturalization was for the Charles McDermott I was researching, I needed more information.
[To] do this I looked at four kinds of records ... at four different websites...
Eventually I was able to discover more records that proved I had the right naturalization. But to do this I looked at four kinds of records (census, city directory, birth, and church baptism) at four different websites (Ancestry, New York Public Library Digital Collections, FamilySearch, and FindMyPast). According to the 1896 naturalization, Charles McDermott the carpenter lived at 1119 Home St. I knew I needed to check city directories for more information. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not always have a directory for each year. However, I remembered that the New York Public Library Digital Collections does.
Using both websites I discovered the following information for Charles McDermott:
1891 – carpenter at 408 E 117th St. (Ancestry)
1892 – carpenter at 344 Pleasant Ave. (Ancestry)
1894 – carpenter at 344 Pleasant Ave. (Ancestry)
1895 – fish at 1119 Home St. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)
1896 – grocer at 1119 Home St. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)
1897 – grocer at 1119 Home St. (Ancestry)
1898 – fish at 1108 Home St. (Ancestry)
It looked like Charles McDermott the carpenter changed occupations about 1895 and became a fishmonger. But I wanted more corroborating evidence that connected the earlier addresses, with the carpenter occupation, to the later addresses with the fish grocer occupation.
I knew the names of Charles’ children from the 1900 U.S. census and found records for most of their births on FamilySearch. However, these records are only transcriptions and the images are only available by visiting a Family History Library. This meant I could not easily see the address where the family lived and cross check with the city directories.
Luckily the family was Catholic and FindMyPast has begun to put up New York City Catholic baptism records. Using these baptism records, I found Charles McDermott’s daughter Catherine Helen was born in 1891 at 408 E 117th St. This was the last piece of evidence I needed.
The 1891 baptism address matched the 1891 city directory address. This meant Charles McDermott was a carpenter in 1891. The Charles McDermott (carpenter at 1119 Home) who naturalized in 1896 was also listed as a fish grocer in the 1896 city directory. He continued in the fish grocer occupation until he was enumerated on the 1900 census.
When you are trying to determine if you have found the correct record, always look for more supporting information. Make sure to search broadly in different kinds of record groups. Also, do not limit yourself to just one genealogy website. If you are persistent and thorough you should be able to find enough information to come to confident conclusions.
About Pam Guye Holland
Pam has been researching family roots in Ireland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Germany for over twenty years. She is the genetic genealogy director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program. She lectures internationally, is a regular contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has published articles on genetics and genealogy in the American Ancestors magazine. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she grew up in West Virginia, and currently resides in the Boston area. During her earlier career she earned a BA in International Relations from the College of Wooster and a MS in Computer Science from Northeastern University. Areas of expertise: Irish immigration, Irish records, DNA, church records, German, New York (both city and state), and New England.View all posts by Pam Guye Holland →