When you encounter situations where documents have been lost or destroyed, you must be at your most creative as a researcher. That doesn’t mean that you should “make up information to fill the gaps.” Instead, you have to consider what alternative documents and resources might help you reconstruct the information that has been lost. Original land records may have perished but plat maps, deed transcriptions, and tax rolls were usually a high priority for reconstruction after the loss. A probate file may have disappeared from a file cabinet, but consider the fact that the minutes of the probate court may have included the reading of some pertinent details into the court records. These may point you toward the name of an executor/executrix/administrator, a law firm, sheriff’s auction records, public notices, and other materials. Look, too, for transcriptions of other materials that might be used instead. These might include the use of church marriage records in lieu of a marriage book, a cemetery interment ledger as a proof of the date of death and cause, and a widow’s military pension documents to help establish the dates of her marriage to her late husband, the date of his death, and the names of surviving children.
Some of the best successes I’ve had on genealogical research trips have been those for which I was most prepared. It is always wise to set your goals before starting research. Select an individual and articulate the question(s) concerning what you wish to learn or prove. Determine which types of original records are likely to provide that information and where they are likely to be found.
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