Guesses about U.S. Ancestors
Many times you will not have some dates and places for some events in your ancestors lives. Approximate dates and possible places will help direct your research to the most likely records to have the full information you are seeking.
Before using this strategy
Find what you can about the ancestor in your family records and/or FamilySearch.org.
General Assumptions (Pre-Civil War)
Only Use Until Have Information to the Contrary
• Couples usually married in the bride’s town.
• Couples usually lived in the groom’s town.
• Couples usually were married within one year before the first child was born.
•Before motorized transportation:
–A man without a horse usually courted women within three miles of where he lived.
–A man with a horse usually courted women within six miles of where he lived.
• People usually were in their 20s when they married for the first time.
• If a person was listed as older than 30 when married, there is a good possibility he/she had a previous marriage.
• A woman usually married a man about the same age or a little older for her first marriage. For later marriages, the age difference was greater. She seldom would marry a man more than 1-2 years younger.
• A man usually married a woman close to his age for his first marriage. For later marriages, he often married a woman much younger than he was.
• When a woman married, her husband became the owner of all she possessed.
• The first child was often born near the town where its parents were married.
• A child was usually christened in the same town where it was born.
• Usually when two children in the same family have the same name, the first child died or was very sick before the second child was born.
• Usually there are about 1.5 to 2.5 years between births of children in a family. A larger span of years may indicate:
Death of a baby
An unknown child
Death of a first spouse and a remarriage
• Parents often named their children after their parents, siblings or themselves.
• Puritans and Congregationalists did not have godparents for their children.
• A woman usually had children when she was between the ages of 18-45.
• A man usually had children when he was between the ages of 18-60.
• A person was usually buried soon after death, except when the ground was frozen in winter.
• The person who gave the information about the deceased for an obituary, tombstone, certificate, etc. may not have known the real facts about the deceased.
Migration & Immigration
• People often traveled with and/or settled near relatives, friends or people from the same town.
• People moved more often than we think.
• Until roads & railroads improved, people usually traveled on or near water.
• For new settlements, people preferred living near water.
• People usually migrated to the West, but sometimes they went back East.
• When immigrating to America, colonial family members usually came together. For later immigrants, the father of a family might come first, then the rest of the family.
• Before the Civil War, most free men owned land and usually farmed it.
• Men usually acquired land soon after moving to a location.
• In colonial times, men aged 16 to 65 probably were in the militia.
• People often did not pay attention to boundaries (state, county, etc.) when deciding where to marry, farm, etc.
• The Congregational Church was the main church in New England.
• The Anglican Church was the main church of the Southern states.
• The Presbyterian Church was strongest in:
- Mid-Atlantic states
- Southern states
• Quakers were strongest in:
- Pennsylvania near Philadelphia
- New England
- Mid-Atlantic states
- Southern, especially North Carolina
- After the Revolution, many went to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
• The Baptist Church is strongest in the mid-Atlantic states and the Southern states
• Methodist Church: By 1850, about 1/3 of American Protestants were Methodists. From 1820 to 1920, Methodism was the largest Protestant denomination.
People from: Usually were:
Northern Germany and northern Switzerland Lutheran
Southern Germany and southern Switzerland Roman Catholic
The Netherlands Dutch Reformed Church
Latin America, Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy Roman Catholic
Greece Greek Orthodox
Russia Russian Orthodox
Check church records of the town first
- If not in town church records, check county church records
- If your ancestor lived in a small town, check the records of all the churches in that town.
Usually Catholics did not go to a Protestant church, and usually Protestants did not go to a Catholic church.