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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Are You Left High and Dry in Your Genealogy Research?

The 'dry' implies that, not only were they out of the water, but had been for some time and could be expected to remain so. It was used in a 'Ship News' column in "The [London] Times," August 1796:
"The Russian frigate Archipelago, yesterday got aground below the Nore at high water, which; when the tide had ebbed, left her nearly high and dry. See "High and dry."
Have you ever heard someone say they have been left "high and dry?" It means stranded, abandoned, or without hope of recovery. This saying originally referred to ships that were beached.

Well, rest assured, you have not been abandoned on the shore of uncertainty or left without a clue to the questions about your ancestors that have stumped you for years. The two most important things in researching your family history are:
  • Location, location, location
  • Time period
You should expect anyone who desired to assist you to query you about the specific place your ancestor lived and the time frame of the event that you are seeking to document. Armed with these two pieces of evidence, you can draft your own genealogy research objective in one or two sentences. Here is an example of such a sentence:

"I am seeking to document my grandfather's death in Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina prior to 1900."

It is so simple to jump online now as a newbie and successfully hit a goldmine of records using record collections online, but newbies are not ready for the huge disappointment they face during the period of time when records either become scarce or are not available online. Most of the time, they do not even realize "why" they are not finding anything more.

Transitioning to looking past online databases or past the search field on the database's main page can bring relief to research struggles. One of the greatest underused tools to help in this transition is FamilySearch Wiki. If you know how to perform a basic search using this tool, you can link to a whole world of resources and fuel family history findings once again.

How would you go about using the Wiki to answer the research question above?
  1. Go to the Wiki.
  2. Put "Charleston County, South Carolina" in the search field.
  3. Choose the first result: Charleston County, South Carolina Genealogy.
  4. Scroll down to the "Vital Records" section linked on the left.
  5. Click on "Death."
This portion of the article explains how the state of South Carolina began recording deaths in 1915, but the city of Charleston began recording deaths in 1821. The research question above specifically references Charleston deaths prior to 1900. The information included about how to obtain a death record either at the Charleston County Public Library or the South Carolina Department of Archives and History would answer the question posed.

In addition to references for obtaining copies of death certificates, the article provides suggestions for death record substitutes. If you browse the list of death records and substitutes, you learn that the collection, South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955, includes Charleston City Death Records, 1821-1914 and is available on That provides three different ways you can access death records for the city of Charleston. This illustrates the power of the Wiki to keep you afloat in your research. The Wiki is the lighthouse on the shore.


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