Roots to the Past

Diana Tibert
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Looking for Mary MacDonald

What would you do with a query posted to a message board or mailing list that reads: "Looking for information on Mary McDonald?" Would you rush to answer it because there's a Mary McDonald in your family tree or pass over it because there isn't? Would you consider answering it because there is a woman by this name in your database, but you don't answer because the chances of it being the same person is slim?

Unfortunately, the person looking for information on Mary McDonald will be disappointed. The majority of people won't answer the query because there is not enough information to properly identify her. Mary's complete information needn't be posted. After all, information is being sought, so it's understood things are unknown. However, some identifying information must be included to narrow the possibilities.

Identifying information includes full name, date and location of birth, marriage date and name of spouse, dwelling location, date and location of death and parents' names.

What if nothing concrete is known for an individual? Then get creative and make educated guesses to help others connect with the person in question. For example, if all that's known is that Mary married William McDonald and had a child born around 1836, we can be relatively safe to say, she married William before this date. Although you may be off by a few years, you can guesstimate her marriage date at between 1829 and 1834. From this, you can guess her birth at between 1809 and 1814.

A 10-year span can also be created for these vitals, but either way, we now have something to add to the mysterious Mary McDonald.

These guesses are just that, estimations made from the average age a person marries and has children. It's possible Mary married at 16 or 36. The child noted may have been her first or her 15th. She may also be a second wife, much younger than the first, who raised children half her age. However, something to go on is better than nothing at all. Just remember words such as "about" or "possibly" must be added to clarify the dates are in doubt.

If a birth or marriage can't be estimated, can a death? If Mary appeared in the 1881 census, but not with her husband in the 1891 census, she most likely passed away. Perhaps on her child's marriage record or her husband's death record, she was listed as deceased. These records can help pinpoint the decade she died.

Location is another important piece of information. Where did this woman live? It doesn't have to be her birth location, but something to help tell researchers she's within their radar screen. A Mary McDonald living in a heavily populated area may not have researchers scrambling to answer the query, but if she lived in a small community where all the McDonalds were related, it will have someone searching their database for her.

It doesn't take much to encourage genealogists to lend a helping hand, but the easier we make it for them, the more likely they'll answer a query.

Diane Lynn Tibert seeks an illusive Martha who married a William McDonald around 1830 and lived at Harrigan Cove. Submit a query. It's free!: RR#1 Milford, Hants County, NS, B0N 1Y0; email:, or visit Diane's website (

Organizations: Diane's, Roots.html

Geographic location: Hants County

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