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A couple of days ago, I had to clean my oven. Yes, manually clean it. Why, you may ask? Because when the self-cleaning button was pressed, it went click, click, click. Then nothing. No ‘poof’ when the gas lit. I waited, unsure how long this might take. It’s a fairly new oven. Hadn’t used the self-cleaning feature before. Seemed like an eternity before I heard the click, click, click again. Still nothing.

By this time I could smell gas, so hit cancel and sighed. The next two hours were spent on the floor, reaching into the bottom and sides to scrub away the grime. My, how modern conveniences have spoiled us!

What’s to be learned from this old-fashioned manual labor? Although automatic is fast, it isn’t always best.

Case in point. Automatic searches. You have a tree online. It kicks up hints for you. Do you blindly accept every hint, assuming that’s your relative? After all, a computer found it for you, it must be right! Or do you do a little digging, check the actual document, not just the transcription?

If you accept every hint without question, never looking at the document and comparing it to your relatives, here’s the blunt truth: Your tree stinks. You need to dig in, use your elbow grease and do some more research. Yes, manually. Check your sources. Match the date and place of birth, residence, and parents’ names. Trim off those branches or records that don’t match.

And don’t be afraid to manually search for things the automatic hints haven’t found. Don’t know exactly where they lived? Search land documents, county or township maps. How exciting to see exactly where g-g-grandpa’s farm was in the county. New clues can even be found in a will.

Think you know how many children g-grandma Myrtle had? Are you sure? Have you looked closely at the questions in the 1900 and 1910 US Censuses which record not only how many children the mother had, but how many are still living? That information does not show up in every automatic search. It may not show up in a search anywhere. You have to manually root that out. You may be surprised how many children were born between censuses, but did not make it to the next census.

Check State censuses. They contain great info between the US Censuses. Look for a genealogical society in the county you’re researching. Have they transcribed records? Maybe walked cemeteries, or posted cemetery records online? Is there a State Archive? A State library? Have you looked at the Allen County Public Library’s online genealogy site? What about The Internet Archive’s Digital Books Collection? Or Google Books?

There are 15 online books that contain wonderful information about my relatives. Mostly county history books, but others have turned up as well. There are probably more I haven’t discovered yet. Each new book I find gets downloaded to my tablet. Makes great bedtime reading, and gives you a fuller sense of what they experienced in their community.

So get out of automatic mode. Roll up your sleeves, don’t be afraid to get dirty. Hunt long and hard, and you’ll come up with some real finds.