It's amazing how much information I actually have for many of my relatives. The problem: I didn't know it until a few months ago.
I had the obvious sources: birth/death/marriage certificates, obituaries, memorial/funeral cards, and the like. And of course I used the sources to figure out names, dates, places, relationships, etc. And while I knew I had other items, I thought them to be unessential for my research. And then it hit me...
I use obituaries wisely, capturing all of the information I possibly can from these gems. In addition to information about the person who died, I gather information (if noted) about their living and pre-deceased relatives including names, spouses, residence, and other haphazardly noted items. Whenever someone was listed with a residence, I added it to my database. Whenever someone preceded in death, I noted it in my database. One thing I didn't do, was record what I now term "living" information. If there wasn't a residence for a living relative, I didn't add an event. I've since gone back and added a "living" event for these individuals.
What the heck is a "living" event? Well, it's easy to add the typical events such as residence, military service, and graduation. But what about non-events? To solve this, I created an even type called "living" to record dates that a person was alive, when there is no event associated.
What type of sources do I use to get these "living" event nuggets? Well, first off, the aforementioned obituaries are a great source. Additionally, I have things like gift lists for weddings, baby showers, and such. I didn't find these to be of much genealogical value, since it didn't seem like an event because I didn't know if they actually attended the event. But they do provide clues that the person was alive (and hopefully well) in order to have given the gift. So I record these as "living" events.
I also glean "living" information from things like letters, postcards, and forms that list other people (such as next of kin, spouse, etc.). For example, I have several letters that are dated, but do not necessarily indicate a residence for one or both parties. I record these as "living" events (unless the residence is know, in which case I record it as a "residence" event).
In the example below, I have recorded two "residence" event, an "attendance" event, and a "living" event. The "living" event came from her brother's obituary that list her as a survivor, but did not indicate a residence. I know that if I am searching for a death record, I need to be looking at records dated after 1970. Had I not recorded this "living" event, my search scope goes all the way back to 1946. By recording this "living" event, I shaved 24 years off possible death records.
I'll admit that when I started researching my family tree, I recorded only the basic information. Heck, for several months, I didn't even realize the power of census data! But I've learn just how invaluable recording events can be, and in some cases, all I have for some individuals are these "living" events. So, these days, I pretty much record anything and everything I come across.
Of course events add life and character to my relatives, but it also helps me speed up my research by making the pool of possibilities, if even only a little, smaller.
Originally posted @ my LiveJournal blog on 3 September 2008.