Sunday, November 25, 2012
Throughout history the economic fortunes of our families have varied. In my own family the majority of my family have been farmers that owned their own land. The financial level of family members does a great deal to control the paper trail of our ancestors. Once vital records became common in the United States there were two controlling factors that effected if people recorded their life events. One was the distance that the family had to travel to the location where the records were being recorded. This typically was the county seat which was normally positioned in the center of the county. The second was their ability to pay the fee often collected to file this record. Counties began charging a fee for the filing of vital records for a source of revenue. When a family had a choice between filing a birth certificate or feeding little Johnnie food always won out. As a result the filing of records in certain places was as low as 50 percent. When a person died a will was not often created when the person had no assets to distribute. It was common practice to just hand over the keys so to speak rather than go through a formal court process. People with out money got very little coverage in the Newspaper so you would have no obituary or a very short line. Cemetery stones would not be purchased and this resulted in unmarked graves. There are reasons we can not find our families. It is important when doing research on our families to be aware of their economic situation. If they were experiencing modest financial situations their paper trail will be slim to none. The challenges of the search become even more difficult.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
One of the common over looked parts of genealogy that is overlooked is looking at the people that live around our families in their community. Understanding who lives around our families can often help in understanding more about our own families. An excellent place to start your search is to take a look at census records and city directories. Then follow it up by using tax and land records. Many genealogist become very focused on their family unit and do not look at the other folks around our families. A good rule of thumb in this situation is to use the ten up and ten down rule when looking at the census. This means looking at the ten families listed before and the ten that appear after. Be sure to look at their last names. Pay attention to where it says they were born. People traveled and lived around people they were familiar with. This did not always mean blood relation. In my own family over about a two hundred year period the families that lived around my family from Connecticut to Ohio were the same. Many followed with multiple moves in the migration trail. This does not become apparent until you look at more of the census record than your family unit. When researching families in urban areas the city directories are a excellent way to look at our families an their neighbors. These publications would start in the 1850's in many urban areas, but would become more popular as time moved towards the 1900's. One of the common tools used in the city directories was a section that listed the streets in a area and the people in order of their street numbers. Pay attention to the next door neighbors or the people that lived the street over. Understand the nature of the neighborhood. Were the people from a particular ethnic background? Do they work at the same places? Using this information later in the census helps you locate possible clues to your families origins and lives. When a family moved into a new area the greeting committee was often the tax man. Funny how that works. Prior to 1850 this is a excellent way to determine when a family arrived in a certain area and when they may have departed. It would be rare for the tax man to miss people for a period of time. If there is a gap it is a strong indicator that they have moved or maybe even died. Tax records provide valuable information during a time period where the paper trail may be weak. Look at who is around them again. Hopefully the records will be done by household and not alphabetized by the tax man. Finally land records which happen to be one of the less used documents to genealogist. Plot the properties around your ancestors to see who their neighbors were. Where they family? Do they have a connection to your family? Who was the person that your family originally bought land from when they arrived in a new area? How did your family know them? These are all important questions to ask. It was common for one person from a area go and scout out the new location for migration. This person would be entrusted with locating and buying the land. Then the others would move out and the land would be redistributed. Fathers would buy large tracks of land and redistribute them to their sons when they came of age. Use all the resources to research your family. Do not use blinders when it comes to the community in which your ancestors. The neighbors often provide the keys to breaking down those brick walls.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
The separation of a family unit happened even in old times. Husband and wives fought over similar things today that cause families to separate. Sometimes we may have the best of intentions, but things change. Prior to the 1900's the use of Divorce was less common to what it would be in the twentieth century. The common man would normally says things were not working out and would move out. Going through the court process of a divorce would be difficult to handle, because the newspapers would cover it as front page news. I am struck by researching in the early twentieth century and how the guy working in a plant has his separation front page news in the local paper. This would bring a great deal of pain to all parties involved. As with all things the more common the process became the less value it held for the newspapers to cover. Another common belief is that the spouse just disappeared. Understand at the time communication was not what we know of today and transportation was limited. People tended to travel within walking distance of their home. It was very common for the spouse to move outside of that circle and still live in the same town. Many a story has occurred where the spouse has gone and started a second family and the kids end up going to school together. Had one instance where they were dating and they were half siblings. The separation of children from the primary family was also a common event. In many cases we will never know the reasons why these events take place. It results in a major challenge to your research skills when trying to locate this missing person. Analyzing the event and the potential scenarios is key. Use the records at hand to help you uncover the mystery. Make sure that you consult all records. In this case no stone should be left with out being turned over.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
One of the common things when doing genealogy is that we tend to have blinders on when it comes to extended family. We become so focused on our direct line that we fail to take advantage of the clues that may be gained from researching collateral lines. Many road blocks occur with our direct lines due to the lack of a paper trail. The needed confirmation of information may not exist in direct family so we are forced to look elsewhere. In the early stages of my genealogy life I wore blinders and did not pay attention to the other members of the family. As I matured as a genealogist I found the gold that could be found when looking at the brothers and sisters in a family unit. One of the primary areas of confirmation is building a body of evidence to make a conclusion on your family line. Discovering the birth, marriages and deaths of other family members will help you in better understanding your direct line. In most cases these people had interactions with each other both good and bad. A great deal of information can be gained in these situations over a land sale, contention over probate or a military service record. Not to mention the vital records. When you run into a brick wall make sure to check out the whole family unit for clues. It is important to find all the pieces of the puzzle, because they will help you in resolving your direct line family. Good luck in your research and please be sure to share your ideas.