Sunday, November 18, 2012

Who are those people that live around our families?

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.
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