Sunday, March 24, 2013

Are you making assumptions based on a 21st century perspective?

Often times when we are looking back on our ancestors we are looking at the from a 21st century perspective. It is important to do a little research into the events going on the area they live as well as the social norms for the time period that would effect their decision making. The more understanding of the outside things in their lives the better we will understand why they made the decisions they did.

A common element of our ancestor's lives that is hard to understand is travel. Due to limitations of what they were using to travel common migration patterns were created. In our early history the use of wagons and beasts of burden slowed the travel. Restrictions occurred on what routes you were able to take. They did not have planes, trains or automobiles. Traveling with use of waterways and Indian trails were common.

If you look at the migration out of New England they followed very set routes. Ironically all old Indian Trails that brought them into the interior. You did not travel off the beaten path. Cities would pop along these trails. That is why you find ancestors living in similar places as they moved west. In the early stages of the migration it would take months to get to Ohio or Michigan. With the development of the Erie Canal you were down to weeks. Ship and train travel were soon to follow. The ease of travel to the interior got a whole lot easier and affordable.

People also traveled with other people then new. You did not travel alone due to the high amount of risk. They traveled with family members and other people that lived in the community.

Another item that causes limits with the travel issue is the ability to file vital records. If your ancestor lived in a rural setting the ability to travel into the county seat may takes days. What we think of today as a twenty minute drive often took our ancestors a day. Time was precious then and they tended to use their time in different ways.

Understand the limits of their culture. Do some work to understand it through some study. You will be amazed at the light you will gain into your ancestors lives through a better understanding.

What do you know about the neighbors?

This has been a topic that I have written before, but I feel it is well worth repeating. One of the things that has helped me the most when breaking down a brick wall is discovering the story of the people that lived around my ancestors. It does not matter if they are in a rural or urban setting.

For those ancestors living in a rural setting it is important to look at the people that are living around them. Due to the low population in those types of settings you had to make real sure to be friendly with your neighbors. There were a variety of threats in the surrounding area that you would have to depend on those around you. This could vary from a simple barn or house raising, food, wild animals, weather, fire, or Indian threat. You had strength in numbers. It is always wise to plot out the properties around your ancestors to see who the other people were. See where they came from. Always good to figure out the migration trail of those that lived around them. People did not tend to move to a particular area without having some previous knowledge that would draw them to a particular area.

Pay special attention to who your ancestors bought there first land from in a particular area. What was their relationship? Often was the person sent out from the old place to check out the land and make the purchase. Knowing as much as you can about them will help you with your own search.

Now as time went by into the latter half of the 19th century there would be a influx of people into urban settings. The opportunities for jobs was higher and life was much steadier. This applied not only to people that had lived in the country for a while, but also to new immigrants to the country. Vast majority of people that lived in urban type settings rented their homes. City directories become a valuable tool for the Urban researcher. Pay attention to who the neighbors were. Was your family living in a ethnic neighborhood? Where was the local church? Who did they work for? All of these again will shed light on your families past.

As always I look forward to your thoughts. Don't get caught in the trap of wearing blinders. You can find solutions to your brick walls. You just need to expand your investigation.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Are you sure they were not using nicknames?

A interesting item that I have come across was the person identified by the name that they were actually born with or are they going by a nickname. This has been glaringly apparent when I have not been able to locate a paper trail on the person in records at all. Here are a few examples of what I am talking about.

My wife's grandfather's name was Cervanus. Now as if that name would not be easy enough to find due to the minimal amount of people that would use that name to find a child. They used this name on both his birth and marriage certificate, but after that time frame the trail runs cold. Understand he had full contact with him family after this time, but I was unable to locate the death certificate. After several attempts and some bad assumptions on my part I finally went to my wife's grandmother to have help me clear things up. First thing was that he did not die in the town I thought he had. He was still of working age, but his job had caused him to work during the week at a plant outside of the town. At weeks end he would come home for two days. He died during the week. I explained to her my problem with finding his death certificate. She said one of the issues was that at work they called him Bill. Huh? With this new found information I went to look in he records where she told me he worked in Michigan. Boom there he was. Ironically his name on the death certificate was not Cervanus, but Bill. Why you ask, because that is what the people he worked with new him by and that is what they told the authorities. Mystery solved.

Second mystery in my family was my own grandmother. The name I knew her by was Grandma Cleota. At family gatherings I would ask questions about her since she had died way before I was even born. Family members would look at me funny when I said this. One of her sisters finally said to me you mean "Babe".Well ever being the curious one I said please tell me that story. Well it seams her parents (My Great Grandparents) could not decide on a name for her so until they came to a decision they just called her temporarily "Babe". Guess what temporary in my family was for five years. Shortly after she was born they had taken a census and she was listed as "Babe". New I had the right family group, but no Cleota. Finally they came up with the name Cleota, but for the rest of her life she preferred to be called "Babe". That is how her family new her.

The final one I was helping one of my students do research during one of our field trips. When he had made up her research plan we felt very confident that we were going to find information on this individual. His name was Stanislaw and he was a Polish immigrant. We were able to find him up till the time he came to America. His name was spelled wrong on the passenger list. From the year of his immigration until the early 1920's we were able to find his name seven times spelled seven different ways. We were able to determine it was him by those living around him. Then finally in the early 1920's he changed his name to Stan. Prior to this time we never saw it spelled this way, but after the change it never varied. Always Stan.

Pay attention to the nicknames. Make certain to write them down. Simple things like Mike for Micheal or Lisa for Elizabeth. It is often the simple things that prevent us from moving on to the next step in our families.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Are you to focused on the Paternal side of the line?

While doing research we often get way to focused on the Male (Paternal) side of the line. Little do we realize that that the Female (Maternal) side of the line has just as much influence on your research. Doing research on the Female line though provides a different set of challenges than the males side.

The first one and probably the hardest one is determining what the maiden name is for our female. Can't tell you how many genealogies I have looked at including my own that only have the first name for the female. There are several steps that you can take to locating this elusive name.

1. Marriage Record- This document is the first one that connects the female to the male. Locating this document will help identify her maiden name. Now this is not much to go on if her name is Mary Smith. So we need to locate more clues. One trick is to identify who conducts the service for your couple. Using her maiden name look at other people being married by the same person within a plus or minus ten year period from the couples wedding date. Brothers and Sisters are born close in range and this will give you a whole new set of people to research to find if there is a connection to your female.

2. Middle Names- Pay attention to the names used for middle names for the children of your couple. It was a very common naming practice among many different ethnic backgrounds to use maiden names for middle names. In my own family for several generations the middle name that at least one of the children had was the name Burr. This name was one that did not make sense as a first name, but seemed to more likely to be a last name. Sure enough with further research on the Paternal side of the family I was able to locate that one of the women's maiden name was Burr.

3. Naming Practices- A common way of naming children was to name the First son and daughter after the parents of the husband. The second son and daughter would be named after the wife's parents. This was way more common than I first gave credit to when researching my own family. I look back at all the time that I would have saved if I had thought of this rule. Using this system hopefully you will be able to reduce the pool of people living in a particular area down by the children's names.

4. Timeline- Another method that I have used is using a timeline to include all the events that have occurred in the females life. Start with her birth. Make sure to include the dates, event and location. This will help you when trying to determine what new records can be consulted and making certain that you are able to look in the geographic location that the event occurred. The irony in genealogy is that the nugget of information you seek is always in the last document you search.

5. Children's death certificate- Here you will be able to find a fairly reliable source for the surname of the person's mother. Understand that this does not start until after 1867 in most areas and the information itself is only as reliable as the person giving it.

Remember it was very common for the Husband to travel with the wife's family. Don't stay focused on his surname. Find that marriage certificate. It was by far the most common document recorded. They were kept much earlier than birth and death records. Look at who is living around your family. Marriage occurred in a very small pond. Travel was very limiting the further you go back.

Please check out my post on Elusive Maiden Names for more suggestions on this research challenge.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Newspaper- Chronicling America

With the advancements in computer technology the ability to search newspapers word by word has become a excellent tool for doing genealogy research. One of the best sites that I have found recently was created by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in coordination with the Library of Congress. The project itself is call Chronicling America. It is a wonderful project.

The site does not cover all fifty states, but does have many newspapers from the state of Ohio. At last count it was fifty four papers from all over the state. The scope of the total collection is from 1690 to present. Quality of the scans is outstanding and more are being added. This is a excellent source for our research and play a important if they have a paper for a particular area you are researching.

When using the site it is better to narrow your search in the beginning to the geographic location where your family was located. I was surprised with a name search you could come up with articles that were not from the geographic area, but were picked up by the national new sources. This was very common in the newspaper's of the time to fill space from all over the country.

Start your search by selecting the name you wish to search. I found the best search by using the exact phrase to do your search. You have several methods though to conduct the search. Once you look at the page the words you were looking for are highlighted. If the article is of interest you can clip it and save it in a PDF format. Make sure that the article is properly sourced so you know where you got it and you can come back to it if necessary.

The site can be found at Enjoy this it is a treasure.