Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the land of the blind...

Truly, in genealogy, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I had an experience with this principle just a few days ago. My friend was seeking information about his Great-great-grandfather. His Great-grandfather was born in 1894. All of my friend's family came from Oregon, but his Great-grandfather had been buried in Oklahoma. He thought his family had come from Oklahoma and began searching for information in the Oklahoma records. For some time, he had made no progress.

One of the first things I noticed was the 1894 birth date. Hmm. What about looking in the World War I draft registration records? My friend was totally surprised. The thought that man in his twenties during World War I had registered for the draft never occurred to him. Truly, in genealogy, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. We quickly found not only his World War I draft registration, but also his registration for World War II! Guess where he was born? Oklahoma? Nope. West Virginia. From there we quickly found his father's family who were all living in West Virginia.

What is the lesson here? The answer comes in one word: CONTEXT. Families do not live in a vacuum. Things happen all around and through our families. So how do we know what is going on at the time our ancestors lived? In case you missed the subject in school, it is called history. One way to make progress in finding your ancestors is to put them in their historical context. What was happening at the time they were born, or married, or worked, or died? What was happening in the community? In the county? In the state? In the nation? In the world? What would cause your family to move across the state or across the world? If you were living some time in the future, and researching a family in Mesa, Arizona right now, you might find them moving to another state. Could it be that they lost their home through a foreclosure? If you knew the historical context, you might be right.

Many of the more recent database programs have a timeline option. The timeline will help to put your ancestors in a historical perspective and will immediately give you clues as to where you might look for further information. Changing county, state, district or province boundaries might also give you some clues as to where important records might have ended up being stored. There are several websites with extensive timelines. You might want to check out a few by searching on the term "historical timeline." But be careful, you might want to see if the timeline has events like World War I and World War II or even the U.S. Civil War.  I found one called HyperHistory Online to be quite interesting and complete. You may even find a local timeline.

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