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

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Looking for clues

Yesterday, I was asked a question about an ancestor who lived in Illinois but was supposedly born in Missouri in the mid-1800s. The question was asked in the context of trying to find the ancestor's parents. Unfortunately, I did not have time to explore the situation in more detail, but the basic methodology for solving such issues is always the same: look backwards and come forward. In this situation, the person asking the question, as I understood the question, had a death place and date for the ancestor in Illinois. So instead of looking for birth information in Missouri (the obvious choice) he should be looking for birth information and information about his parents, in Illinois.

When looking for clues, you have to start with the known facts. Those facts are going to be found where the person lived. I have mentioned this before, but I am reminded of the old Bazooka Joe comic, where Mort, is looking for something at night under a street lamp. Joe asks Mort what he looking for and is told that Mort lost a quarter. Joe asks, "Where did you lose the quarter?" Mort says over there half a block away. Joe says, "Why are you looking here then?" Mort says, "The light is better."

I think a lot of times we go looking for clues where we think the light is better and the most common mistake is looking for information about an ancestor where we "think" the ancestor lived. The person who is looking for a birth date in Missouri is looking there because the "light is better." That is, they believe that is where the information is located so that is where they look.

There are several possibilities and I cannot name them all, but here are some things to think about:
  • The ancestor was not born in Missouri at all, the unsubstantiated information is wrong.
  • The ancestor was born in Missouri but the no record was made of the birth because of the early date.
  • The ancestor was born in Missouri but moved as an infant to some other area.
  • The ancestor was born somewhere else, but carried to Missouri at an early age and thought he was born there.
The list could go on and on. But all of these speculations point to the fact that information about this person's birth is more likely found in records made during his lifetime and therefore in Illinois or whatever other locations it turns out he lived. So, in effect, you start at the end of his life or even with the lives of his children, and work backward or other other words, come forward in time from the event.

What kinds of records should this researcher be looking for? Practically anything, from a birthday card or announcement to an obituary, from insurance records to medical records. In short, anyplace someone would have given their date and place of birth in conjunction with any kind of transaction, legal or otherwise in their entire life.

Don't be like Mort and look where it is convenient. Spend the time to find out about this person's family in great detail. The more you know, the more likely you are to find the birth parents, even if you never find the birth date or place.

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