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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Eight

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Eight: Casting the Net Wider: Searching Horizontal Kin and Neighbors by Amy Harris, Ph.D., AG.

This is one of my most repeated themes; expanding your genealogical research to include the surrounding relatives, friends and community. This particular chapter is very direct and primarily contains examples of the way to extend your research focus beyond the individual to the family. I recently used this principle to find the parents of a friend's Great-grandfather.

Every person who ever lived, created a cloud of records and associations. The idea here is to use the entire cloud and stop focusing only on the target individual. In my mind this type of research creates a pattern. For example, suppose you have a family that lived in the United States in the mid-1800s. Let's further suppose that they lived in a small town. By 1900, the majority of the residents in the United States still lived in rural areas. Quoting from the Library of Congress:
The United States began as a largely rural nation, with most people living on farms or in small towns and villages. While the rural population continued to grow in the late 1800s, the urban population was growing much more rapidly. Still, a majority of Americans lived in rural areas in 1900.
 I could go on to give statistics that would demonstrate the percentages of the population living on farms in any given area, but this generalization is sufficient for this example. Key to proceeding with any genealogical research is the need to establish a geographical base. You must begin your research and continue it by identifying a location specifically associated with a particular event in an identified person's life. This principle seems lost on many researchers. If you carefully examine the case studies given in the book, you will see that Amy uses this principle to expand her investigations beyond searching again and again for the same individual by name, date and place. She uses the place to add relatives and other people who lived in the same area at the same time. She states the principle by saying, "The records about one ancestor never contain all the clues pertaining to previous generations."

Amy also alludes to kinship patterns as a way of extending the ancestral family. I have written several times about the need to understand and investigate the kinship structure in existence at the time and place under investigation. In my own family, both my wife and I have an extensive kinship structure, but there is a dramatic difference in the way we interact with that structure. Except for my children and grandchildren, we have very limited interaction with my family for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, there are members of my wife's family that are very closely associated with us an come to many of our nuclear family events as part of the "family." These types of situations are common. Although I refer to the anthropological concept of a "kinship system," that system is implicit in these family associations, not associations in the sense of formal organizations, but merely in the sense of who you talk to and associate with on a regular basis.

These associations or relationships can be used to extend genealogical research. But the key here is that they must be identified and understood. The research effort to discover the family should extend equally to all members of the family. Returning to the idea that every family presents a unique pattern, you will find that you can use these family patterns to help to differentiate the family from others with similar patterns. For example, my Great-grandmother had the following children, looking only at their first or given names:

  • Martin
  • Thomas
  • Julia
  • Mary
  • Rollin
  • Hazel
  • Marion
  • Eva
  • Arthur

Granted, there were quite a number of children and I have not listed them all. But the point is that I can use this pattern to discover information about the family. I can also research each of the children to find additional information. If I use this pattern to do a Google search and include a place, such as adding the word "Arizona", I get the following results:

Google recognizes the pattern and produces a page where all the names appear. Now, it you take this simple example an expand it beyond a Google search to the entire concept of genealogical searching, you will begin to see patterns everywhere. These patterns are what you can use to identify families and extend family lines.

Here are links to the previous posts in this series:


  1. Thank you. I never thought of looking for all the given names in a family in a search engine. Of course, when I just tried it with those names, the first two hits were for this article.

    My favorite trick right now is, once I get a set of parents' names for a person, to then enter only the parents' names into the search engine. In other words: "Find anyone whose parents' are ___ and ___."

    It's amazing how many times you can find siblings that easily, especially if they all died in the same town, etc.

    "The records about one ancestor never contain all the clues pertaining to previous generations." -- so true.

    1. Hi!

      I can't access chapters 1-7. This may be because I recently joined the group. Or, there may be some other reason.
      The message received indicates I am not logged in and have to log in with a different account. This doesn't make any sense to me. Perhaps you know the answer. Help would be appreciated.

    2. Thanks for the heads up. It should be fixed now.