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

Friday, November 18, 2016

Locations are the keys to finding genealogical records

Over the years, for a number of reasons, I have been extensively involved in all aspects of real estate. One thing that is repeated by real estate professionals is an answer to the question, "What is important in real estate?" The answer is always location, location and location. Now, I am going to ask the same question about genealogy. What is the one most important consideration in genealogy? The answer happens to be exactly the same: location, location and location. Nearly every difficult research issue I have encountered over the years has ultimately revolved around identifying the location where an event occurred in an ancestor's or other relative's life.

I have often written about this subject over the years because it is a recurring theme in resolving difficult genealogical mysteries.

Before you begin searching for names and dates, you must identify the records that may be available to investigate. Records are created at or near the time of an event by someone who has an interest in the event or has a duty or obligation to record the event. Inevitably, these records are physically related to the place where the event occurred. So, identifying records concerning any event in the past requires an exact determination of the place where the event occurred and the entities having jurisdiction over the event. This means that if I want to determine if there is a birth record for my ancestor, I need to know the entities that existed at the time the birth occurred and the possibility that those entities kept a record of the birth. For example, today, we might search for a birth record in the state where the ancestor was born because states normally keep birth records. However, at some point in the past, the states either did not exist or did not keep birth records. In that case, we need to identify the entities that may have kept birth records at the time the ancestor was born. In this case, the entities could be the family keeping a Bible record or the local church recording a christening record.

The term "entity" may be confusing. This is the most inclusive term I can think of. It includes everything from nations to local churches and schools. Any organization that keeps records is included in my use of the term. Obviously the terms used to describe these entities change from country to country and also over time. Most, if not all of these entities, operate within a physical geographic area called a "jurisdiction." The definition of a "jurisdiction" in the way it makes sense to genealogists, is that it is the geographic or social area in which an entity has the ability or right or duty to make records.

These jurisdictions pile up like pancakes. The point here is that records can be kept by different entities depending on which entity had the ability, right or duty to create the record. So a military record may also be a record of a person's birth date. A death certificate may also contain a birth date. This is where the issue of finding appropriate records becomes really complicated. Some records, such as military, census and tax records, may be kept at a national level, some records such as births and deaths may have been kept at the state level, some records such as land and property and marriage records could be kept at the county level and other records could be kept in cities, towns and other municipalities. Some records are kept by individuals themselves such as journals, diaries and letters. As you search across the face of the earth, the organization and labels for these different jurisdictional levels change. They also change over time.

Another reason why identifying the location of an event is so important is the simple fact that people have the same names and can have very similar or the same dates associated with their life's events. In genealogy, matching people by name and date alone is called the "same name, same person" issue. In every case where this is a problem, the only way to differentiate people with similar names is to focus on the very specific locations where events occurred. In some cases, this involves identify the particular house where an event occurred. In one case I am familiar with, the county borderline went right through the house where this person was born and the birth had been reported to have occurred in both counties. So the issue was what part of the house was the person born in? Any reference to an event without adequate locational, i.e. jurisdictional, information is useless and probably wrong. I spent many years looking for the birthplace of an ancestor from Northern Ireland, where his own daughter had recorded the wrong place name. In addition, the wrong place name had been widely copied by his descendants. I finally found the actual name of the place and that cleared up the reason why no substantiating records had been found.

To make any real progress in genealogical research, you need to focus on the accuracy of the designations for where events occurred. Examples of the problems associated with ignoring this rule are more than evident in any online family tree. One of the most common problems encountered is the tendency to record the location of an event using the current designation. Basic to acquiring genealogical skills is the rule that places need to be recorded as their designations existed at the time the event occurred. Here is an example I have used before of what we are often confronted with when examining the way places have been recorded over the years by genealogists. I repeat this example from a couple of years ago because I regularly confront this same issue. Here is the list I obtained from old family group records on
  • of Wimboldsley, Middlewich, Chshr, Engl
  • of Middlewich, Chshr, Engl
  • of Over, Chshr, Engl
  • of Frodsham, Ches.,Eng.
  • Overton Frodsham, Ches. Eng.
  • of Montgomery Co., Va.
  • Elliston, Montgomery, Va.
  • of Highland Co., Ohio
  • Marshell, Highland, Ohio
  • Clovis, Curry, N. Mex.
  • of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr
To unravel these places and determine if they are correct, it is necessary to determine the associated dates. To illustrate this point, I need to refer to an example from some research I did on one of these listed place names some time in the past.

I picked one of these place at random from the 5+ million records and decided to look it up. The last one on my list above is recorded as "of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr." The associated date is 1844. Let's see if that works out?

A first quick check in Wikipedia gives us the following: Großniedesheim is a municipality in the Rhein-Pfalz-Kreis, in Rhineland-PalatinateGermany. By the way, the coordinates are 49°35′N 8°19′E. So why do we care? The real question is where are the genealogically pertinent records? This is where the municipality is today, where was it located in 1844? The rule is that genealogically pertinent records are created at or near the place where the event occurred depending on the jurisdiction in which the event was located. Records pile up like pancakes in layers depending on the time the event occurred. For example, there may be local, district or county, township, state and national records created at any given time depending on the event. Military records may be kept on a national basis. Church records may be kept in the administrative division of the church. Tax records may be kept by the taxing authority and so forth.

Let's go a little further. The Rhein-Pfalz-Kreis is a district (Kreis) in the east of Rhineland-PalatinateGermany. The district was created in 1886 under the name Bezirksamt Ludwigshafen, one of the last acts of king Ludwig II of Bavaria. See Wikipedia. Hmm. So in 1844 this place did not exist as it is today. By the way, the word "Kreis" means district in German. Oh, actually it also means "circle" but is used for district. The German words for "district" are Bezirk, Kreis, Stadtteil, Viertel, Gegend, Gebiet, Gau, Teil, Quartier, Revier and Stadtviertel. Let's go a little further with this discussion.

The Rhineland-Platinate is one of the 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany. See Wikipedia. This state was created in 1946. So we can pretty much appreciate the fact that records created in 1844 or there abouts might be a lot of places.

Before going on. Remember, our genealogist recorded this place as "of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr," so we don't even know, at this point, if the event of 1844 took place in this location or somewhere else. The individual ancestor may have moved to this location later in life and was actually born in a completely different place. When the place was recorded as "of..." such and such, what did that mean? Well, we don't really know. If there is no source noted on the Family Group Record, we have to guess as to how the genealogist associated this person with this location.

But my point is that the location may or may not exist or at least, may not have existed at the time recorded for the event. So how am I supposed to find the record that produced the date? Hmm. Well, in this particular case, the genealogist was well above average and noted the following:

Evangelical Luth Ch Rec of Grossniedesheim, Pfalz, Bvr (GS ser no 26214 pt 2)

Hurray, a source citation. A quick check in the FamilySearch Library Catalog to see if there is a film number shows that the number is not from Germany, it is the Annual Genealogical Form from Nibley Ward, Utah. So let's look in the Catalog and see if there is still such a record.

Searching in Catalog for Bavaria gives me the following: See Germany, Bayem. I can then look for places inside of Germany, Bayem and there are probably 500 or so places listed and here is part of the list for places called "Pfalz."
  • Pfalz
  • Pfalz (Kurfürstentum)
  • Pfalz-Neuburg (Herzogtum)
  • Pfalz-Zweibrücken (Fürstentum)
OK, so now I am completely lost. So I will go back and see if there is anything for "Grossniedesheim" and skip all the other stuff. Now we are getting someplace. the FamilySearch Catalog has a place called "Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim." Here are the records listed

Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim - Church records ( 2 )

Kirchenbuch, 1700-1954
Author: Katholische Kirche Beindersheim (BA. Frankenthal)

Kirchenbuch, 1709-1936
Author: Evangelische Kirche Großniedesheim (BA. Frankenthal)

Germany, Bayern, Großniedesheim - Civil registration ( 1 )

Zivilstandsregister, 1807-1824
Author: Großniedesheim (Bayern). Standesamt

The church book records cover the time period and one of the records is for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. By the way, FamilySearch records the place as Manuskripten im Protestantischen Landeskirchenarchiv der Pfalz, Speyer, Bayern, Deutschland. Guess what? The records are of confirmations and deaths. The date recorded in the genealogist's family group sheet was for a birth.

This level of confusion and obfuscation are relatively common all originating from carelessly recording a place name and the supposedly associated record. In this case, the various countries or jurisdictions changed frequently in Europe during the 1800s and referring to the actual name of the place at the time of the event becomes even more important. From the list above, the "of" designation may help to orient the genealogist, but it can be very misleading to future researchers who begin looking for the information about the event in the jurisdiction specified.

Here is another example from the Family Tree of a place recorded for two of my direct line acestors.

Here are the places and dates associated with these two individuals.

William Tarbutt, b. ABT 1739, Cranbrook, Kent, England
Mary Boorman, b. 30 Sep 1744, Headcorn, Kent, Eng.

As you can see from the above image, their marriage supposedly took place in Goudhurst, Kent, England.

Why would I question these entries? Because they are very likely inaccurately recorded. According to Wikipedia, Cranbrook is a small town in the Weald of Kent in South East England. It lies roughly half-way between Maidstone and Hastings, about 38 miles (61 km) southeast of central London. It turns out that both Goudhurst and Headcorn are actual locations in England and less than 10 miles apart.

One of the sources listed is the following from the "England, Kent, Parish Registers, 1538-1911," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 20 May 2014), Kent > Goudhurst > Marriages 1754-1792 > image 14 of 59; Kent Archives Office, Maidstone.

This record says that William Tarbut was from the Marden parish. However, the genealogist's record states that he was born in Cranbrook about seven miles away. None of these distances are a concern, but Cranbrook and Marden are two different parishes in Kent, England. Was he born in Marden or Kent. By the way, there are many sources attached to this particular person. One shows the following:

Did William Tarbut marry Mary Boorman or Elizabeth Balcomb or both? A search on shows that there are 1,445 William Tarbutt records in their records for Kent, England and 53 of those records, with the same name, have events recorded within two years of the estimated date for our William Tarbutt to have been born. has no birth records for that time period for Marden, Kent, England, but does have several marriage records including the one shown above. But there are several other marriages listed for men with the name William Tarbutt.

Further research does not clarify the situation. But here the illustration is used to show the importance of the exact location where certain events occurred. This is an either/or situation since the William Tarbut who marries Elizabeth Balcomb in 1778 cannot be the same as the one who married Mary Boorman in 1763 because Mary Boorman was still alive until 1777 however, there is no death record cited for Mary Boorman Tarbutt. To add to the confusion, the child of William Tarbutt who is supposedly my ancestor is recorded as Elizabeth Tarbutt, b. 17 December 1766 in Benenden, Cranbrook, England. However, Benenden and Cranbrook are really two different parishes not parts of the same place. There is a birth record showing where Elizabeth was christened.

So, it may be that we have the right William Tarbutt but there is still a doubt because of the contradiction in the marriage record. The only way to unravel these types of problems is to focus on the locations of the events. In this case, it may be necessary to resort to microfilm records in addition to the online records. 

No comments:

Post a Comment