A TREE HAS MANY ROOTS AND BRANCHES
November 7, 2010
Focusing on your research is the key to picking all the fruits off your family tree. We have to learn to focus on our family, concentrate on a single surname, or spotlight one particular person as our center of attention. Deciding on which method you prefer may not be easy right away for the novice, but it slowly evolves with experience.
Beginners often look for information on their bloodline ancestors, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. As they till the soil around their family tree, they toss aside aunts, uncles and cousins as though these relations hold no clues to the past. Wrong! They develop tunnel vision, searching only for their direct bloodline. If you want to gain acceptance in lineage societies, utilize information on the aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings.
I want to use the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as an example. Prospective members must methodically identify each bloodline ancestor, generation by generation, all the way back to the soldier or patriot who served in this war. Sounds easy, but believe me it is not in many cases. Often, we have to gather proof of service and bloodline through many different ways.
I sometimes think my ancestors wandered ‘thoughtlessly’ across the country, settling down in counties whose courthouses would later burn to the ground leaving all evidence of anyone with that surname completely erased for all time. I learned to be creative. One method that I found that works for me is to employ single-family focus. We refer to that investigation as a ‘one name study.’ I use this, for example, to try to sort out which people with that surname on the census might be mine. Some people use it to try to relate all families across the country with each other. Christine Rose uses this method in her search to connect all those in America with the surname Rose. Bob Dunfield used it when he was trying to identify his ‘Elizabeth Smith’ in Tennessee. He was successful, too. I collect all the available information on anyone with that surname. I use it when I am visiting a courthouse that I might not visit a second time. This allows me to hold the information in my database until the time when I can make a connection by putting the missing pieces together. It may be weeks later, but more often than not it may be years later. In fact, some of the data may be useless. I can never depend on regular or consistent finds. I find my ancestors’ erratic moves across the country and frequent disappearance from records most irritating.
As one develops research skills, the importance of searching whole families becomes paramount. We search each family member because we find missing puzzle pieces with the most unlikely family member. I use this method for my research. It repeatedly rewards me with many delightful finds. Such as the time I searched my son-in-law’s parents’ family history. In this case, the in-laws lived in another state. I knew the bride had to meet the groom somewhere before the wedding. How did they meet? I found that the groom’s family moved briefly over the line into the bride’s state for about six months. That is where he met his future bride. The couple’s families lived there, two farms apart. A few months later, the family returned to the place they had previously lived. After the marriage, the couple lived with the bride’s parents where they resided together as an extended family. Just think of the information I gained by making a slight detour to research the groom.
Which method of research you choose depends on many factors. Sometimes, you may have to use all the tricks of the trade before you can unlock the mystery of your family saga. As a tree has many roots and branches, so do our families have many members and acquaintances.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.