When you first begin to research your family, you get that tunnel vision. You concentrate on the names of only those who are on your direct line. You may write down the names of the spouses for the siblings, but you tend to not pay much attention to those names. By doing this, you are actually making your research harder.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is to look at the names of the others who are living near my ancestors. When working in the census records, pay attention to those who are living in the ten dwellings before and after the house where you locate your family. It is likely that some of these individuals will somehow become connected to your family, possibly through marriage.
It is important to keep a look out for some of the other surnames that associate with your families.
A Bad Habit
But even researchers who may at least glance at those living nearby don't spend much time researching the other surnames that connect to your direct line. Researchers are so intent on taking back their direct line that they overlook some valuable clues through the spouses and the families of those spouses.
Generally this behavior is one that is learned when first beginning to research your family history. You get so caught up in the researching of your specific family names, that you don't stop to look around. In essence, you don't stop to smell the roses, or in this case to really look at the given record or resource to see what else is included.
How Does This Work?
In researching my STANDERFER line, which has been one of the more difficult ones, I have been forced to research the spouses' families and the families of those who had any type of dealings with my STANDERFERs, including land transactions. And it was through this extensive research that when I discovered that Benjamin STANDERFER had married a Patsy FULTON, I was able to show where they sold land later on and make the connection to the FULTON family living in Moultrie County, Illinois. The research I had done helped to support my theory that this was indeed my Benjamin with a second marriage.
I am not saying that you need to do this with every line you are working on. However, when you find yourself hitting that brick wall, there are times that extending your research laterally, or sideways, will in the end help you to continue that vertical push back into past generations.
Sometimes just being aware of the other family names is enough. Remember, seldom did a given family just pick up and move on their own. In most cases they went with a group of other people, and the names you saw in Shelby County may be the same names you are now finding in Jefferson County. This can give you an idea of who traveled together and also may give you insight into why they left.
I found a similar incident with my AYERS in Colonial Massachusetts. They migrated north to what would become New Brunswick, Canada. However, they did not travel alone. They went with a few other families who were in town with them. And not surprisingly, the children of my AYER married into a number of those families. Sometimes AYER siblings married siblings in another family.
Our ancestors interacted with other families. It may have been through marriage or it may have been through the buying or selling of land. They may have all migrated together to another county or state. By having familiarity with the other surnames, it is sometimes possible to pick up the trail of your ancestor, even when he doesn't always show up in the records.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.