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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Branching Out
by Rhonda R. McClure

April 26, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Genealogy is the study of blood lines. Family history is the study of the history of our family. Regardless of what term you use, it is likely that you will discover that you fall into the same trap.

As researchers we develop a form of tunnel vision. We concentrate only on our direct lineage, straying for nothing. However, this may not be the most effective way to conduct our research.

Look beyond your immediate line of descent.

A Little Story

Your hands are moist; your heart is beating just a little faster. You have just put a microfilm on the reader that holds the marriage record for your great-grandmother. You are eager to see the maiden name of your great-great-grandmother. You crank just a little faster in anticipation. Naturally, great-grandmother's certificate is at the end of the microfilm reel. Finally, the certificate is there and you read, expecting all to be revealed. Your eyes skim over the record, you see your great-grandmother's name. You see her father's name. Then your eyes fall on the line where her mother's name is listed. Her last name is . . .


Unfortunately this story is repeated more often then we care to admit. After all, if we admit it, we might actually get discouraged in our research. All is not lost though.

Where to Turn?

Frequently when conducting our research, we concentrate solely on the individual from whom we have descended. This is natural. This is the person of utmost importance to us in our research. However, when it comes to digging around in the records, it may be necessary to branch out a little to include searching for records of siblings as well.

You may have a goldmine at your fingertips, overlooked because you do not take the time to more thoroughly investigate the siblings of your ancestor.

A Case Study

Recently I was conducting a search for the family of actress Donna Reed. The good news was that the records I needed were microfilmed and they covered many years in all the records. Despite this good coverage, I was finding that records for the individuals I sought were sometimes missing or were missing the pertinent information I wanted.

For instance, family legend said that the mother of William R. Mullenger was Mary A. Johnston. Unfortunately, William's birth and marriage could not be found in the Crawford County, Iowa records. However, I had more than just William's name. In my research, I located the family in the census records. Through the census records, I had the names of William's siblings and approximate dates of birth. Armed with this information, I was able to locate the birth records of two of William's siblings and did verify that the surname of Mary was Johnston.

Had I concentrated just on William R. Mullenger, I would have been sorely disappointed. I would have gone home from the library in despair that there was nothing out there for this family. Instead, I was able not only to determine Mary's maiden name, but also to locate her parents' names and one of Mary's grandparents. Thus what could have been a disappointing research day turned into a prosperous day simply by including all the children when researching the family.

In Conclusion

The next time you find yourself at a brick wall where your ancestor is concerned, look at the family group and see if you might be able to find the same information by researching one of the known siblings. You may be very glad that you did.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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 the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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