Though some people say that some people are just lucky in doing their research, or seem to have all the luck, that may not be the case at all. It may be in the way a particular person researches and the technique they use. Though it may be a little more complicated and confusing, some researchers look in a great variety of places, and are continuously contacting people other researchers might ignore. Is there an advantage to this technique? Absolutely, and here is why.
You have to go back in time and learn what life was like at that time. Though people traveled, it is not the same as we do today, though the motives are generally similar. There were fewer ways to get from one place to another, it took a lot longer, and it was more difficult to travel. It was not uncommon, even past the turn of this century, for a family in one town to load up the horse and wagon on a Saturday, and take a good part of the day to travel 20 miles to visit another family. Because this trip for that time period took so long, the visiting family would usually have dinner and sleep over with the people they were visiting, and not leave to return home until after church that Sunday. Traveling farther distances took even longer and returning to visit those left behind was rare.
Now, with this in mind, think of how people would communicate with those who had moved away. Also, think of how anyone would let those they had left behind remember those that had left, and visa versa. By their letters and photographs! Now as an example, think of your great great grandparents, and all of their children that might have moved away to new lands or to homestead somewhere else. Your great great grandparents would send letters and pictures to their children, not themselves, and visa versa. What if they had all girls? This would mean that no one with the surname would have these pictures and letters, and if you were only researching that surname, or just your direct lineage, how much information would you lose? From our own experiences, a lot, along with valuable sources of information. In the case of one of our genealogist, copies of all the oldest letters and photographs that were ever obtained, came from the descendants of in-laws to the surname being researched. In the situations concerning photographs, two photographs for two different sets of great great great grandparents were located through the surnames of the daughter’s husband’s surname. These pictures were from the middle 1800’s and are priceless heirlooms to a family’s history.
Over the course of time, in researching these other surnames, a greater understanding of the family history was obtained. The migration patterns became obvious, as well as how the family changed with the changing of our nation. One such example was a letter from the 1850’s that one of our genealogists had found through the descendants of his great great great grandfather’s son-in-law’s family. In that letter was the reference to how great the land was that had opened up in Kansas and that his son-in-law should consider moving there. Though the son-in-law did not go to Kansas, his children did, and descendants still live there to this day. The other important information that was learned from this letter was that the great great great grandfather was even in Kansas, as he is buried in Indiana, where had lived most of his life. It was later learned through his in-law descendants, that he had died on a train ride to visit his daughter and son-in-law in Iowa while he was still living in Kansas. Since his wife and many of his children were buried in Indiana, they shipped his body back there to be buried. Without this letter, there would have been no clues to ever look in the Kansas records for his surname or where in Kansas to even look.
Another helpful hint is to always think of every different possible spelling for a surname, because chance are, at one time or another, in one record or another, it will be spelled that way. Take one example one of our genealogists experienced. Though it was known that the Berry line had been in Georgia in the 1870’s, this one family could not be located, until they were found under the spelling of Berray. The later spelling of the Wilkinson name could be found in earlier records spelled as Wilkason and Wilkerson. The worst name so far is the name Stillwagon, as it is most commonly known and spelled today. The original spelling was Stelwagen, and since wagen in German means a carriage, cart, or wagon, this German immigrate family’s name became Stelwaggon, as the acceptable way to spell "wagon" back in the 1700’s was "waggon". From there came the spelling Stilwaggon, then Stillwaggon, and finally Stillwagon, though all five spelling can still be found today among these descendants. Even more confusing is the different spellings used by the same children from just one family, as their gravestones in Indiana reflect. Remember this country is multi-diverse in its population and whoever the person was that was entering in the name in a record, spelled that name according to their own background, and not of the background of the person being entered. These are some of the worst examples we have had on the spelling of surnames, and how they have changed over the years, though we have heard tales far worse from other genealogists working on their family tree.
Click on the icon for Related Fields to learn how genealogy is connect to other fields of history.