Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuesday's Tip: Do You Know Where Your Ancestors Are?

No, it's not a trick question. If you think the answer to this is as obvious as "who is buried in Grant's tomb," read on.

Do you know where your ancestor's are? 

My maternal grandfather would have the short answer, "In the marble orchard." (Grandpa speak for the cemetery.) And while locating the final resting place of our ancestors would be the ultimate, sometimes the road to the marble orchard is a long and winding and far too often a fruitless one.

How Do You Know What You Know?

You know how it is: you're in the zone, chasing down your great-grandfather, documenting the important life events. Birth certificates and a marriage record, tracking him through the census records and finally, his death.

So there it is ... a brick wall. You have exhausted all avenues of research and just can't finds the answer to (insert your research dilemma here). But ... have you looked at the big picture?

How Do You Know What You Know?

One of my favorite tips for proofreading copy is to read what you  have written backwards. This is a trick that book publishers use to break the emotional attachment that you have. But before you can proofread copy, you have to have something written in front of you.

Utilizing a time line is the best - and only way - to show you how you know what you know. It shows you where the gaps in your research are, similar to reading copy backwards. It breaks the emotional attachment that you have - the "script" that you recite of what you "think you know" about your research. What has worked for me is to create a word document that lists the year and a list of each life event and instance of the ancestor I'm researching. My timeline would look like this:

1870  Living in Redbank Township, Clarion County, PA w/parents: age 12
           Source: Federal Census Record (list identification information)

1879  April 17: marriage to Nancy Ann Stone: Brannan Township, Price County, WI. age 21
          Source: Marriage Record filed in Price County Court House

When looking at what I think I know based on what I've found, I am overlooking a gap of 9 years in the life of my great-grandfather. In those nine years he has gone from a 12-year living with his parents in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, to a 21-year old who is now beginning a life of his own in northern Wisconsin. How did he get there? As a fan of cluster genealogy, I will now go back and begin researching - including time lines - of his siblings and cousins. I'll look at the census records for Clarion County and see if any of the neighbors in Clarion County have immigrated to northern Wisconsin. Land records, local history of migration patterns and trends will also be taken into consideration and will all be added to my time line.

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