Are you searching for ancestors and feeling stuck? Are you sure your ancestors are lost in space? Perhaps you cannot find their siblings or children anywhere? These are common problems to everyone building a family tree. Here is one simple tip to help you discover those missing individuals.
With a known-ancestor’s place of residence, go online and pull up a map of the area to identify additional small hamlets, villages, towns, or cities nearby. Perhaps 20 miles away, possibly up to 50 miles away. Here is an example: McSherrytown Pennsylvania is where several of my Kuhn ancestors lived in the 1800s. Several towns show up nearby: East Berlin, New Oxford, Hanover, Edgegrove, Abbottstown, etc. These are more places for me to search for any other Kuhn families. They may have moved further away – where are there large towns nearby? York and Gettysburg seem to be the closest big towns. These are just my best-guesses as to where the families may have moved to so that I can do more focused searches. Since people tended to move west as land opened up for settlers, I would tend to look first in that direction for more possible relatives.
You may need to find a detailed historical map of the area to be more accurate. Or, you may find in looking at a history of the area, that it shows one little hamlet joined up with another larger one, changing names. This will help you in looking for cemeteries, for example, when you can not seem to find a group of ancestors whom you know definitely lived in one particular place… It is no longer known as that town.
Often there are only 12-40 pages for a census of one town or village. If your known ancestor is found with his family on page 4, then check through every page, person by person. Remember that handwriting may be messy, the original document may be slightly smudged or have hatch marks across some names, names may be creatively mis-spelled. However, you may well recognize a family on p.37 as yours because of those three sisters with unusual names you find – your greatgrandmother’s sisters. Without this page-by-page search, you would have totally missed them. Oh, and look – your greatgrandmother’s mother is living with them, widowed! More information. You may have great luck by finding the eldest son living a few blocks away, or married and living in the same town. Or you might go to a census of several little towns nearby and hit a goldmine!
You may discover by searching each page and looking at the map that you have found a possible ancestor whom you have not been able to find living anywhere else. For example, there is your greatgrandfather, a blacksmith with his family, with 2 adult sons also working as a blacksmiths and living at home, all in one little town. What are the chances that another son (your grandfather) may have moved to another town nearby, and be a blacksmith too? So, when I found the right name, right age, same occupation, only 15 miles away, that was a great clue that this could be my grandfather.
Without a map of the area, I might not have found this particular person as both his first name and surname are relatively common. But with all the details, I now have a tentative ancestor. Now to confirm the details of this likely grandfather! A marriage registration would be very helpful since it would include both mother and father’s names and birth countries, for comparison with the original family details. I can also look for his death registration in this new town, and check the cemeteries nearby. Until I find documentation proving the relationship, he will continue to be a “tentative” ancestor.
Follow streams and rivers in both directions to see where ancestors may have travelled. Or look at old roads on historical maps for common pathways of travel. When did railroads come into this area? From where? To where? Have you found one relative in another province or state? Again, pull up a map, and check out the nearby towns for their records. Look at the contours of the maps, because if there were mountains, large lakes or major rivers, that may have directed ancestors to move north or south instead.
You will need to know how counties as well as states or provinces changed names and boundaries over time – again, there are online maps with these kinds of details. Is there a large port city nearby? Check for passenger lists of ancestors as they may have arrived at the port and moved directly inland to a new settlement. In other cases, they arrived at one port, then travelled quite a distance to settle with others from the same region or town in the ‘old’ country. In either instance, an old map of the area may help you in your genealogy searches.
Cemeteries are another source of information on your ancestors. Using a map and checking the history of an area, you may find mention of “old cemeteries” that might include your early ancestors. Current maps often include names and places of cemeteries and churches as well. These maps may give you additional places to search for your ancestors. And if you still come up empty-handed, you may have to think totally out of the box and assume they moved right across the country. Where would that be? Is there any family story of an uncle moving from Maine to California? or Washington? If you find one likely ancestor, start looking around that area for more ancestors. Perhaps his brother(s) came to live there later, or a married sister, or a nephew. Relatives did tend to stick together, even when they were adventurous and travelled to a new area to live.
By using historical maps, and being thorough and detailed in your searches, you may be able to discover additional ancestors on various genealogy records, confirming details of their lives. It can be very exciting to finally find a direct ancestor and their family – just by looking a little further away! Happy searching.