As a beginner in genealogy building your family tree, you are likely very excited as you find yet another ancestor of yours. Once you find that first greatgreatgrandfather and his family, you probably did one of those little happy jigs at success! It is so satisfying to find the right unusual names in the right places with the right children with the right ages. Very satisfying indeed. And then you go on to try to find the next generation back on both his and his wife’s line, and on it goes into the past.
But there can be wonderful benefits from taking the time to search through the siblings of your direct ancestors and their particular family lines. One of the obvious benefits is to ensure that you do have the correct ancestors, by going through sidelines, as they are called, to check on naming patterns, residences, occupations, and so on. You may find as I did that there were a gaggle of Grover Buell’s in a family line, and some of them are first cousins in the same communities. How can you be sure you have the correct ancestor unless you make certain there is only one person with the correct details? I had to check through a number of burials before being certain of my details.
Another benefit is to come across 2nd and 3rd cousins who are also doing research in one or more of your ancestor lines. I was lucky to find excellent information and sources from a much-further-apart cousin who happened to be searching for a detail. By going on message boards or writing to forums on family surname association websites, you may well find wonderful details and ancestor sources already researched by someone else. I am always happy to benefit from someone else’s research, as long as it is correctly sourced and cited. Getting photos of burial stones in far-off cemeteries from cousins will help to clarify who is married to whom at what time, and helps eliminate a same-name relative from your direct ancestor line.
From those relatives mentioned above, you may be lucky to receive copies of documents or photographs of your direct and indirect relatives from the later 1800s or more. My greatgrandfather’s sister’s photographs were wonderful boons, and such a delightful surprise when my 3rd cousin sent them to me. How they enrich my family tree! I pore over the photograph looking at the nose (hmm, different) and the ears/lobes (hmm, the same) and try to find similarities in current relatives or in my face. I was lucky enough to be able to fly to visit one 3rd cousin and meet with her, sharing information on our common family lines. Another 3rd cousin lives now in Paris… how tempting!
If you have several ancestors with fairly common first names as well as common surnames, you may find it helpful to go up as far as you can go, then go down through those collateral lines and then back up again to your brick wall. Sometimes, you may find by going through cousins that you find your greatgreatgrandfather’s sister’s marriage registration is listed online with her parents’ full names. Aha! You only found her married name through your great aunt’s stories. Now you have a very likely place to start your next round of research. You will have to verify that you do indeed have the correct person, of course. But these sideways searches can be very helpful.
Since some families in the 1700s and 1800s had 10-14 children or more, sometimes with several spouses, and a rather small number of first names tended to be used, it can be daunting when looking for a particular ancestor. Do you know how many George Terwilliger’s there are? Many! And John Treat’s? Again, many of those potential ancestors. I also found so many same-name Kuhn ancestors that I had to make sure I was in a direct line by going up and down sidelines to be certain. Siblings often named their children after either a parent or a sibling (or two). Then, since there could be as much as 20 years between the first child and the last child, the first child may have been having children a full generation older than his/her youngest sibling’s children. They may have exactly the same name, and by being about 20-25 years apart, it could be tempting to believe that they are a parent-child relationship, instead of first cousins. How can you tell if you do not do the collateral line research?
Your research skills will become very much improved as you learn to look for more than one document or record for each ancestor in your family tree. Census records, tax rolls, military records, history booklets, birth-marriage-death records, burial gravestones, and more – all help you become more certain of the accuracy of your ancestor lines. Remember as you search that you want to have high quality sources, such as documents which were generated at the time of the event. An example would be a church record of a marriage written at the time of the marriage and signed by the minister/priest in the church books. Look very carefully at all the clues you can find in any document or record you find, and you will be doing many happy jigs!
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