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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Research Methodology From My Perspective

I became interested in genealogy back in 1983 following an article in Farm Woman magazine. Yes, I still have this issue tucked away in my research files.  Back then I wrote letters sent via the US Postal Service and requested research outlines for the areas where I needed to research.  Now, I use Google to find leads for published county histories in the area of my research.  County histories offer clues that lead to more research.  I never trust one of these completely, since it is written by a family member from their point of view and on what has been passed down from one generation to another. My family has a lot of story tellers.

I used The History of Meigs County by Larkin as a starting point when I was adding the Higley supplemental to my DAR membership.  The book stated that Electa Higley married Benjamin Williams and their daughter was Sophia Stearns who married James G. Mitchell.

Step one: Census records.  I start with 1850, since it is the first one that lists everyone in the household on the day the enumerator came to visit.  I knew my line came from Meigs County, OH so that is the location I started with.  I needed to find the Williams family as mentioned in the history book I found. This would confirm that Sophia Stearns was in that household.  I followed this family and its members forward as far as I could.  Not that I needed every census to prove my line, I just need to know. I use familysearch.org because their search engine understands me.  The results are linked to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com for images that are not on the familysearch site.  I have tried the search engine on Ancestry and Fold3 but they frustrate me, so I stick to familysearch.  

The family history on Joel Higley also mentioned his daughter Sophia Higley who married Asa Stearns. Do you see where this is going? That's right, when I sent in my application I received back a letter asking for Sophia Mitchell's first marriage record. Of course, I knew there wasn't one but I had to prove it.  Going back to the 1850 census I search for Asa Stearns in Meigs county.  He was not there, so I expanded the search parameters to the whole state of Ohio.  I found them and then followed up with the 1860 census; they were still together.  These two census records helped to prove there were two women name Sophia Stearns, but my Sophia was Sophia Stearns Williams Mitchell.  She was named after her aunt Sophia Higley Stearns.  

Step Two: Marriage records.  Once I know the time and location for the person I am researching then I look for a marriage record.  These are easier to find than birth records for those who lived before 1900.  I was able to find Sophia Higley and Asa Stearns marriage record.  So now I had the proof DAR was needing to approve my supplemental application.  I already had the marriage record for Sophia and James G Mitchell from my original DAR application.

Step Three: Cemetery records. These can be easy or difficult to find, it just depends on if someone has walked the cemetery and created an index online.  Otherwise, you do the legwork yourself by contacting the sexton of the cemetery for a look at the plot map. I really like these maps as they hold clues to possible family connections to those buried nearby.  The one difficulty I have is searching for pre-1900 non-Catholic burials when the spouse was Catholic. There is no funeral Mass so therefore no church record exists.  I wonder, is there is a section in a Catholic cemetery for non-Catholics? One case in point, a man married three times and his first wife was Catholic and had a funeral mass in the 1860s.  He remarried to a Protestant girl who died in 1878.  No funeral Mass was said and the location of her grave in unknown.  He married a third time and the funeral Mass for he and this wife was in his original parish but their final resting place was in a neighboring parish in another county.  Sometimes you get lucky and some kind soul has transcribed these records and posted them to their county's page on USGenWeb. These folks are truly a blessing!

Step Four: Newspapers.  I like to know everything about the families I research.  Newspapers are awesome! If I cannot find BMD records, I turn to microfilmed newspapers.  I have borrowed them from other state libraries and historical societies through my local library and I have sat and browsed them at the local historical society library. Those old newspapers printed everything and it was never politically correct!  They all seem to follow the same style so you can find the local columns easily. The first page is always national news and stories. I have learned a lot about my ancestors and their collateral lines by reading these newspapers.  Some are online and those are my favorites.

Step Five: State Archives.  Some states have published indexes online and some don't. Illinois is a favorite one of mine since they have indexes by surname. If you are fortunate enough to live within driving distance of your local state archives, this is another of my favorite places. Just plan enough time because it always takes longer than you think to find the court record you are looking for.  One record always leads to another so don't stop when you find that one in probate.  I like to save them to my flash drive so I can upload them and have a digital image that I can zoom in the adjust the focus on. I usually just skim through them at the archives and then really dig in once I have the image uploaded to my computer.

How do you conduct your research?  Post your suggestions!

I love genealogy and genealogy research!