My original plan had been to write more about the whole Weston family saga that I've started telling the last couple weeks (see here and here for those installments) and my meanderings through Susquehanna County PA and Essex County MA to track down my wandering ancestors.
However, a couple people have sent me private messages asking how I managed to find what I did, so I'm going to use this week's open thread to talk about techniques for getting to the fun discoveries ~ the stuff beyond the basic dates that census returns and vital records provide.
To start off ~ there's a huge element of luck. What was created in the first place, what survives, managing to find it..... but persistence can pay off. Sometimes you don't find anything ~ in the Weston saga, for example, I skipped the trip to Tamworth NH (a cousin currently lives there, so I had a place to stay), where I looked for more information, as some of the letters had been sent from there, but I didn't find anything, unlike the trips to PA and to MA.
There are lots of wonderful how to get started in tracing your family history resources around. But what comes after the various initial bits of advice to talk to older relative, to not skip any available census ('cuz who knows what relative was temporarily living with great-great-grandma?), and to write everything down ('cuz you think you will remember all the details, but you won't...)?
What's worked for me? Here's a real mish-mash of ideas ;-)
First, background knowledge is good.... very good. For example, not every immigrant to the US came through Ellis Island. People came before the facility opened, and even when it was functioning, people arrived in Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans, and lots of other places ~ some (like many of my family) even came via Canada, with some of the family staying there and not moving on to the US. However, based on half remembered school history, I've helped a couple people who only searched the Ellis Island database, didn't find the ancestor they were looking for, and so figured the record of immigration wasn't available.
Similarly, some basic history of an area is helpful. Another example: a couple times recently, I was able to predict from settlement patterns where a friend's ancestors likely came from. You don't necessarily need to read a 1327 page history of the town you have found ancestors in ~ but a good Wikipedia article or the equivalent can be quite helpful for general background.
Joining an email list for the family name you are working on and/or the locality you are searching in is a huge help. While email lists are less prominent than they were a decade ago, it can be a great way to tap into local knowledge and/or connect to other people researching the same families/places. Rootsweb is still a good place for finding email lists. And don't forget the archives for lists you sign up for ~ someone may have asked a question a few years you know the answer to ;-)
If you have Scottish ancestry, the Talking Scot forum is a must ~ the available knowledge from the regular posters is amazing ;-) Although we still haven't figured out the intriguing clue in this death notice for Edward Arthur ~ still, a decade later, don't know why American papers were asked to copy. Did a sibling immigrate? Haven't found him in any records before his marriage, so no way to know.
[Ugh ~ early digital camera... didn't do well inside, in poorly lit areas with no flash allowed.....]
Which brings me to the next point.... when looking for the hidden gems ~ they likely aren't on-line :-( While the volume of what is on-line is amazing compared to 10 or even 5 years ago..... lots is still not on-line. I found the above obituary in a family history society archive in Scotland that is small and poorly-funded; pretty much none of their collection has been digitized for on-line accessibility, and that's not likely to change in the next few years :-(
I was incredibly fortunate to be able to go to Scotland and to have a couple days on the trip to poke around in such places. I'm a huge advocate of traveling to the places your ancestors lived ~ but in the absence of the ability to travel to such places, joining a local historical or family history society for a year can give you access to local knowledge that can help work around brick walls.
I'd known what had happened to the great-uncle who is mentioned on this plaque (he died the first day of the battle of the Somme, along with way too many others.... he left a wife and three children), but seeing the plaque was still a bit emotional for me (it's in the church where my grandparents met in Leith ~ a much more nondescript building than I imagined from the family stories).
If nothing else ~ that plaque clues a researcher in to the fact that a man born in Scotland in the 1880s/1890s had a really high chance of being named John or James ;-)
Fun story from one of the trips to Scotland. My couple greats grandmother died in a cottage at the edge of the town of Selkirk. The first time I went there, I didn't go down the dirt road ~ it was a rental car and I was short on time. But the next trip, I was braver ;-) Not only did I find the actual cottage..... but the current owners invited me in for a cup of tea (they tried to feed me lunch, as well, but I'd eaten a huge Scottish B&B breakfast only about 90 minutes earlier....) and showed me pictures a previous owner had given them of the cottage from an era closer to when my ancestors had lived there.
Admittedly, sometimes a trip just provides atmosphere.... I could have gotten get transcriptions of William Gale's gravestone in Marblehead MA on-line, or in a couple different books.....
But the feeling in the cemetery couldn't be beaten ;-)
And, even with a lifetime of seeing the little markers common on houses on Boston's North Shore.... it's still fun to see this:
So..... what fun bits have you found in out of the way places? What's helped you get from the basics of genealogy research to the intermediate/advanced level?