Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Temporal priorities

During what would have been my "blogging time" yesterday, I did some personal genealogy research instead. I've been researching my family's history for over 10 years, now, and any genealogist will tell you that the early days of research are usually the most fruitful. When you're first starting out, you hit the census records for the most recent years available, which are the 1920 and 1930 records, respectively. As the US census has been progressing, coming back up every 10 years, the amount of information collected has increased. The data points within are being indexed more efficiently, yielding faster and more accurate results when searching. Back until about 1880, it's possible to "crawl through" the census data and track a family's progress backwards in time. Past that point, however, the threads of research got pretty thin. Every researcher I know has run into dead ends or has had a family simply disappear from their "radar." When that happens, the best thing to do is usually switch to researching another line in your family tree and hope that something will eventually come to light about the line you've "played out."

In the last decade, more and more information has been made available on the internet. Indexes are being made for more data that originally had none. The bottom line is that research avenues that may have been dead ends even 5 years ago might produce some results today. That's why researchers today who hit a dead end will return to some of the same search engines they've already checked and look again. Personally, I try to run a brief search every 6-9 months on the lines I've gotten stuck on. Last night, while demonstrating the technique for my father-in-law, a link to a new resource came up. It turned out to be a gold mine. Not only did it provide some more detailed information about one of my ancestor's name, it showed me why I'd run into a dead end on him.

I was looking for him in the wrong county.

Armed with that information, I initiated a search along that county's records and located him and his family 20 years earlier than my previous block. I now know he had 4 brothers and 3 sisters where I had no family information before at all. I know now his father's name, his mother's name, where they were born and in what years. With that information, I was able to search on his father and track him in both directions in time. As I mentioned, later censuses collected more information than the earlier ones, so I know also know where my ancestor's grandfather came from, even if I don't yet know his name. At least, now, I have a location to search.

In any case, this has been a priority for my time, so that's why the blogging was pretty light. I'm going to work on that today. Right after I advise my family that the roots of our tree have gotten deeper in the last 24 hours. Should be fun.