In Search of Your Ancestors?
A column on genealogy by George Farris
December 24, 2008
19. Importance of Family Groups in Tracking Ancestors
The two standard genealogy forms used by family history researchers are a "Pedigree" Chart and a Family Group Sheet. The Pedigree or Ancestry Chart starts with an individual (such as yourself), then lists the parents, grandparents, gr.grandparents, etc. at each level with their vital statistics - full names, birth and death dates and places and the marriage dates and places. Family Group Sheets expand on each husband/wife at each level to list all of their children - with summary details of their vital statistics and their spouses names. Finding the information to complete these basic forms gets much harder the further back in time your research proceeds. Of course, as I've emphasized in previous columns, your family history is much more than just these bare names, dates, and places. You would really like to understand how your ancestors lived and what was happening around them at the time. But, to do that, first you have to uncover this basic data.
You might wonder how collecting information about the children of your gr.gr.grandparents, etc., is of value in constructing your own ancestry tree. After all, except for one person, these people out on the branches of your family tree weren't your own direct ancestors. There are two answers to this question: (1) Genealogy is fundamentally the study of families - not just of direct ancestry. Understanding these family groups and how the members interacted is a part of understanding how your ancestors lived. (2) Knowing about the family group at any level can be vital for extending your research on to the next level of your own ancestry. In this column I will expand on this second point - using some examples from my own research.
"Brick Walls" in Genealogy
Every family history researcher ultimately runs into "brick walls" - which is a common term for the end of any particular ancestral line which you are unable to extend further back in time. Sometimes these are temporary - and a researcher often will discontinue research on one line and concentrate on other ancestral lines for a period of time. Later, a piece of data may be found that enables extending a line that was a previous brick wall - even many years later. Family group information is often very useful in finding a path around what had appeared to be a brick wall. While I've not specifically addressed this point in previous columns, some of the examples that I've used from my own research have benefited from this approach. I've mentioned how a War of 1812 bounty land claim by a brother of my gr.gr.grandfather established the link from records in Illinois back to previous family records in Kentucky and how a Revolutionary War pension claim by a brother of my gr.gr.gr.grandfather established a link for the family back to Hanover County, Virginia at the time of the revolution. But these had to be preceded by establishing the relationship between these family members.
Census records back to 1850 are key elements in defining family groups. However, prior to 1850, family members were not separately listed in census records - so it gets much harder to identify siblings. Obituaries and death notices prior to the late 1800s typically didn't list the family members. Wills, when they exist are very useful for identifying family members - but often no will existed. Sometimes, even when no will exists, you can still find a bit of useful information from probate administration records, if they have been preserved. For instance, an obscure probate administration record in Illinois after John Farris died without a will in 1852 included the phrase "... Jeremiah Farris, brother of the deceased, is appointed administrator ..." - the first real proof I had found that they were brothers. If the obituary and other documents for one of your great grandfathers doesn't list his parents perhaps similar documents for one of his brothers or sisters will contain that information. But first you have to identify them.
This example is an on-going search that involves the subject of my previous column, Amelia Henrietta Stockman. As mentioned in that column, I do not yet know who her parents were. Hopefully, in your own research, in most cases it will not be as difficult to identify a family. But some of what I've done to-date on this line may provide some ideas for your own research. While it took me a long time to break through one brick wall in identifying the parents of one of my gr.grandfathers, I have mentioned how a long-lost family bible record ultimately provided that information - plus another generation and other details regarding my Nicol gr.gr.grandfather's ancestry. It also provided the information about my gr.grandfather's siblings that was instrumental in finally tracking them and my gr.gr.grandmother to Montana. However, that bible record did not provide any information regarding Amelia Stockman's own ancestry.
There was little written about Amelia in Montana - and nothing that seemed to have any bearing on her ancestry. Neither did the documentation written by and about her son and daughter who went with her to Montana. Family history research by descendants of her son, Robert W. Nicol, had arrived at the same brick wall. So, over the past several years, I've attempted to identify siblings of Amelia Stockman - hoping that this might lead to other clues to their ancestry. Most of this has been done through census records.
It was common for siblings to support each other - and often to migrate together. So, finding that Amelia and her children moved to northern Indiana from Dearborn, Michigan after her first husband died was a pretty good clue that there were other members of her own family in that area. But it hasn't been easy identifying them ... One of the first clues came from an 1880 census record in Montana which showed Elmer Stockman, age 18, born in Indiana, living with the Robert Nicol family - and listed as "cousin". Looking for Elmer back in Indiana, I found him and two other children listed in the 1870 census in La Porte County with a mother identified in the census as F. Stockman. Then, going back to the 1860 census (before Elmer was born) I found the family of Isaac and Francis Stockman including the two other children. So, having found Isaac as almost certainly a close relative of Amelia I started looking for other records involving him. Finding that he wasn't with Francis and their children in 1870 - and didn't show up in later records in La Porte County led me to believe that he had died - probably in the Civil War, since there was a record of an Isaac Stockman serving from La Porte County. But the only records I have found are of an Isaac S. Stockman who, after the war, was married in 1868 in Michigan and later lived in Chicago, where he died in 1899 - so apparently not the same person. Except that more detailed checking of the summary military records have convinced me that this was the same person. I've ordered his CW pension file from the National Archives to see if that will help clarify the matter - and whether it might hold some clues regarding the Stockman ancestry. So that search continues.
In the 1860 Indiana census record for the Isaac Stockman family there were two other people listed living with them, Truman and Ann Fose - both born in New York, as was Isaac. I could find no other Fose records that appeared to apply to them. However, in the 1880 census in Montana, there was an Ann Fox, living with the family of Caroline, daughter of Amelia Stockman, and listed as an aunt. A census search for Truman Fox in Indiana turned up Truman and Ann Eliza Fox in the 1850 census in St. Joseph County, adjacent to La Porte County. The Truman Fox family was also listed in St. Joseph County in 1840 - and Ann E. Fox was listed in 1870 in La Porte County, Indiana as a widow. The records were consistent. So, it appeared probable that Ann Eliza was a sister of Amelia and a close relative of Isaac Stockman. From the Bureau of Land Management records of public land sales, in 1887 at the age of 70 Ann Eliza Fox homesteaded 160 acres in Montana adjacent to land owned by her nephew Elmer Stockman and less than two miles from where her nephew Robert Nicol lived on land originally homesteaded by Amelia and her husband. A researcher in Montana is currently looking for any other records involving Ann for me. So that search also continues.
The point of this column is to emphasize the importance in genealogy of researching families and not just direct ancestors. In doing so you will learn more about the environment in which your ancestors lived and their interactions with other family members - and you may learn more about their origins in the process.
Previous Columns in this series
1. Beginning your search
2. "Source Data"
3. More About Data Sources
4. Additional Data Sources
5. LDS and Data From Other Countries
6. Census Records
7. Military Records
8. Land Records
9. More About Land Records
10. Land Records as a Source of Family Information
11. Wills and Probate Records as Sources of Family Information
12. Biographies, Obituaries, Old Newspapers, and Family Lore
13. Sharing Family History Research
14. Some Genealogy Web Sites to Use With Caution
15. Genealogy & Local History
16. Tracking One Specific Ancestor
17. What Next?
18. Tracking One Specific Ancestor - 2
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