10 February 2012

Stop and Look Around

Once you find an ancestor take a look at the people around them. This is especially helpful when looking at a census record or walking a cemetery. You may find the family of another ancestor. I had trouble finding my great-grandfather William Gillespie (age 15) in the 1900 census. I knew he was living with an unrelated family but didn't know their name. Before going through pages of records in the county I thought he was in I searched for my great-grandmother Agnes Sundberg (age 8 in 1900). She was living with her family just as I expected her to be but as I scrolled down the page looking for the Sundberg family I saw "Willie Gillespie" living with the Pearson family NEXT DOOR. My dad's generation was aware that he lived next door his future wife but none of them ever mentioned it. Turns out William even remembered seeing Agnes eating breakfast in the high chair one of the first times he stopped by.

William Gillespie and Agnes Sundberg on their wedding day. 

If your male ancestor married someone with an unusual first name look for that name a few pages before and after his in his last census as a single man. You may get lucky and finally find that elusive maiden name.
In a cemetery a family plot may not be marked as such so check the graves around your ancestor. If you can't get to the family cemetery five states away go to Find A Grave and see if someone else has documented the cemetery. Volunteers add memorials from obituaries, cemetery records and by "mowing the rows" (photographing a local cemetery row by row). If you find an ancestor there click the name of the cemetery and search for the surname. Some memorials may include an obituary and/or family photos, not just a photo of the grave.
Here's William Gillespie's memorial page. Don't rely on the family links on Find A Grave anymore than you would rely on an undocumented tree though! Look at all the evidence. If two people share a stone they are probably related: spouse, parent or child. If there is a row or block of matching stones they are probably related. Sometimes it will be obvious, i.e. matching stones or one stone with "mother" and "father" above the names.

Tip for a Find A Grave search: Start with as little information as possible (first and last name and maybe the year they died or the state they're buried in). If you get too many results to wade through add info piece by piece to narrow a search.

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