Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: June 6, 2002
I'm sure you have often heard that there are only three important factors in dealing with real estate. The first is Location, followed by Location and the last factor is Location. The same is true in Genealogy. Knowing a person's birth and death date is one step, but if you don't even have that, you can look for years and not find anything unless you know the locations where the events happened. You need to record the location information whenever you find it, for births, dates, marriages and any other key events.
Need a birth certificate? With out the location of birth, you are looking for a needle in a haystack. Want to check the Census Records? Forget it unless you have a location consisting of at least the state, a county is better and a town or township is best. Because of the availability of statewide indexes in some cases, even a state is a big help. Want to find an obituary? Better have an idea what town or county papers were in the area of their death!
Hoping to find that Vanity History that might have a picture or a biography? Without the location you are doomed to a lengthy search. Okay, you're convinced that you need to find the location. But how do you do that?
The simplest thing is to work backwards. Most birth certificates include the names of the parents and the locations of their birth. Why? To assist in determining the citizenship of the baby! This in turn can be used in turn to track down the parents' birth certificates. Obituaries are another important source, often referring to the birth location of an individual, as well as their parents. Once in a while, their original home might even be found on the gravestone! Of course, you have to know the location of that gravestone!
I have ancestors that the only information I have on them is the state that they were born in. How could I possible know that, and nothing else? the 1890 Census asked individuals where their parents were born, looking for the state or country. Didn't ask for their names, just the location.
Don't know where they came from? Check the migration patterns. There are a number of locations where the pattern can be tracked including:
American Migration Patterns
Useful Migration Sites
Community names can also give you some hints. Relatives lived in Ovid, Michigan? You might want to check in Ovid, New York, particularly if they were early settlers. They often named new communities after older ones in the states they came from.
Knowing the locations allows you to take advantage of so many other resources to fill in additional information. Genealogical societies publish regular books full of church and Bible records, newspaper transcriptions, obituaries, articles on early families and their relations. Vanity Histories were plentiful in turn of the century America, created for counties and communities across the continent. Until the advent of radio, Newspapers were king and every town and community had at least a weekly paper filled with local new, information and community politics. There are web sites listing the volunteers and soldiers that served from specific counties and towns. But in order to take advantage of all these treasure chests of information you've got to have the location!
So make it a habit to fully record any location information you find as you search through the records. I wish you the best of luck in your search!
Next Month The USGenWeb. Up coming articles will discuss some of the subscription web sites and what they provide and some of the software available for organizing your information.