It’s a frustrating fact that most historical records were never designed to tell us what we want to know nowadays. When created, their purpose was not to appease curiosities in the 21st century. Instead, genealogists are constantly using their education and experience to coax out answers about people, places and time periods. We also rely on a lot of creativity to put it all in context—as well as a little math now and then. This was frequently the case when working on Josh Groban’s ancestry.
Who Do You Think You Are? tries to spare tedious and difficult aspects of research in order to bring the most fascinating results to your living room or laptop. However, behind the scenes of each episode, including Josh’s, are countless hours of reading wills, deeds, newspapers, tax records, church registers and more, proving and disproving through creativity and developing theories. As professional researchers, we turn to one theory more than others: the simplistic understanding that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. You may not find a record that proves a=c. However, if you can prove that a=b and b=c, you have good support for your desired conclusion.
These principles were applied for Josh as his ancestry was linked from one person to another, with an “other” often turning out to support a sought-after connection to a particular direct ancestor. The same was true for locations, as our research zigzagged across the United States for what should have been, in retrospect, a straight line from a to c. Instead, it required a trip through b because c didn’t have the necessary proof.
For each step along a pedigree, it is important to prove the connection between each direct ancestor and their parents to solidify the family tree. As we worked on the Zimmerman line, we found our Zimmermans in Ohio (point a) but needed to connect them to the Zimmermans from the Union/Northumberland area of Pennsylvania (point c). Someone along the way had moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, but we could not find our man for sure in any records in Ohio. We turned to looking at records for all the members of the family and ultimately found the oldest son, who had settled in Illinois (point b). His Civil War pension record provided the exact link we needed.
During the entire research process, a variety of records in the United States and Germany revealed patterns between seemingly unrelated individuals that led to specific families and communities in far-away places. There was rarely a single record that defined a connection between generations. Rather, it was a collaborative effort of persistence and creativity that brought about the evidence needed. Remember, if a=b, and you think a=c, but you lack the evidence, try learning whether b=c.
Incidentally, the scenery while traveling through b was incredibly breathtaking and rewarding, and we wouldn’t have wanted any other route! It’s not exactly E=MC2, but it’s certainly a theory of relativity (for genealogists, anyway).
Tips from AncestryProGenealogists
Don’t just look for your ancestors, live their lives. Who did they associate with? The challenges of proving origins, domestic or international, can frequently be solved by developing a portfolio about those associated with an ancestor and then learning more about those associations.
- Trace all the children and other family members.
- Who lived nearby?
- Who held bordering properties?
- Court records can reveal links to other families
- Who belonged to the same church?
- Tax lists can describe holdings in other counties where you may find other records with new details.
- Who listed your ancestor as their destination on passenger lists? If you can’t find your own ancestor’s arrival record, the lists for others may yield clues to his/her origin.
- City directories can show others at the same address.
There are many more examples. Use creativity and logic. If your ancestor needs to get from a to c, sometimes traveling through b is the only option. Take the driver’s seat and go where you need to go!
Learn more about Josh’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.