Alexander Graham Bell once said, â€œWhen one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.â€ When we run into those brick walls we often stumble upon in family history, sometimes weâ€™re so busy staring at that one closed door that we overlook a bunch of open doors. Letâ€™s take a look.
Married siblings with children represent the potential to connect with cousins, but sometimes the focus on our direct ancestor and siblings with causes us to overlook that spinster aunt or bachelor uncle. The fact is, we should be researching every sibling thoroughly because while the records of one child may not include the information you need, those of a sibling may include much more detail–details that can help us past that brick wall.
Sometimes there were siblings that we donâ€™t even know about. High infant and child mortality rates were a fact of life for our ancestors. The siblings of our ancestors who were born and died between censuses may hold the key to that closed door. Look for them in family cemetery plots and in vital records indexes. For mothers who were alive in 1900 and 1910, the U.S. federal census asked for the number of children born, and the 1910 census also asks how many were still alive that year. Mortality schedules will also list the children who died within a census year. Once you identify a child who died young, look for birth, and death records, as well as any church or other records that may have been created during their short lives.
Half siblings still share one parent with your ancestors and their records could contain information on that parent that your direct ancestorâ€™s record does not.
Cousins will share the same grandparents as your ancestor and you may even find a grandparent living with them for a time. The family Bible or other important heirlooms may have passed down through that line and that information may be waiting for you in the hands of a distant cousin.
Even if you think you know all you need to about current generations, researching them thoroughly builds a strong foundation for your research. Contemporary records have more detail and could have clues to ancestral origins that older records do not. Donâ€™t skip over Grandma Bettyâ€™s records simply because she told you all you need to know. You never know what she forgot to mention — or decided to hold back.
Step Families and In-Laws
Families from the old country often settled near others from their old neighborhood. These families often intermarried, so if youâ€™re having trouble crossing the pond with your family, do a little digging into the origins of stepmothers and the in-laws of your ancestor and his or her siblings. You may find connections that reach back into the old country. The same thing applies to witnesses, sponsors, and business associates. Often youâ€™ll find that not only do they share the same hometown, they also share an ancestor or two.
With so many records now indexed and available online, itâ€™s easier to open up these often overlooked doors than it was in the past. Have you had an unexpected door open in your research? Share your success story with us in the comments section below.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at [email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.