Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bigger Picture

When dancing with the ancestors, I've found that I can't focus in just one direction when digging for information. Going in a straight line and refusing to step outside the proverbial box will often result in, no pun intended, dead ends.

Sometimes, you have to rethink your search methods.

Example: Mary Tate, one of my many times removed great-grandmothers. I don't have her maiden name. Why? Well, because society not too long ago only cared about the patriarchal line, and not the matriarchal line, meaning that the wives surnames weren't important and often weren't recorded.

Great. Fine. Dandy.

What's a researcher to do when trying to create a complete picture of their ancestry if he/she can't find the surnames of said ancestors?

Well, more often then not, there's not a damn thing that researcher can do.

Then again, I rarely back away from a challenge . . . which would explain the night, in the days of my youth . . . well, never mind . . .

So, what to do when all you have is a first name and no surname?

Here's my thoughts on the matter . . .

. . . more often than not, back in the day (1700s, 1800s, early settlement of this country) people married within the small area they settled, often marrying first, second, or third cousins, or other members of the same familial line. Yeah, a bit of an eeewww factor in there, but . . .

. . . then, there are the neighbors.

For example, my paternal great-grandfather John L. Smith, after the death of his first wife, married the daughter of his next door neighbor.

So, when faced with a situation where I don't have a surname for a female ancestor, my thoughts, now, are to investigate the neighbors.

The problem: until 1850, census records didn't list the names of all the members of the family.

Great. Fine. Dandy.

So, now, what to do, what to do? Well, my mind works in mysterious, and often scary ways, and I thought . . . what about witnesses to last wills and testaments?

Hmmmmm . . .

I have noticed, in finding last wills and testaments of various ancestors, that quite often the in-laws were referenced. So . . .

. . . in looking for Mary Tate's maiden name, I'm going to see what information I can find about the people who were mentioned in her husband's last will and testament, and/or were witnesses to said document, or other documents back in that time period.

Yes, it's a long shot. But . . . if I don't look, don't try, then what's the point of dancing with the ancestors in the first place?


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