Genealogy is a Puzzle
guest writer Del Kahre
Researching your family tree is a lot like putting together a puzzle. You search for little pieces of data that give you a small set of facts. You start with edge pieces from easily accessible sources. Then you build some big areas with easy patterns in the picture. Then you run into the last part of the puzzle with all the hard work. All the pieces are the same color, are very confusing, or have patterns that force you to just guess over and over until you are fortunate enough to find a match. And then–of course–you discover more than half of the pieces are missing!
All of my years of genealogy research have been spent staring at a puzzle with lots of missing pieces. My families were often skipped on census records, buried in cemeteries with no markers, purchased no land, left no wills, tried to hide their past, or moved to new areas of the country before they left a trace. Add to that all of the courthouse fires, lack of organized records, and the census records that were destroyed and you get a puzzle that has a lot of holes.
If this sounds even vaguely familiar to you and your family story, there is some hope. Digitizing and indexing efforts have brought all kinds of new treasure troves of information to the genealogist. Now we can search huge volumes of information in a fraction of the time as we did just a few years ago. DNA matching is giving us new ways of establishing relationships that were impossible when I started researching my family in 1990. Now a new frontier in genealogy research gives us the ability to establish relationships even now is barely possible. That frontier is geocoding.
For genealogy geocoding is the process of marking on a map the location and date genealogical events such as cemeteries, tombstones, land records, city directory addresses, estate sales, photographs, historical events, places, surveys, census records, etc. Once we have all of these “markers” on a single map we can begin to establish relationships just like we can with DNA. The reason is that proximity–the nearness of two or more things–gives us all kinds of relationship information. Think of it just like a puzzle. The location of each piece is so important because it shows you how other neighboring pieces fit together.
The people on the documents your ancestors left behind were often went to the same churches or schools, lived across the street or road, worked with each other, or were related by blood or marriage. If you begin to research all of these people too, you will find all kinds of new information you never thought possible. And geocoding all of these locations gives you an easy way to gain all kinds of new research clues. Here are just a few:
• Group large lists of people with the same surname into different areas and begin to determine family groups based on where they lived.
• Find records that were misspelled so badly that you would never know they existed unless you had some other way of finding them.
• Discover large groups of extended families migrating together to a neighborhood.
• See people who are listed on various documents–censuses, obituaries, estate sales, land records, directories, etc–on the map living very near your ancestor.
• Determine land and property that was divided among heirs even where the will has been lost or was never recorded.
• Discover historical details, stories, clues, and fun facts about your family that you never knew before.
Geocoding old locations onto modern mapping software has lots of challenges, too. But Genealogy4D is making that process much easier. There is a brand new site with an interactive map that makes it super easy to use to research your family. There are more than five million markers from all over the United States. As that number grows you will be able to find new clues to finish your family puzzle.
Here is a quick-start guide to help you begin your geocoding journey on Genealogy4D.com.
1. Pick an ancestor you have some questions about and choose one census record where they are listed. For best results it should be someone living in the 1800s in the non-coastal states of the United States and living in a rural area.
2. Go to Genealogy4D.com and press the search icon. Choose the state and county.
3. You can search for your ancestor or any of the other surnames on the same census page as your ancestor. If you cannot identify where your ancestor lived, try using land records to pinpoint exactly where your ancestor lived. Another idea is to search findagrave.com for burial records of other people on the same page. Locate the cemeteries where they are buried and try to establish a general area where they lived. The goal is to identify the residential address of your ancestor at the time that census was taken.
4. Once you have found a specific area, make note of all of the markers in the general vicinity. Compare all of these markers to other sources that you have collected. Pay special attention to witnesses and other people listed on the same documents. Families in the nearby area may be listed on the same passenger lists, estate sales, probate records, marriage records, census pages, military units, etc.
5. If you find matching surnames with other records you have found, begin to research all of these families and find out if there are any other connections or relationships that you might have missed. If you notice they were born in the same state, this may be a clue that they migrated to the area at the same time or are part of a larger extended family.
6. Repeat this process for anyone you want to research. You may not find out anything new on the first try, but it won’t take long to learn something you have never seen before just by making yourself familiar with all of the people living around your ancestors.
7. Drop us a note and tell us about your research challenges. We will be happy to try to find more markers in the areas you are researching to help you find even more information.