Collecting just names and dates seems to take the meaningfulness from our ancestors’ existence. They were more than entries in a database. They had lives that were interesting, some more than others, some more rugged and adventurous than others and some that, well, only a mother could forgive.
Step away from the name and date of your ancestor and search for more information and get a bigger picture.
A search for Romney, VA on Wikipedia indicates
Romney, Virginia now W. VA traded hands between the Union Army and Confederate Staes Army no fewer than 10 times during the American Civil War.
This Union soldier died on January 1, 1862. What happened around the first of the year 1862?
“On January 7, an advance guard of Confederates
was defeated by about 2,000 Federals under Colonel Dunning at Blue’s Gap."
Could this soldier have made it back home if he’d lasted 7 more days? Would he have made it back to his family? Lived? Who knows? However, adding this information to“Died in the Hosp. at Romney, VA Jan’y 1/62” certainly gives a larger story.
The Boxwood residence on East Main Street was used as a hospital during the Civil War.
I have been working on a genealogy project for a client who intends to write her own book about her ancestors. She wants to do this for her boys. I say ”Hooray!” To help bring her ancestors to life, I have not only done the genealogy research, but have searched information to place them in context with the world around them at their place in time.
It has been an interesting journey for me and I’ve certainly learned about many of the events circling these families and their involvement in those events.
Curiosity comes into play at every corner. In the 1900 Federal Census, there are 2 questions that are very important in order to find the number of children in a family to search. How many births and how many children living? Doing a little math, you can determine the number of children that died and were unaccounted for and look for them in records. Often there are early death records that list the cause of death from some very odd condition. In the case of my project, one child died in 1878. Cause of death was “Summer Complaint”. I went looking for a definition of this “complaint”.
I found “Summer Complaint (Cholera Infantum). I also found another name to be Dysentery.
This is a complaint which usually attacks children between the ages of two months and three years; it occurs in the warm season, and is chiefly confined to cities. It is very fatal. It commences with a profuse diarrhea, stools thin and variously colored. The stomach becomes irritable, and rejects everything. The Complete Herbalist by Dr. O. Phelps Brown.
Another explanation; “diarrhea, usually in infants caused by spoiled milk”
This family lived in Detroit, MI at the time (1881). The child was 2 years old when he died. Knowing that helps to understand what was happening and what that mother was dealing with in this child’s sickness. She had other children in the home to care for as well.
Another part of the picture is who did this family know? Looking at various census records, their neighbors were quite often in the same type of occupation. This being Detroit, Michigan, most were employed in the auto industry. Even, it would seem after immigrating to the US, they not only lived on the same street as their relatives, but lived among the ethnic group in which they too belonged. In this case, the family had emigrated from Germany to the United States. Can’t you just imagine the visiting that went on each day, the sharing of family recipes and gossip among the women, the men sharing stories and comparing life in the old country and their new life in America.
Even if you have not pinpointed the exact town where your ancestor was born, knowing something about the history of that country and what was happening in that time period, you will perhaps gain insight into why they decided to uproot whole families to come and start over in a new country.
On the 1910 Federal Census they asked what the occupation was of individuals. Quite often an answer would provide an answer to another question. In the case of this family, the father was living with his daughter’s family and reported his Occupation as “own income”. I looked at the age of the father which was 67 and then checked prior sources where he listed his occupation as “laborer”. It would seem this was a rather thrifty fellow and was living on “his own method of Social Security”.
I have found other records where a more recent immigrant has reported his Occupation as “own income”. The record source was closer to the year he immigrated to the US. This could mean he brought his own money with him from his native country. It could mean he inherited money at the time or after the relocation. Inherited it from whom? This just begs looking at probate records.
These 2 issues are only a couple of clues to search out. There are many more.
Trying to put together the pieces of your ancestor’s life and filling in with historical information does give that ancestor a meaningful existence and does not make them simply a name and date in a database.
You must be curious about everything; every piece of information you find. Using wide based historical information, family stories (although we must not always accept these as fact, but do indeed have a morsel or more of truth to them) and local histories along with records, we can build fairly accurate lives of our ancestors and make them real for our family and future generations. Yes, it does take much time and a huge amount of creative thinking to search out the stories. Learn how to do it or find someone who enjoys the adventure to work with you.
Be curious and go looking. The hidden story is likely there.