Question of the Week: How do you go beyond names and dates in your genealogy?

+17 votes

Do you go beyond names and dates when researching and recording genealogy? If so, how?

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
I like to try and make an ancestor come alive if I can, getting additional information besides birth death and marriage data.  My Mother, Helen Parker Pelton, had a Master's Degree in Fine Arts.  My Father, Eugene Charles Pelton, was a medical Doctor, and served in the United States Army in the Aleutian Islands during World War 2.
I glean everything I can from old newspapers. I go to court houses and read old lawsuits, deed records. probate records. Also, I go to local libraries and read local histories written by local people.
Great idea Billie X. I also have old newspaper articles because my genealogist grandmother had the foresight to save them in files that I now have.
I was taught by  mentors to always READ IT FOR YOURSELF.  I read every document found and do not rely on indices.  If an index is all there is, and explanation for other possible interpretations is included. (that can be boring) Since 1993, digital research has grown 1000%.  I was fortunate to be able to travel to many states since 1993 and visit cems, archives, etc. I even rented from a "cousin" when I had a job from home.  

I was so very lucky. A friend told me that our ancestors "want us to find them."  My serendipities tend to support that :)

Thanks for your thoughts, Barbara.  Your last sentence touched me, and reminds me of my first trip through Rhinebeck and Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York, about 35 years ago when I was working as a charter bus driver.  I had a special feeling about these two communities, as if something important happened there.

Several years later I broke through the roadblock on my Sharp family ancestry, thanks to Lynne Cook of Morrisburg, Ontario, who shared with me More Palatine Families, by Henry Z Jones, Jr.  In this book, I learned that my Sharp / Scherp ancestors had settled in Red Hook and Rhinebeck in the 1740s.  Serendipity indeed!

Wow Bill, what an excellent experience. My husband's ancestry goes back to Palatine families. Could the two of you be related?

In reference to ancestors who want us to find them (and find out about them), Barbara is indeed fortunate in that regard. I think that most ancestors want their descendants to know about them unless something in their past had to be covered up. This makes finding the truth very difficult but not always impossible. DNA analysis is becoming more and more refined as better statistical-analysis techniques are brought to bear on ever increasing sample sizes. Data mining techniques, such as clustering, are finding new applications as genetics advances. I look forward to a future when genealogists will be able to solve at least some family mysteries by combining evidence from various sources, including a significant contribution from DNA.

Hi Marion,

Thanks for your thoughts and insights.  For 37 years my biggest roadblock has been the birth father of my great grandfather, Milton Mills Brooks (Brooks-12453).  We have known all along the surname was Rice, but which Rice?

With DNA testing (both autosomal and Y-chromosome) we are getting much closer - we now know that Milton relates closely to the families of Anson T. Rice of DeKalb, and Abner Rice of Edwards, both in St. Lawrence County, New York.  I hope the year 2020 will bring a conclusive opening to his paternal ancestry.

My Palatine families include Scherp, Carp (Karpp), and Merckel in New York, Hiester (Hüster) and Emery (Hümmrich) in Pennsylvania.  Which Palatine families does your husband have in his ancestry?


My husband, whose name is also Bill, is descended from the Hüber and Müller families. He has ancestry from the Swiss Mennonites, and other Anabaptist families who were persecuted in Germany and Switzerland. 

I'm not sure about the Y-chromosome (paternal)l line but perhaps there is a connection along one of the maternal lines. If you go back far enough, we are all related! However, people whose ancestors came from the same area are most likely related more recently than those who lived far from each other.

Many years ago a friend of mine (whom I met through genealogical research) stated, very matter-of-factly:  "I believe a biologist would tell you, that if you're not related, then you are not of the same species."  To which I would add an exclamation point!

That's rich---almost made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!   laugh  Thanks!

When I see an obituary about someone of whom I know little, I always plug military service.

It is what one does not say that is important. To be sure, causes of death may indicate things derogatory... but I dislike the term "pass away" for violent death (including vehicle crashes, industrial accidents, military deaths, falls, and fires. I try to avoid mentioning STD's and death from suicide (unless more than 80 years ago or connected with ill health or "despondency"). I do not want loved ones to feel guilt.  

I have no connection to people who died in the Holocaust, but I would not call being gassed, hanged, or shot by the Nazis -- or of overwork under starvation rations -- as "passing away".  (So much for a peeve).

I do not protect the identity of the dead. If someone sees what I have as largely citations of the census, marriages, death records, birth records, and military records... then I invite others to add details  As I live in a rural area and factory town, I find it hard to make people interesting if they were farmers or factory workers.

...It is up to others, as I am a documents person more than a story-teller, in genealogy. If you know that someone graduated from college  (date and degree), then put that in! If you have a photo, then show it! Running for and winning elective office? Show it! This is a collaborative effort, and anything done in reason (please -- avoid derogatory rumors! I will remove potentially-libelous material if it does not have documentation behind it).

So be careful about affairs, criminal records, bankruptcies, and the like.

25 Answers

+6 votes
I try to include as much information as I can about the person's life on the profile. This includes personal experiences, military service, family, religion, and anything else that stands out about the person in the profile. Some profiles stand out in my mind. For example, my great, great grandfather, James Ross Bird, was a very wealthy executive for a rubber company in Brooklyn, New York. He owned at least two houses, one of 11 rooms and 2 bathrooms in Brooklyn, and another summer house in Island Heights, New Jersey. He and his wife had ten children. By all outward appearances he was doing great. However, his personal life was sad because out of ten children, only three outlived him. Seven died before the age of 10. I cannot imagine the grief of that family. As it turned out, only one of his children has living descendants and that is my great grandmother, Mary Cecilia Bird Smith. Reminds me of a song a friend of my wrote, "In the midst of plenty, I feel so empty."
ago by Marion Ceruti G2G6 Mach 3 (38.3k points)
Marion, glad to know you are writing such great details on the profiles you know about. Sad as it is that your great great grandparents had so many of their children die so young, but it is good that you know these details and are writing about them. My husband’s grandmother had a younger sister that died of diphtheria, and she never told us about it. Only by doing genealogy was I able to find details. Also, it is interesting that your friend is a song writer.
Hello Alexis and thank you for your reply. My grandmother had an older sister, Elma, who died at age 4, also of diphtheria. Evidently, this disease was quite a problem in those days. My grandmother referred to her as her "little sister" even though Elma would have been older had she lived.

My friend writes songs with double meanings. He is very spiritual. The songs have a mundane meaning and a spiritual meaning all at the same time!
+6 votes
Years ago, I interviewed my father and his sister. My mother wrote a memoir of her life up until I was in 8th grade. My parents are gone now. I am using these resources to flesh out their and my ancestors biographies.
ago by Nancy Wilson G2G3 (3.8k points)
+3 votes

Yes, as much as possible.  I try to learn about each person, and if there are things I can share with others about that person I include them on the profile.

I just added the following memory to the profile of Robert Green Ingersoll (Ingersoll-820):

Some romantic thoughts on marriage, by Robert Green Ingersoll:

"A true marriage is a natural concord or agreement of souls--a harmony in which discord is not even imagined. It is a mingling so perfect that only one seems to exist. All other considerations are lost. The present seems eternal. In this supreme moment there is no shadow, or the shadow is as luminous as light.

When two beings thus love, thus unite, this is the true marriage of soul and soul. The idea of contract is lost. Duty and obligation are instantly changed into desire and joy, and two lives, like uniting streams, flow on as one."

Source: The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Volume VIII. New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1906, page 576.

Originally published in the New York Herald, Sunday, 21 February 1897, Fourth Section, page 2, columns 4-5.

ago by Bill Hull G2G6 (6.7k points)
+1 vote
Very much so. I'm a biography-writer at heart and so putting the flesh on the bones of genealogy is really important to me. I can get very attached to the people whose lives I'm researching and really feel like I know them when I've finished.

In terms of where I look, I particularly love working in 19th Century England because of the wealth of information to be gleaned from the census records. I can even look up where they lived in Google maps if the house is still standing, as well as know their occupation etc.

I spend a fair amount of time looking through newspaper articles, trade directories and school records. Sometimes you really have to think outside the box and imagine every place that someone might have left a paper trail. It's so much fun!
ago by Susie MacLeod G2G6 Pilot (215k points)
+1 vote
Genealogy and History are intertwined like no other two subjects.

I had a History professor in college who taught me the secret of the subject, "You don't try to discover the WHEN of history, rather you try to find the WHY is this event history."

I had two eggs for breakfast this morning but that is not history nor is it of genealogical significance.

My great-great-grandfather travelled to Washington Co., Illinois where he, age 25, is found living his sister's family in the 1860 U.S. Census. That's just facts. I am interested in why Amos Wightman followed his sister there from New York state and why he then returns to Massachusetts where he married Helen Graham before pair returned to Illinois before eventually making their way here to the Cumberland Plateau in Cumberland County, Tennessee.

I know why they left Illinois- the death of a child and a second showing signs of possibly succumbing to the same illness. They left for their family's health. That's history and that's why I love genealogy.
ago by William Thompson G2G4 (4.6k points)

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