Archiver > CRAWFORD > 2002-06 > 1024613621

From: Wanda R Tracy <>
Subject: [CRAWFORD] Genealogy Research Tips -from- Ancestry NewsLetter
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 16:53:41 -0600


These helpful research tips from Ancestry NewsLetter are for all of you
who do not subscribe to this news Letter. I use these suggestions in my
research and waiting for Part II by Alice Eichhollz.

( visiting in Firey Colorado)

by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG

Stories and legends in families have been passed down for centuries
but aren't always factual. For those interested in verifying the
accuracy of the stories and legends, (and all researchers should be
interested in the facts!) there are usually important clues in the
story to determine the story's accuracy. In this two-part article, we
will explore ways to do that. In this first part, we look at the
value of oral history collected from people who may not be your
closest relatives. In Part II, we will look at ways to consider
everything and how an oral history can become attached to the wrong
person or people.


It is crucial to collect as much information from as many living
relatives as possible. Often overlooked are those "collateral" lines
or relatives from a common ancestor in a different line of descent
from yours - those second cousins once-removed types! It is not
uncommon for families to set their own pattern for how oral history
is passed down. Yours may not be the line with the most information
or memorabilia. For example, one son or daughter may have been the
one who retained the family traditions.

In some rural locations, that individual who kept the stories may
have been the one who stayed with the parents or older generations
the longest, or lived at the family homestead. Or, it may be the one
who took care of the parents, never married, or was the emotional
glue that kept the family together through correspondence, phone
calls, and now, e-mail as the family dispersed.

Some families have remained in one geographic location for
generations, while others have leapfrogged across migration trails,
sending one group out at a time while the rest of the family caught
up and even moved on ahead later. Still other families cast their
members out in disagreements of all kinds from religion to politics
to squeezing the toothpaste differently. Patterns of the way families
related together are important to understand when you are trying to
verify oral history. We will touch on that later in this series. For
now, all this makes it particularly important to locate all the
descendants of the family and not just your own line. The job of the
researcher is to locate those sources! Here are some steps to take
and things to consider in using facts from oral history.

Talk or write to as many living relatives of an ancestor with which
you have something in common as you can find. This may be easier said
than done because you first have to locate them! Luckily (or
unhappily to some) in 21st century times with the availability of the
Internet and its host of finding aids, locating someone who you know
to be a relative is easier than it certainly was in the past. In
fact, one important way people located each other in the past is
through personal ads in newspapers (More on this in Part II of this

Once you locate a living relative, you will want to engage their
memory and research help. Try to tease their memory about people,
places and events by sharing with them what you have found. It is
often important to have your charts and pictures handy since many
people have an easier time remembering if they can see something
visually. Consider them the experts in the knowledge about the family
and solicit their input with that perspective in mind. You are asking
for their assistance because they may know or understand something
that you don't.

Remember to ask for pictures, letters and other family records, such
as a family bible, which they might have or at least know someone in
the family who does. Every family member has a slightly different
perspective of and memory about the past. Consequently, every living
family member can provide different pieces for the historical puzzle.
The person you overlook, or the line you avoid, might be just the one
who could help you. Here is an example of how work on collateral
lines tackled a common form of using oral history problem, that of
attaching one's line to an important person or family:

A family of Allens -- a fairly common surname -- owned a desk which
was said to have been handed down to the oldest son in each
generation. The oral history attached to the desk said that Ethan
Allen, an important figure in Vermont's early history, had made it
the winter he stayed with the ancestor of this particular family of
Allens. The family had spent a considerable amount of time trying to
"fit into" the authoritative Ethan Allen genealogy. Research into
Ethan Allen's activities made it unlikely that he made any desks.
Only after researching the family's collateral lines, did we find an
ancestor in the family's Gage line who owned a very well-known inn,
the site of town and public meetings, during the "Green Mountain
Boys" days when Ethan Allen was active in that part of Vermont. If
the family owned a desk that was in the inn (a good possibility), and
if Ethan Allen happened to visit this historic inn located in a time
and a place (equally possible) he might have used this desk during
town or republic meetings, which were held at the inn. These three
possibilities might add up to the traditional story about the desk
being present in the family whose ancestors were Gages (as well as
Allens). But, by itself, the facts of the oral tradition are

In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not uncommon in New England
for whole communities to be groups of interrelated people. However,
by the beginning of the 19th century with the opening up of lands
west of the Allegheny Mountains, both whole communities of extended
families began moving west, leaving perhaps generations of geographic
stability of the family. Families grew larger in size with more
children surviving beyond childhood, producing children of their own.
Dividing the family property up into smaller and smaller lots to
sustain the next generation added to the pressure to move west.

Many families moved in part with some relatives left behind. In small
communities, unlike cities, it is not uncommon still today to find
descendant of a family living in the same location as the ancestral
home of the 17th and 18th centuries. Some descendant may actually be
living in or near the same house or land that belonged to the family
generations earlier. It certainly would not be uncommon to find them
in the same town or a town nearby. Local telephone directories and
Internet directories can help locate similar surnamed relatives
living in an ancestral location. Most large libraries have
collections of present telephone directories to help you with this.

Even descendants of former neighbors may actually be an important
source of information if the whole family left town. One family who
moved "overnight" left their neighbors with family memorabilia,
including the family Bible, and the knowledge about the reason for
the sudden move. The neighbor's descendants stored the material and
information for over seventy-five years. By tracing land deeds and
locating the site of their original home, which unfortunately had
been burned, the family in the house next door was interviewed and
unearthed a quantity of material which helped prove the relationships
in addition to solving the long questioned reason for the sudden

When you gather oral history yourself, bring a tape recorder for long
interviews, paper and pencil and your camera. Follow the usual
protocol of asking the person's cooperation before recording on tape
or film. Often people become so relaxed once conversations begin that
the interviewer forgets to take notes. Remember to offer to share
your findings with those who help you.

Each summer in August, Charles T. Morrissey, a well-known historian,
offers a five-day workshop in Oral History on the Vermont College
campus of Union Institute & University. In 2002, this will be 12-16
August. Check out the website of email mailto: for
additional information.

Now that we have considered oral history and collateral lines, next
time we will look at ways to consider everything and how oral
history gets attached to the wrong people.


Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG is Director of Lifelong Learning at Union
Institute & University/Vermont College, which sponsors the "Learn
Family History Online" program:

In addition to teaching the program's Introduction to Family History
seminar, she is editor of "Ancestry's Red Book: American State,
County, and Town Sources." She has been a professional researcher for
over 30 years and became certified in 1987. Look for the rest of this
series on her articles over the next several months.


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