Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where did your ancestors live?

In family history research two of the most important things you need to know are where someone lived and when.  Location and time determine where you need to look for records and what types of records are likely to exist.  A good deal of research time is spent trying to locate your ancestors so you can then look for records.  Wouldn't it be great if your ancestor had written that information down for you, so you could save some time and effort?

That's exactly what my grandfather did!  My father recently found two pages where his father listed every place he had ever lived, from the time he was born to where he settled later in his life.  The last location on the list is where he lived until he passed away.  The list covers 92 years.

I learned some interesting things from the list.  Apparently he lived in New York state several times, for a total of about five years, which I had not known.  One of the more intriguing entries is for 1928-1929:  "Traveling thru west no perm. Add."  Besides the obvious curiosity factor -- where exactly was the "west" and what was he doing? -- at that time he was married and had two children.  Where were his wife and daughters?  Did he just up and leave them?  Did they go with him?

I'm not entirely taking him at his word, however.  I've already noticed that some of the information doesn't quite match up with other facts.  For example, the list shows him leaving the city my youngest aunt was born in the year before she was born.  Not impossible, of course, but it drew my attention.  He could have the year wrong; he could have moved to a new job before she was born and they followed afterward.

So now I have a lot more places to look for information and records on my grandfather.  I wish all of my ancestors had created a list like this!


  1. This is exactly the sort of story that points out the importance of primary source documentation - and having multiple sources of documentation to corroborate the information.

    For example, you may have found a second or third cousin who also is a genealogy buff and you exchange family trees. If that other person never documented their research, you really should take that new family tree as a lead until you can find the birth certificates or whatever to back up their finds. Granted, it's a great lead, but if it's not verified, it's only a lead.

  2. This list is a primary source -- my grandfather wrote the list, and it's a history of his own life. But it's undated, so I don't know when he wrote it, and he could have remembered some dates and locations inaccurately. It includes dates from his childhood that he could not have remembered independently, so he had to have relied on information from someone else for at least some of the entries. I don't know why he compiled the list and therefore don't know if he would have had any reason to deliberately put down incorrect information. So yes, I am looking at the list as a series of leads that need to be verified.


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