FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

The Twig That Knocked Down A Brick Wall

None of the descendants of Hiram Anderson had been able to find his ancestry.  A single scant clue to his lineage was in the note stating that he was born ‘on the north branch of the Potomac River.

Single individuals and cousin groups had searched for the meaning of this phrase for years.  Finally, two cousins who live many states away contacted me via the web and our ancestral musings rekindled the quest.

I lived closest to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, so the task to spend whatever time required to break this brick wall in our ancestry fell to me.  There were only two days available in my schedule for months ahead, so I spent them at the library from door opening to door closing.  If a book or film had any reference to any Anderson in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia, I copied the page, listed the source reference on it and tucked it into my briefcase to review later during late night hours at home.  My time in the library was too valuable to spend any of it analyzing the pages.

There were a lot of promising clues but none detailed any facts that could tie our Hiram Anderson to the Anderson families in that area.

ForsheyAndersonTwig.jpgNight after night, I extracted the facts on the photocopied pages into a new database that I’d created for this quest.  All the handwritten notes, drawings and poor copies were scanned and enlarged to be studied on my computer monitors.

This activity continued for weeks with no success and then one night I noticed some tiny writing on the branches of a hand-drawn image of a family tree.  Hiram’s uncle had long ago had drawn the tree for his extended family and a copy of it survived to be published in a family history.  When I enlarged the area of interest by 500%, Christmas arrived early.

There, detailed in small print, was the name of Hiram Anderson with the correct names of his siblings.  He was the son of William Anderson and Nancy Ann Forshee.  The puzzle pieces all fell into place.  Because his parents names were in the database that I’d created from the research copies, I was able to construct both sides of Hiram’s ancestry for several generations.

Hiram’s parents move their family from Anderson’s Bottom in Hampshire County, Virginia west to Fairfield, Ohio in April 1806. In February, 1807, Hiram’s mother died leaving William with six children. The youngest, Rachel, was only two years old at that time. The family struggled to survive on the frontier, building a log home, clearing the land for farming and growing enough food to eat.

As with most early settlers in frontier settings, births, marriages and deaths were usually only recorded in a family bible, if they were recorded at all. This was true for the Anderson family.

William Anderson’s father, Thomas Anderson, served as a captain in the Revolutionary War and was involved in the surrender of Cornwallis that effectively ended the war. He had also served as a captain in the local militia protecting the settlements in western Virginia from attacks by the Indians and British. Both he and his father, William, knew George Washington personally. As a young man, General Washington worked as a surveyor and frequently stayed with the Anderson family. Service to their country and fellow men was deeply instilled into the hearts and minds of the men of the Anderson family.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, William Anderson and three of his brothers joined the militia in defense of the fledgling United States against the British and their Indian warriors. Three of the brothers didn’t survive to returned home. Among them was Hiram’s father, William Anderson, who had died at Fort Malden, Ontario, Canada. Hiram was left to support and raise his younger siblings alone.

No wonder birth, death and other records were difficult to find. A move to the frontier where record keeping was scarce. A mother dying soon thereafter leaving a husband and six children scrambling to survive and carve out a home and farm from the raw land. A war that took the father from the home to never return.

I’d love to shake the hand of my great grand uncle who drew the family tree so there was a record of Hiram’s lineage that was created by someone who knew him personally.

Fortunately, several primary and many secondary sources were in the stack of copied records about the Anderson Family.  Because I had time at home to carefully sift through the pages, details emerged that helped fill blank lines in my database. They also pointed me to other areas to search including specific documents and sources that were in the Library in Salt Lake and some that required written requests and associated fees.

The twig on the tree expanded to bring down our brick wall.  To date, we have only found circumstantial evidence of Hiram’s ancestry in other records.  The hand-drawn tree by his uncle is the only record that lists Hiram with his parents.

Sometimes the smallest clues bring great rewards.  Moral: Never give up.  Check, double check and even triple check all of the data from your research.  The smallest element may be the seed that expands to break down your brick wall.

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15 July 2009 Posted by | Documents | , , , | 1 Comment

Gold In Your Drawers

Sometimes we have to look in the mirror and shake our heads in wonder.  The person in the reflection doesn’t look as dumb as they feel, but it is hard to argue with facts.

Gold in old filesI’ve looked for clues to aid in the quest to find of one of my ancestors for years.  The results were always the same.  Nothing.  I’ve reread my research notes, rethought my research strategy and recommitted it to writing.  The new plan required plotting possible migration routes of my ancestors, deep delving into the Family History Library Catalog and subsequent printing of dozens of pages of source materials that need  to be explored at the library.  A hand clasp binder is sitting on my desk bulging with these pages, group sheets, summaries of old research activities and the new plan.

I won’t need most of them now.  One last reading of a page that I’d photocopied over a generation ago resolved much of the issue.  I had to reread it four or five times to believe what I was seeing.  I even suspected that it was a ‘new’ page that someone had slipped in to my file.  Surely, I couldn’t have missed that brief sentence so many times ….. but of course I had.

We are creatures of habit.  We form impressions that often eclipse reality.  I remember reading the document on a microfilm reader when I first found it.  I took notes from the page and even traced some of the hard to read writing on the page that day.  I’ve probably looked at the page and the photocopy of the microfilm page a hundred times since then but my mind knew what it contained, and hence, the little sentence was apparently ignored, skipped or had become invisible to my mind.

How often have you reread your old research notes and reviewed the documents you’ve collected in your own ancestral quest?  If you haven’t used a fine tooth comb review of them lately, make an entry on your calendar to look through them again.  Mine them for hidden Gold.

Perhaps we have to turn the paper 50 degrees side to side to see something new.  Thomas Jonathan 81st year Personally, I’ve found that reading the data out loud is the best method to restart my frozen cognitive research review process.  My ears hear information that the lobes of my brain used for reading seem to obscure.

Give it a try.  You’ll probably find real treasures in your papers.  Treasures that you’ve owned for years.  Treasures that may open new windows in your quest.

Once you have finished your perusal and have then settled down enough to stop exclaiming your wahoo’s (and some of the grin off has melted off your face), walk to the bathroom, turn on the light and take a good look at the clueless person who is staring back at you.  Do they look any smarter now?

Lesson learned.  Go a little slower.  Review frequently.  Look at the data through a different window.  Gold.  There is Gold in there!

28 May 2009 Posted by | Certificates, Documents, Genealogy | Leave a comment