Friday, February 15, 2013

D is for Details - Family History Through the Alphabet

D is for details.  D could be for documents, death dates, death certificates, or a number of other topics but I think details are one of the most important aspects of family history and genealogy.  Without attention to details we would have a jumble of names, dates, and locations without much sense to it.  Without details there is much less value in our family history research.

There are two kinds of details that claim my attention when I'm searching for my ancestors and placing them in the context of their environments.

Details #1
Attention to these details assure (or help ensure) that I've found the correct man or woman who is my ancestor and helps solve and/or prevent problems.
  • Six siblings are located.  The death certificates of the 2 older siblings list "unknown" for the name of the mother; the death certificates of the 4 younger siblings name the mother.  The informants were children of the deceased.  Why did the informants of the 2 older siblings not know their grandmother's name?  Was there a rift between the 2 older siblings and their mother and they never spoke of her?  Was their father widowed and remarried and never told his older children the name of their mother?  Perhaps the father and mother divorced when the 2 oldest children were little and the subject of their mother was not a topic of discussion.  Finding the details of the situation will lead to accuracy.
  • The will of an ancestor names his wife and 4 children.  The wife's name is the one you've found in other records but the 4 children's names are not.  This detail deserves more attention.  Perhaps these are two different men or perhaps there were two wives and two sets of children.
  • Family legend tells names of the parents, all the children, when and where they were born, and where they were buried.  You find them on the census, but it's nowhere near where they were born or buried.  Same family or not?  Go beyond family legend and get the details.
The list could go.  I know we've all encountered situations that require more research to get to the details that clarify names, relationships, locations, dates, etc.

Details #2
These details help me place ancestors correctly in the environments in which they lived and give a better understanding of their lives. 
  • Knowing that a city of 100,000 people today was a town of 1,400 in 1832 changes the way we understand an ancestor's use of the word "town" instead of "city" when he or a local newspaper described the location.  It changes images of what his or her life might have been like in a small town.
  • When we read a word in context that doesn't fit the current meaning of the word it's worth investigating.  For example, she may not have been talking about her waist, the physical area around her middle, when she referred to buying a new waist
  • When we learn than an ancestor traveled 60 miles in a day, we imagine a very slow pace.  For the ancestor, that may have been pushing the horses to near exhaustion or traveling longer than 12 hours in one day.
  • Understanding that going to a store meant giving a list to the person behind the counter, then waiting to have the items pulled changes our view of shopping.  Learning the prices of various items and the value of their farm may change our idea of an ancestor from impoverished to a person of means.

I love learning the details that let me learn more about the lives and times of my ancestors, as in this last group, but even more, I want to know that my ancestors are my ancestors.  That's why I search for details.

This post is a contribution to the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge.  Go to the link and you can see other submissions for this meme.  Alona Tester of  Genealogy and History News is the creator and keeper of this meme.  Thank you, Alona!

Happy ancestor hunting!


  1. Reading Detail 1 about the informant not knowing their grandmother's name reminds me of the time I met a girl who was so excited that she had been able to trace her line back to her great-grandmother. What? Just ONE great? I've known my great-grandparents' names all my life. It shocks me that more people don't.

  2. You would be surprised, then, that our family didn't mention names of older relatives, especially those who had passed away. It was only when I was an adult and specifically asked my mother if she knew the names of her grandparents and great-grandparents that I learned their names. I envy you, Wendy, to have had that information so early in life. Lucky you!

  3. In the case of the missing parents on the death certificate, it could be that the person giving the information didn't know because they were the daughter-in-law or even a child who didn't know or didn't know or forgot in the trauma of death. I remember being so excited to finally get my grandmother's death certificate to see who was listed as her father and finding one of my uncles had put his first name and a her maiden name. I don't know why he did it. And that was just a case where I knew the possibilties and knew that was wrong. The mind boggles at the possibilities for mistakes. You are so right, check the details!

    Is this challenge going on again right now?

    1. On the death certificate that I was thinking of when I wrote the post (my great-grandmother's), the husband was the informant and I was pretty certain that if anyone knew, he would. In addition, my great-grandmother's sister's death certificate said "unknown" for name of mother and I believe her husband was the informant. I've since found that the sisters were living with a step-mother -- but I've yet to find the death information for their mother. One of these days it'll turn up.

      I missed the challenge when it was current last year and just began it. I'm still having trouble keeping up....

  4. Where would we be without the details! Fabulous post.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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