Last week in my blog Top Ten Tips to Breakingdown Brick Walls I mentioned several things you should do before attempting a name study. This blog picks up where that left off and gives you hints on exploring several families with the same surname in a particular area. Obviously, you are likely only going to take this route if you have exhausted all other options and still haven't found what you need for a confirmation.
1. Eliminate as many possibilities as you can within a broader area. For example, once when I did this I had a GGG grandmother Mary ________ who was born a1816, & according to her death record her parents were Samuel & Mary _________. Therefore, I researched every Samuel & Mary ________ in the state & adjoining state during that time period. Then I looked into the possibility of Samuel or Mary dying when she was young & remarrying. Sometimes I thought I was on the right track when I found a couple Samuel & Mary's who had a daughter Mary, but I wasn't, because through further research it was discovered either their Mary was born in a year that didn't make sense, she died while mine was living, or she married someone else. If you have no luck there, remember at this point to be open to the possibility the names on the death record could be wrong.
2. Focus on as small an area as possible, such as a particular town or county where you believe your ancestor lived. Presumably, you've already searched for records on your ancestor and found limited to nothing or you wouldn't be doing this.
3. Focus on the most relevant time period. For example when your ancestor would have been born to when you know they lived somewhere else, if they did ever live somewhere else.
4. Generally, I find it is easiest to start with censuses. Go to the Census Records in that particular location - and pull up all the families with that surname. Now, if it is after 1850 this may not be that difficult a task, but every time I've had to do this it was before then. Given my ancestor was born c1816, I began with the 1820 & 1830 censuses, and started looking for heads of the households with the same surname and who had a daughter that fit into the appropriate age brackets. I also tried to be sure he appeared old enough to be her father. Clearly, a man born in about 1805 could not be her father, nor is it likely a a man born about 1761 was her father, although that could be revisited if nothing comes up. Eliminating men for reasons such as these will help narrow the possibilities down significantly.
5. Look further into who these families were. Look for births, marriages, deaths, administrations, deeds, etc. on everyone in these families. Continue eliminating as you go. For instance, a couple who married a couple years after her birth isn't really likely, unless it was a second marriage.
6. Revisit your notes. Look at your notes again. Is anything that seems more familiar or is ringing a bell now? Perhaps one of the families you are researching is headed by a Joseph for example, and your ancestor named one of their oldest children Joseph. Perhaps the mother's name, or sibling names appear in your ancestors family. While this is not proof, they certainly are hints and may later help build your case of indirect evidence.
7. Follow the lives of the children of the couples you are left with. Build a list of potential siblings of your ancestor if they were a member of this family. Can you find any connections between possible siblings & your ancestor? Who did they marry? Where did they live or move away to? When did they die? What are their children's names?
For me this part was the gold mine. My ancestor had four sisters, one of whom died fairly young, & three who married. Plus, they also had two brothers. Through tracing the siblings, especially the sisters and who they married. I found the 3 married sisters through US censuses and city directories living in an adjoining state and right next door to where I knew my ancestor was along. Plus, while one of the brothers died as a young married man, the other brother turned up living at the same address of my ancestor while she went to live with her grown daughter for a while. They were right there in front of me the whole time, off and on for over twenty years. And then, I remembered I forgot a step and looked up the state censuses, much to my surprise, at one point, one of the sisters lived in the same household with my ancestor...wish I had found that before....it would have given me a huge hint and maybe saved me all that work, but then I wouldn't have learned so much! Turns out...through a compilation of all the indirect evidence that I was able to find from the name study, I could write a pretty persuasive proof summary that my ancestor was the daughter of Joseph & Nancy, not Samuel & Mary at all....damn those death records :)
Live & cherish the moment while exploring the past!
Amylynne (Baker) Murphy