One of the reasons that many of us love genealogy is we are truly sleuths at heart. We love a good puzzle, a tantalizing clue or missing ancestor. One of the other things that I love in genealogy is finding the unexpected when doing family research. Let’s look.
When doing work for clients, I’m very disciplined, focusing on finding specific data points and predetermined information. My goal is to find the information requested for them in an efficient way. At times when researching my own family history, I prefer to take a more serendipitous approach, focusing on one person or family and thinking about their lives. What would I like to know? What is missing from the data? And how does their experience relate to other family members? Because I’ve been researching since the 1970s, I have most of the solid BMD records for my direct ancestors as well as some of the collateral lines. There are exceptions with a recalcitrant great-great grandfather who I have found many records throughout his life…except for his birth and death records that remain hidden…yet. Someday…
Let me give you a recent example. I’ve been researching my great grandmother’s siblings in France. I found all their marriages and was happy about that but recently began wondering if I could find anything about their children, husbands, wives, and lives. When I revisited marriage records, I discovered that one of her sisters was married twice…and that the record was dated 1918 for her second marriage. Her first marriage was 1913. There was a transcription for her first husband’s death dated 1918 and only 13 days before her second marriage. Yikes…even by today’s standards that seems a bit hasty. I reread his death record and realized that he was a soldier, and his place of death was listed as a hospital/sanitorium in another part of France. It also gave me his parents’ names and where they lived. I found his death record in the location that he died, and it was clearer to read and discovered that his actual death date was in 1914—just 14 months after their marriage. In this record I could more easily read the infantry regiment that he belonged. Here’s where unexpected happened. I wasn’t expecting to find much more than some general information about his unit. Instead, I stumbled across a military site that allowed a search for service member records. Not only did I find some general information about him such as when he joined the army (1907) but there was an image of his service record page which listed former residences, service information as well as details about his physical experience. Also listed his cause of death which was typhoid fever—something that wasn’t included in the death record. While he is a relative by marriage and not a direct line ancestor, his brief life tells a story and I now wonder about the impact this had on the young widow. I’m hoping to find additional information about her life. Anyway, the point is that I really didn’t plan to search for French military records but by searching for something else, I found some key data.
If you subscribe to one of the major genealogy sites, take some time to explore the new and updated records list as well as the card catalog for your location of interest. With so many more online records available, it is easy to miss new records if you haven’t been looking for a particular branch and location recently. That’s how I discovered the North Dakota Marriage Records (still being updated/not all counties are there yet) and Irish Dog Licenses. Or take some time to wander around genealogy blogs and genealogy magazine sites or try searching with a different browser than your usual one. You may be surprised by what pops up. It may be the very thing that takes your research in a new direction.
Enjoy giving yourself permission to wander a bit in your research. Find a different angle of research. Look for articles that interest you and may lead you down an unexpected path in your family history research.
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.