Your local Genealogical and Historical Society could be holding the key to important pieces of your research.
Although the web has certainly enabled me to find things I’m not sure I would have found otherwise, I’m clear that the bulk of records I need are not online and likely never will be. This blog’s title comes as I am in the process of a breakthrough on my Waters family, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a line I’ve had little new information on for many years. After 1880, my direct ancestors moved away from Somerset County, MD where they had lived since almost the turn of the century. Somerset County had many African-American Waters families comprising at least three, maybe more, different family lines. They frequently named their children Mary, Sarah, John, George, Samuel, etc. so I simply did not have enough information to track them. I pick back up when the line moved forward in time to my great-grandfather, Daniel George Waters, but that left a gaping hole in the generation of his father Samuel.
I recently uncovered a death certificate for one of Samuel’s brothers, George Leslie Waters, who had migrated to Coatesville, Chester County Pennsylvania where he died in 1938. I found this by putting in a birthplace of “Maryland” and a “Father’s” name as Daniel Waters, and leaving the first name and surname fields blank. That’s a great technique to use when you are trying to find where children of an ancestor might have gone:
I quickly found he and wife Sadie in the census. What I needed next was his obituary, which would hopefully name surviving family members. For that, I almost always first turn to local genealogical and historical societies (and local libraries). A little research online led me to the Chester County Historical Society:
A quick email request was all it took before they responded that they had found George’s obituary. I sent in a $25 research gratuity, and within a few weeks, I had what I needed and more. They had done a quick look into their other records and found a subsequent remarriage of George’s spouse, as well as an entry from the local city directory noting George’s occupation as a barber:
That obituary revealed one surviving sibling: Annie Henry, living in Dorchester County, Maryland. I quickly found her and her husband Nehemiah on the 1900-1940 census records in the county as well as multiple deed records for property they owned. Not only would I have not known to look in Dorchester County, I didn’t even know he had a sister named Annie, because she is not in the family’s 1880 census household. She was probably born in the first few years of the 1880s, and fell into what I called the Donut Hole — the 20 year 1880-1900 census gap.
Unfortunately, neither of these couples appear to have had any children, but the reference to nieces and nephews in George’s obituary implies that he had other siblings who had children. After I find Annie Henry’s date of death, I will try to find her obituary.
Another recent example of this is the lovely folks over at the Lawrence County Genealogical Society in Lawrence County, Tennessee. After realizing that three headstones at Find-A-Grave of some collateral ancestors had the same date of death, I realized that some accident must have occurred. Kathy and Lashawn quickly uncovered an article in the paper about the sad accident, scanned it in and sent it to me:
Many of these societies frequently have vital record and/or obituary indexes, in particularly for deaths in the 20th century. For small donations, many can answer brief questions and provide just the little bit of evidence needed to take your research to the next level. I have often paid local researchers if I needed more extensive research done in locations I can’t get to myself.
While researching your families, don’t neglect to take advantage of the wonderful collections, indexes and resources of the local genealogical and historical societies and local libraries. This is what they do. I hope you will look back over your research and look for opportunities to contact some of these groups and advance your research.