Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Importance of Ancestral Origins in Genealogy Research

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     In June 2011, I did not return to the Genealogy Jamboree in Los Angeles, but I did get to attend a few webinars in the comfort of my home thanks to the Southern California Genealogy Society.  Curt B. Witcher led a presentation called Fingerprinting Our Families - Using Ancestral Origins as a Genealogical Research Key.  Topics covered in the lecture included:   how to build a historical context for one's ancestor, studying population clusters, paying attention to patterns of all sorts (naming, migration, settlement, etc.), understanding the "push and pull" of migration (i.e. the reasons behind families or individuals migrating), and locating repositories for various ethnic groups.  Curt offered some good ethnic and immigration resources among them:  The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, and The Shaping of America: Continental America (Vol 2), covering the period from 1800-1867.  In my own genealogy blog posts, I like to include many references to historical context to support my family information.

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One of the main points of this presentation is to identify and look specifically for one's ethnic origin by geographical area as opposed to strictly by surname. One way to start this process is to create a pool of factors that led your ethnic group to go to a new land including tramatic events, i.e. the Irish Potato Famine. There are two contexts to go by in searching for ancestral origins: geographic and ethnic. Curt says more leads are found from the ethnic context.

Other points from the talk that I picked up on:
  • Search church records in the areas where the ancestors settled.
  • Many city directories have ethnic sections usually located in the rear of the book.
  • Review county and town histories that give detailed descriptions of ethnic groups.
  • Consider searching for ethnic newspapers in the areas you are researching.
  • Develop a hypothesis and then gather evidence to support it or refute it.

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