Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Geography and Genealogy

Geography can play an important role in genealogical research. A little geographical knowledge about the places where your ancestors lived can be important in tracking your ancestor. Knowing something about the region can lead us to ask questions we wouldn't ask if we have no idea how the places in our ancestors lives are related. When we know where a town is located in its county, we have clues to their lives not found in most genealogical record sources. It's always possible to encounter a research question that can't be answered by the normal sources and can only be answered by a geographical clue.

Very few beginning, or even more experienced, genealogists will know enough about the geography of a region they've never lived in or visited to understand the importance of a geographical clue we might trip over. Asking questions about the geography of a place is an important part of research. If you don't have access to someone who has lived in the area all their life, geography books and maps of the regions are helpful.

Details, such as where they went to church, which cemetery they used to bury their dead, how and where they took their crops to market, and which rivers and trails were commonly used for migration, can give you clues to the identity of your ancestor. Studying the history and geography of a region are important to get a feel for the region. When was the county formed? Is there a closer town in another county where they might have sold their goods? If they were farmers, where is the closest grain elevator to their farm? If he was a blacksmith, did he travel around to ply his trade, or did the business come to him? I'm sure you can think of dozens more questions to answer if you think about it.

This is a hypothetical situation. The time is now:

Joseph Ridell and his wife, Elizabeth, are our research subjects. He was born 2 Jul 1849 in Seneca County, Ohio; died 10 Jan 1901, in Clyde, Ohio. We don't know where he was buried. Elizabeth wrote a letter to their daughter, Ruth Hutchins. Ruth is the researcher's grandmother. The envelope was missing from the letter, so there was no way to know what the subject's home address was at the time.

The letter went on to say that Joseph had gone into Clyde for supplies (this tells us he didn't live in Clyde, but probably pretty close), and he had dropped over dead of a heart attack. Elizabeth asked Ruth if she could come to live with her family in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. We don't know if she came to live with Ruth and her family. The researcher did learn Ruth was born 10 Feb 1880 in Seneca County, Ohio; died 30 Nov 1966, in Sandusky County, Ohio. These dates were found in Elizabeth's obituary published in The Fremont News Messenger. Plans for interment we not decided upon at the time the obituary ran in the paper. There was no other reference to where she would be buried in any subsequent issues of the newspaper.

We know the researcher's father was born in Saginaw, Michigan on 6 Oct 1905, died in Saginaw, and buried there not far from the researcher's grandparents. The researcher has lived in Saginaw all his life and has never visited Ohio.

The question is, where are Joseph and Elizabeth buried? Now, we know all the important dates and could stop here. But this researcher wanted to know everything he could find out about Joseph and Elizabeth, so he decided to examine the geography closer.

The researcher knew Joseph had died in Clyde, Ohio, but had no idea what county Clyde might be in. He knew his grandparents lived in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and moved up to Saginaw, Michigan before 15 Aug 1901, since an aunt had been born in Saginaw on that date. Both Joseph and Elizabeth was born in Seneca County, Ohio. Elizabeth died in Sandusky County, Ohio. Is Upper Sandusky in Sandusky County?

Our researcher takes a trip to the library. There, he found maps that told him how the counties relate to each other. All three are fairly close together, but Sandusky and Wyandot don't have a common border, Seneca is between them. Fremont is the county seat of Sandusky county, and Tiffin is the county seat of Seneca county. He decides to concentrate on these two counties for now.

They were both born in Seneca County, so our researcher investigated the Tiffin Adviser Tribune. There he found not only Joseph's obituary, but also Elizabeth's obituary. In the obituaries were Elizabeth's maiden name, the names of their 6 children, their places of residence, and number of grandchildren, but still no place where they were buried. Elizabeth's obituary mentioned she had been a life-long member of the Adams Lutheran Church, but no location for the church.

The researcher decided to investigate Seneca County first since they were both born in Seneca county. Searching, he found the Adams Lutheran Church in Adams Twp., Seneca county, Ohio. Now the church is known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The Adams Lutheran Cemetery, which is located on the south side of the church, is the location of the subjects' burial.

There are still many questions that could be answered by property records, vital records, and ect. My purpose with this exercise was to create interest in geographical research. We still haven't found the address the subjects were living at the time of Joseph's death. (Joseph, Elizabeth, ect. are fiction, they do not exist; I am familiar with Adams Twp., Seneca, Ohio).

Have fun with your geographical research.

Dale L. Edwards

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