And you know what I found?
Just some of what I will call these "trigger moments" had anything to do with a document or formal "ancestral record." In other words, they may have been written down in a formal document, but it was not the discovery of the document that was the trigger. Now certainly discovery of a pertinent document can trigger significant amounts of research - no doubt. But the real "biggies" for me were many times triggered by something else.
They were a direct result of reaching out to a living human being. Or from a newspaper. Now you could criticize my logic here and say that a newspaper clipping is a "document" but I would disagree. So stay with me here.
Let's examine five simple ways to find stuff out about your ancestors without searching for formal documents and records.
- The most obvious non-record based technique is to Talk to your older living relatives. I have 3 of them - my Dad's brother, and two of his cousins. The youngest is 79, the oldest 91. It is from the youngest of these that I was informed of the maiden name of my great great grandmother. Her maiden name was Braunhart - a name I had never heard before - and he informed me that she was the brother of a California State Senator in the 1800's. That phone call later spurred my creation of a new website dedicated to the Braunhart family. Not to mention later connections with dear "cousins" in New York City and Berlin, Germany - as well as the discovery of over 50 German language 100 year old letters between members of the Braunhart family. What a find - all because of a phone call.
- You may have heard of "Cluster Genealogy" and "Friends and Neighbors" research. These typically deal with searching for siblings and friends and neighbors of your target research person or family in documents, many times census records. Well - that's great, but.... Talk to the living friends and neighbors of your parents or grandparents. I did that - and found out all kinds of interesting information about my Dad's service in World War II that he didn't want to talk about. And how my Mom and Dad met. And the identification of some actual relatives in photos that a neighbor knew but that my uncle didn't! And much more.
- Find "cousins" - everyone talks about "cousin bait." Don't just put stuff on your website and wait for "cousins." Seek them out. Get on Facebook. Look at the names of target "cousins' friend lists to find their relatives and women's maiden names. I have found many new "cousins" on Facebook. Do exhaustive Google searches. Be relentless. Go after them. They won't necessarily find you via your website or online family tree sites. And then talk to them and collaborate. Riches are awaiting you.
- OK - newspapers. As a self-diagnosed newspaper addict - the stories that one can obtain, as well as the information about siblings, children, aunts and uncles in an obituary? Can't be beat for the richness of information in newspapers. I have written tons about these fine pieces of paper in Newspapers! You can piece together a family from newspaper clippings - not always easily but it can be done. And the stories? Indeed.
- Go to a library in the town of your ancestor - I have found some really interesting stuff in hand written notes of lodge meetings and other local church related minutes. I even found out about the death of an ancestor in the 1800's in handwritten notes of these meetings. No death certificate - even no newspaper clipping, but because of a fire his father got a loan from the lodge to rebuild his business and pay for his son's burial expenses. No formal document was available. Spend some time in those small local libraries.
So get out more - talk to your relatives and ancestor friends and neighbors. Seek out new "cousins." Look in old newspapers and get to a library.
I am sure that there are many other "non-formal document" based research methods. Please share examples in the comments.