Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more
New? Start Here
Genealogy How-To
 Getting Started
 Getting Organized
 Developing Your Research Skills
 Sharing Your Family's Story
 Reference Guide
 Biography Assistant
Free Genealogy Classes
 Beginning Genealogy
 Internet Genealogy
 Tracing Immigrant Origins

Family Finder
First Name:

Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Be Sure to Branch Out
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 23, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

When you first begin to research your family, you get that tunnel vision. You concentrate on the names of only those who are on your direct line. You may write down the names of the spouses for the siblings, but you tend to not pay much attention to those names. By doing this, you are actually making your research harder.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is to look at the names of the others who are living near my ancestors. When working in the census records, pay attention to those who are living in the ten dwellings before and after the house where you locate your family. It is likely that some of these individuals will somehow become connected to your family, possibly through marriage.

It is important to keep a look out for some of the other surnames that associate with your families.

A Bad Habit

But even researchers who may at least glance at those living nearby don't spend much time researching the other surnames that connect to your direct line. Researchers are so intent on taking back their direct line that they overlook some valuable clues through the spouses and the families of those spouses.

Generally this behavior is one that is learned when first beginning to research your family history. You get so caught up in the researching of your specific family names, that you don't stop to look around. In essence, you don't stop to smell the roses, or in this case to really look at the given record or resource to see what else is included.

How Does This Work?

In researching my STANDERFER line, which has been one of the more difficult ones, I have been forced to research the spouses' families and the families of those who had any type of dealings with my STANDERFERs, including land transactions. And it was through this extensive research that when I discovered that Benjamin STANDERFER had married a Patsy FULTON, I was able to show where they sold land later on and make the connection to the FULTON family living in Moultrie County, Illinois. The research I had done helped to support my theory that this was indeed my Benjamin with a second marriage.

I am not saying that you need to do this with every line you are working on. However, when you find yourself hitting that brick wall, there are times that extending your research laterally, or sideways, will in the end help you to continue that vertical push back into past generations.

Another Method

Sometimes just being aware of the other family names is enough. Remember, seldom did a given family just pick up and move on their own. In most cases they went with a group of other people, and the names you saw in Shelby County may be the same names you are now finding in Jefferson County. This can give you an idea of who traveled together and also may give you insight into why they left.

I found a similar incident with my AYERS in Colonial Massachusetts. They migrated north to what would become New Brunswick, Canada. However, they did not travel alone. They went with a few other families who were in town with them. And not surprisingly, the children of my AYER married into a number of those families. Sometimes AYER siblings married siblings in another family.

In Conclusion

Our ancestors interacted with other families. It may have been through marriage or it may have been through the buying or selling of land. They may have all migrated together to another county or state. By having familiarity with the other surnames, it is sometimes possible to pick up the trail of your ancestor, even when he doesn't always show up in the records.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

Back to Top of Article

Home | Help | About Us | Terms of Service | PRIVACY
© 2011