Friday, December 28, 2007

Finding the nuggets that solve the puzzle

I posted last week about my Genea-Santa surprise gift - a report from Old World Wisconsin that identified the parents of my Ranslow Smith (1805 - >1870). I've read the package several times now and am struck by several things:

1) The use of newspaper articles - news, advertising, obituaries, stories, etc. - was absolutely vital to piecing together the story of The Four-Mile House, an inn built by Ranslow Smith in 1853 and sold in the late 1860's. The daily news items - meetings held, visitors to town - provide some context to the daily life. Stories told by "old-timers" often talk about people - A funny incident about Justice of the Peace Ranslow Smith is described in one of them. The obituaries of Ranslow's brothers, George Smith (1812-1876) and Lyman Smith (1807-1889) apparently name brother Ranslow Smith and their parents names, Russell and Esther Smith.

2) Town meeting minutes can define town leaders, officers, and leading business men. Lyman was Burnett town treasurer for over 30 years, Ranslow was a town supervisor, meeting moderator, justice of the peace and highway overseer over the years.

3) Agricultural Census records can be used to determine how people lived - in 1860, Ranslow Smith's wheat, corn and potato harvests were nearly double the averages from other farms in the area, and likely provided food for the visitors in the hotel. An above-average oat and hay harvest indicates they probably supplied the livery barn, where visitors horses were sheltered. A large number of swine may indicate pork was standard table fare at the inn.

Many researchers understand that resources like these should be consulted in order to "flesh out" the lives of their ancestors, but how many of us do it for every ancestral family? I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't done that for many of my ancestral families.

Of course, in most cases, they are not available in online searchable databases - and many are not available on microform from the LDS Family History Library. You often have to visit the local genealogy society, historical society or libraries in order to obtain this information, and you often have to spend days reading page after page to find it.

I need to obtain the obituaries, town reports and other documents referenced in the Old World Wisconsin report. I will report on my progress as time goes by.

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