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Friends of the Family

Friends, especially close friends, may very well have information to share about your ancestor . . . or you may information to share with them.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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We are often encouraged to research collateral family and ancestral neighbors in our quest for information and clues, but another avenue of interest and potential importance is to research friends of the family. Friends, especially close friends, may very well have information to share about your ancestor . . . or you may information to share with them. When friends are mentioned by name, it is often a very interesting exercise to see what you can find about those people. How to go about it depends on how much information you have to start with. I've had mixed results in my quest to learn more about important people in my grandparent's lives.

In her history, my grandmother mentions certain people that played an significant role in her life. I was interested to learn more about these people and maybe fill in a few details. I was also interested, if possible, to connect with the descendants to share my grandmother's recollections. I did have some luck last spring in connecting someone who was close to my grandmother's nephew, who was one of our mysteries. This contact came as a result of my post on the message boards. As it turned out, my correspondent and I each had a piece of the story and, putting the two together, answered questions for both of us.

More recently, I have been interested to learn more about a young couple that "stood up" with my grandparent's at their wedding in Oklahoma, and were themselves married that same day. This alone was interesting, but the story did not stop there. Some six years later, the two couples were living in same community in New Mexico and shared yet another significant experience. During the 1918 flu epidemic, so many people were sick and dying and the snow was so deep, it was hard for people to get out and take care of those who had died. Many of those not afflicted were not anxious to help, as my grandmother reports:

Now there's a lot of people, that if something's catching, they give it wide berth. They don't want to go near. But your grandpa went, him and this friend . . . they went together. They went to everybody that was sick; and a lot of them, they had to help lay out the dead because they was so many people wouldn't go. They went to help everybody they get to ─ as many of them as they could.

I admired my grandfather's act of courage and compassion, and often wondered if his friend's descendants knew the story. So in revisiting my grandmother's history, which I do from time to time, I was motivated to see what more I could learn of their friends. When my grandmother was telling her story, she could not call to mind her friend's maiden name, so for my own record, I wanted to confirm that information and see what else I could find.

The 1911 marriage records for that county in Oklahoma are not online, so I decided to see if anyone had submitted a marriage for the couple on Knowing the groom's name, I could easily identify the couple. I had immediate success and learned her friend's maiden name. I then searched the census records. I checked the 1910 census for the county in Oklahoma and found my grandmother's friend actually lived next door to my grandfather and his family. I also found record of her soon-to-be husband with his family, although they did not appear to be near neighbors of my family. I then checked for the couple in New Mexico and found them in both the 1920 and 1930 census record.

In the process of this search, much to my surprise, I came across a photo of the couple, with enough information to confirm it to be the right couple ─ I was delighted. I immediately contacted the submitter and hope to hear back. At the very least, I have this wonderful picture and know more now than I did.

There are others in my grandmother's story whom I have made attempts to research, without luck . . . so far. One being "an old couple that had been slaves." But I have found that sometimes just out of the blue, we are prompted to pick up a line of research or something comes to us as a result of prior effort. So I'm not giving up. Finding these friends of the family brings the story full circle. My grandmother would be pleased.

If you are looking for friends of the family, here are some of suggestions: Check the names on So many individual births, deaths, and marriages have been recorded. And with any luck, you might also find a pedigree chart with additional information. While this is not in itself "documentation," it can certainly lead you to documentation and further evidence.

World Connect Project. Another source I like to check that's totally free is the RootsWeb World Connect Project. Again, it's not a documented source, but may provide leads to relationships and maiden names.

Census Records. Of course, searching census records, available on many different web sites, can also be enlightening; you may be able to pinpoint how close in proximity to your ancestors these friends were living, and maybe find leads to their descendants.

Message Boards. The various message boards are always a good resource; not only putting your message on the boards, but proactively researching the boards to see if anyone is researching those you hope to find.

Newspapers. And newspapers are excellent, particularly now that so many are coming online. Even if you don't have a subscription to Ancestry or a newspaper web site, census records and some newspapers databases are available at many libraries and LDS Family History Centers.

Google Search. Doing a Google search on the name is also good, as it can help you find family trees, family web sites, as well as obituaries and cemetery listings.

These are just a few of the places you might check for friends of the family. In addition, you can check the USGenWeb (or World GenWeb) for your locality of interest to see what resources it might have, and to see if it offers a way for you to search the site.

And if you decide to contact the descendants, introduce yourself first via e-mail or even snail mail. Many people are suspect of calls from strangers, and rightly so. It's also easy to contact people in a non-intrusive way through the message boards and Ancestry channels.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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