"Researching Your Connecticut Ancestors" for Legacy Family Tree. That has got me thinking a lot about Connecticut. It is a bit of a stroll down memory lane because I spent the first half of my life in Connecticut.
As I consider what is important for the audience to know about Connecticut, I am thinking about all the ways you can slice and dice a state. As genealogists, we want to know about records, record groups and how and why those records were generated. Right now I'm trying to think beyond the records to see how different aspects of a state can impact research.
For instance, how many researchers really take the time to focus on the geography of a location? The small state of Connecticut, for example, has mountains, a coastline along the ocean and farmland. That geography has greatly impacted how the people of Connecticut have interacted with each other and their neighbors and even impacted their economic development (ie the creation of a shipping/merchant industry).
Sometimes genealogists limit their vision unintentionally by peering through blinders. It's just so tempting to take the easy route. Here's a classic example. Recently I gave a talk to the Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society about researching the history of your house. Typically when I give a house history talk I use a local historical house as an example. In this particular case I chose a random house because I liked the name of the Swede who lived their in 1900 - Knut Bergstrom.
I used a lot of census records, city directories and maps in my research on Knut's house. I looked at assessor's maps and even aerial views. I felt like I really knew the house by the time I got ready to go give the talk. I decided to swing by the house and see it in person beforehand.
Well, wasn't I in for a surprise. As I approached the street, I was astonished to find a forty-five degree (or so it seemed to me) incline. No map had prepared me for this steep hill. I am a bit squeamish when it comes to steep hills. I think learning to drive on standard transmission car did that to me. I paused for a moment and considered how badly I wanted to see that house. I really did want to see it. The final determination was the condition of the road. It was under construction. All the pavement had been dug up and the top layer was dirt and rubble. There is no historic house I want to see so badly that I am willing to drive up a steep incline on a dirt road. I made the decision to pass this one by.
I had done my research, hadn't I? Why had I been surprised by this unexpected situation? Even though I had looked at many maps including aerial photos I still never got the sense of the lay of the land. If I had looked at a topographical map that may have alerted me earlier.
Our genealogical research is often like this example. We've done so much research that we are sure that we have a thorough knowledge and understanding of our target. Yet without realizing it we overlook important clues that impact they way we interpret how our ancestors lived their lives. I can think of many ways that steep hill impacted the lives of the people who have lived on it through the centuries, especially when considering wintry New England.
Take a second look at one of your ancestors and see if you can determine how geography impacted them. Look at both the regional and the street level. What was it about the terrain of the state that helped or impeded transportation and travel? How did the geographic conditions impact industry and economic well-being? Then look at your ancestor's town and neighborhood. What type of place did they live in? How did the surrounding land impact their daily life?
Dig deeper into the geography of your ancestor's home and you'll come away with a broader understanding of how they lived and the decisions they made.
Photo Credit: Photo by taberandrew used under the creative commons license.