Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why We Need to Dig Deeper

When I wear my house historian and historical researcher hats I am often in the position of researching a single person or a single generation of a family. Genealogists too, may choose to focus their research on their direct lines and skip collateral ones.  Yet time and time again I convince myself that we can't see the big picture in research unless we dig deeper.

Let me give you an example.

Recently I have been researching Grafton, Massachusetts builder George Clapp (1799 - 1845).  The scope of my research involved learning as much as possible about George. There was no need, however, to learn anything more about his extended family or previous generations. Or was there?

The basics were fairly easy to come by. He was born in Petersham, Massachusetts in 1799. He moved to Grafton, Massachusetts where he became a well-known builder. He married Melinda Wood of Norton, Massachusetts.  He died in Freetown, Massachusetts in 1845.  My focus, of course, was on his house building career in Grafton.

But one thing kept bothering me. Why did a man from in Petersham, Worcester County marry a woman from Norton, Bristol County? Petersham is the western-most town in Worcester County while Norton is 83 miles east which, even with modern transportation, is an hour and a half drive.

Curiosity about wanting to know how this relationship started drove me to research further. I came to discover that both of Oliver's parents - Oliver Clapp and Lucinda Lincoln were both born in Norton. The Clapps and the Lincolns had come to Petersham in the mid 1770s when Oliver and Lucinda were young children. In Lucinda's case, her parents were one couple in scenario where two sisters (the Burts) had married two brothers (the Lincolns) and they had come to Petersham together.  This shows that at least three separate families (Clapps, Lincolns and Burts ) had moved from Norton to Petersham at the same time.

As far as I know George Clapp never lived in Norton. He grew up in Petersham. Lived his adult life in Grafton and died in Freetown, Massachusetts. His register-style death record did not list where he was buried. The death record for his wife, Melinda, similarly was silent on the burial location.

Logic would suggest looking in Grafton or perhaps Freetown for the graves. But where did I find the gravestone of George and Melinda Clapp? In the town of Norton! They were not buried in a Wood family plot but rather with George's parents in a Clapp family plot.  If curiosity hadn't caused me to dig deeper into the Norton connection I may never have discovered the location of their gravestone.

At this point I still don't know why the families left Norton for Petersham. Nor have I found out exactly how George Clapp came to know Melinda Wood. Further research will have to be done to determine that.  But I am satisfied that by researching back several generations I was able to better understand more about the families and their connections thus giving me a much better understanding of the life of George Clapp.


  1. What a great example. I recently ordered on a whim the death certificate of someone who I thought was, at most, the paternal cousin of my 2x greatgrandfather. She has a particularly interesting story, or I NEVER would have put much effort into researching anyone from this collateral family. Then I received the certificate, and discovered her mother's maiden name is the same as my 2x greatgrandfather's mother's maiden name. Whether I'm looking at double cousins or some other relationship I'm not sure yet, but looking into that collateral line has opened up lots of new possibilities for my direct line!

  2. Fascinating detective work. When you say, "but one think kept bothering me," that's the seed of a new hypothesis. A great example of what Megan Smolenyak says about "going backward to move forward." Thanks.