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Research a Family in Community Context1
Proximity implies a relationship of some kind. Good genealogists use this to their advantage.
Learn to be aware of neighbors and associates. As you gather information and sources for individuals, strive to understand their family, friends, associates, and neighbors as well. You will soon realize that people are born, raised, married, have children and grandchildren, migrate, live, die, and are buried in clusters. Their community relationships often provide clues to solve difficult genealogical problems. The more a genealogist can discover about an ancestor's community, the greater the odds of uncovering significant relationships.
- Make note of pastors, godparents, witnesses, bondsmen, partners, suppliers, executors, and similar community members on documents.
- Always investigate anyone living in the same household.
- Neighbors in the area with similar given names or surnames, occupations, or place of origin are good candidates to be relatives. Study the neighbors and associates in land records, plat maps, censuses, tax records, and directories. Strive to figure out their relationship to your ancestor.
- People often moved in groups. They usually moved to an area where neighbors spoke their same language, so the "new" neighbors were often known from an old neighborhood.
- Land purchases and sales may be evidence of genealogical lineage.
- In cemeteries pay attention to gravestones anywhere near your ancestor's grave.
- If an ancestor lived near a county or state line, look for people on the other side of that line who could be relatives.
1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Censuses: Analysis, Interpretation & Correlations," Course 4 Advanced Methodology, Interpretations & Analysis, Samford University Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research, 2005, 4M3.