Category: Genealogy Tips

Breaking Through Genealogy Dead Ends: Cast a Wide Net

When you’re researching your family history, you’re bound to find some holes, dead ends, missing siblings, families that drop out of sight in the census and other mysteries. The majority of family trees you find online stick strictly to identifying ancestors, excluding siblings of ancestors, parents of spouses and other persons who have some relationship, if not in a direct line. I’ve found through trial and error that it pays to cast a wide net. If I find information on a spouse’s family, I include it. While it might be a nice clue for another person’s family research, it might also be just the clue I need in the future. All those little details that you collect might as well go into your files and you never know what might be useful in the future. I’ll give you a case in point. My great-great-grandfather was Frederic Auguste Simon of Switzerland. He emmigrated to the United States in 1849, and promptly showed up on the 1850 census in Athens County, Ohio. In all but one census, that of 1860, he can easily be found with slight name variations. But, 1860 remained a mystery. Was he in the process of moving the family during the census, was a page missing, could he just have been missed? I tried all the usual search techniques. I tried every name spelling I could imagine for him, his wife and all of his children. I looked near other family members, including his brother, his brother-in-law and several close cousins who would end up in Kansas in the same town with him. I tried tracing back neighbors. I thought I had come to a dead end and left it for over a year. Then, when taking a look at marriage records for Athens County, I found that his sister-in-law, Maria, whose name only was known to me, was married there. Her husband was a widower with children and I quickly traced the name of his first wife and of their children. Going back to the census to see what happened to those children, I found that one of Maria’s unmarried step-daughters lived with a family several townships away. And, who do you suppose were the neighbors? Why one Fred A. Seamon and family. And, there were his wife, Sarah, my great-grandfather and his siblings. Well, Seamon is a spelling of Simon that never occurred to me. But, it’s logical. If an English-speaking census taker is speaking to a French-speaking resident, he’s going to hear see-mone and write it down just as he hears it. So, my long mystery is solved by casting a wider net. My great-great-grandmother’s sister had a step-daughter who is in no way related to me, but she has provided the clue I needed to find my ancestor’s home in 1860.