Don’t Neglect The Neighboring Genealogical Record, 2nd edition. Updated 2017
Something that happens often is that while researching your family tree you find yourself looking at the image records over and over again. That’s something that I do frequently. They are just plain interesting to review, and So Often I eventually discover a hidden nugget of information that I wasn’t originally looking for! I prefer to review the original record when it’s not too inconvenient. Original image records are one of the greatest things brought to the internet for genealogy research. Things that can be seen with your own eyes are the handwritten records of the census, voter registrations, draft cards, passport applications and more.
By the nature of these records there are hidden details that can be an interesting, promising, and sometimes beneficial links to other information. If you look hard enough you’ll find information about your family on pages that are not indexed or search-able by their name or surname. Let me share.
Census Records: When you see an ancestor’s family in a census record, you’re viewing the work of the census taker who literally worked his/her way down the street stopping door-to-door to collect the necessary information. Have you ever found just part of your family listed either on the top or at the bottom of the page? If your family is at the bottom of a page you must click the “next page” or “next image” to see if more family is continued on the next page.
The opposite is true if your ancestors are the first names at the top of the page, where you need to check the “previous page/image” to see if there are any more individuals there. Regardless, even if your genealogical ancestors are in the middle of the page it should be a matter of practice to just scan the previous and then the following page and look through the names. An older sibling may have moved out of the family’s primary residence to rent a room next door or three doors down from a neighbor.
Relatives and friends often lived in the same neighborhoods for long periods through their lives. Keep on the lookout when looking among the neighbors for names that look familiar.
There can be a child’s future spouse’s family; There may be a witness or god-parent to a family member; There may be witnesses on birth or death certificates, participants from weddings and other individuals that over time grew very close to your family and took part in major events good and bad with them. My family had just that. We discovered a recurring name from wedding books, random notes, and even found the name on grave stones NEXT to our family plot at the cemetery. We found one living person from that family, and she was in her nineties. She was the only living person left that personally knew my great grandmother. They were neighbors when she was growing up and her parents were “best friends” with my great grandparents. As a child she knew and could still describe people that no other remaining, living individual could tell us about.
U.S. Passport Applications: The passport applications found on Ancestry.com contain such good information. They tell where a person was born, their birthdate, where they currently lived, physical description of the person, occupation, and might be one of the only concrete “emigration” data sets you’ll find on a person. Also MANY RECORDS INCLUDED A PICTURE of the individual! Needless to say I love this source. For most people there is more than one page of information but the only page indexed with their name is the application page. There might be letters of authorization for a passport from a state agency, war department or an organization like the Knights of Columbus, birth certificates, naturalization certificates, etc..
One passport application I found has a letter seeking authorization to allow someone to travel oversees to take part in an event in which the “Champion Wrestlers of America” was participating in. This was from 1918. Just funny. Check several pages before and after the “listed page” for your family tree member. There can be lots and lots of different types of information in there but it is easy to overlook because the other pages are not indexed to your individual’s name.
Military and Draft Registrations: These records can also be viewed in sequential order from an original scanned archive. Sometimes you’ll see relatives, friends and even co-workers of the registrant (because occupation and employer’s name are usually included) in an adjacent record because they traveled to the registration office together and were literally standing in line together.
From the original post date of this article in 2010 there are literally billions more records online compared to back then. There are so many types of records available and they are FAR faster and easier to access than they used to be! Browse neighboring records whenever you can, if even just for fun. There are so many interesting things to discover by means of pure curiosity.
As a general rule I always take a second look at the neighboring record any time I’m viewing an image archive stored in page-by-page order, or in a numerically-organized record format from the source.