Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Seeing the Past From Its Future

The problem with genealogical research, of course, is that we are trying to see our ancestors' past from a time period which remains in our forebears' future. In some cases, that means imagining what life was like for our grandparents during the early 1900s from a perspective embedded with one hundred years of experience; after all, we don't "get" outhouses or ice houses or even telegrams. (Some of us can't even comprehend phones attached by cords to walls.)

To stretch that effort of comprehension to the lengths of our second or third great-grandparents' era requires a lot more than mere empathy. We need to delve into a broader perspective of the time period and the local history to help us better see what life was like for those ancestors.

Right now, I'm trying to unearth the basic outline of the life of my mother-in-law's great-grandmother, a woman born in the early 1800s in Pennsylvania. Though I know her maiden name was spelled Stine, it could very well have taken a more German appearance when her parents or grandparents spelled that surname—if, in fact, they knew how to write at all.

Such details, though, are on the far end of her past, and from my researcher's vantage point at the far end of this woman's distant future, I can't see very much about her life, at all. So I start from the end of her life to introduce what I've been able to discover about her so far.

On this end of life, that Stine daughter was known as Elizabeth Snider—but even that presents some research challenges, among them the spelling of that surname. In some records, the surname was spelled Snider, in others as Snyder. Looking far into her future, as her many children immigrated away from the state where she married and raised them, those who moved to Iowa or Minnesota took to spelling their name as Snyder, while those who remained in Ohio seemed to favor Snider.

When I face difficulties in researching a common surname, I often take in the bigger perspective by first learning what I can about the surname. In the case of Snider or Snyder, I learned that the surname took on more variations in spelling than even I could imagine. Apparently—at least, according to Wikipedia—Snider is an anglicized version of the Dutch word meaning tailor: Snijder. Another way it was originally spelled was Sneijder. Of course, there is the German version, Schneider, but there is also a Swiss-German form spelled Schnyder. Just seeing all these forms of the one surname opens my eyes to other possibilities for this family's land of origin.

Elizabeth Snider's married surname was a popular one in the state in which she lived as an adult. At least today, more Sniders live in the United States than any other country in the world. The surname ranks in the top one thousand names in this country. Eight percent of all the Sniders living in the United States live in Ohio.

All that to say, finding the right Elizabeth Snider, wife of Jacob, could be a challenge, even back during the time in which she lived. But since we are taking our first look at her history from the perspective of the end and working our way back to the beginning, we can see that she lived a long life settled, mostly, in the same place. We also can glean some information on her family by looking at all her children, of which she birthed at least ten. Because she died in 1881, her long life affords us the ability to gaze into her personal life at least through the decennial snapshots of each census record from 1850 through 1880.

However, tracing the lives of her four sons and six daughters did not reveal much about their parents' origins. Their lifespans did not reach far enough into the future to avail us of handy documents which would include such clues as mother's maiden name. And wills, when found, did not show the kind of information about that distant past that I seek.

Pushing back beyond that barrier of the 1850 census does reveal a few Ohio connections, at least in Perry County, to other Stines in the area. Some of those claiming the same surname as Elizabeth's maiden name might or might not be related to her father's family. But one thing I can be fairly certain of: if Elizabeth—or "Eliza"—were married in 1825, that seventeen year old surely did not travel by herself to Perry County in the early years of Ohio's statehood. If Elizabeth got married in Perry County, at least one of her male relatives surely had traveled there with her.

The question then becomes, which Stine men in Perry County by 1830 might have been Elizabeth's kin? In her future, she lived in a part of the county surrounded by farmland owned by her many Snider brothers-in-law, but what of her earlier years? Who were those other Stines? And how did they arrive in Ohio from their previous residence in Pennsylvania?

To answer that, we need to take a broader look at another aspect of life in that time period: the way people got around in the early 1800s—and why they chose to do so.

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