Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Start With What You Know


Perhaps you've already heard that sound genealogical advice: start with what you know, and move step by step, backwards in time from that point. Granted, I've long since started outlining my mother-in-law's tree. Plodding along, one generation at a time, I'm finally approaching the level of her fourth great-grandparents.

This month, we'll be spending some serious research time with one such woman, someone who was born in the mid-1700s in colonial Maryland. This woman married a fellow Marylander around the time of the birth of our nation, then made the pioneering move west with him to raise at least ten children in the years just preceding Ohio statehood. But that was not all. After her husband's death, this same woman accompanied one of her youngest daughters even further westward to a fort on the frontier where her son had been stationed—only to see her daughter married off to a soldier there, and herself becoming the second wife of Major John Whistler.

Not bad for a life story, eh? That, at least, was what I was able to find on Elizabeth Howard, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, the last time we had studied her life. There is far more yet to discover, however, and that is our task for this month's focus from our Twelve Most Wanted for 2024. After all, the point of starting research with what we know is gaining a firm footing to enable us to make that leap into the unknown—the next generation.

As with many of our elusive ancestors, Elizabeth Howard's story leaves many gaps. Documentation, for one, is difficult to find. Living on the edges of civilization didn't help her case. Her supposed destination, as widow of William Ijams, had been to Jefferson Barracks, a military post on the Mississippi River just south of what is now Saint Louis—yet record of her marriage, or that of her daughter, is lacking.

With her many children, surely some of them may include documented connections to Elizabeth and her first husband—but that is what we need to find this month. With the improved search capabilities at FamilySearch.org—I'm thinking primarily of the Full Text search at FamilySearch Labs—we'll be putting that tool through its paces as we look for wills which include Elizabeth's name among the documents her family members left behind.

Of course, the hope is to extend that search capability beyond Elizabeth's own lifespan to that of her parents and siblings. While there are many details already discovered about Elizabeth, those early years of the family need to be put in clearer focus in the way that only documentation can.

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