Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Where to Look
When You Don't Know Where to Look


I'll admit it: when stuck with this brick wall ancestor John Stevens and his (likely) brother Hugh Stevens, I haven't the faintest idea how to proceed towards solid answers. Thankfully, I have learned that there are ways to move forward in such a stalemate. There are ways to look for answers, even when you don't really know where to look.

Before I talk about that though, truth be told, I have a second problem with the family history project I chose to work on this month. While I remember seeing Hugh Stevens' Declaration of Intention, which was originally filed at Lafayette, Indiana, if I actually purchased a copy, I have no idea where to find it. So many years ago, when I did make paper copies of records, some ended up damaged over time, and discarded. While I have since digitized John Stevens' Declaration, I have no idea where that same document was for Hugh. I'm working from memory at this point.

That clear memory, though, stayed with me: that Hugh followed the same basic route outlined by his likely relative John, from County Mayo in Ireland, to the British port of Liverpool, then to New Orleans and up north on the waterways leading from the Mississippi to Indiana. My question now is whether I can read between the lines on those two Declarations—Hugh's and John's—and find any further information on either Stevens men. But where to look next? That is where I'm stuck.

When it comes to family history questions in general, I know Cyndi's List can provide links to explore all sorts of research topics and techniques. For even more broad-based answers, I've developed the knack of putting search engines through their paces. I've also learned that it is possible to do genealogy by Wikipedia, not only for background information but also for specifics—sometimes even down to specific ancestors. And there are other, more specialized wikis which hone in on precise topics, such as the ISOGG wiki for genetic genealogy information.

But in a case such as this month's puzzle, my go-to resource is the FamilySearch wiki, and that is mostly where we'll turn for a quick refresher course to get grounded in the details of documenting immigration and naturalization on behalf of this puzzle surrounding Hugh Stevens.

If I had to rely on what is usually shared on subscription genealogy sites—those many documents which, while appreciated, are sometimes limited in scope—I would only have been in luck, had I searched for immigrants passing through, say, New York City. But filing a First Declaration in Lafayette, Indiana? Such a discovery would either have become lost in the shuffle, or not been included in the featured online collection at all. In fact, the only way I first found those two records for Hugh and John was by traveling to Lafayette and looking them up myself.

Thankfully, things have changed quite a bit since I made that trip over ten years ago. It is now possible to order a copy directly, online, for a modest fee, and I will be doing that to access a record of Hugh's arrival. But in the meantime, let's spend some time this week reviewing the history of the naturalization process as it changed over time in the United States. For that, we'll look at the articles available at the FamilySearch wiki, as well as at the source, the National Archives itself. The process of reviewing what we think we know can still be beneficial, especially when key details that we've inadvertently omitted or forgotten get brought to mind afresh. 

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