Considering the Neighborhood
Although we all live in a neighborhood of some kind and our most frequent contact is with people from that neighborhood, we most often take the people around us for granted.
Have you ever considered the neighborhood that your ancestors lived in??
In our ancestors time, their neighborhood of friends was perhaps the most important contact to them with the exception of their own families.
The women exchanged recipes, while the men exchanged advice and many times assistance with jobs that due to lack of our modern technologies and machines were most often jobs requiring more then one person.
When someone's barn burned down, the neighbors all pitched in to assist in building a new one and with the addition of food; a necessity became a social gathering as well.
When a man fell ill during the harvest season, his neighbors aid was the only thing that kept his family from starving to death.
Threshing rings as well as Corn Huskings and Silo Fillings were neighborhood events that also combined a needed chore with a social event.
Many a time, these were the gatherings that formulated meetings that later turned to marriages and new family connections.
Looking at the neighbors of your ancestors can tell you many things other then just who they had daily contact with. Among those things are:
When in doubt as to the burial place of your ancestors, look to see if there is a cemetery close to where they were known to live that you find many of their neighbors buried in. This could be a clue as to a popular local burial point.
Was there a particular church that you find many of your ancestors neighbors listed in?
Pay attention to land sales, these could signify sometimes a family connection not before realized. Families tended to live most closely together then they do today, including migrating patterns.
Many a researcher will say that in searching through the census records, you should always take down the names of the five persons on either side of your listed ancestor. Odd persons listed in census records also give a clue as to later family relations. Sometimes a hired hand of one year might turn out to be a family member or one of the hired hand siblings will marry into that family by the next census taking.
In searching through pension files of your ancestor, the names of the persons signing affidavits in testimony for your ancestor could well be neighbors.
Look at the estate sales for your ancestors in the probate records. These often list names of persons making purchases of items from the estate or sometimes they are listed as persons owing money to the estate. These could and most normally are neighbors of your ancestors. Remember, life back then was much more centered around community events then they are today. An estate sale sometimes was the "major" event in an area, many attended.
Why you might ask is it important to find a neighbor of your ancestor?
After all, you really don't care just where your 5th great grandfather's neighbor, Robert, lived do you?
The reason it is important is that unfortunately most of our ancestors were not always first in line to have their names listed in the census records.
For most of us we have some ancestors who for one reason or another were:
1. Never listed in any census records
2. Never had any land in their name and therefore were never in tax listings
3. Never had a Will made or appeared in any court hearings
4. Never had a gravestone or if they did, it has long since disintegrated
5. Didn't serve in any military actions or didn't file for pensions.
6. Were born or died before the time frame of birth/death certificates or obituaries
For the above reasons it always helps to know just who your ancestors neighbors were. Lets say you know "about" where your ancestor lived, but not exactly or you know what township they were in (these were commonly a 6 mile square area);
Some of your ancestor's neighbors may have been found in records that your's weren't or they might have a Will or made a land purchase from your ancestor. They may have used your ancestor in a testimony for military services.
By recognizing their names, you can sometimes be more "in tune" with persons that your ancestors were known to be living around.