Saturday, February 11, 2017

Challenge: How to Determine the "Right" Place

In past posts, I wrote about my challenges determining, for example, which "John Burke" is my grandfather and which is my 3rd great-grandfather and which is not a relative at all. Without having documentation like a family Bible or detailed photographs or even oral history, making sure I am satisfied that 'this one' is the right one and 'that one' is not has been the biggest challenge, along with the urge to pick 'this one' or 'that one.'

Another difficult and equally challenging task related to validating the correct person is location.

In the United States, we break down our geography into states, counties or parishes, and towns or cities. With very few exceptions, most of us live in a geographical location that can be determined by knowing these three locations. Take me as an example. How I would be located is as follows:
  • State: Michigan
  • County: Kent
  • City: Caledonia or Dutton
  • Street: Yes, there is one
I list two cities because the United States Postal Service has the authority and responsibility to determine the proper mailing address for every house or apartment. I live in a rural area outside the geographical boundaries of the Town of Caledonia, an incorporated city, or Dutton, an unincorporated cluster of buildings in Kent County. The Post Office authorized the use of either name for my home's mailing address.

Other countries have different geographical breakdown; England has been my focus for the past couple of years. (In the future, I will focus on Ireland and Scotland, the other two countries from which ancestors in different branches of my family tree hailed.) London, particularly, has been one of my focal points and I have learned that the breakdown is quite different. I will not go into details because, honestly, I do not have many - I am still learning - but there is a movie title that can give a clue to the complexity of my search.

Years ago, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant did a movie called "Notting Hill." Julia Roberts played a major American famous movie star; Hugh Grant played the owner of a small, not-very-profitable travel book store in the Notting Hill 'neighborhood' of London. The story is of the improbable and highly-unlikely love between them.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that one of my ancestors came from London, in the southeast part of England. Determining that s/he was from Notting Hill or not would be critical; just being from "London" would not be helpful in validating a name. It is a very large city with many neighborhoods with a high probability of finding like-named people all over England, especially during the late1800's and early 1900's, when a lot of international travel was taking place.

My ancestors hail from Manchester, another large English city and metropolitan borough, in the county of Lancashire, farther northwest, near Liverpool, with similar neighborhood or area names.

In situations like that, figuring out that 'this person' may be the right ancestor and 'that person' is not is critical. And challenging, sometimes seeming to be overwhelmingly difficult. I have learned much about how English cities are broken down and named and I have much, much more to learn. It is not easy keeping it straight, especially considering that changes have been made in the last 100 years.

But as I have said before, if genealogy was easy, there would be no field of study, no genealogical me.

1 comment:

  1. So the lesson is that in all things it comes down to location, location, location.