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Climbing the Family Tree – Looking at the Whole Family

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By Connie Moretti
Questing Heirs Genealogical Society

Now that you’ve got vital records and census entries for your immediate family, it is probably time to stretch out the branches of your tree by including the whole family of each of your ancestors. Have you looked at or ordered marriage and death certificates for all your great or great-great aunts and uncles? This can be important for several reasons:

• Family members married at different times or in different counties may have been asked for different information. If your grandparents’ marriage record does not name their parents, it may be that one of their siblings had to supply those names.
• It may be that a great-grandparent was married more than once and their children’s marriage documents will list different parents, helping you to sort out your own line.
• Death certificates at different times and in different places may require different facts.
• Information on death certificates is dependent on the supplier of the facts, not the deceased, so some family members may have better information than others.
Did you look at and print census entries for all the siblings in a family after they set up their own households? There are also several reasons this can be important:
• Your great-great grandparents may have gone to live with one of their children in later years— one of your great-grandparents’ siblings.
• Just like with vital records, different family members may have different recollections of their parents’ birthplaces.
• As you work back to the years between 1850 and 1870, siblings’ birthplaces can help you to trace the family migrations even if they married before 1850 and thus are not listed with the parents on that first every-name census.

When you look at the whole family in each generation, many more family facts will emerge. You may even find it useful to identify the children and grandchildren of each of your ancestor’s brothers and sisters. Grandparents, especially the very elderly, can be found living with their grandchildren in addition to their children.
Whole family research can also help to clarify the family dynamics at any given time. Someone once said that each sibling is born into a different family, and we can know our ancestors better when we understand the changes in their families.

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Climbing the Family Tree – Looking at the Whole Family