Suitcase Full of Memories

Unpacking History One Discovery at a Time

Going Genealogy Hunting Without a Map

Here I go. Once more heading out to a long-awaited trip to continue my family research. This time I’m off to Minneapolis and Madison. I’ve been waiting to go to Wisconsin Historical Society Museum and Library for three  years now, ever since I reunited with my bio-family. Thursday night I’ll be camped in a hotel on its doorstep. And do I have a research plan?  Of course not. Do I think “winging it” is a good practice? Of course not. But it’s what I do.  Sigh.

I’ve had some wonderful surprises when working without a research plan yet I always think about what else I might have found if I’d been better prepared. Alas, once again I’ll be cramming on a flight.

The good news is that I do know who I want to learn about and what questions I want to answer so at least I’ve got that going for me. And I’ll have two days so I can use part of one day to help build a plan on the fly. Some days you just gotta work with what you’ve got.

I used the flight from Seattle to Minnesota to review some of the physical documents I do have on these families and read some county histories and general information about the migration patterns. I couldn’t open my laptop so was confined to paper. Which turned out to be a good thing.

When you hear “begin with what you know” as advice for new genealogists, it’s important, I think, to remember this applies to all of us. I went back and reviewed documents I had uncovered years ago and with more knowledge behind me, I see more in these documents.  From a survey I found one family had one patent in Barron County and one family had two patents. I hadn’t recalled that. So now I wonder about why that difference: more people? more money?  OOOOHHHHH a new question.

Jill Morelli, who is speaking at the Washington State Genealogy Conference in August, is blogging about her personal journey toward becoming a certified genealogist. In her Mar 23 post, she says:

The crafting of the research question seems easy at first and then reveals itself to be surprisingly difficult. At times I was struggling with defining exactly what I was trying to “prove.”

Cumberland, Wisconsin

Drat. She’s right.

My research will focus on two lines of  my father’s mother’s parents, the Swartouts and Worden families. There’s a family story we are related to Jessie James through the Worden side and I would love to prove that. I’d also like to know more about their religion and political leanings.

The other research focus will be on my biological mother’s families. Cumberland in Barron County, Wisconsin, saw a lot of my ancestors. Four different families lived there, and then at least one person from all four of them came to Seattle. Farmers, veterinarians, politicians, servants, housewives and students.  I want, of course, to know their stories.

I’m curious about why families migrate. I’m fascinated by the drive west. So one question: Why did they come to Wisconsin from the east? I know they arrived in the mid 1880s as part of the great Western Expansion:

Between 1870 and 1890, the biggest movement westward took place. Spreading from the railroad tracks, hundreds of thousands of settlers moved into the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The last territory settled was Oklahoma in 1889. A frantic rush took place to seize a piece of this last bit of the wilderness. The frontier was closed. There was now no dividing line between wild and settled land.

How were the dry plains turned into farming land? Why did the cattlemen give way to the farmers? One reason why the cattlemen were forced out was the summer drought of 1886, when the grasslands withered and cattle starved. The winter was the worst in living memory and thousands more cattle froze to death. Many ranch owners were ruined. The other major reason for the farmers’ success was the spread of new inventions that
made farming possible on the Great Plains. Barbed wire began to be sold in the 1870s and large areas of land could now be enclosed cheaply and quickly. Equipment to dig deep wells became available. Most important, new machines were developed, such as the steel gang plow that could turn several furrows at once; special harrows to break up the soil; mechanical reapers and binders, and steam threshing machines. Vast areas could now be farmed far more efficiently.(1)

No matter which of my ancestral families you look at, at least one courageous adventurer followed the railways and moved west as the country expanded. Now I get to follow them.

Do you have a favorite research plan template? How do you research plan?

Happy hunting!





Western Expansion

2 comments on “Going Genealogy Hunting Without a Map

  1. chmjr2
    April 4, 2014

    I find my best research plan goes out the window once you start. So while I will plan I am very flexible. I have at times started working one family line and something pops up about another line, and I am off and running.

  2. Val Sanford
    April 4, 2014

    I’m having a good time and getting some stuff I hadn’t dreamed of. I almost got an agricultural census but time ran out. It’s waiting for me tomorrow for Strong’s Prairie, Adams County Wisconsin. Swartout family here I come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 3, 2014 by in Genealogy, Uncategorized, Washington State Genealogy and tagged , , , .
The Northwest Genealogy Conference

Improving Genealogy through Better Education

The Val Sanford Group

A Strategic Communications Practice

Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal

a journal about my experiences becoming a certified genealogist

Eleventh Stack

A books, movies, and more blog from the staff at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Main.

No Regrets Adventure

Living life to the fullest

Moore Genealogy

Fun With Genealogy

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

Map of Time | A Trip Into the Past

Navigating Through Someplace Called History

Cherith Runyon

Where Inspiration Strikes


Just another site

From Axer to Ziegler

Linda's Ancestors from A to Z

Ascending the Stairs

Because each step tells another story of our ancestors is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d bloggers like this: