When I started doing genealogy research almost a decade ago, I was all about identifying my direct-line ancestors and making my tree taller. I committed to not adding anyone to my tree, thank goodness, unless I had at least one documented source that linked that person to my family. But once I added someone and filled in the basic birth, marriage, death and census data, I moved on.
Then, a few years later, I realized that I would benefit from adding collateral relatives to the tree. (It seems painfully obvious to me now, but it didn’t when I started.) All along, I struggled with maintaining focus and, in 2014, I devised a strategy of focusing on one of my four lines per quarter, rather than jumping all over my family tree when I sat down to research.
Three years later, in 2017, I decided to spend a year on one line, my paternal grandfather’s line (Adams) and then extended that year to 18 months. I tried shifting gears to my paternal grandmother’s line (Rasco), but the Adamses keep drawing me back.
The Adams family was the focus of my recent Kentucky research trip. Specifically, I’ve spent the majority of my time on my 2nd great grandfather, George Washington Adams (1845-1938).
When I attended the National Genealogical Society conference in May, I heard Elizabeth Shown Mills talk four times. Several of those talks have inspired me to dig deeper on this ancestor. Her talk on context, in particular, had a big impact. In it she offered an explanation for why context is so important, along with specific suggestions for how to find context for our ancestors’ lives. It really makes me want to try to understand what life was like for this man and his family.
Why George? He fought for the Union in the Civil War, and I sent away for his pension file back in 2015. It was a thick one: 138 documents and 236 scanned pages. But I realize now it only gave me a window into a small portion of his life. I transcribed that file so I became very familiar with his life while he was living in the National Home for Disabled Soldiers from 1922-1933 and the five years after he left it until his death. (He would move from adult child to adult child fairly frequently and telegraph the pension office every time he did it so he wouldn’t miss a check.) But none of those documents gave me an inkling that he served in the state legislature in the 1890s and early 1900s and also was a magistrate during that time. That I gleaned through newspaper research later.
After his first wife died in 1902, he had a seemingly acrimonious second marriage, with two divorce filings (one of which was completed). He had twelve children, and his youngest child was born 40 years after his oldest (my great grandfather, Elmer Henry Adams).
All this interesting on the face of it. But what I want to do is to research it within the context of life at the time he was living. And once I’ve done that, I’d like to revisit the many documents I have for him and look at them in the proper context.
I think I’ll start with more newspaper research. (Instead of searching for familiar names, I’ll actually read the articles.) I’d like to research some of the people who lived around him to help fill out the picture as well. The syllabus from Elizabeth Shown Mills’ talk on context will be a guide for the types of sources I can consult to really paint a picture of the 93 years during which George Washington Adams lived.
But before I get started, I want to process the documents I found during my research trip, which will be the focus of this month’s 30 x 30 challenge for me. But I’m excited to dig into George’s life and times and see where it takes me!