Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boundary Lines

Researching my paternal lines lately has taught me valuable lessons about geography.  On the recent trip back to his boyhood haunts with my dad, I learned a little bit about how the geography of the area in which they lived shaped their lives, and consequently, the places where the records would be located.

For instance, though Portland, Indiana is the county seat, my ancestors were predominately in Madison Township near Salamonia.  Though many of the records  for the family are to be found in Portland, they were closer to the Ohio state line than they were to the county seat.

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Because of this, the stories from my dad involve trips into Ohio towns such as Ft. Recovery and even further northwest into Celina.  In researching records such as census and obituaries, I have found that my families tended to hop across the state line quite frequently.

I recently found the 1941 Portland Indiana Con-Survey Directory, which listed my granduncle, John Leland LeMASTER, serving as the County Auditor, with a residential address of RD 3 Ft Recovery, Ohio.  I asked my dad how this could be - that someone could be serving as the Auditor of an Indiana county with an  Ohio address.  He quickly pointed out to me that the entire rural area around Salamonia, Madison Township had a Rural Route address out of Ohio.  

My modern-day ZIP code + 4 mind hadn't registered this possibility when I had examined the record.  Because this was explained to me, I understood other records I have found, such as funeral home records, which also listed that same rural route address.  Without this understanding, it would be very easy for me  to place someone in the wrong state of residence.

To the south of Salamonia is the Randolph County, Indiana line, and Union City.  I remember last year when I was at the Jay County Health Department looking for the death record for my great grandmother.  She wasn't found there, though I was sure she must be, since she was buried next to her husband in the Salamonia cemetery.  Finding her obituary, I discovered that she actually died in Union City, the county to the south.  Why Union City?  Possibly due to the ability of that hospital to treat her particular condition.  The distance was not much greater to Union City than Portland from where she lived.

Though this is just one example in one of my families, I am going to use this experience to re-examine the "geographical filter" of the records I discover in my other lines as well.

Taking a more wide-eyed view of the geography of the area has helped me to understand the "why" of the location of a record.  State lines and county lines were not insurmountable walls.  Failure to comprehend the physical geography of an area can lead to genealogical brickwalls, created by our own blind spots.


Apple said...

Great point. Living where I do I totally understand as I often travel to the county south of me for services. The post office has divided my town up between three larger, adjoining towns so my zip code alone will be of little use to anyone looking for me 100 years from now. Having a state line involved would really complicate things!

Travis LeMaster said...

One of the towns south of this area, Union City, sits right on the state line between Indiana/Ohio. So I always have to ask myself if the record is in Ohio or Indiana. You can literally walk across the street and be in a different state and until recently, a separate time zone.