Following every clue leads to genealogy success

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Follow every little clue helped me locate information about a family that several genealogists had been trying to find.

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Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Barry Ewell's book titled "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering Your Family."

Whenever possible, I make it a practice to collaborate with other genealogists on researching specific family lines. As a team, we will review our research, analyzing documentation, notes and logs. We identify the key questions we want to research. We develop a research task list for researching each question. We assign tasks and deadlines. And we schedule regular meetings to review, compare, and discuss projects and research.

During my collaboration with fellow genealogists on the Ewell line, I requested the opportunity to help someone create a digital record that included scanning and spreadsheet catalog organization. Throughout the project, I compiled a list of seven of the family lines that seemed to dead end (meaning no further extension of the line) in the 1750s. The surnames included Ewell, Mullins, Fauber, Rennick, Bland, Lee and Caldwell in the states of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. During one of our scheduled project review meetings, we explored the following questions:

  • Who did the original genealogy research on the family lines?
  • Why were there so many dead ends?
  • Is there documentation or a research log for the research showing all the resources that were evaluated?
Most of the research, which was well-documented, had been done by my collaboration partner during the 1980s and '90s, but a research log no longer existed. We concluded that we would re-review the research and available resources. I took up the task of finding and reviewing available resources for the time period at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

During the next 10 weeks, I spent my research time reviewing period resources for each and every county in Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. My findings were organized by surnames into a spreadsheet that would allow us to easily review the data and look for clues that might help us answer our questions and extend the various family lines. Even though the resources were researched by other genealogists before me, I often found bits of information that may have been overlooked or dismissed that shed new light on the project.

As I researched the Rennick and Fauber lines, I was seeking to find Ann Rennick, the wife of Christen Fauber, and their children who lived in Augusta County, Va., in the 1700s. In my research, I came across a single notation that a Rennick from Augusta County went to Ohio to see another Rennick.

Clue 1: A Rennick from Augusta County went to Ohio to see another Rennick. My first inclination was to dismiss the clue as irrelevant. Then I thought that I should focus on researching the account of the Rennick who lived in Ohio.

Clue 2: As I searched available Ohio resources, I came across an entry in the 1959 historical society newsletter stating that they had acquired a book called "Rennicks of Greenbriar, Virginia." (Greenbriar used to be a county in Virginia and later became part of Monroe County, W.Va.)

Clue 3: I searched the Family History Library catalog and found the book in a very small collection of Greenbriar County resources. Right next to the book I was seeking was another family history book on a related branch of the Rennicks.

Clue 4: As I read the books, I came across a section that mentioned that the Rennicks also came through Lancaster County, Pa.

Clue 5: I began to search the Lancaster records for both Fauber and Rennicks. I found Christian Fauber and the Rennicks but was not able to find Ann or Barabra Ann Rennick.

Clue 6: I decided to retrace my steps from the previous three clues to see if I had missed anything. I came across an entry of a Thomas Rennick who had four children, one named Ann. The entry for Thomas simply said, "Little is known about this family." This was the only Ann that did not have a spouse. Was this the Ann I was looking for? At least I knew that the Rennicks and Faubers were in Lancaster County at the same time.

For the next step, I went back to the Lancaster County area and began to look through the four shelves of books, looking for a Christen and Ann Fauber. I didn't find them. I went home around 4:30 in the afternoon. For an hour and a half, I pondered all of my research that day. I couldn't get rid of the feeling that I needed to return to the library that very day to find information that I knew existed. I arrived at the library at 7:30 p.m., went back to the Lancaster shelves, and looked over the same books I had looked through earlier. As I was getting ready to close the second-to-last book on the fourth shelf, the thought entered my mind to look again. There it was — a child born to Ann and Christian Fauber. I was really excited. I didn't find a record of the wedding, but I found several births for the Fauber family.

For more than 20 years, people have been looking for this family.

Lessons learned:

  • Follow every clue, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
  • One clue leads to another clue.
  • Clues linked together form a picture.
  • Research available resources to find overlooked clues.
  • If you only search for surnames, you may miss the clues you need.
  • Use spreadsheets to view all available findings.
  • Follow thoughts and promptings you receive during research.

Barry J. Ewell is the author of "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips and Tricks for Discovering your Family History" and founder of MyGenShare.com, an online educational website for genealogy and family history.

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