Elizabeth Shown Mills‘ presentation on working with the neighbors is over and it was well worth getting up early for. I think this is one of her set speeches, as the title has a copyright symbol next to it in the syllabus, which most don’t. I can see why, though, as the session was very helpful and the topic is vital for working with non-trivial genealogy work.
The gist of the idea is that people tend to associate with the same people over time. While our ancestors moved to new territory a lot, they often did not go alone. It takes some gumption to move out to the wilderness, but it is somewhat more manageable if you are going with family so you can support each other. (This is my line of thought, not what she said).
When you find someone in the census, you want to also get 15-20 people before and after them. This can also apply to to other kinds of documents. You then compare the neighbors between the person’s different locations and look for common names. Using this you can find connections between people that are not otherwise explicitly stated. This method was also given as a way to work around the burned county problem, where deeds, probate, and the like are unavailable because the courthouse burnt down.
Ms. Mills went into more detail on implementing this approach and then gives case studies showing how the method was used through census, tax, and land records. My big question, though, was how one keeps track of all these neighbors. The connections are clear in the case study, but there were surely big collections of names she had to keep track of until getting to the conclusions. She ended the talk by telling of someone who asked how she keeps track of everyone, and the answer is going to be in another talk tomorrow on Information Overload. I’m definitely going to that one.