In our research, we’ve got to include all the siblings in each generation. This is called collateral research.
Your collateral ancestors are those who descend from siblings of your ancestors; people who are not your direct ancestors.
I promise you that researching them alongside your direct ancestors will uncover new information about your family. This should be a strategy your practice in every generation of your family.
Like almost everyone, I was focused strictly on my direct ancestors when I first started my research. I quickly learned what a mistake that was.
Prather Family Example
I like to share the table below in my classes to illustrate the importance of collateral research. My great-grandmother, Beatrice Prather Waters, had eight siblings.
The table shows Beatrice’s parents names as gathered from her death certificate and six of her siblings (two of them died in states where I can’t get copies of their certificates).
I have also included the person who provided the information, the informant:
There’s a lot of room for confusion here, and the table makes that point clear. Had I stopped at researching only my great-grandmother, I would have been forever lost.
Beatrice’s son remembered “Eli” instead of the correct name “Levi” for Beatrice’s father. And he didn’t remember her mother’s name at all.
Beatrice’s mother was Martha J. Simpson and four of the seven death records got it right. What’s interesting is that Margaret Simpson and Susan Simpson were family members, they were just not Beatrice’s mother.
Margaret was Martha’s stepmother, and Susan was her Martha’s sister. It shows us how people record what they remember, which is not always accurate.
Also, here’s another comparison from my Holt family ancestors. This again is a sampling of several sibling’s death certificates, this time focusing on the birthplace of parents:
As you can see, the required information on a death certificate differs by time and place. Only brother Swanson’s death certificate (he died in Florida) included the name of the city where his mother was from. (Be careful about death certificates, they can be a tricky source!)
These were just brief examples to illustrate the point. I have had numerous research breakthroughs that came from researching the siblings.
When you research, don’t forget to research all the siblings. If not, you’re missing out.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.