Step Seven: Collateral Relatives

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This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Bust Your Brick Wall Challenge

Now that we’ve defined our brick wallcreated a timeline, evaluated our existing evidencesearched for new evidence,  resolved conflicts, and searched for social history, the next step in the Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge will be to research the collateral relatives.

Where life begins and love never ends. Family. ~Anonymous
 Our cousins are usually the first friends we ever meet. Our aunts and uncles are sometimes like other mothers and fathers. Our nieces and nephews are like our other children. Our siblings are our best friends and our worst enemies. And it was no different for our ancestors. They related to the people they were related to. They shared life and love; good times and bad; sickness and health.

Our ancestor’s collateral relatives have secrets to tell.

Who Are the Collaterals?

So just who should we be searching for when we look for collateral relatives?

Family gatherings
tommy japan on Flickr CC 2.0
  1. Siblings
  2. Aunts
  3. Uncles
  4. Nieces
  5. Nephews
  6. In-laws
  7. Siblings’ In-laws
  8. In-laws of aunts and uncles
  9. Spouses of nieces and nephews
  10. Spouses of children
  11. Parents of spouses of children

The list could go on and on.

Your ancestors probably knew all of these people well. They had family dinners together. They shared holidays and birthday celebrations. They danced at the same weddings and grieved at the same funerals. They were the witnesses at each other’s marriages. They helped out when the family was sick and they were sometimes present at the deaths. They called on each other for assistance and supported each other when things got rough.

Research the collateral relatives as if they were direct ancestors.

Dig deep into the records about the collateral relatives. Find their births, their marriages, their deaths. Look for them in the censuses. Find their military records. Find their land records, their wills and any other documents they might have left behind. Look for them in the records you already have for your ancestors. Were they mentioned in the will? Were they witnesses, godparents, or were they buried in the same family burial plot?

Spinsters and Bachelors

GoldPay particular attention to any collateral relatives that never married. This is often where you will strike gold! With no spouse or children of their own, they often left their effects to their collateral relatives and you might just find family relationships spelled out in their wills.

They were also the ones who came over to help when their family needed assistance in an emergency. They might have made over their land to their nieces and nephews or they might have helped to nurse an ailing parent or taken them in when they got old. They are often the strong silent type but don’t let that deter you from finding their records and telling their stories.

Still waters run deep.

Descendancy Research

Family BibleFollow down those collateral lines to find their children and their children’s children. Try to find your present day third, fourth or fifth cousins. You never know who got the family bible or who has photographs of your ancestors and by connecting to other distant relatives, you might find the missing piece of the puzzle. Finding living people can be challenging with all the privacy laws and sealed records so you will need to get a little creative in your search. I’ve had excellent luck with burial records and obituaries. Once you’ve found people who are likely to still be alive, try doing searching for them on Google or even finding them on Facebook or LinkedIn. When you contact them, you should be prepared to sketch out the relationship so they don’t think that you are trying to scam them or involve them in some nefarious scheme. If you are lucky, they will refer you to that one person in their branch of the family who is in charge of all things related to their family history. You might just find out that that person has been holding the clue to your brick wall all along.

Researching Collateral Relatives on My Brick Wall

When I was researching my brick wall Brown family, I did some research on Joseph Unwin, the second husband of my great grandaunt Caroline. Joseph’s father was Robert Unwin and I obtained a copy of his will in the hopes that it might offer up some secrets. While I did not find out anything specific from the exercise, I did ultimately get in touch with several Unwin descendants during the research process. They were all incredibly helpful, checking through all their research looking for a mention of my ancestors and pointing me to other genealogists who were researching the family who might be able to help. If there had been anything to be found, I’m quite certain I would have found it. I’m happy to be collateral relatives with them all.

The genealogy community is such an incredible place to hang out!

Brick Wall Challenge
Write a post about researching your collateral relatives or conducting descendancy research and share a link in the comments below.

Image Credits: tommy japan on flickr, Wikipedia

Barbara J Starmans is a social historian, freelance writer and obsessed genealogist living in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada and has been doing genealogical research for the past 35 years. She is a graduate of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Canada with professional learning certificates in General Methodology and in English Records and recently become an instructor for them with an intermediate course on Social History.

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