The Importance of “Why There?”

When a record is located for a relative, one should always ask “why there? Why was that record in that place?”

Many times the reasons are mundane and have obvious, instant answers. The land deed was recorded in the jurisdiction in which the property was located. The relative died at home and the death certificate was filed in the local records office.

The answer may be known and that answer may still be a clue. A relative may die in the nearest hospital in a different county or a different state. A couple may travel to a neighboring county because that county seat is easier to get to or no one at that courthouse knows the father of the bride. A relative may naturalize a few counties from home because his nearest relative (and witness) lives in that other county.

Or the location itself may be a clue. Many relatives of my own from Hancock County, Illinois, married in Kahoka, Missouri, in the 1941-1945 era. Generally speaking the groom was home on a short leave and at that time a couple could go to Kahoka and get married the same day. They could not do that in Illinois. In this case, a marriage of a couple in that place may cause me to wonder if the groom was in the military.

There are many other examples. But the point here is that researchers should ask themselves “why is this record here?” Just thinking through that question can help our research and give us some insight.

Sometimes there is a reason, but we will never know what it is. Some mysteries are destined to remain mysteries.

And sometimes, particularly in the case of elopements, the location may really have no connection to the couple or the marriage. It may have just been the first stop on a trip where a license could be had.

And then if the marriage is relatively recent, they might have eloped to Las Vegas.

But that’s a whole other story.


3 thoughts on “The Importance of “Why There?”

  1. Annette Weiss says:

    My aunt was born in NYC in September 1912, but my grandparents moved to Rhode Island shortly after. We never found any documentation in NYC, but we did find a birth registration in Providence in October which said that she was born in NYC.

  2. Barry Spinner says:

    Why there, indeed. A tremendous brick wall started to collapse when I discovered a “strange” 1908 death report in Cincinnati. What was a Prussian-born Peruvian resident doing in Cincinnati? The answer to that question led me to discover all his Ohio residing relatives who had chain migrated from Prussia with him in the 1860s! He was visiting his elder sister when he died – possibly as a consequence of the sea voyage.

    Nonetheless the plethora of American records, census and more, allowed us to eventually determine the entire Prussian family including Prussian birth and marriage records. This took twenty years of work, but it was all driven by answering the question “Why there?”

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