A major tenet of genealogical research is to extend research to each of our ancestors' neighbors and known associates.
We do this for two reasons: Those persons may turn out to be related, or their records may tell us something about our relatives.
From experience we know that our ancestors often were not highly mobile, so children on neighboring farms or in small communities often married the neighbors. People who witnessed our ancestors' deeds and wills usually were close friends or somehow related. By identifying and researching those individuals, we often unearth documents that mention our relatives or help us to establish a relationship.
But how do you keep up on all those "unrelated individuals" who may prove key to familial relationships? Where do you file them in order to find them again?
Most researchers at some point find themselves struggling to recall, "Where have I seen this man's name before; what document mentioned him?"
There is a simple solution to tracking these persons of unknown importance, but it requires diligence and consistency in the research process.
Except for the handful of family historians who are stuck in the '80s (that's the few who still use 3-by-5 cards and written notes to record their work), we all use genealogy software to store our ancestors and relatives.
There are many genealogy software programs on the market, and each of us has a favorite. But essentially they all have commonalities and perform similar tasks. One of the things each of these software programs can do is record "unrelated persons."
Imagine that you've discovered second Great-Grandpa Hieronymus Spencer's estate file. He died intestate (without a will) so the court appointed an administrator named Archibald Russell. You think you've seen his name before, so you dig through Spencer documents but fail to find him. After hours, days or weeks of fruitless searches through stacks and notebooks of papers, you find that Archibald had witnessed another relative's deeds and had posted a guardian bond for yet another ancestor.
Your genealogy software program could have saved you all that recovery time. We primarily use these programs to build family trees that show the descendants and ancestors of each person in the database, but the programs also can record someone as an "Unrelated Person."
For example, someone using FamilyTreeMaker can go to "People" in the main toolbar. Click "Person>Add Person>Add Unrelated Person." Someone using Reunion would go to "Edit" on the tool bar and then select "Add Unrelated Person."
Using the "unrelated person" feature of our software will allow us more control over our records — and our aging memories.
When we identify someone as an "unrelated person," we can use subsequent panels in the program to build an account for him. Some programs call these panels "events" and others call them "facts."
Let's look back at Archibald Russell. Say the first time we found him was in an 1850 real estate description, when Grandpa Spencer bought 200 acres bounded by land Russell owned. At that point, we should have entered Archibald into our program as an "unrelated person." The event or fact would be that he owned land adjoining Spencer.
Ten years later we found an estate file for Mathias Emanuel Spencer. We see that the court had appointed Archibald as guardian of Mathias' minor children.
By now you realize that this Archibald Russell certainly touched the Spencer family. At some point, you may determine he was related to the Spencers. Your software then will allow you to connect him at the appropriate point. On the other hand, you may never prove a blood relationship, but he clearly deserves to be in your database because he played a role in your family members' lives.
Every person you enter into the software — whether related or not — becomes a part of the program index. So when you ask, "Where have I heard that name before?" all you have to do is consult the index.