The importance of location is drilled into us from the beginning of our genealogy research. We need to know where our ancestors lived. Census records are based on location. Voter lists are based on location Land records are definitely based on location. But, sometimes we need to forget which side of the county or state line our ancestor lived on.
What is the difference between these two images?
The one on the left was taken while I was standing on US 33 in Adams County, Indiana. The one on the right was taken when I walked forward 5 feet and was standing in Van Wert County, Ohio. Not much of a difference, is there?
That’s the thing — boundaries are, for many purposes, rather artificial. There was nothing preventing me from walking from one state to another. Other than the “Ohio Welcomes You” sign, I wouldn’t even have known that I crossed from one state to the next.
Yes, we need boundaries for census records, land records, and the like, but we shouldn’t let our research stop at the county line or the state line.
Willshire, Ohio (which is where that grain elevator is located) is just 3.5 miles from Pleasant Mills, Indiana. There’s flat land between the two towns. No major rivers. No mountains. In other words, it’s easy to get from one to the other. It would have been easy for our ancestors to do the same.
If your ancestor lived near Willshire, but didn’t like the Methodist Church there, he could have gone to the one in Pleasant Mills. If your ancestor lived near Pleasant Mills, maybe he sold his grain at Willshire, where he could have gotten to know the folks… maybe even joined a fraternal group over there.
This would be different if there were a big river or a mountain between them, which would make travel between the two difficult. But in this case, it would be just as easy for someone to travel between these two towns in two different states as it would be to go somewhere within the same county.
We need to know where our ancestors lived. But we also need to take a look around and see if there are other places where he or she could have interacted with others — places where he or she could have created more records. Our ancestors didn’t necessarily stay within the lines for all of their activities.