Don’t Be Afraid of the Neighbors!

November 2, 2020

The neighbors adjoining the Isaly Library at the Ohio Genealogical Society are all decked out for All Hallow’s Eve. I cannot bring myself to pay a visit but we should not ignore the neighbors when searching our own family history.

The OGS Library offers access to census records from 1790 to 1940 via several different online vendors. This is a great place to analyze the neighbors of your ancestor every ten years. We also have a large collection of Ohio city and county directories. Although alphabetical in format, good directories have a street section so that neighbors can be determined easily for any year. If you get lucky, an older tax list will sometimes be recorded in order of household. County atlases are another good place to pick out names of the adjoining landowners. Patent records ( also identify the neighbors in a particular section of a township. Special enumerations, such as the 1913 Enumeration of Youth taken by the Board of Education, list students, age 6-21, house by house going down the street.

Why is this important? These are the people who had a direct impact on your ancestor’s lives. They may have been related. They could have been from the same place of origin or removed to the same community out west. When my father celebrated his 90th birthday (with pandemic spacing in place), I enlarged images of his 1930 and 1940 census neighborhoods for everyone to view. Long forgotten friends were remembered and stories were related to the attendees.

My neighbor growing up, Ada Winebar 1887-1986, told me that she was in the New London High School building at senior choir practice in 1904 when it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. She related her memories of her grandfather, Giles Scott 1828-1897, an early settler of Clarksfield Township in Huron County. This fellow was born nearly two centuries ago! Do you have great or great great grandparents who died in the 1940s or 1950s? Maybe the children who lived next door to them are still alive and could give firsthand accounts about these ancestors who may have been out of the picture prior to your first memories as a child. We go so far as to ask our own relatives for family stories about our grandparents but we don’t think about the neighbors who may have interacted with them on a daily basis.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the neighbors – unless they have spiders coming out of their house like ours on this Halloween weekend!

Thomas Stephen Neel, Library Director