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Look Beyond the Index

At a recent genealogy meeting, the speaker reminded us that an index is only that. We do not stop there in our search for an ancestor. We follow up by viewing the original source.

I applied this concept as I did my research on the Reed family this year. My cousins had located our ancestor Caleb Reed’s name in an 1833 supporting affidavit for a Revolutionary War pension application. They made a copy of his statement.

Although this was not an index, I thought it best to follow the same advice to look at the original source and review the entire application file. I wondered what else might be in there to shed light on the life of my ancestor.

Revolutionary War pension applications can be found online at the subscription Fold3 database. I searched there for the applicant mentioned in Caleb’s affidavit, Joseph Young, who had served from Pennsylvania.

When I located his record, I found the affidavit executed by Caleb Reed. I also found affidavits signed by two of his siblings, Joshua Reed and Abigail Reed Stillwell.

These papers gave three different but similar recollections of their friend Joseph Young and his service. This unfortunate man had contracted smallpox at his military camp. Caleb’s father heard of this and sent him to bring Joseph back to Fayette County. Joseph was ill for months and lost an eye to the disease. The Reeds housed him during his ordeal.

Both Caleb and Joshua mentioned their father in their statements, but they did not name him. Abigail’s affidavit provides this crucial genealogical information when she refers to her father Thomas.

I would have missed out on this important evidence if I had stopped with the affidavit that my cousins had transcribed. Abigail, by including that detail of her father’s name, gives me the critical link between generations. It was well worth my time to read the entire 37-page application file.

So do not stop with an index or one piece of paper from an entire file. Locate the original source and look at everything available there.

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