Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

Remember your Roots: It's the little things

My dad's family, likely from the late 1940s or early 1950s. From left, Uncle Bill, Uncle Ted, my dad L.D., my grandfather William, my grandmother Agnes and my Uncle Jimmy.

I think it was Yogi Berra who said "If you see a fork in the road, take it." 

That might be good general advice, but not so helpful for a genealogist.

We hit a lot of forks in the road when we are researching our ancestors. I've hit quite a few like when I got to my third great grandfather on my paternal grandmother's side. 

The road led me to a Jacob Hatmaker. Then I got to the fork.

Seems there were a lot of Hatmakers in eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina in the 1800s and about half of them were named Jacob. I narrowed down the Jacobs to two.

One of them was born in 1788 and the other in 1795. Both were born in Orange, North Carolina and died in Tennessee in 1882 and both had sons named Jacob.

Jacob Hatmaker is also my second great grandfather's name and I pretty much had that guy verified and confirmed.

What do you do when you hit that fork? What Jacob do you follow?

You've got choices. You can take a leap of faith and say I have a gut feeling the Jacob on the left fork is my ancestor and begin to follow that road, not worrying if he's the right guy or not.

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Or, you can be like me. I have spent hours trying to verify which Jacob is mine and whether or not I should go to the left or right.

First I went backwards to the younger Jacob Hatmaker I knew as my ancestor and tried my best to match up information with one of the other Jacobs.

Then, I went forward, down both roads to the next generation of each of the two Jacobs.

It wasn't a quick process. In fact, it got very frustrating at times. Back then there weren't birth certificates or death certificates. I was working with censuses, one marriage license (even tho my Jacob could have been married three times) and Find-A-Grave entries.

Information on the two Jacobs kept crossing. The same names were associated with both men kept popping up on censuses even though the birth years were different.

My conclusion was that both Jacobs were the same men. They were both my Jacob Hatmaker, or at least that's what I decided. There were more similarities than there were differences.

The primary difference was the birth year. It isn't unusual for census takers to mark the wrong year and back then, sometimes I think, people really didn't pay that much attention to how old they were.

Back at the fork, I closed the two paths. It still bothers me that I don't have decisive information beyond a shadow of a doubt about my Jacob Hatmaker, but sometimes after all the reasonable exhaustive research is done, you have to go with your best hunch.

How have you handled forks in the road in your research? Let me know by sharing your stories and tips at joyce.russell@nwi.com