Casefile Clues

28 February 2013

Break a Leg and Give a Clue

Anything in a newspaper can provide evidence that someone existed at a certain point and time in a certain place.

This February 1908 reference to William Ehmen mentions him having broken both of his legs in a wagon accident. It doesn't take much to see that this would have impacted the family for some time, especially with planting season looming in the near future. Newspapers can easily provide some background information not located elsewhere and may explain behaviors or events that do not seem to make sense. This item was located on the newspaper site at the Library of Congress.  

There's a bigger lesson here. I located this reference while searching for references to a William Ehmen who lived for a time in Dawson County, Nebraska. This William Ehmen is a different one. Names that you may think are uncommon may not be. One does not have to go across the country to find someone with the same name as your ancestor who is not related. Sometimes they may only be a few counties away.

My best approach is to research this William and my William--just so I can keep them straight. I may research "my" William in more detail and in a more exhaustive nature, but I need to have enough material on the "other" William so that I can determine (as best as possible) which one is which. It will turn out that both these Williams were from the same region of Germany and spent time in the same area of Illinois.

They do that on purpose, just to confuse us.

Well, not really. The problem is that in cases of immigrants, individuals with the same name may be unrelated but, because they share a common heritage, language, and culture, may live in the same areas and interact with the same people--making them a little more difficult to separate and a little easier to confuse. That's what they do on purpose and sometimes that does confuse us.