I favor Google Chrome, a largely irrelevant opinion. We all start in the box.
Dutifully we type surname and variations; we add locations or events or dates. Genealogists troll the internet for data, stories, articles, and cousins. I must admit to some success with such random meanderings; but I have felt hungry for context, for a fuller understanding of the intellectual and economic landscape of my ancestors. Particularly one. My muse. The one ancestor I wish I could invite to lunch. Ira Sayles. Professor, teacher, principal. Geologist, poet, soldier. Son, husband, father. And so I stared at the box and pondered. What else could the internet expose? How could I think outside this query box?
Among my earlier query returns was a letter published in The American Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 39, May 1865; it established Professor Sayles’ geology credentials and was cited throughout oil industry documents for the next century. Staying inside the box, I felt proud of this citation. Outside my thought box I wondered: Why was a New York school teacher and administrator writing a letter about rock porosity and oil quality in northwestern Pennsylvania? And why was he taken seriously?
The blinking cursor taunted me and finally I typed: Ira Sayles’ town of residence in 1865 – Whitesville, New York – and the keywords “oil history”. Holy moly. I got a whole new line of research, the most helpful site being developed by fellow genealogists in Allegany County, New York, with the page “Who Drilled the First Wells in Allegany County?” Among the comments, assembled from various historical resources, was this tidbit: “this well, which was drilled on the Alvia Wood farm in the summer of 1865 by the Whitesville Petroleum Company” which was incorporated “for $2500 on March 6,, 1865, to bore for oil or minerals in Allegany and Steuben counties, and six trustees were named to direct drilling operations. The stock was sold to residents of the village and vicinity farm owners.” ( Empire Oil by John P. Herrick)
America’s first oil boom occurred just as the Civil War cannons boomed, and my ancestors were living in the middle of both. Outside the old search box is a landscape of oil pockets and financiers purses. Expanding a genealogical search to include more than the names on our trees expands our understanding of their stories, and their communities.