nexus [nek-suh s]
Nexus: A Metaphor
We are all very familiar with the metaphor of the tree to describe our family pedigree. I would like to propose that a wheel is also a powerful metaphor for describing our family. At the core (the nexus, or center place) is the hub. Extending outward from the hub are the spokes. Although the spokes go out in different directions they maintain a connection with – and draw strength from – the core or the hub. Our families are the same way. Each individual moves out from the center of the family to form his or her own life. But they draw strength from one another and work together in a common purpose.
Another application of this metaphor is to consider the places that are important to a family. Typically there is a nexus or center place of family activity in a person’s life. I grew up in Arizona surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of my family. Today, those cousins are scattered from Canada to Washington, D.C. The majority still live in the Phoenix area, however, and Arizona is the center place that we return to for family gatherings.
Historically, families have often lived near each other and even followed one another from one state to another. My 4th great-grandfather, Harrison Crouse, was born in North Carolina in 1809. As a young man he moved to Morgan County, Illinois where he married and raised a family. Harrison had a younger brother and sister who also moved from North Carolina to Illinois. Understanding these family relationships can enrich our understanding of their lives. It can also open doors to extending our research and moving past those “dead ends.”
Nexus: the Power of Place in Research
I will give two examples of how place can be helpful in research. First, understanding the “center place” for an individual – including an ancestor – can give you clues for other places to look for more information. Most researchers would know to look for birth or census records in the area where a person was born or grew up. But, it might give you clues for other types of source records as well. There could be church records, probate records or others that link your ancestor with other family members. You could get really lucky and find personal treasures like letters or other correspondence back “home” or even a family bible or other family heirloom.
I was unable in my research to connect Harrison to his parents in North Carolina. However, starting with the premise that the Andrew Crouse living in Morgan County, Illinois and also born in North Carolina like my ancestor, Harrison, could be a relative, I was able to trace Andrew back to his parents. Andrew’s father had an estate and in those estate papers I found the name of my ancestor Harrison, listed as a son, which helped to solidify the connection.
Another example, is something I just discovered in the last few weeks. Harrison’s oldest living daughter was named Susan. I was unable to locate Susan in a census after she reached adulthood. Finding a copy of Harrison’s probate record I happened upon a clue. Susan RICE was listed among the living children. Eureka! I now had a married name I could use to find her! Certainly within minutes of searching the records on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com I would find a marriage record and then census records with possible children. I was wrong. Susan was proving to be very elusive indeed.
Then another lead. I had tried unsuccessfully for years to find Harrison Crouse in the 1860 US Census. It was likely that his name was transcribed incorrectly in the index making him difficult to find in a search. In fact, I was so certain he was still in Morgan County (since he died there in 1866) that I went page by page and looked through 20,000 names on the 1860 Census in Morgan County, Illinois. He wasn’t there. I expanded my search. And then expanded my search again. Suddenly I found him with his wife and 4 children living in Lafayette County, Missouri!
Susan was 28 at the time and was not listed with the family. I now did a search for Susan Rice in Lafayette County, Missouri and all at once there she was. A marriage record showed she married in 1853 to John Rice. The 1860 census showed John and Susan Rice with 4 children of their own. It was a joyful reunion that only took place in my head, but I suddenly felt another knot, another lashing binding me to this ancestral family.
I still don’t know the story behind the story. Why was the family in Lafayette County, Missouri? Did the family move there some time between 1850 and 1853 and then Susan met her future husband there? Or perhaps Susan went on her own and then her family followed. What caused the family to move back to Morgan County, Illinois after 1860? So many questions still to be answered. But understanding the power of place led me to find some of the answers. The family bond (and understanding that this was often the case) between Susan and her family helped me find one in the same region as the other.
Please share your story of the Power of Place.