You take what I call a Family History Trip.
Details about your family are not going to come to you, although in the past decade, there have been incredible changes in this industry and information that previously would take months to get (if at all) is now at your fingertips.
The benefit of a Family History Trip are the new doors that will open as you uncover facts that you couldn't (or wouldn't) find online or easily through snail mail/email correspondence. This type of trip is really not a last resort, but a critical step in the ongoing search for answers, especially when you reach a road block.
One example for me is related to a story I heard all my life, about my maternal 3G Grandfather, George W. Foy. According to the story, George Foy "...came down the Ohio river on a raft and settled in the southern part of [Illinois], almost straight east of Keokuk [Iowa]."
As a boy, when I reminisced about this story, I always thought of my grandfather, George Foy, much like Tom Sawyer and Huck Fin floating down the Mississippi on a raft - I still get that image today.
George W. Foy was born in New York in 1818 and died in 1896. Little else was known about him until I started researching further in the early 2000 time frame, building details about the family and where they lived. The "raft story" helped a lot, but when I ran into the road block, I needed to take a trip to where George Foy and his family lived before he passed away.
The location was in Whiteside County, Illinois, near Tampico. I contacted Denise McLoughlin, the Family History Coordinator at the Tampico Historical Society and with her generous help, found more information to help. However, with the rich history of my family in this area, it became clear that I needed to take a Family History Trip to Whiteside county, Illinois. Note: Tampico is the birth place of Ronald Reagan.
In 2006, I managed a Family History Trip to Tampico, Illinois and I was able to research the old newspapers, that were still being organized by the Tampico Historical Society, and came across the obituary for my 3G Grandfather, George W. Foy. I was elated and best of all, the family lore was shown to be true, as you can see below.
As a bonus, this obituary also told me about some key facts I was not aware of, such as his move to Barton county Missouri, where he actually passed away. Why did he leave Illinois for Missouri at the age of 77 years? Why Barton Missouri? These details are yet to be discovered, but as you can see, the Family History Trip confirmed the Family story and expanded on it further.
So when you run into a Family road block, just take a Family History Trip - you never know what you will discover. For more information on this family, be sure to go to my family website at www.SandersFamilia.com.
Geo. Foy was born in Alleghany County, New York, August 29, 1818. After spending the first twenty-one years of his life in the east, he started west floating down the Ohio river on a raft. For some time he worked on the Mississippi - floating logs from the northern forests. In April 1844 he married Miss Nancy Dickenson and settled in Warsaw, Hancock county. At this place the two oldest of their eleven children were born. In 1848 the family came north to Whiteside county and bought from the government the farm on which he resided until last March, when he went to Barton county, Missouri. His illness began immediately after reaching their destination; he having left the house but twice. Although lying on a sick bed for ten weeks, his body was free from pain. He passed away Saturday May 16, 1896, at the age of 77 years, 8 months, and 17 days. He leaves a wife, three sons, two daughters, and ten grandchildren to mourn his loss.
Source: Tampico Tornado Newspaper, May 23, 1896. Transcribed by Brian Sanders.