Civil and parish boundaries are helpful to the genealogist because those lines determine where records are located. While those boundaries can and do change, there are often maps and other finding aids to assist in understanding where those boundaries generally were.

It’s community in the sociological sense that’s important to the genealogist as well, but that community’s boundaries are often fluid, not clearly defined, and often cross political and ecclesiastical boundaries.

My Ostfriesen ancestors settled in three geographic areas in Hancock and Adams Counties in Illinois in the 1860s and 1870s. But because they shared a language, a heritage, and a religious affiliation, they were essentially a community. They interacted with other immigrants from the nearby but separate areas, particularly when it came to choosing marriage partners and some financial dealings–especially in the immigrant and first-born generations.

It wasn’t just non-English speakers who had this sense of community when moving to a new area. My Ohio migrants to Illinois in the 1840s were greeted by relatives and former neighbors when they arrived and others followed them. Their community also stretched across a county line and included several different small villages. But they interacted with each other enough that they left references to that interaction in court and probate records.

Community isn’t just the name on the sign when you drive to town. And your ancestor’s community may be slightly geographically larger (or smaller in some cases) than you think.



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