By most accounts, it is fair to say that the lack of transportation is a major road block to modern living. By genealogical accounts, however, that same lack of transportation is often a godsend, as will be explained below.
While I generally prefer to search the Census Records via Ancestry.com so that I can benefit from their extensive indices and the ability to narrow down my search terms, today I learned that sometimes, it's better to simply browse.
I was searching for early census records for my 2nd great grandparents John and Bridget Kearns (my mother's paternal grandparents). I happened upon an index for a John Kearns in 1880 and went to that page. It showed a family consisting of the following:
Kearns, John White Male age 48. Occupation: R.R. Laborer. Born: Ireland.
Kearns, Catherine White Female age 46 wife; Born: Ireland
Kearns, Ellen White Female age 15 Born: England
Kearns, John, White Male age 11 Born: Penn
Kearns, Cecily, White, Female age 7 Born: Penn
This family lived on Chapel Street in Pittston, PA. This is not who I was looking for, and not anyone that I had heard of. However, given their proximity to where my 2nd gr-grandparents Kearns lived, I have to put it down as a speculation for some type of connection.
Now, looking to this Kearns family's next door neighbors, I see this listing:
Divers, Michael, White, Male, age 35. Occupation: Mine Laborer. Born: Ireland.
Divers, Mary, White, Female, age 50, wife. Born: Ireland
This really doesn't mean anything in terms of the Kearns family, but I know that my 2nd gr-grandmother Mary Dever Doyle had a brother named Michael, born around the same time as this Michael Divers. In spite of the spelling difference (a common issue on census records), this listing caught my eye. Again, this is because of the propensity of my various maternal lines to live next to each other. I'm no where near the point where I can say that this person is actually Michael Dever and not Divers, but for now I'm keeping it in my "speculations" folder.
Below the Divers family is another listing for a Patrick and Mary Murphy family, with many children, including a Martin. Now, my 2nd great-grandmother Bridget Kearns had the maiden name of Donahue, and one of the Donahue children married into this Martin family.
I had found so many coincidences on this one census page that I decided to do some browsing. I went to the page right before this census page in 1880. What did I find but Hugh and Mary Donahue with their son John (Hugh is another of Bridget's siblings). This page also showed a Michael Kearns, whose information on this census record is consistent with that known of a brother to my 2nd great grandfather John Kearns.
So I did some more browsing by going to the next page before this one. Danged if I didn't find William and Mary Doyle, my 2nd Great Grandparents on my mother's maternal line. The same Mary Dever Doyle that I speculated on above in re: Michael Divers.
It's important to check out your ancestors' neighbors when searching the Census Records. The lack of transportation in the 1800's very often meant that people married their neighbors, which, for us, means that you will incidentally find ancestors when searching for another.
With transportation advances and subsequent migrations over the past 200 years, future generations will not have this advantage. Let's make it easier on them and write down what we know about our ancestors (and living relatives!) and pass it on down!