Nexus – a New Metaphor for Families

nexus [nek-suh s]

noun, plural nexuses, nexus.
1. a means of connection; tie; link.
2. a connected series or group.
3. the core or center, as of a matter or situation.
I love words. The right word can be powerful. It can speak volumes and communicate nuance and context. The wrong word can create misunderstanding and confusion, or at the very least require you to try many other words to convey the meaning the right word has.
I have been familiar with the usage of the word “nexus” in a business setting, particularly with respect to taxation. But when I learned of its origin and broader definition I decided it was the perfect name for our new site. According to the word nexus comes from Latin (nectere) and signifies “a binding together.” Feeling connected to our family, living and dead, is why many of us engage in family history research. As we learn about their lives we feel a certain bond or link to them. Furthermore, I believe that families are the core of our society and are the foundation of our lives as individuals. Our family – and the places associated with them – act as a “center place” for our lives. In an instant, The Family Nexus was born.

Nexus: A Metaphor

wagon wheel

The hub of a wheel is a nexus

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 and 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.

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  1. Nathan Lowry


    Sharing my story of place — hmm, tough to do.

    As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professional, broadening searches geographically is a fundamental method of analysis. However, it presumes the data from which you are searching is digital and within reach by your computer.

    What I want to share with you first, however, is a story about a person. Among the areas I served a mission was Carthage, Texas. We ended up performing service with many organizations in the area, but one among them was work to support genealogical research from a library housed in what used to be the Panola County jail.

    For some reason I was given the assignment to review a journal of a farmer from the late 1800’s. I think our work may have been to write or type-out the words of the journal from the original long-hand to something more legible (although I don’t remember using a word processor).

    Regardless, I began reading this man’s journal. He’d express the weather of the day, what he had planted, if he went into town what he spent on what for supplies. And day-to-day it went on like this. It made me wonder what a journal was for — although now looking back I can see both the personal value of keeping a record of such information and what value it could provide to others.

    But then one day, his daughter came down with the flu or something. She became very sick and in a matter of less than a month was on her death bed. Then, on the date of her death or sometime shortly after in writing was an outpouring of page after page of what his young daughter meant to him, of his sorrow and languish for not being able to save her from sickness and death, of sincere depression and regret to his fellowman or to heaven what it felt like to have lost a child in such a way.

    Then I knew what records were for — not just for facts and figures, but to understand people, real people over space and time. I knew not the man but he was very real because of his communications. He had no direct intent of communicating with me, but I was all the richer for it.

    Place surely matters. But people matter more. And as we are able to put records to places and see them over time will be able to understand and relate to those people better and have empathy for them, just as they would have for us if they could see us through time.

    – Nathan Lowry
    21st Century Cartographer

    • Reply

      I agree with you that people matter more than place. My intention is simply to focus on place just like a novelist uses the setting to draw the reader even closer to a story’s characters. I find that understanding place – and people’s connection to it – enhances our ability to “know” our ancestors as real people.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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