When my husband started the search for his family, the process was very manual. You spoke to your parents, grandparents and living relatives about your family and recorded what they told you. You recorded the information written in the family bible. You visited court houses in the county in which your ancestors lived to obtain vital records (birth, death, marriage and local tax records). You visited large and small libraries looking for census records, tax records and any locally written history books. These records were likely on Microfilm which you viewed using Microfilm viewers other wise known as microfiche. You would visit a cemetery to check out tombstones and burial sites and onto churches for baptism, congregational membership records and often burial records. It was a very slow process. It is thanks to these people that we are able to find much of the data that is currently in databases online today.
Early on in my search I discovered that there were places where I could find bits of straw, clues that would help me meet the people from my family whom I did not know. The internet was a fairly new tool in family history research but it was catching on fast. The best part about it was it was mostly free and could be done from the comfort of your home if you had a computer. In 1997, I discovered three sites which would lead me on my journey. The first was the LDS website at (Mormons Website) www.familysearch.com. They have the most complete marriage record database and the Mormon database is available online for free. Next was www.ancestry.com, I have had a paid subscription from them since soon after I started this journey but it is the only one I pay for. My next favorite site is www.usgenweb.com. This site is broken down by State and County. The local Historical and Genealogy Society volunteers play a vital role with this free site. The volunteers have donated thousands of hours of their own time transcribing records into databases so people can find their ancestors. Usually the volunteer is a family historian and understands how important this data will be to someone like me when it is found.
It was on one of the sites that I discovered who and where James W. Smith and his family were. I do not remember which one for sure. When you do a search for James Smith in Indiana on Ancestry.com, you find 230 in 1850, 448 in 1860, 532 in 1870 and 576 in 1880. From there you break down and search by county and township. The area of my search focused on a three county area around Fort Wayne, Indiana which included the counties of Allen, Huntington and Wells. Eventually I found James but each census seemed to have a different name for his wife. It was not Celia as in the marriage license for Alvin and Cora. In 1870 in Allen County, her name was listed as Aella Smith. In 1880, the family drifted across the county border into Wells County (about three miles away) and her name is Oella. In 1890, you find them in the same area and her name is Odla. And in 1910 her name is Clella. In the family Bible, her name was Della. This would be the first of many puzzles that I would need to figure out. I would later learn that her name is Oella Denney from another area researcher who is related to me through Oella.