Flash forward about 20 years, and I'm in the middle of the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course. I thought I was a pretty savvy researcher, but this course taught me (among other things) how much I didn't know.
Land records, for example. One Saturday I went to the Archives on Sand Point Way (no longer needing a babysitter) to look at land records. What I found just emphasized how much information is out there that is NOT online, and perhaps never will be.
When I looked at the binder of abstracts of land records, looking for an interesting case to explore, I saw the abstract for William and Elizabeth Brannon.
When I looked at the microfilm, there were several pages, beginning with the original land patent filed by William H. Brannon, dated April 1855. In it he gave his date and place of birth (1832 in Ohio) and his marriage to Elizabeth Livingston in King County, Washington Territory in December 1853, and that he had one heir, Margaret Jane Brannon. The next pages were depositions by Elizabeth's father, Michael Livingston, who said that William and Elizabeth were killed by Indians in 1855, and that Elizabeth's mother Margaret Howard Livingston died in Benton County, Oregon in 1856. There was another deposition by a family friend, M.D. Woodin, who testified that he traveled with the Livingston family when emigrating to the west. William Brannon's land claim described it as being in parts of Sections 6 and 7 in Township 21 North, Range 5 East, next to land owned by James A. Lake and Harry Jones and close to the White River.
Wanting to know more, I stashed my purse in one of the lockers, filled out a researcher card, and went into the textual research room to look at plat maps.
Here you can see William Brannon's land, right next to the White River, in South King County, Washington Territory.
And here's the thing - you won't find William and Elizabeth Brannon on Ancestry. Their marriage and their deaths are not recorded online at the King County Archives, or the Washington Digital Archives. William's land claim is not recorded on the Bureau of Land Management database. You won't even find Elizabeth's father, William Livingston. About the only place you can find their information is here on this microfilmed land record and the original plat books. So if you're looking for someone who lived in the Midwest in the 1850's and suddenly disappeared from sight, look to the land records. He might have settled in Washington Territory.