Most of us are "traditional genealogists." By "traditional," I mean we research our own ancestry, tracing families back through the generations, regardless of where they lived. Such a study produces the answers to "Who am I and where did I come from?" However, not everyone researches their own ancestry. Many people research communities. Even when looking for your own ancestors, when you are unable to find the parents of a particular person, studying all the families in their community may provide clues.
FamilySearch’s Community Trees are lineage-linked genealogies from specific time periods and geographic localities around the world. The information also includes the supporting sources. Each Community Tree is a searchable database with views of individuals, families, ancestors and descendants, as well as printing options. Typical community trees might include all the families in a town or village or perhaps all the families of a particular church. The word "community" might be expanded to include a large geographic area, such as "all the Portuguese families of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts."
Almost all genealogists are aware of the many services offered by FamilySearch in researching ancestors. However, many people may not be aware of the community tree projects that are also organized by FamilySearch.
Quoting from the FamilySearch.org web site at http://histfam.familysearch.org/learnmore.php:
Community Trees are lineage-linked genealogies from specific time periods and geographic localities around the world. The information also includes the supporting sources. Most of the genealogies are joint projects between FamilySearch and others who live locally or have expertise in the area or records used to create the genealogies. Each Community Tree is a searchable database with views of individuals, families, ancestors and descendants, as well as printing options.
The scope of partner projects may be a small, grass roots village or township working together to form a family tree of all the known residents of its community for a given time period. Some are genealogical and historical societies working with FamilySearch to index several sources of data to link them to common, lineage-linked genealogies of a targeted geographic area of interest.
The scope could also be focused on a particular record set and locality. The goal may be to identify and reconstitute all families of a particular place from a village, county, or even a country. Many of the current projects were produced by FamilySearch's Family Reconstitution team and date back to the medieval times. One even has the audio of the oral genealogies attached.
FamilySearch sponsors dozens of community tree projects. Here is a small sample:
Canada: New Brunswick: Southampton: Millville Communities Family Tree: The Millville Community Family Tree is a joint project with the community of Millville, New Brunswick, and FamilySearch International to preserve the heritage of the communities of Southampton parish and other communities including some in Bright and Queensbury parish, through genealogy.
Canada: Nova Scotia: Antigonish Catholic Diocese: Antigonish Catholic Diocese 1823-1905: This collection contains data from the records of 43 Catholic Churches in the Antigonish Diocese (mostly baptisms and marriages, with death/burial records for about a third of the Churches). The Churches are located in Antigonish, Cape Breton, Guysborough, Inverness, Pictou, Richmond, and Victoria counties. The records were extracted by the Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia and other volunteers working with FamilySearch. The extracted data was then merged to form family groups and extended pedigrees.
Comment: How many people outside of eastern Canada can correctly pronounce "Antigonish?" Try this: ANT-E-GOE-NISH. Then listen to the two pronunciations at http://www.forvo.com/word/antigonish/England: Bedfordshire, Eaton Bray Community Tree: Extracted records from 1851-1901 census records, also Church of England christening, marriage and burials 1840-1870. Marriages and burials from the Eaton Bray Wesleyan Church and other sources.
The town of Antigonish lies within Antigonish County. I have been there several times and was not pronouncing the name properly until a local resident corrected me. Although originally settled by Scottish immigrants, the word Antigonish is of Mi'kmaq (or Micmac) Indian origin and is believed to refer to "The place where tree branches are torn off by bears gathering beech nuts."
Iceland: Iceland Historical Family Trees: Linked Genealogies of Iceland from 100 A.D to the 1800s extracted from sagas, parish registers, census records and compiled family histories.
Norway: Oppland County: Sor-Aurdal Clerical District: Norway project by FamilySearch International Family Reconstitution team to build community family trees for the several clerical districts of Norway.
United States, Tennessee, Warren County Community Tree: The Warren County Community Tree is a correlation of the 1850 Warren County census and other sources.
The above is a small sample; you can find many more at http://histfam.familysearch.org/learnmore.php
Those who lived in a small community often socialized only with each other. When looking for marital candidates, many young people looked first at the acquaintances within their own community.
Again, "community" might refer to a town or to a religious group or to an ethnic group. When looking for information about unknown ancestors, those who associated with your ancestral families are strong candidates. The woman with the unknown surname? She probably was from your ancestors' neighbors' families or someone else close to them. Start by studying the families who lived near your ancestors. You may find the clues you seek.
You can learn more about FamilySearch's many Community Trees projects at http://histfam.familysearch.org/learnmore.php
You can start your Community Trees searches at http://histfam.familysearch.org/index.php