While it is nice when our ancestors stayed in the same place, this was not always the case.
They were mobile, though maybe not as mobile as us. They were less likely than we are, for example, to go to college in a distant state (or have a semester abroad). But they may have moved around visiting family members or following work. It is important to sometimes expand your research into neighboring counties, but also to follow up on any clues that may lead to other locations.
Cornelius J. Ridgley, for example, was born a slave in Frederick County, Maryland. He was manumitted by his owner’s will. She died in 1854. According to her will, Cornelius was to be set free in 1861. No deed of manumission was ever recorded for Cornelius, though one was recorded for his mother Caroline and sister Cornelia, and his brother Augustus. In the 1860 federal census, Cornelius was living with his mother, brother, and sister in Baltimore City. He also registered for the draft in Baltimore, recorded at the same address as his brother Augustus. Cornelius was never seen in any other Baltimore city records again.
It took me a while to locate him.
Cornelius’s occupation in the Civil War draft record provided the necessary clue that led to his discovery: Steward on the U. S. S. Minnesota. This indicates naval service, so this clue was extremely significant.
Using the “United States, Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855-1891” database on FamilySearch, I located the record of Cornelius’s enlistment in the U. S. Navy–in 1857, in Norfolk, Virginia! The weekly return confirms his age, which matches both the records while he was enslaved and the records in Baltimore. The return further identifies his place of birth in Frederick County, Maryland. The information from all records together shows consistency, confirming the identity of this naval enlistee.
Cornelius remained in the service of the U. S. Navy during the Civil War, though he was injured in 1863. In 1866 he married a woman in Norfolk, Virginia. Though Cornelius could no longer serve in the U. S. Navy due to his injury, he and his wife moved to Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the U. S. Naval Academy, where Cornelius worked as a barber for the remainder of his life. He died in 1879, leaving several young children. In 1890, his wife Delia applied for and received a pension for his service in the Navy. Affidavits contained in this pension file detail Cornelius’s service and life immediately following the War.
Cornelius, and later his wife Delia, and each of their children as adults appear often in the records of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Cornelius and Delia purchased several lots of land in Annapolis, some of which remained in the family’s possession until the late 20th century.
Had I limited my search to Frederick County, where he was born, or to Baltimore City, where he appears briefly with his immediate family members, I would have missed a very rich part of Cornelius’s history.
So, are you looking in the right place for your ancestor?
 Frederick County, Maryland, Register of Wills, Original Wills, Victoire Vincendiere (1854); MSA C900-24, MdHR 11,532-964; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.
 Frederick County Land Records, Liber HS 21, ff. 523–524, Vincendiere to Caroline (1844); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed May 2011).
 Frederick County Land Records, Liber ES 10, f. 411, Lowe to Ridgely (1857); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed May 2011).
 1860 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, 12th Ward, Baltimore City post office, page 27, dwelling 151, family 190, Caroline Ridgeley household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jun 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 463.
 Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863–1865, Schedule I, Third Congressional District, Baltimore City, Maryland, Wards 8 through 20, June–July 1863, page 2 R, entry for Cornelius Ridgely; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jul 2011); citing Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registrations, 1863–1865; NM-65, entry 172, 620 volumes; Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War), Record Group 110; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
 United States Navy, Weekly returns of enlistments at Naval Rendezvous, Volume 6, 11 July–31 Dec. 1857, folio 287, Cornelius Ridgeley; digital images, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed Jul 2011); citing FHL microfilm no. 2367945, NARA microfilm publication M1953, roll 6.
 Norfolk City, Virginia, Corporation Court Marriage Register, 1853–1879, page 80, entry 187, Ridgley to Magnos (1866); FHL microfilm no. 32,982, item 1.
 Anne Arundel County Inventories, Liber WTR 1, ff. 393–394, Cornelius Ridgely estate (1880); MSA C88-30, MdHR 40,172-2; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.
 Mrs. Delia Ridgley, widow’s pension certificate no. 6553; service of Cornelius Joseph Ridgley (Landsman, U. S. S. Minnesota); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans (Navy Widows’ Certificates), 1861-1910, digital images, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 1 Jul 2011); citing NARA microfiche publication M1279.