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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cradle to the Grave

I'm not a professional genealogist.  I believe I've said it before but I'll say it again and I'll continue to say it; I'm a family historian.  I am, however, a professional librarian with decades of library experience and decades of family history research experience.  I've made many of the mistakes that most people make when they start researching their family history.

It's good to begin with a goal in mind.  Maybe there's a family illness that you want to get more information about.  Maybe there was some change in the way your family lived and you want to understand what changed.  Maybe, as in my case, there's a family legend that you've grown up with and you suddenly realize that you have no idea if it's true or not.  And, maybe you just want to know more about the people who came before you.  It's good to begin with a goal in mind to aim for.

But, sometimes the desire to reach that goal makes us impatient and sloppy and we leap on the first new clue that seems to move us closer to that goal.  Sometimes, too intense a focus on that goal leads us to overlook information that initially seems unimportant and trivial because it doesn't tell us anything about what we're so intent on finding.  That can be a mistake that will cost months and years of time in backtracking to recover information we bypassed and ignored.

I began with a very specific goal and spent quite a few years moving along fruitfully toward that goal, in a straight line and up against a brick wall in my matrilineal family.  Along the way, I noticed other interesting things about other branches of the family and learned some things about my paternal families.  I decided to research ALL my families, maternal and paternal.  After years of research, having reached brick walls on every line, I realized I need more living relatives to tell me what they know and, since I'm not getting any younger, neither are they and time is a-wasting.

There are too many gaps in too many family branches; decades are empty when I can't find a particular family group.  Why?  Where were they?

So, I began a Cradle to the Grave research on each and every individual in my database, to fill in holes, not just for that individual but for their parents, spouses and children; because you never now where a bit of information has been documented.

Each of the individuals in my families database was born, lived a life, some had a family, and they died.  Each of those lives was filled with many activities and other people.  Tracking each of those individuals tells me something about that person and about the people around them.  It also places them in the context of geography and history.

It's very interesting following them through their lives.  They were born there and lived there how long?  Then, the family moved there.  Why?  What did they do for a living?  Sometimes they lived near other family members.  Sometimes they ventured off on their own.  Sometimes work or the military took them to new places.  Sometimes family tragedy changed the make up of a particular family.  Sometimes other family members merged branches of the family together.

You begin to see a pattern in the life of each individual, in their family group. You get a sense of the path they took.  Sometimes this helps when suddenly they disappear for a decade or more.  Sometimes you get a feeling where they might have gone, who they might have gone to.  Not always, but sometimes.

We're fortunately, me and my families, that so many were in New York State where, in addition to the federal censuses, taken every 10 years on the decade, there was, for many years, a state census, also taken every 10 years on the 5th year.  It's possible to get a snapshot of a family group nearly every 5 years for quite a few decades.  The missing gaps are always a mystery but part of the picture.  In following their lives, other members of the family come into view from time to time, revealing more information about the family as a whole and about those individuals as well.

It's a time consuming but rewarding practice.

Copyright, FamilyTracker, Lorraine I. O'Dell, 2013.  All rights reserved.

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