Tuesday, July 5, 2016
The Wandering Mind
After entering name after name in your genealogical database, do you ever wish you were enough of a mathematical genius to answer your own questions? You know...those questions that pop into your unsuspecting head when your mind wanders.
Lately, I've felt like my research has been dragging me in circles. Just the other day, while keeping my nose to that monotonous grindstone of cataloging all the descendants of my mother in law's Gordon line, I had entered the realm of a Phillips family in western Pennsylvania. It was Phillips, Phillips, Phillips for generations. Nothing to perk up my waning attention span until I stumbled upon one anomaly: the first and middle name of one Phillips descendant was the same as that of my husband's niece's husband's first and last name.
Believe me, those two are not related. At least, as far as I know.
Surely that middle name was someone's maiden name, I surmised, and went searching for the source of that unusual name. It seemed a "family name"—one of those surnames appended from the mother's line to keep its memory alive in the family tree. No sign, though, that this was the case.
I've run into other such oddities that perk me up and make me take notice. Another such instance is when I review my DNA test results. More than once, I've looked at the surnames of my husband's DNA matches and thought, "Wait a minute—whose test am I checking?" The surnames are ones that belong to my tree, not his.
The same thing sometimes occurs in the reverse, when I find family relations of Flowers, Gordon, and Metzger—on my side of the family tree.
It makes me wonder just how related any two given people might be. Surely, there is a mathematical equation to represent that possibility.
And then, my mind wanders even further. After all, once I entered the seven thousandth name into my family tree database, I began to wonder if I'd cross lines with, say, the family tree of a good friend. It is possible, you know. I've heard people tell stories of such instances.
It's never happened to me, though.
Granted, half my family is a mystery, given my father's father and his mysterious appearance on the shores of New York City. My sister recently told me she remembered our paternal grandfather once say he, as an orphan, had worked on an ocean-going vessel from Europe and, arriving in the New York harbor, decided to jump ship and seek his fortune in the New World. Who knows—maybe that's the kind of story you tell gullible youngsters. Or maybe that's the reason I can't seem to find any matches for DNA tests on that paternal line at either Family Tree DNA or Ancestry DNA.
Still, that leaves me with the other half of my family. What about them? Do I cross paths with a fourth cousin in an airport, scurrying to make my connection—and never know it? What are the chances that my ancestors and a friend's ancestors turn out to be the same couple?
I'm sure there are strange stories out there, just waiting to be told. Who know? Maybe you have had such an experience already, yourself.
When I think of that, I can't help wondering: what are the chances? How likely is it that any one given person is related to another specific person? Surely, someone out there can do the math on this one.
Above: La Place du Théâtre Français, 1898 oil on canvas by Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro; from the Mr. and Mrs. George Gard De Sylva Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art courtesy the Google Art Project via Wikipedia.