Tuesday, September 13, 2016
The Search for the Other Half
Of the Needle in the Haystack
In sifting through the overwhelming number of matches received for our genetic genealogy tests, I've discovered there is one thing that clearly needs to be fixed in focus: it takes two to make a match.
Admittedly, sifting through the 800-plus matches my husband has received to his autosomal DNA test—or the 1,000-plus matches on my side of the family tree—it can seem somewhat futile to find a meaningful connection. Like finding a needle in a haystack, as the saying goes.
In this instance, I can imagine there are tools to help sift the wheat from the chaff—or the hay from the iron, as the case may be—but the hapless DNA dabbler may not feel sufficiently armed with the proper tools to drill down to the core of the genetic genealogy case.
It's in times like this that I have to remember: form a partnership with one's matches. It may only be through such collaboration that we can piece together two parts of a family's story in a way that makes sense.
Take this recent match with my husband's Falvey line. The gentleman in New Zealand who bears those genes that match my husband's test results is very likely related to him somewhere at the level of second to fourth cousin. But all I bring to the discussion table is a blip of a mention in a Falvey ancestor's obituary that she had a sibling who emigrated from their homeland in County Kerry, Ireland, to somewhere in New Zealand. The only other thing I knew about this woman on our side of the Falvey story is that, before she left her homeland around 1868, she was once from "the Lakes of Killarney."
Not much help. Twice as hopeless a quest, once you consider she married someone with a name as common as John Kelly. How on earth could I discern the location her Falvey relatives might have chosen for their new home in New Zealand?
This is where the collegial tradition of collaborative work between genealogists makes the difference. The willingness to enter into discussion about what each person has found, in their own independent research, opens up a dialog that can lead to productive discovery. Sharing resources, discussing documentation, examining the murky places in the research trail—these are the time-honored elements of past generations of researchers that enabled clarification. Better yet, that led to discovery.
As I mentioned yesterday, the serendipitous discovery of a Falvey connection in New Zealand—entirely thanks to DNA testing—has led me to the brink of such a collaborative opportunity. The question, as always, is whether that introductory email will bring a willing—and helpful—response. Sometimes, the only response is stone cold silence. Other times, it may be the sharing of a tree rife with obvious errors in entry, or cut-and-paste "research" from undocumented resources. It sometimes seems as if we, as genealogists, have forgotten our research roots.
In the case of our newfound Falvey connection, I'm delighted to say I've encountered an eager and energetic research partner on the other end of the equation—one who, in fact, reached out to me. Though we are both busy people, the administrator for this DNA test is well equipped to share the other side of the Falvey story—a side I couldn't possibly have otherwise been able to obtain.
With each match we receive in our DNA testing process, we are both primarily engaged first on a journey backwards in time, seeking a most recent common ancestor. Then, guided by our research partner, we must be shown the path taken by the other researcher's direct ancestor to arrive back in the present time. Each of us may know our own path, but we are seldom fully versed in what happened to the other side of the family. As researchers, we need each other before we can completely connect both parts of the family history.
It is almost as if each match, before it is confirmed, is actually a tale of two searches for the needle in the haystacks. In our case of the Falvey family, one of those haystacks was in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The other ended up in Blenheim, New Zealand. As for the needle, only half went to each of those haystacks. It's up to us as researchers to piece together enough of the backstory to realize how our half-needles are entitled to fit together again.