Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Genealogical Hindsight

If I had it all to do over again, I probably should have heeded that nagging voice that kept screaming at me, "Just look up the name." But then, if I had done just that, where would be all that delicious process of discovery?

I'm not sure efficiency is the goal of every genealogical researcher. Perhaps yes, if you are doing it for money. But I'm not. I'm doing it for the journey, as much as I am doing it for the yearning to know where I came from. It's much different when you let that flower unfold on its own than when you force those petals to yield to pressure.

True, if I had just looked up the name that kept bugging me—Charles Robb—I would have instantly confirmed my recall was on the right track. But look at the span of generations I wouldn't have paid much mind in the process. The bonus was the delight of discovery—unfolding in its own way and catching me by surprise.

This may not sound like appropriate validation for the meandering techniques I used—to say nothing of my procrastinating ways—but now that I look back on the path taken, I guess it was just what I needed.

I found many more details than I posted in the story about this particular line of descent from my sixth great grandmother, Jane Strother, and her husband, Thomas Lewis of Augusta County, Virginia.

For instance, in discovering the connection with Charles Robb, I learned that an old, now historic home—the Wallace Estill House—has been mentioned as the senator's "ancestral home." Listed among the buildings in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Wallace Estill House description preserves a version of the history of this same Estill family we've been recounting here over the past several days. I likely would never have gone seeking it if I hadn't first meandered through everything I could find on this family's line of descent.

A direct-line dash through the generations may yield bragging rights to ancestors way back in the 1500s, but I sense the tug of a dichotomy: a genealogist, in the end, may either be able to accomplish depth or breadth in his or her research. If you've been following along here at A Family Tapestry for any length of time, you've surely observed my penchant for seeking out the story, exploring implications of the broader context, tracing the interwoven facets of family heritage linked across the generations.

So while it may seem rational to insist on zooming to the "right" judgment call and seeking the fastest route to the answer, perhaps it would be more kind of me to stop beating myself up about not listening to my inside voice. It's okay that I didn't look up that name. So he was famous. In the end, for the sake of the journey, I'm glad I didn't find out sooner.

Above: "Rose Blossoms," oil on cardboard by German artist Anna Peters (1843 - 1926); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

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