Friday, August 25, 2017

Revisiting Reconnecting

So I'm stumped on my pursuit of records for my Davis-Tilson lines in Tennessee, without which I likely won't obtain my goal of membership in the Mayflower Society.

No problem. I'm still gaining lots from the process. Even twists and turns and "bad" outcomes can be learning experiences. I'm not about to cheat myself out of a full delivery of the goods.

One of the twists plopped into my lap while I was sitting at the computer, writing yesterday's blog post. While taking a detour onto my Facebook page, up popped up a personal message from a cousin. She had a question about DNA.

Now, you know me: if you want to talk about DNA, I'm there. In this case, for a ninety minute phone call.

It was good to reconnect. We caught up on family news and compared notes on the uses of DNA testing. (In her case, terms like Y-DNA, mtDNA, and admixtures applied not to people but to horses—she breeds Arabian horses, some of which she's delivered around the world. But the vocabulary and the usage is basically equivalent.)

The conversation reminded me of the importance of getting back to talking to the family we are researching. To be technical, this phone call was actually with my first cousin once removed. She lives on the other side of the country from me, and it's probably been over twenty years since I last visited her. Until we connected on Facebook a few years back, our only mode of conversation was infrequent—albeit always long—emails.

In the wake of this unexpected and welcome interlude, my thoughts on my research dilemma turned in that same direction: toward the act of reconnecting. That reminded me of an era before mega-sites of genealogical pursuit became prevalent.

Back then, there was a culture among family historians of connecting and sharing. Genealogical societies would collect historic data and publish them in books, or host seminars. They'd welcome "queries" from members—and even non-members, for a modest charge—and share them in their newsletters and journals.

In the early days of the Internet, we had ListServs. As the technology of connection advanced, we moved, along with everyone else, to bulletin boards and message boards—it's just that back then, we used the technology to talk about our mutual genealogical brick walls and to crowdsource the solutions to those research problems.

By the time businesses (and, in one important exception, a nonprofit entity) brought us the one-click-discovers-all online genealogical wonder worlds, our behavior had been reshaped. Those of us who had been around to remember those old days of mailing in our "queries" to local genealogical societies—along with our five bucks to have the note published in their newsletter—had now become accustomed to finding all that stuff on our own. In our jammies. At three in the morning. Because, Look! That's my seventh great grandmother!

It might do us all good to remember those olden days of research before the advent of one-click-does-all. While I'd never advocate retreating to a world without Ancestry or FindMyPast or MyHeritage or any of the myriad other online genealogical services, I realize there is a lesson to be learned from the community that sprang up around our research limitations.

We helped one another. We valued the exchange of information, person to person. We connected. With each other.

Here I am—I've always been an advocate for connecting with other researchers and not doing genealogy by only flying solo—and I forgot this important principle. In this case of needing to find information on some small but very old communities on the far end of Tennessee, I even forgot that I had—back in that era of interconnection predating the interconnectivity of the Internet—made connections with some distant Davis cousins. These were people whom I could likely benefit from, if I could only reconnect with them now.

I am beginning to see how important it is to know our roots—not just the roots of our families, but the roots of us, as family historians. The way we were can provide some valuable lessons to us, as we are now. To understand where we came from, as a body of researchers, benefits us by allowing us to glean insight from what worked in the past. By reconnecting with the beneficial aspects of our research roots and bringing them forward into our milieu now, we blend the good points of past lessons learned with the best of what technology has to offer us now. The resulting mix may be just what we need to strengthen us as a community.

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