A funny thing happened on my way to rescue some distant DNA matches I didn't want to lose: I accidentally found some other connections! These small DNA matches are turning out to be useful for far more than one could imagine.
I've never been one to advocate using small DNA matches on the sheer possibility that that limited number of centiMorgans could, in and of itself, yield valuable information. However, I have connected to some useful information by coupling even small matches with other, documentable, evidence.
For the past two days, I've been combing through my distant matches of six to eight centiMorgans and coupling those search results with searches for some of the more rare surnames in my direct line. In the case of my Broyles line, for instance, I have encountered matches with helpful information. This week was no different. As I combed through those DNA matches, honing for surnames, I ran across a snippet from an unpublished manuscript which someone had shared to a tree at Ancestry.com.
Usually, when those documents are re-posted by other subscribers, it is easy to determine who originated the post. In this case, it was provided by a subscriber who had attached it to someone to whom I am not even related. Reading the full page entry, though, I could tell it tangentially referred to someone in my Broyles line—but I couldn't tell for sure, as the entry was cut off before I could ascertain the context.
You know me: I wanted to know more. So, I messaged the subscriber and asked where the manuscript page came from.
Thankfully, I included my direct email address in my message. After all, the newly revised messaging system at Ancestry, in my opinion, is enough to try one's patience; why continue the conversation in the same place?
In less than twenty four hours, not only did I have an answer, but a copy of the entire hand-typed manuscript.
Do I need to mention that I didn't do anything else that afternoon until I had completed reviewing the entire paper?
One thing I realized: this manuscript contained some journal entries which a reader here at A Family Tapestry had already shared with me from a previous typewritten transcription of an ancestor's journal—in that case, gleaned from the library of the South Carolina Genealogical Society.
That made two instances of unpublished manuscripts which contained information that could be useful to me in my own family history pursuits. Obviously, there were people out there who were intent on preserving personal family records; it is just a matter of finding a way to discover those resources.
If nothing else, that experience reminds me of two good intentions I've always had:
- Keep in touch with other people who are researching the same family lines
- Always remember to check for the possibility of unpublished manuscripts or personal papers which have something to do with your surname of interest or that family's community
Sometimes, those helpful connections don't even need to be directly tied to your surname. Remember that FAN Club principle: it is often in mentions of your ancestors by other people that you will find richer context to understand what life was like for your own relatives in prior generations. What their Friends, Associates, and Neighbors said about them reveals much about their life history.
After all, if all we know about our ancestors is just their name and dates of birth and death, we know very little about them, indeed. It's the stories that bring these people back to life.