Sunday, April 2, 2023

It All Depends on the Question


If you are wondering which direction your family history research will take you, it all depends on the question you ask. This month, my question is about the ancestors of Elizabeth Howard, wife of William Ijams. Who were they? Can I actually find her parents, considering she might have been born in Maryland in 1758, but died—after a second marriage—in the frontier regions of Missouri?

This month, following my annual Twelve Most Wanted research plan, I'm making the shift from my own family's lines to those of my mother-in-law. Elizabeth Howard was her fourth great-grandmother. About all I know of Elizabeth is that she made sure that at least four of her children—sons and daughters alike—carried her maiden name within theirs.

While of course I'll be searching for documents which might reveal important events in her life—baptisms, weddings, mentions in family wills—I realized there was another question I could ask.

The relationship between Elizabeth Howard Ijams and my mother-in-law, no matter how distant, falls within a special category: Elizabeth is on my mother-in-law's matriline. The significance of that detail means that anyone else also connected to that matriline can use a special type of DNA test—called the mitochondrial DNA test—to confirm that relationship. As it turns out, my husband—who inherited that same mitochondrial DNA from his mother—has taken the mtDNA test.

So now, my question becomes: who else would possibly be related through this same matriline?

To determine that, I've been racing through my mother-in-law's family tree, documenting the relationship of all female descendants of Elizabeth Howard, all the way to the present day. Kind of like speed-dating, I'm zipping from daughter to daughter, then granddaughters and beyond, documenting each female in those families descending from Elizabeth. Only, instead of speed-dating, I call that quick and dirty tree building speed-treeing.

Since today is the day for my biweekly tally, I was curious to see how that might impact my customary data collection. No surprise, here: in the past two weeks (remember, I got a jump on this April research project early last week), I documented 260 additional relatives in my mother-in-law's tree. I'll guarantee that almost all of those newly-added names, pursuing that question about Elizabeth's matriline, were her female descendants.

With that, my in-laws' tree now contains 31,053 individuals, all documented. But the past two weeks also contained the trailing finish to last month's research question. Though I still didn't achieve my research goal for March—I'll need to return to that in a later year, after behind-the-scenes research I'm cranking out right now—I still managed to add 294 names to my own tree. That tree now contains a total of 33,217 documented names.

Granted, both the trees I'm working on are huge. There is a reason for that, again going back to the research questions I've pursued over the years. Mostly, I've included descendants of collateral lines simply because I want my trees to work in tandem with the results of my family's DNA tests. But in this month's case, with a research question about a distant ancestor on my mother-in-law's matriline, I'm pulling the focus in closer to a specific goal and using a specific type of DNA test. After all, the research plan and methods need to follow the lead of the research question. And this month's situation may be quite different from the other projects I've tackled in the past.

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