Saturday, June 11, 2011

Looking For Outlaws

Most people have a singularly selfish focus when they start their genealogy research: they want to find their parents. And their parents.

There is this other thing that gets in the way: siblings. What to do with siblings?

And when those siblings get married, what about their families?

I’ll never forget, in my early research adventures, having the unexpected opportunity to go to a well-known genealogy library. I didn’t know much about my family lines at the time, but I hated to waste the opportunity to find something.

What to do?! I chose the rarest name I knew in my family’s history: Taliaferro. With a name like that, who could go wrong? I was bound to find something in that library related to my own family.

I did. Oh, how I wish I was savvy enough at that point to write down the title and author of the book I found. For there in the pages of that book, I actually saw mention of my own grandmother, a Taliaferro descendant.

From that moment on, I decided that when I did my own family research, I would include descendants. What a glorious thought: to know all the cousins from one’s forebears!

Besides not knowing how messy that proposition could become, I hadn’t thought of all the bunny trails my ancestral excursions would lead me down—especially in close-knit places like Perry County, Ohio. I ended up doing research on literally hundreds of people who aren’t in my family but are tangentially related to my family line.

There is a term for these people, by the way. I learned that from my cousin during one of our family’s annual excursions to visit my aunt during my childhood years. Just like my family did, my aunt’s family lived around a lake, so visits became weekend water-sport extravaganzas, with breaks for great outdoor cooking and feasting. During one of those hanging-out times above the water-line, I was sitting with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Congenial—but strangers.

My cousin had happened to sidle over and engage these people in conversation. It must have suddenly hit him that I didn’t know these people, so he began the task of introductions: “These are your outlaws.”

Outlaws? At my young age, I wasn’t sure how to read my older cousin’s intent.

He explained: outlaws are your in-laws’ in-laws.


It turned out that these outlaws happened to live around a lake, too: the same lake, in fact, where our family lived! Now that we knew that, from time to time, ever since, we’d stop by for a visit with our outlaws and enjoy that strange sort of relationship with relatives who aren’t really relatives.

In the years since then, I’ve developed the same kind of relationship on paper with hundreds of other outlaws. I’ve never met them, but I’ve fallen in love with some of their stories. Sometimes, they give me a broader picture of what life was like for my immediate lines of ancestors, some of whom have been a challenge for me to research. Sometimes, I think about how I’ve found a link to people that no one else has publicly researched. Like a genealogy trailblazer, I keep collecting links to these related-but-not-related people, until I’ve amassed a database of nearly 13,000 people. If I don’t soon find a way to publicly share that data, I’ll consider me to be the outlaw for not passing this material along!

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