Saturday, March 22, 2014

Energized by Possibilities

I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.
            ~American Playwright John Guare in Six Degrees of Separation

In a moment in which blog posts become influenced by the previous day’s harvest of reader comments, I saw the possibilities in what reader Intense Guy mentioned yesterday:
I think it would be cool if we (all your readers) could find a link, no matter how "loose" or "vague" to each other!

Mind you, I’m not out to propose that we all pull out our pedigrees and plat maps and compare notes to find connections. But we could. And we’d likely be amazed at the common ties we’d discover.

We already have made some connections here at A Family Tapestry. Taking a brief tour through all the comments in the last six months or so, I found a number of posts by readers, mentioning some way or another in which we connect.

First and foremost, I can’t forget the comment by blogger Susan Clark, entered after one post about my Tennessee roots. Predictably, this would catch Susan’s eye—after all, the title of her blog is Nolichucky Roots, her own catalog of ancestral connections in that same east Tennessee region where my grandfather grew up. After one post, Susan commented:
I have been so negligent about commenting, Jacqi, but I am adoring the Erwin connection. Today's entry sent chills down my spine. Your Nellie lived only a block and a half from my great-grandparents in Johnson City. Your names today were so familiar to me that I dug around a bit. Her husband's death record gives a street address that shows up at the corner of Southwest and Maple. My Williams great-grandparents lived in the next block, at 415 W. Maple. I have no words for joy this gives me.

After completing my series on the Bean family in the San Francisco Bay area—and subsequently further north in Santa Rosa—another reader added some comments which revealed a neighbor who actually remembered this family from childhood. The comments were added to the post three months after it was published, so you may have missed reading them, but all of them point to a re-connection. Here’s one of the comments:
I believe I know this neighborhood. I think the young woman on the right is Marilyn Bean. If that's her mother, Mrs. Lincoln, on the left, she is looking very young to me, but I knew her only as a very elderly woman. She babysat me when I was 4 - 5 years old. She had a large stuffed owl in her den, with big, staring eyes, guaranteed not to let a little kid sleep.

In finding my posts about the Stevens family military travels, someone stopped by to compare notes with a couple comments like this one:
I commented on the USNS Gen. Alexander M. Patch and our voyage on it from Bremerhaven to New York in 1952 when I was 15 months old. The stateside home of record listed for us on the passenger list was Greenville, South Carolina, which had become my mother's home city in 1942 when she was 16. My parents married in Greenville in July of 1949 and went to Germany the following month. I was born in Frankfurt in 1951. So, there is another connection we share.

One of my most delightful discoveries was not through a comment to a post, but in subsequent emails with another blogger—Lisa, known online as “Smallest Leaf,” whose blogs include Small-Leaved Shamrock and 100 Years in America. Lisa’s grandparents, as it turned out, lived in the same town in New York in which I grew up. Talk about close connections of the non-related kind!

This all reminds me of the proverbial “Six Degrees of Separation”—the speculation that any two individuals may likely be connected by, at the most, five other people. Remember that sociology class I mentioned in yesterday’s post? It was thanks to that class that I first became aware of the Stanley Milgram experiment, attempting to get a package from a randomly-selected person in a Midwest city to a target individual in Boston, Massachusetts, via only people that the sender knew personally.

While psychologist Stanley Milgram was not the one to coin the descriptive tag “Six Degrees of Separation” that was later given to the “small world” phenomenon, the concept has been mused over, written about, mathematically toyed with and academically pontificated over since at least 1929. As it turns out, many randomly-selected strangers may be connected by as little as three links.

Given the much more limited pool of ethnically-connected ancestors you or I might have in common, it is actually no surprise that we would find some sort of connection between us genealogically, either.

Of course, I’m still awaiting the glorious day when someone emails to inform me that he or she is my long-lost twenty-seventh cousin. Until that happens, however, connections like these from readers really make my day.


  1. I will be your honorary cousin until a real one shows up! Although the real possibilty lies within my husband as he has relatives from Scotland and Ireland:)

    1. Far Side, I would be honored to have you as my honorary cousin! But don't be too sure you, with your Scandinavian background, would never end up being a real cousin to my husband's Irish ancestors. We did his DNA test and--not that he looks like it--found that he has Viking heritage in his distant past. We Europeans may be more closely linked than we thought!

  2. I would like to do that experiment! The one with getting the package to a randomly selected person. It sounds intriguing!


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