Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Taking a Peek Behind the Scene
There is a lot of guesswork involved in returning an orphaned photograph back to family. And, in juggling the information attached to multiple possibilities, the search also requires a way to organize all the findings. But to shelter those potentially false leads from a gullible genealogy public, the search also needs to proceed under cover—somewhere hidden so that others won't be tempted to copy those false leads as if they were verified truth.
In other words, I need a hiding place to park my trees-in-progress.
I learned this tactic from my mystery cousin, the adoptee who turned out to be an exact match to my matriline. If you remember, shortly after this cousin contacted me three years ago, thanks to our mutual mitochondrial DNA test results at Family Tree DNA, he was able to figure out—and subsequently meet—his birth mother. He explained to me what he learned from the volunteer "search angels" who helped him with his research: adoptees build several tentative family trees, actually plugging into a pedigree chart several possible, though not yet proven, names.
For the most part, this hypothesis-testing process serves to trigger "hints" for Ancestry trees, which then can be evaluated for plausibility. Obviously, more hypotheses end up being discarded than kept. But because they are not true family trees, all this guesswork needs to be done under cover. That's why adoptees—and the search angels who help them—often set up private trees, rather than public ones, on Ancestry. To add one more layer of protection, they change the privacy setting on the tentative tree so that it can't even be found in search results.
Taking my cue from my mystery cousin—who has since gone on to help many other adoptees, himself—when I work on sending an abandoned photograph home to family, I use the same process. So, for Thirza Cole—or whoever she turns out to be—I set up a private, unsearchable tree on Ancestry and started building her pedigree. In addition, I set up a file folder in my computer for pictures, and another file folder under documents for any auxiliary material I find on the family. That way, as I chase after all the possibilities, I have a place to park the photos and documents I run across.
As it turns out, there was someone by the name of Thirza Cole. The surprising first discovery about Thirza was that, despite my traveling to the foothills of northern California to find her, she turned out to live in the same town as the first antique store where I had begun my quest to reunite orphaned photographs with family. Since that place is so close to my home, I've had ample opportunities to head to the very place where Thirza lived and worked for most of her adult life.
Not to put a wet blanket over that enthusiastic discovery, but just in case, I also did a search for the alternate name I found on the photographs—Thiega. If you, as I did, thought that there would surely be no such name, think again. Apparently, Thiega is a thing. There were several hits for that term as a given name, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. To do a thorough search, I'll need to attend to that due diligence requirement to ascertain which of the two names this really turns out to be—or whether I should be looking for two women instead of one.