Sunday, August 25, 2019

Detours Which Do No Damage

It has been universally considered, among those who've been at this family history thing for any decent amount of time, that it is wisest to organize one's work flow with a research plan. Lately, my research plan has been focusing on preparation for an upcoming class in researching ancestors in colonial Virginia, as well as continuing my long-term quest to identify DNA matches among our family's distant cousins.

That, however, does not preclude other streams of research input. Part of my research plan is to-do-list oriented, but another portion is driven by systems operations. For instance, I set up one research system by subscribing to a list which keeps an eye out for obituaries in a particular county where many of my in-laws' families once lived. Most of the time, there is no activity there of interest to me—but last week, for instance, the passing of a distant cousin generated enough information for me to add ten names to my father-in-law's tree, moving the total up on that list to 1,551 individuals.

When the system hums along in the background, just waiting to spring into action with delivery of the requested information, I see nothing added to my research to-do list. When a tidbit comes my way, though, I need to make a detour from plodding along at my research-as-usual pace.

Another detour came my way this past month, as well. This one was for my mother-in-law's line, and was certainly more unexpected than the occasional obituary that pops up on that retrieval system: I got a message from a distant cousin from my mother-in-law's Gordon line. Not anyone our family knew personally, this person turned out to be a fourth cousin once removed, who happened to stumble upon my blog posts about the Gordons in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Cousin bait! It finally worked!

Even more interesting was the fact that this cousin sent his message almost in a bottle: he sent me a note via Twitter, letting me know the connection and how I could view his own tree on Ancestry. Following through on that, I immediately noticed two things: first, the recognizable names of the ancestral couple he and my husband share in common, and afterwards, that the line he descends from is a branch from a female daughter of that couple for whom I had not been able to find marriage information. In other words, she had been lost to me, rendered invisible by a lack of husband's surname.

Now, after a couple week's diligent pursuit of this Gordon daughter and all her descendants, I've added 217 names to my mother-in-law's tree, bringing her total up to 16,804—and I'm nowhere near close to being done with that line. Let's just say I'll be continuing this research detour until I wrap up this Gordon branch with all descendants traced to those still alive in current times, for the sake of tracing those future DNA matches which have me stumped.

With those two system deliveries to my research plan—hey, when research babies are born, you've got to take care of them—it is no surprise to see the virtual standstill of my other two trees. My dad's tree didn't budge one name from its total of 574, since I had no current research goals on that family line. And my mother's line—where I've normally been focusing my day-to-day research diligence—just had to take a back seat while I added in this newly-discovered information on the other trees. My mother's line is now at 19,123 people, adding fifteen names only because I had started this biweekly period with the best of research intentions—and I'll get back to that regular research project soon.

However, when the research plan involves setting up services to automatically search for input we're seeking—whether via Google Alerts or even those old-fashioned mailing lists (yes, some of them are still active)—we do need to factor in the space in our research plan to attend to those unexpected yet hoped-for deliveries of data.

It's a wonderful dilemma to have to tackle, of course—I'd sure love to get more cousin-bait results like that one from earlier this month—but it does become a part of the plan for which there really isn't any way to schedule arrivals. Let's just say they are a component of our research plan over which we have little control. When they come, we cheer—and find a way to squeeze in the extra work. 


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