Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Always Better with Company

Genealogical research may seem like a solitary pursuit. After all, our research roots grew out of the pleasures of settling in at remote archives to scour seldom-used source documents for clues about our own ancestors. Even the modern-day researcher is more likely to be found hunkered down in the glow of a laptop at 2 a.m. while finally catching up with that elusive ancestor online. We seldom think of genealogy as a team sport.

Yet I recall the extensive delight of enjoying the quest with a fellow researcher—someone whom I've never met in person, but with whom I share a common third great-grandmother and a desire to know more about that ancestor's family. I've mentioned one of my favorite research-partner experiences before, in which I became acquainted with a University of Michigan history professor who just happened to be related to my mother-in-law's Gordon line; we spent years exchanging emails as together we built up an extended family tree for that surname.

I think of that experience often, as I now reach out to connect with a DNA match on a different family line. There are, indeed, researchers out there who are just as keen on finding family history answers as we are—with the added bonus of being related to us.

Sometimes, those newfound connections are not just a sharing of a mutual surname, but can also form around a common research goal. In this current case—in which I am trying to push back a generation from my father-in-law's Kelly and Falvey lines in County Kerry—I have discovered another genealogy blogger who is examining a situation much the same as ours. Not only that, but she is a blogger with whom I've exchanged notes for quite some time already.

Better than that, her current research challenge runs almost parallel to ours. Though she is in Ireland while I am in the United States, we are both puzzling over Irish-ancestry DNA matches who currently live in New Zealand. And she is employing much the same technique I am opting to try—only as she is doing it so much more elegantly, I can only refer you to her recent blog posts so you can see how she designed her research process for yourself.

When I tell you her name, you may recall my mentioning her before. She is Dara McGivern of Black Raven Genealogy, the very writer who showed me that, despite the dearth of Irish records, it is possible to reconstruct usable information on Irish ancestors by even unexpected resources—such as using registrations for dog licenses. Unsolvable problems can generate innovative responses.

Dara's current research project may, if she finds enough resources, yield her another generation beyond where she is currently stuck with a particular surname. As it happens, a DNA match has turned up, sharing that same surname in her family history—yet not the same given names as what Dara shows in her family line. Just as I am doing, she is meticulously tracing back the DNA match's family line from current day in New Zealand to origins in Ireland.

Because Dara has a number of family members who have also tested their DNA, she is comparing her family's data with that of the New Zealand match and related lines. She clearly outlines her process in her blog, with the introduction in Part I, and her most recent explanation in Part II. Click through that second post and scroll down the entry to see how she laid out the data in table form; it helps to keep all the details straight by using such a visual device to diagram what is known, so far.

All that to say, augmenting the helpfulness of seeing how another researcher is handling the same quandary is the opportunity to connect with that person to compare notes as the process is unfolding. Too often we limit ourselves by assuming genealogy is a solitary task. While yes, in many ways it is, it is also a pursuit made more enjoyable when we can share our conquests with others we meet along the same path. As we bounce ideas off each other along the way, we sharpen each other's approach and, hopefully, can hasten progress toward a useful conclusion for each of us.


  1. Wow! thank you Jacqi, I never expected such 'high praise', not sure I quite deserve it, but I'm flattered, nonetheless. And I hope we both pick up some kind of a paper trail to back us up.

    1. It's always more fun to do research when we see a fellow researcher make progress on a similar problem, Dara. And reading your posts has been inspiring. You know me...the perpetual genealogy guinea pig...I never know how a research idea will work out.

  2. You gals are tireless researchers! :)

    1. Sometimes, Far Side, we don't have much of a choice but to keep searching.


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