Friday, July 24, 2020
Calling for Collaboration
With the advent of so many companies catering to the lone genealogist, one would think the pursuit of family history has become a solitary sport. After all, with the click of a mouse, we have a world of documentation at our fingertips at any hour of day or night. And yet, everything from the details built into the system at online websites to the social media resources surrounding us encourages us to take back the solitary isolation of this research road and blend in some collaboration.
That's what I've been doing lately with my current research goal. I'm on the hunt for the names of Johanna Falvey's parents in County Kerry, Ireland. Johanna, once she was married to John Kelly and proud parent to Timothy, Catherine, and Mary, had left her homeland for Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the United States, but clues in her obituary showed me that she had left "several sisters" back home near the Lakes of Killarney, and that one sibling who also emigrated arrived on the shores of New Zealand sometime before her 1903 death.
While collaboration between avocational genealogists has changed over the years—gone are many of the genealogy forums of the earlier years of Internet usage—we still have many avenues useful for connecting. And yet, I know several researchers have tried to reach out and been disappointed in the results. Many a DNA match has complained that no one responds to an introductory message, or gives the most enigmatic of one-liner responses, true, but there are others out there who are still quite willing to collaborate. Face it: those of us who have been smitten by the genealogy bug can discuss our passion for hours. What better discovery than to find a like-minded researcher seeking the very same family!
Step one has always been to contact others whose tree or DNA test shows a promising connection. Services such as Ancestry make that easy for us to do. For the past two weeks, I've been working my way through a list of contacts, asking them if they would be willing to collaborate on finding our Falvey connection back in County Kerry.
The result so far has been pleasantly positive, but you never know what the outcome to such an inquiry might be. That, in essence, is why we should connect with fellow researchers: someone may be out there with a private collection of family memorabilia which includes the exact tidbit you are seeking. It may be a family Bible, or a photograph, or a newsy letter sent back home to the folks over one hundred years ago. We seek what we don't know is there precisely in the hopes that someone else will know where to find it.
Part of my current research plan has been to evaluate the family trees of the several small DNA matches between my husband—Johanna's second great-grandson—and other Falvey descendants. It's a lot of work, admittedly, and may involve building out others' own trees to check accuracy, but even that task doesn't need to be done alone.
I reached out to yet another Falvey match late this week who, despite being a small match of ten centiMorgans, has a Falvey ancestor from the correct county in Ireland who was born there at about the same time as our Johanna. Despite the slim chances of relationship—the connection is only ten cMs, after all—this DNA match happens to have closer relatives who still live in County Kerry, and is most willing to help with this project. You never know what you will find, just for the asking.
And it's not just a matter of asking once for the answer to one simple question. To find a number of distant cousins all willing to continue working on a joint research question—now, that is the key. I know one family history researcher who, thanks to DNA testing, put together a fuller story on one entire mystery branch of her family's story. Hers wasn't just a one-question-and-thanks-a-lot instance; she and her new-found distant cousins put together a private Facebook group so that they can continue the conversation. They set up a convenient means to share ongoing research discoveries. Now, that's instant collaboration!
Whether my Falvey research question will ever lead to that level of continued collaboration is yet to be seen. But that research network is growing, now stretching out to three continents, with emails reaching around the world. Collaboration enables us to accelerate our research progress, but it also affords us the opportunity to get social and meet others who are interested in the same specific research questions. Together, we amplify each other's progress.