Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Year in Review—and What a Mess!


If you ask people what their thoughts are on the year of 2020, at best you will get a groan. Worse opinions may border on unprintable. Still, it is a worthwhile effort to take a look backwards, before springing into resolutions for a new year—even if this year was such an insufferable mess.

In the "twelve days of Christmas" leading up to the start of 2020, I decided to take one day for each of those twelve to describe one ancestor for whom I would like to discover additional details. I called the resultant list my "Twelve Most Wanted."

Well, it's been nearly a year since that point—and almost time to repeat the process—so it would be a worthwhile exercise to evaluate my progress. First, though, a caveat: since we can't ever tell what a year may bring us, those plans may suffer a rocky ride through the research seasons. Exhibit A: news reports of 2020, beginning about March. Still, that risk is not sufficient to knock us off track, or prevent us from detailing goals. Just because we can't reach for the stars doesn't mean we shouldn't try. 

So, how did family history research in 2020 go for me? Here is a brief rundown. Keep in mind, the research schedule was formed by taking three ancestors from each of the four family trees I've been working on: my mother's, my father's, and one tree apiece for each of my in-laws. Thus, first quarter was devoted to my mother's ancestors, second quarter to my mother-in-law's ancestors, third quarter to my father-in-law's line, and the final quarter to the struggle over my own father's shrouded ancestry.

January was slated to researching my second great-grandfather William Alexander Boothe of Nansemond County, Virginia. I selected that ancestor because I knew I would be attending a SLIG course in Salt Lake City, where I could consult documents at the Family History Library. Result: I attempted the F.A.N. Club approach and did scout out some neighbors, thanks to tax and land records, but was unable to convincingly identify the right Boothe family.

February's goal was to discover anything further on Frances Reed, wife of Aaron Broyles of Anderson County, South Carolina, and my fourth great-grandmother. While I did review all the footnotes on the Broyles family in a journal kept by a likely Reed relative—Emmala Reed's A Faithful Heart—that and other resources failed to lead to documents allowing me to confirm connections.

In March, my goal was to research the line of my third great-grandmother, Rachel Tilson. My prime reason for that was to document her connection back to her grandfather, William Tilson, as well as link her marriage to James Davis to the Davis family which moved to northeastern Tennessee. My reason was simple: that is the line which would gain me entrance to membership in the Mayflower Society. The sticky part was the fact that these pioneers had long since left their home in Massachusetts and, after wandering around in the southwestern corner of colonial Virginia, surfaced in Tennessee. How to connect that family line via documentation was—and still is, unfortunately—my research albatross. However, knowing this would be a tough challenge, I had doubled up and pulled documents on my January trip to the Family History Library—thinking I'd be back for the NGS conference in May to wrap up that goal. Thanks to COVID-19 plan changes, I'll need to take that one up again in the future.

April and the start of my mother-in-law's line: I pursued Simon Rinehart without much success, though I did find a few documents of interest.

May: same story, only not as beneficial, for the early Ohio settler Elizabeth Stine.

June shows up—still in confinement with this "shelter-in-place" restraint—and my goal for finding Mary Carroll's parents was stymied, though I did find a few interesting details about her husband's family, the Gordons of Pennsylvania, thanks to finding a used-but-useful book at SLIG, back in January.

By the time I leaped into my father-in-law's family tree in July, I had left a miserable research track record behind me. Yet, the goal to discover any details on my father-in-law's great-grandmother Johanna Falvey had one bright spot going for it: DNA matches. Having research collaborators can put a wonderful boost to one's work, even if the results aren't as stellar as hoped. In fact, I poured so much energy into considering all the options that that project spilled over into the next month—and then yet another month more. I blew past my goal of researching Irish ancestors James Kelly and Stephen Malloy in that dogged determination to find an answer on at least one research goal. At the end of September, I finally had to relinquish my iron grip on that research goal from July.

For the last quarter of the year, I pursued discoveries on my father's side. The most gratifying, in October, was using DNA matches to deduce the true identity of my paternal grandfather's mother—and, from that point, her husband, in November. And, once I got the hang of using some Polish websites—hand in hand with Google Translate and several sets of maps, both current and historic—I expanded my understanding of the extended Gramlewicz family in December.

Had it not been for that final month's discoveries, the research year would have been a solid disappointment. But don't think that would be reason to never try again. The practice of lining up a set of research goals for the year is still a worthy process, and I certainly intend to do that again for the new year. The focus is beneficial, as well as a tool to zero in on specific lines which need more work. After all, I have well over twenty thousand people in my family trees—hardly a number small enough to keep each incomplete individual entry uppermost in my mind. It takes some review to see where further work is needed, plus some analysis to determine which goals are most reachable.

Perhaps it is that last sticking point which I need to work on more: determining what goals are do-able, given the current resources. With the unfortunate promise of another year closed up like the quarantine situation we've endured for the past nine months, next year's goals will have to be limited to what can be obtained online. 

In addition, there are other aspects of research which I've realized I also want to plan for: time for reading to glean background information on the time periods in which my ancestors lived, and to learn about the location and the customs of those hometowns. For those of us with limits to the time we can devote to research—in addition to the limits of accessing relevant documents—honing our focus can help shield us from disappointments over lack of progress.

Considering all that, I'm primed to spend some time after a Christmas break to determine those research goals for the upcoming year. There is a certain psychological energy to considering "what's next" that I look forward to. What about you? 



  1. Yes we all need goals...I am certain you will set some good ones for yourself. Merry Christmas!!

    1. Far Side, you are certainly a great example, yourself, of making your list and checking it twice.


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