Saturday, April 3, 2021

Pausing to Take Stock


When it seems it's full speed ahead, researching the family's history, we sometimes forget, in the forward momentum, to take a look back and see how far we've come. Of course, when the progress comes easy, seeing it quantified can be a great encouragement. However, I find that need to measure research progress particularly helpful when I'm struggling with an unyielding research puzzle; it helps build in some perspective.

Usually, I'm pleasantly surprised to see how much I've accomplished in a given time period—say, the past two weeks, or a month—because when I'm stuck on a problem, it seems I haven't budged for the longest time. Just looking at the numbers can tell a much different tale, and, as a result, provide the needed encouragement to keep pushing onward.

Not so, this past month. Despite sifting through records in two locations—both in Madison County, Florida, and in Marlboro County, South Carolina—the count on my family tree hardly budged. In the past two weeks, I only managed to add twenty five hard-won names to my tree, all on my maternal side, the one giving me such research grief.

Still, after years of steady work, that same tree contains records on 25,466 individuals. But let me emphasize: after years of work—which causes me to reflect on this past month's research experience. 

Some goals may be easily completed. Others have been problems for precisely the reason prompting me to tackle them: there may be little to no currently-existing documentation. Families which tend to favor the independent life of the lone frontiersman may spend a lifetime isolated from the processes which yield governmental records. No surprise, then, to come up short when I work on my mother's ancestors; in many cases, that was their preferred station in life.

On the other hand, with this month's research goal focused on my mother-in-law's roots, that same frontier-hugging tendency yields a somewhat different flavor. Though her forebears often lived on the outskirts of colonial incursions, they weren't lone mountain men. They tended to migrate within a large group.

That group, in some cases, was faith-based—for instance, the westward migration of early Catholics in America. Though not based on a political government's reach, these migrating groups had a record-keeping structure embedded within their church organization—sometimes, one which produced more long-lasting and reliable accounts than their contemporary governmental records.

Perhaps, knowing these two factors influencing the subsequent availability of records to researchers such as myself—removed by not just decades but centuries from the events requiring documentation of births, marriages, or deaths—it is no surprise to see how much I was able to cover in the past two weeks on my mother-in-law's lines. With the addition of 155 verified individuals, that tree now includes information on 20,365 people in that extended family.

With this month's research goal of finding documentation to link Mary Carroll Gordon to her parents—pushing back into the 1700s and colonial American record-keeping issues—I doubt that research pace will hold up in the next two weeks. But for every ancestor I verify, for the sake of identifying DNA matches, I continue to research the lines of all descendants of that ancestor—so the numbers keep expanding.

That strategy has certainly expanded my trees far beyond what most researchers prefer to see, but on the other hand, it has been so helpful to see DNA matches fall into place, whether through the algorithms provided at Ancestry, the genetic genealogy tools at MyHeritage, or the clues I've found at the other DNA testing companies.

This two-step process has certainly bolstered progress on the two main trees which are my long-standing focus. Though sometimes I fly through the process when documentation is easy to find—and other times come to a stand-still when records seem nonexistent—keeping count on a regular basis keeps me grounded with the encouragement that, no matter how much of a struggle it is to attain a research goal, I still am making progress.

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