Sunday, November 27, 2022

What's Your Question
About Your Ancestor?


As you work through your family tree, does your mind bombard you with questions? Mine does. Perhaps all those mental detours are what make for an ever-expanding tree. Every time I add a fact to my family tree database, more questions pop into my head. Searching for ancestors, in my opinion, has always required a curious mind.

Perhaps that's why I was so excited to read a recent post on Legacy News from one of our local genealogical society's favorite speakers, Gena Philibert-Ortega. In her November 4 article, Gena asks, "Does Curiosity Drive Your Genealogy Research?" First on her list of must-have tools to effectively develop that curiosity: Ask questions.

As I work with classes of beginning genealogists, I want to ask them: What's your question about your ancestor? Obviously, if we are researching our family's history, we must be wondering about those family members. What, exactly, is it we are pursuing?

Right now—at least for the few remaining days of this month—my question is about all the details my mother's maternal McClellan grandparents knew about their siblings. If I were sitting around the McClellan Thanksgiving dinner table one hundred years ago—or once the dishes were done and that lazy lull overcame everyone as they relaxed in the holiday afterglow—what would be the gist of the chit-chat about the family members who didn't come to dinner?

Those are the types of details you won't find in government records—or, for the most part, even in the local newspaper—but I still do have some fleeting moments to garner a few of those recollections. That's the value of collaborating with cousins, especially cousins met thanks to DNA testing, who also happen to share family photographs.

While I'm working on that project, of course I'm noting everything I find in my family history database. In the past two weeks, I've added 178 names as I comb through my McClellan files and update records. My tree is slowly but steadily growing, and has now reached 30,877 individuals. In the remainder of this month, I'll likely add a few more records and details on that McClellan line before moving on to December's research project, all driven by that need to ask questions about my ancestors to get to know them better.

Of course, focusing on my maternal line at the close of November, and my paternal line earlier this month helped to boost those numbers. On the flip side, the tree for my in-laws stood absolutely still, not budging one bit from the 30,270 I've had for most of November. However, come next spring and my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023, I'll return to asking questions on my mother-in-law's side of the family.

In fact, as I prepare to draw up my Twelve Most Wanted once again, it would help if that list were driven by specific questions for each selected ancestor. Taking a cue from our natural curiosity and phrasing our research projects as questions helps to focus our efforts.   

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