Saturday, April 22, 2023

A Thought to Hold


Admittedly, it can be frustrating to comprehend all the relationship lines which tie us to our DNA matches. Sometimes—especially after working on my test kits at 23andMe—I call those diagrams my "spaghetti bowl" family tree. Lines are reaching out every which way.

I ran across a thought yesterday, perhaps meant for me to hold on to, given such research frustrations. It was a simple sentence toward the end of Barbara Rae-Venter's recently-released book, I Know Who You Are. She was explaining the hours and hours of work put in to solve some of the cold cases from decades past, or solve for the John or Jane Doe unidentified victims.

In one criminal case the author was working on, research was not going well. One DNA match might seem to lead to a breakthrough, only to ultimately result in another tangled mess.

As she explained the sequence of steps as they unfolded in her work, Barbara Rae-Venter shared an insight about one such disappointing lead. According to her, despite "twists and setbacks...the right question to ask was: What does this setback tell us about where to look next?"

Whether you are working on solving the identity of an unknown but violent criminal or simply stuck while trying to determine your own grandmother's birth parents, after a setback, Barbara's question is a solid reminder to re-center your thinking and strategize what your next step might be. We can learn from anything—even mistakes and setbacks.

Working with DNA for genealogy can be frustrating with everything from mounting a steep learning curve simply to begin, to feeling overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of matches—or the disappointing lack thereof. Learning the resilience of letting even our mistakes guide us to our next steps can redirect us rather than defeat us.

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