How helpful it is when the tools we have to reach out to others researching our family lines actually return useful connections. In the case of my current Tully project, I've met another avid family history researcher at Ancestry.com and we've been comparing notes on what we know about the family.
The rationale for connecting with such distant cousins is that some parts of a family may have benefited from more heirlooms or heritage stories than other members. In this case, the researcher has enjoyed a wealth of family stories passed down from previous generations. Added bonus: she is willing to share.
In a recent conversation, we were noting how many members of the Canadian Tully family had opted to cross the border to settle in nearby U.S. cities, such as Detroit and Cleveland. This researcher, who had already shared a number of local details with me, asked, "Have you heard of the Black Donnellys?"
While no, I hadn't, she piqued my interest further by explaining that due to that tragedy, that may have been the specific reason a number of family members may have left the area.
Of course, you know I had to race to Google to see what I could find about the massacre that occurred at the Donnelly home in 1880. I had never heard of the tragedy. Then again, here I am across the continent and south of the international border by almost one thousand miles. Give or take the distance that separates us, plus the years which have passed since the massacre occurred, there is a lot that separates me from the "local history" of that time and place. And yet, this researcher could explain how the impact of those events had influenced her family's choices in where they lived and worked. She urged me to consider whether that, rather than other reasons, might have been the impetus for the Tully family's choice to leave where they had settled in Canada.
Local history that is so far removed from us may not be a detail we take into account as we puzzle over the seemingly unreasonable choices our ancestors made. Yet, if we only knew of those details—could develop a knack to put ourselves in our ancestors' shoes, so to speak—perhaps their choices would make more sense to us. Perhaps, even, we could better intuit what their next steps might have been.
Granted, it is hard, from a vantage point so far removed from where these ancestors once lived, to learn how to put ourselves into their shoes. I am convinced, though, that taking the effort to learn more about the local history, geography, and living conditions of the time and place will help reap rewards in our research progress. If nothing else, this becomes a strong motivator to me to reach out to the others who are also researching the same family lines. There's someone out there who does know the family's stories—and perhaps that someone would be more than happy to share what she knows.