Sunday, August 13, 2023

Finding the Way Out of a Paper Bag


Can you find your way out of a paper bag? Of course you can—but sometimes circumstances seem to overwhelm and, stymied, we feel like we can't even get ourselves out of a simple paper bag.

Years ago, our family, living on the edges of suburbia, felt the need to adopt several "barn cats" to keep the mouse population at bay. The only problem was, while decreasing the mouse population, those cats multiplied their own count. One unfortunate, inbred result was a tiny black kitten we dubbed Tidbit. Not only was he tiny, he was not too bright—as in, couldn't find his way out of a paper bag. Literally.

One day, after emptying the bag of briquets for a barbecue, my husband tossed aside the sack, intending to retrieve it after we finished dinner. Of course, one thing led to another and the bag remained where it had been tossed.

A few days later, someone asked, "Has anyone seen Tidbit?" Crazy drivers on country roads, coyotes, and other hazards can make life hard for little critters like cats. He hadn't been showing up for his meal, and we got worried something might have happened to him. 

Then we remembered the empty briquet bag. Sure enough, going back to retrieve the bag, there was Tidbit, a little dazed—and a bit blacker—from the experience. He hadn't been able to find his way out of the bag.

Lately, I feel a bit like Tidbit. I've been wandering in circles, trying to find my way out of the tight loop of eight DNA matches—and counting—who connect with my husband, a descendant of Denis and Margaret Tully. Only problem is these DNA matches descend from a different couple named Dennis and Margaret Tully, and I can't figure out how the two couples connect.

That's when I had to sit myself down and think the thing through: how can I find a way to connect the two couples? I came up with as many questions as I could to ferret out a strategy. I looked at all the possible ways which might lead to confirmations of connection. If these two couples were aware of each other, surely someone else in their families would have known about the connection. That's what I need to find now.

This coming week, I'll be trying my hand at using WATO to test a few relationship hypotheses. I'll continue poking around in all the known relationships in either family to see whether there are any signs of connection—old letters shared, photographs given, folksy newspaper articles about who came to visit for a family member's wedding or just for Sunday dinner. Somewhere between these collateral lines, there has to have been a clue.

No matter where I'll look, though, I realize one thing: the best way to fight my way out of a problem paper bag is to learn to ask questions. To see all the possibilities, even the ones which might seem outlandish or improbable. To test every hypothesis. To follow through on hunches. 

I'm convinced there is someone out there—at least one hundred years ago—who knew what the connection might have been. The challenge is to get inside those relatives' heads and garner their recollections. It will be through the questions I ask myself about the situation that will direct me to the next step toward finding my way out of that paper bag.

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