Sunday, March 3, 2024

Plowing Through Piles of Paperwork


Researching ancestors who lived in the United States prior to the 1850s can put the brakes on progress. Instead of breezing through the many documents we rely on for more recent family connections, finding records to connect those more distant generations finds me plowing through piles of paperwork. Wills, mostly, and property records become the mainstay—those handwritten faded pages which too often leave me bleary-eyed.

So when I turn to my biweekly count, my habitual ritual for checking research progress, I expect to see numbers sadly lackluster. After all, harvesting names and ages of family members from a hundred-year-old census record is a process which moves far quicker than stumbling through word after word of near-illegible handwriting in a last testament which may or may not turn out to be, say, my John Carter and not someone else's.

Surprisingly, even after my pursuit of John Carter's most recent wife's parents—John Chew and Margaret Beverley—that walk through the documents didn't slow me down in the least. I somehow managed to add 285 new family members to my tree. Of course, keeping in mind that process includes the long slide back down to the present generation for DNA testing purposes—my preferred way to figure out those many DNA matches—each pursuit of an ancestor eventually includes the more modern, and quicker, process of adding the newest generations.

With that blend of the tedious search for the long-since past and the quicker discovery of the recent members of collateral lines, my tree is now up to 38,027 documented individuals. Whether that process will hold true for the next two weeks—I'm back to square one, looking at Mary Meriwether Gilmer, my March focus for my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024—I can't yet say. For a woman whose last days barely made it past that 1850s dawning of improved access to documents of genealogical interest, she will likely lead us back to those days when women were much harder to locate in public records. We'll find out soon enough what the next two weeks will hold in the way of research progress.

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