Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gathering vs. Hunting

I feel the need to keep telling my family history Sunday school class to not let themselves get frustrated about certain family lines. I spoke to them about it the week before General Conference and will bring it up again this Sunday.

We all have them - seemingly unfindable ancestors that we beat our heads on brick walls about - and they can be really frustrating. Not that they're personally doing it to us (I hope). We're all given a pedigree chart and told to fill it out and find the missing pieces of information. We get so set on that filling up that "tree" - and the subsequent generations afterward - that we start to settle for nothing less. I've discovered we can't do that.

Some family lines take YEARS, literally. I hunted for a long, long time before finding two necessary marriage dates. Family tradition had placed one date months ahead of its time, making it impossible to find in the record it "should" have been in; the other one, no one had any clue where this husband and wife were married. It took years of searching and not finding and thinking and studying and more searching until I finally found what I needed. On other family lines, I've been sent hundreds of pages of information out of the blue.

Thinking about this reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her parents. In the books, they usually lived pretty far away from the nearest town, and there was no refrigeration then. If they wanted fresh meat, Pa had to kill it, and whatever Pa killed that day was what they would eat for dinner that night. Ma had to be resourceful and versatile. Whether it was a rabbit or a deer - one time it was blackbirds that were eating their corn crop - it was Ma's job to prepare it and cook it for dinner. If Pa couldn't hunt anything, they made do with what they had. Sometimes they had to make do for a long, long time.

It's that way with genealogy. When I first started serving at the Family History Center, I noticed the wall lined with books and wondered half-heartedly if any of my family would be there. I figured probably not. But I noticed that many of them were volumes dedicated to Colonial families. By chance, I picked up a set and noticed that some of the names were common with mine. As I spent more time with these volumes, depending on the location, I eventually found over a thousand names that were my relatives - not anyone I was "hot after", but still worth adding to my family tree.

Since then I've learned to be less a hunter and more of a gatherer. Sure, I still want to complete my family tree as well as I can, and I still have hold-out ancestors who came from obscure places, did absolutely nothing of note (at least, that I can find), and died almost anonymously. And their names! William Johnson? Did he have to be named William Johnson?

However, once I figured out that I was being handed a big crop of blackbirds for dinner, I didn't stop to think that I'd rather have the filet mignon. I took the blackbirds and made do. Those people are no less important than my elusive little grandparents, and in the meantime, it gives me good genealogy "self esteem" to have added that many family members to my PAF file.

I've learned to tailor my information to the available documents, and not vice versa. Most of is no longer available at the Family History Center, but certain census years still are (1880, 1900, 1920). The 1880 census is also available at I took my family names, narrowed them down to who would be alive during those censuses, and started looking them up. Since I started doing this, new aunts, uncles and cousins galore have popped up. When the books at the FHC didn't have information about my specific ancestors, I focused instead on the surnames I KNEW must be mine (Bathrick, Dragoo, etc.) and gathered them all, figuring I would find the connection sometime - and on some of them, I have found it.

It pays to gather, and to make do with the resources that are available. I'll keep trying to find those hidden ancestors, but in the meantime, I won't disregard the free stuff that continues to come my way.