When I started seriously doing family history research, I thought it was about taking my family name and finding out the line back with that name as far as I could. I had no idea about what I was getting into. I hadn’t considered I was the immediate result of two thick branches – Dad AND Mom. But wait – there’s more!
Of course I knew I had grandparents and was fortunate to have known all four of them, at least for some of my young life. Like many children, moreso today than back in the 1950s, my dad’s parents looked after me while my mom worked. Grandma taught me to read with the book “Three Little Kittens and How They Grew”, play card games like solitaire, and pick raspberries from their huge patch without getting stuck by the thorns, while Grandpa taught me to fish, drive a car when I was about 7 by sitting on his lap (I know), and shared learning German from a tattered old primer, including ‘der habicht fligt’ (the hawk flies). I knew their other child, my half-uncle, my aunt and his passle of children. They were Whitakers like me.
I didn’t know much about Mom’s parents because I didn’t live with them at all. They had a funny German name and moved away to another part of the state when I was still quite young. That branch was pretty much a mystery to me. I knew/know all but one of my aunts and uncles, Mom’s brother and sisters. I didn’t know my mom had another brother who died as a teenager until I started into this family history.
To me, branching out is about people, true. The never-ending branches and their twigs provide a never-ending wealth of research projects, be they my immediate sphere of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, or the more challenging earlier ancestors. But branching is also about learning other aspects of the techniques of genealogical research that also sometimes feels never-ending (what will that next webinar cover!). We explore history of the life and times of our people, create timelines, learn of where and who keeps ‘the record’ of our ancestor’s lives, reading those documents and squeezing every last bit of meaning and information from them, create organisational schemes for those collected records, wonder about how to share our discoveries now and in the future, and branch after branch after twig after leaf of tools and information to help us on our never-ending quest.
Another branch I have discovered is the wide range of genealogy research communities. There are so many, it is difficult to focus at times (so I don’t). There are Facebook groups, blog creators, help centers and sharing communities on every major genealogy database service, libraries, historical societies, genealogy societies, volunteer geographic websites with local information, family focused sharing groups, language assistance groups, map collectors, and many more. Whatever branch of the family history research technique you are employing at any time, there is a specific or broad community to whom you can turn – for celebration of a discovery or a destroyed brick wall, or assistance with making that discovery or breaking out one more brick. The family history community and all its many branches must be one of the most generous communities with time and help that I’ve ever encountered. Complete strangers are ‘on your side’ because they once were where you are – beginning your search or striking a new hurdle you never expected.
And now, with this weekly or monthly exercise, we are branching out into documenting our discoveries and reflecting on what we are doing by participating in Amy’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The title may be a bit ‘misleading’ (I’m sometimes doing an ancestor, but also reflecting on other aspects of this journey), but it is a spur to do something with the collections I/we have made and present them to the world. Write a few words and the ideas form, sometimes even identifying a new approach to a problem (my recent post about Zachariah Whitaker), but certainly resulting in another sharable story about ‘doing’ our family history.
Thanks for reading about my ideas on branching out. It is but one more leaf on my tree of family research discovery.