Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Numbers or facts? I love them both

Some family historians count their "success" in numbers of sources cited, or number of ancestors found/proven, or in how much they know about one line of ancestors.  I am more inclined toward the second and third of those items. 

Randy Seaver in his Genea-Musings column a few months back asked "What's your number?"  He wanted us to count back to our seventh great grandparents, which really means not all that far back, to see how many of the possible 1023 ancestors we had noted on our trees.  My count is about 525 and husband's is about 414. So basically, I know a little more than half of my ancestors during that time period and about 40% of husband's ancestors.  I am grateful for every ancestor I've found but the missing ones haunt me. Who are they, and what are their stories?  Will I ever have the skills and resources to find more of them?  I don't know the answer to that.

At the same time, I also want to research the lives of each of the ancestors I've found.  I am glad every time I can find a little nub of information about them, whether it's a date, a location, an occupation, a religion, or whatever.  Then, I want to put them in the context of their time and of their family, and get a better idea of what they might have been feeling.  For instance, what did my grandparents (Holbrook) feel, and what were they doing,  when they each got the dreaded telegram that their son had been killed in World War II?  What was it like for the survivors of a cholera (McCoy)or a typhoid  (Starr) epidemic?  How did my great great grandfather (Knott) feel when he had to let his wife in Iowa know that their son had been murdered in Nevada, back in the very early days?  What changes did our ancestors have to make in their lives when a son went off to war, whichever war it was?   Did they read newspapers and follow the developments in Washington DC, or in fashion, or were they serious readers?   Did the immigrants keep in contact with their families back in England or Germany or wherever the home country was?

There are so many things I want to know, and my "success" has no connection to the number of ancestors I've found.  Some times just a simple sentence in a book I am reading is enough to make my day, such as a comment in Almost a Miracle about the success of commissary officers in the state militias in obtaining needed supplies for the militia during the Revolutionary War.  Since I have an ancestor who was a commissary officer for the New Jersey militia, I found this very helpful in understanding how active he must have been, especially since New Jersey had a lot of Loyalists at that time. 

People often ask me when I'll be "done" with my genealogy. The answer is simple: "not in my lifetime."  Will someone down the line be interested enough to continue this research?  I would love to think that will happen!