Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, April 8, 2011

The outer limits? -- Part Six of the limits of genealogical research

What are you willing to do to extend your genealogical research? People who are interested in their family history come with all kinds of backgrounds and skill levels. Those who work at the outer limits of genealogical research must acquire some highly specialized skills. Those skills may include reading old handwritten records, translating almost dead languages, working in difficult and sometimes dangerous surroundings, getting along with people who may be totally opposed to your research and many other difficult activities. One of my commentators pointed out that there are still many Medieval manuscripts waiting to be discovered and researched. That may be true, but are you the person that will spend years learning Latin, Old French, Old German or Old English and then spend the additional years needed to become sufficiently proficient in the historical context to actually translate those old documents?

Let's hope that there are still enough people left who value their history and genealogy enough to spend the time to acquire those skills, but some of us don't have enough years left in our lives, or the educational or physical ability to do so. When I speak of limits, I mean all of those factors that would keep up from pursuing research on any given ancestral line. I have yet to meet anyone who had enough background to step right in and do genealogical research without a huge amount of study and experience. That lack of experience is also one of the basic limiting factors in our research.

My original example in this series talked about the historical limits in any particular geographic area or jurisdiction. I would like to follow that line of thought a little further. My parents were born in Utah and Arizona. Both of these states have severely limited historical time depth for people of European extraction. The first U.S. non-Indian settlers in Utah arrived around the middle of the 1800s. Although I am well aware that there was some exploration before that time. As I already pointed out, unless your ancestors spoke Spanish, the first English speaking settlers in Arizona also began arriving in the 1800s. My ancestors did not arrive until the 1870s. From the time of the arrival of the original pioneers in both states, there are a huge amount of records. I could easily spend the rest of my life concentrating on just those of my ancestors who lived in Arizona and Utah and never run out of new material to examine.

But let's further assume that I want to push the research back a little into the past. I will have to move out of both states because I have reached a limit. The limit of written records about a particular location. Going back in time, my ancestors on the Tanner line were born in California, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The other lines have the same pattern. Very soon, the lines go to Europe, mainly England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland with two or more lines in Denmark. If I look at each of those states or countries, I will find that there is a temporal limit to the availability of documentation containing genealogically valuable information.

Probably, long before I reach the theoretical limit of records in any given locality, I will find that one of my particular ancestors has dropped off the stage of life. In other words, there may generally be records available but I can't find any more information about that line. In my case the first missing individuals are in the seventh generation. That means that my research, to extend any line, begins in the 1700s. I quickly learned that even that far back, I needed a lot of background and education to start to do research in the existing records. Believe me, you don't just type one of those names into and get additional documents with their little green leaf.

But every minute I spend on any one of those lines means I do not spend time on some other line. So here is another limit. The physical time limit we have in this life to do research. Sure, we can cooperate and collaborate, but what if you just don't happen to have a conveniently interested family? What if that interested family is still waiting to be born?

Although I think entirely too much attention has been paid to records that were destroyed by fires, floods and so forth, it is a fact that some records have disappeared. My answer is yes and knowing that the records burned in a court house fire help me how? All that means is I have to look somewhere else. But it is a fact that record loss imposes some limits. Your great-grandfather may have written the most detailed journal or diary in history, but if that documents was thrown away by his children, it is gone an there is no reason to spend even one minute worrying about it.

OK, so here we are at the end of another post. Why am I writing about limits? One main reason is that I see a lot of people banging their collective heads against the wall, when they should be working on more productive lines or learning a lot more about what they are doing. Next, I will talk about how we determine we have reached some limit or another.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post. It is very true. We have limited time and much work to do. Especially if we have a disinterested family.