Friday, June 17, 2016

Field Notes: Learning The Hard Way, My Enlightenment

I have always been stubborn. Sometimes that tenacity works in my favor, sometimes it's just bull-headed nonsense. Like beating a dead horse. (What an awful visual that is, by the way) Long ago when I first embarked on this adventure of discovery I just sort of bumbled along. Learning as I went. Making sometimes enormous mistakes in my ignorance. When I first discovered I felt like I had truly discovered the Holy Grail. As I have confessed previously, I had "successfully" managed to click myself half-way to Jesus. When I got to about 800 AD I felt that maybe something wasn't quite right. I had on my hands a COLOSSAL family tree. So large it intimidated me. I knew I needed to fix it. To pare it down. To make it right. But a little voice inside my head whined, "what about all that work!" "maybe we are related to all those people!" "let's not get ahead of ourselves here!"

So I opted for ignorance. Clearly the better choice! I continued to work on the branches I could document. (Oh, I came to documentation a little late - after all if it's on the internet it must be true!) Blessedly, my father's side was more obscure and I had not been as "fortunate", in that there were not Trees, or Millenium Files, or Family Data collections to click and add. I actually had to learn genealogy the correct way to make any discoveries on my dad's line. (At this point that little voice started to whine, "Genealogy is HARD!")

And on that shaky, ill built foundation I began to add my first solid research.

A decade or more passed and I had a rock solid, impressive body of work. Hard earned and something I could be proud of. I also had appendages of appallingly bad, sophomoric "data" that made my head spin. There were upwards of 30,000 names on my tree. Not huge - huge, but realistically only 3,000 or so of them I could actually be confident of.

I tiptoed around the knowledge that a massive culling was in order. (I know now why there are so many abandoned trees out there!)  I circled the beast, circled and circled. I could not do it. I'd walk away, talk myself back into it, look at it and walk away again. My savior came in the name of the Genealogy Do-Over. Brilliantly crafted by Thomas MacEntee. Although his suggestion was to put aside previous work, I eventually opted for the culling. I did save a full copy of the horrendous tree before I started the killing ...... then I just dove in. Boy did it feel good! (Think Katniss a la Hunger Games)

Somewhere along the way I had created several different study trees for researching different branches, doing collateral research and following very far removed cousins. The original behemoth was already messy enough, I didn't want, or think I'd ever need, a 5th great aunt or a 7th cousin, twice removed.

I thought wrong.

But it has taken me quite a while to reach this conclusion.

For several years, I was quite happy working on this tree or that tree. Building nice family structures, branching out with children, and children of children. All separate. All neat. All organized. Until one day, when I was stuck on a seeming brick wall and trolling the chat groups for answers. I posed my query to a group on Facebook and immediately received a piece of the missing puzzle. The name I was given sounded familiar. Too familiar. Like, in one of my trees familiar. D'Oh!  Turns out, the mystery brick wall woman's 5th great grandfather was the brother of the 6th great grandmother of an ancestor on one of my other family branches! Breaking down my maternal and paternal trees had severed the possibility of me discovering this connection. Eliminating collateral "fluff from so far back" wiped away any connections I was likely to discover. I spent the rest of the day building the tree, referencing the other tree until I reached the common ancestor. (I know, wait for it...)

I was watching a lot of webinars at the time and kept hearing the same thing over and over from some of the best in the field. ONE BIG TREE. Keep only one big tree. But my previous experience with my original wildly out-of-control tree kept me from buying into it. My smaller, separate trees were working, um, reasonably well. I could focus more specifically on one branch or another. Sure, I was duplicating some of my work as I got farther back in time, but it was OK. I didn't mind reinventing the wheel every time I made another discovery.

The arguments were sound, logical. The trees these gurus were successfully maintaining were huge! Bigger than my original 30,000+ disaster. I had most emphatically learned my lesson the first time around (I know!) but I was scared of it getting out of control again. I blundered onward, two steps forward, one step back with my "safe" and "organized" methodology.

Until the day I decided to begin my Finding Faulkner series.

I actually have three working Faulkner trees with many of the same cast of characters, all with varying degrees of information. My main tree has direct ancestry only. The two others? One has all the descendants of my 4th great grandfather, the other contains all the Faulkners that were recorded in the William Bull/Sarah Wells Genealogy book.

At first, I was fine with flipping back and forth between trees as I reconstructed the tale. As I got farther back in time, however, it became more and more burdensome. The story was taking longer to tell. The documents I had used as sources for one tree needed to be added to the others. I even made a few additional discoveries! Things that by themselves seemed irrelevant once added to a more robust collateral family tree became obvious missing pieces. The story became infinitely richer, patterns emerged that I had not previously observed.

I finally understood. Bigger IS better. But only, and I stress, only when it is a correct well-sourced tree. Not only will you see patterns and relationships you would otherwise have missed, linking your DNA to this large tree will bring more kin, and more opportunities to collaborate.

Today is the day I begin the merge. It should be fairly easy in my FTM program. I'm a little nervous, but also excited to see my own Yggdrasil emerge from a bunch of separate yet related shoots.

Wish me luck! I'll let you know how it turns out ......

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