Sunday, March 5, 2017

Field Notes: Genealogy's Plasticity (and why you're never really done)

Plasticity: (noun) The capability of being molded, receiving shape, or being made to assume a desired form.

This is a two edged sword. It means we can revisit our previous research, make corrections and move on. It also means if we are new to genealogy, uneducated or careless we can, in the span of a rainy afternoon, create a fanciful monster of a family tree that takes on a life of it's own; and ultimately gets abandoned to the infiniteness of the cloud.

We've all seen our fair share of the second. I'd like to talk about the first. The ability to modify our research as more information becomes available. This falls loosely into the "my genealogy is finished" trap. Genealogy is never "finished". So-called 'brick walls' are not eternal dead ends. IF your genealogy is 'finished' then you have made the decision to be 'finished'. And that's fine. Some of us do not want to allow the pursuit of ancestors to consume our lives. (I know, hard to believe!) Sometimes  the reason for 'doing genealogy' is merely to learn who a particular ancestor was, a soldier or pilgrim perhaps.

I began thinking about this placticity as I was looking at my grandmother's work. She dedicated the last 30 years of her life to daily research. I doubt she was ready to 'go quietly into that good night', instead pleading that she wasn't finished yet! (Somehow, I think that will be me as well) She had made great headway in putting together our family tree. Writing letters, traveling to repositories, archives, libraries and museums, ferreting out all the documents she was able. She logged her research.  She was able to gain entry into both the DAR and the Colonial Dames. She went as far as she was able, with the resources available to her at the time. In the end what was left was an almost complete 5 generation maternal branch with a few surnames reaching back several more generations. Her paternal branch was more challenging. She was able to complete 3 generations but, with the exception of her maiden surname line, the rest of the tree was a big fat nothing. She had little success on her husband's line as well.

I inherited 'good bones' in her research and when I began to scratch my own genealogical itch I did, in the beginning, bump into her brick walls. At first I had the same difficulty, feeling I could go no further. This was in the late 1980's and early 1990's. She had exhausted all the resources available to us at the time. I took to writing letters and pouring over books at the library. And ultimately setting aside the big box of research and pursuing other things.

Two things happened to pull me back. The internet appeared, and along with it the first forums, data and resource pages and online trees! Like a choir of angels, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a whole new, bright and shiny way to research! The forums were a-buzz, information was being shared, cousins were being found and new friendships were formed. I dabbled, poked and lurked. I purchased my first family tree software - it came on 5 1/4 floppys - Family Tree Maker stone age edition, I think.

I pulled out the box of research and started anew.

The second thing was the death of my father, and the discovery of his 'operation grampa' research. Seems he had been trying to learn more about his grandfather, who had died a year before he was born. From that discovery a quest was born. Now known as 'Finding Faulkner', this was the research that I cut my eye-teeth on. That kicked my butt, left me crying, and ultimately showed me that there is really no such thing as a brick wall.

The Finding Faulkner experience instilled great confidence in me to relook at my grandmother's 40 year old research. What she had considered 'done' or 'unfindable' I took as a new challenge. The resources available to us now are light-years ahead of what she had to work with - heck, computer software alone puts things in a whole new perspective. Using the FAN technique and collateral research I was able to get beyond where my grandmother had left off. I have been able to disprove some long held beliefs with the discovery of hard evidence, incorporating the GPS to verify my findings.


And why your genealogy is never, ever really 'done'.

In the years since I took a serious and responsible approach to solving the mystery that is my family tree I have broken brick walls, proved/disproved names, dates, and locations, found 'unfindable' female ancestors, rewritten some of my grandmothers 'facts' - heck, rewritten some of my own 'facts'! I've uncovered first marriages and step children, put parents with children, removed children from parents, digging ever deeper. Adding DNA into the research mix is bound to open even more doors in the future.

It's an exciting time in the genealogical world - I am sad neither my father nor my grandmother are here to experience this new age. I hope I will have someone to pass my work along to, and I especially hope that she (or he) will take it farther still, break more brick walls, change some of my conclusions, rewrite the family story and refine it further.

So, what are you waiting for? There's more to your story and always more to be found! I love this graphic, the gal on the right is sure her genealogy is 'done' - she only sees the surface, but the guy on the left? He knows what he sees are only the tips of those icebergs! Too bad he's not suiting up in his diving gear ....

Be the guy on the left.

Consider the possibility of new and different conclusions. Have an ongoing goal of continuous progress.

Embrace plasticity.

©2017 Anne Faulkner -, All Rights Reserved

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