Here’s Why Your Family, Which Has “No Relation” To My Family, Is In My Family Tree

January 16, 2015 in Dear Diary

I saw a cartoon yesterday on Barking Up The Wrong Tree‘s Facebook page.

Courtesy Geneapalooza

Courtesy Geneapalooza

It made me angry.  Why?  Because my researching your family may help you find information you don’t have.  And they’re not just your family.  I wouldn’t be researching your family if it didn’t connect to mine in even the smallest way. I didn’t just “copy” your family tree, I researched everything I found, and if I couldn’t find it myself, I didn’t use it.  And to drive home my point about helping you find YOUR family, here’s what someone wrote to me today:

How did you find out that Ellen Thomas’s father was Willis??? I have been trying to find any info on her dad for ages and the only thing I was coming up with was on Ellens’ death cert, a name that looked like V W Burrows. Where should I look?

Ellen Thomas is not one of my direct ancestors.  She is one of the ancestors of my son’s wife’s cousin.  I’m helping him discover his father’s side of the family, which is unrelated to my son’s wife’s family.  I researched every single member of Ellen’s immediate family as far back and as far ahead as I could go, trying to find her maiden name, trying to see if I could find her living with one of her children after her husband died, that’s how I found out her father’s name was “Willis.”  And I was so happy I could give her the information I’d found:

NAME: Ellen Burrows
BIRTH YEAR: abt 1842
AGE: 13
GENDER: Female
RELATION TO HEAD: Child
RESIDENCE: Utica City, Ward 3, Oneida, New York, USA
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER: 421
LINE NUMBER: 9
SHEET NUMBER: 52
HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS:
NAME AGE
Willis Burrows 44
Cynthia Burrows 33
Ellen Burrows 13

For some reason I don’t understand, I’m very, very good at researching dead people.  And I like it!  It gives me hours and hours and hours of enjoyment and a real sense of accomplishment to find details about people that no one else has been able to find.  If I’m good at it and I enjoy it, why shouldn’t I do it? I do it with respect.  I do not laugh at families or family situations or oddities I discover.  “Just the facts, Ma’am.”  That’s me.  And if those facts tell an interesting story, yes, I’ll write about them here.  Chances are you won’t see the story anyway because I’m not a licensed genealogist, I’m not a well-known blogger, and only 4 people subscribe to my blog, and I’m one of those 4 people.  (That was an accident, I didn’t mean to subscribe, but after I had, and even after I’d figured out how to unsubscribe, I kept the subscription because at that time, I was the only one even reading my blog.  It’s a sentimental thing.)

I’ve found death dates for people no one else could find.  I’ve found maiden names for women no one else could find.  I’ve found children-possibly a cousin you knew nothing about and can connect to-no one else had in their family trees.  Recently I found a woman everyone else had “died before 1891” in their public trees who had not died but gone on to marry 3 more times and have 5 more children; maybe those cousins you knew nothing about.  And those cousins might have information to help you finally break through that stubborn brick wall in your family you’ve been trying so hard to break through for years, maybe even decades.  Because, yes, dangit, I am that good.

And when you add “unrelated” people to your tree, you may be helping me find the answers to my brick walls.  Someone somewhere has the answer to who David Stevens was and what happened to him.  Someone somewhere out there has the answer to what happened to Isaac M. Lemon after his children moved to Michigan and started lives without him, having only stories of their lives as children living with him as their father, stories they told their children, stories that got passed down through the family which ended, “And we don’t know where he went or when he died” by the time the stories got to me.

Listen, your family is not just your family.  I’m going to say that again, very loudly:

YOUR FAMILY IS NOT JUST YOUR FAMILY.

Your mother was probably someone’s sister, someone’s cousin, someone’s niece, someone’s aunt.  She doesn’t belong just to you.  The same is true of my own family, my own direct ancestors.  Stop telling me I have no business researching your family.