Back in 2001, I was captivated by the books about serendipity in family research written by Hank Z. Jones. They told the stories of people whose genealogy research was furthered by hunches or promptings that came to them out of the blue. The books were titled Psychic Roots and More Psychic Roots.
Promptings occur regularly in genealogy and are shared freely enough that some think their research should get done that way. However, as I read the books, I noticed that the extra help was usually preceded by solid research practices with a dose of creativity. I decided then to identify the research activities that accompanied the strokes of insight, and I came up with a list of 92 items. I ran across that list recently and thought I might share some of it with others who are researching for ancestors and looking for miracles. I have summarized my list, which now includes 46 activities. So here are the first 20 items on my list. I will complete my list in Part 2 of this article.
- Have passionate feelings about specific ancestors. See them as people as well as names and dates on a pedigree chart. Think about them long and hard. Visualize yourself as an ancestor and ask how he or she would behave. Put yourself in their location and surroundings, their family, and their social context. Draw inferences and conclusions; then look for proof.
- Follow up on leads. Don’t discount them, nor should you accept them blindly. Prove them out.
- Question older family members.
- Use your skills unrelated to genealogy to assist you: math, logic, geography, business, homemaking, etc. They can make you money, put you in proper places, and open doors.
- Notice patterns such as group migrations, naming patterns, family occupations or social status.
- Don’t fight the “sense of mission” that drives you in a certain direction. Follow it. Enjoy it.
- Continue being a careful researcher and documenter, following proven processes even if it means rechecking records. Be skeptical of glib pronouncements of ancestral descent.
- Do searches on site. Visit archives, libraries, museums. Use genealogy and public libraries. Do your homework before you visit. When researching on location, especially in small towns, meet the old-timers.
- Name drop. Mention family names in conversation both with and around people.
- Take the time to look over people’s shoulders and see their genealogy. Visit with people about their ancestors. They might be yours.
- Don’t stop after initial failure. When one avenue closes, try another. You’ll find there’s always one more source, one more repository, one more website, one more place to look when you hit that brick wall.
- Don’t stop after initial success either.
- Don’t be afraid of large, complex, un-indexed records. Pray for guidance and forge ahead.
- Look for your unusual surnames in telephone books as you travel or on the internet. Contact potential relatives.
- Look for living relatives in alumni lists and post queries on the internet.
- Unusual names (given and middle) can often be traced to earlier generations. Expect weird things to happen with compound names like Whitwood.
- Look for alternate filing of names. For example, given name may be treated as surname.
- Live a balanced life instead of eating, drinking, and sleeping genealogy. On research trips, take breaks and “field trips,’ change your tactics, or stop to regroup. The more your mind is free from stress, the better it works.
- Publish your findings in print or on the internet.
- Teach using your family examples.
May you experience success and serendipity in your family research!