In The Worst Question in Genealogy, genealogist Kerry Scott of Clue Wagon admits that the worse question ever asked is “What do you do?” For a family historian, the next question is “How far back have you gone?”
I love her response as I find it similar to my own, though I know I need to change my mindset.
Am I the only one who hates that question? Because here’s the answer: After nearly 20 years, I’m back to around 1800 or so.
Of course, they’re disappointed, because they wanted to hear that you were back to the Mayflower or Thor or Adam and Eve or something. Nope. Not me. 1800-ish.
Confession: I’m not even all that interested in getting all the way back to Thor. I like American history. I’m interested in research here in the United States, and as soon as they’re back in Europe, I’m…well, not entirely disinterested, but much more likely to wander off in search of ice cream. My original attraction to genealogy was about understanding The Big Move–why they came, what they experienced when they got here, and what happened as a result of their decision to come. I’ve been moving my whole life, so big moves are a big deal for me.
For her family history research, she is interested in recent American history as well as the current history of her family. She admits to gathering and preserving all the information she can on siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and all of the family members for multiple generations around her now, not just way back when.
For me, it’s a fine line between preserving everything I can now of now, combined with as far back as I can go, preserving the preservable before we lose it all.
My ancestor, Nicholas Knapp, has been researched thoroughly by historians yet they cannot seem to cross the Atlantic Ocean to properly uncover his true roots. There is much conjecture I’ve learned, but no proof other than genetics, of where he came from. For me, that is a stopping line until I have “proof,” whatever that is, of his past. Like so many, he arrived in the United States and was re-born anew, a truly fresh start. Hard for me to push past that.
Other family lines I can trace back to their European roots, but I’ve get to get enough information to quantify a trip over there with genealogy in mind. I need to do more, but I’m so busy collecting the information from the past four hundreds years and solving the mysteries of proximate relations, international feels like too much work.
An acquaintance, the family historian for their family, bragged that he had over 1300 entries in his genealogy program. I congratulated him but thought to myself, “How much does he really know about all 1300 people?”
Numbers can be impressive, but a part of me wants more. I want quality. I constantly want to know more about these people and rejoice when the research gives me just one more piece of the puzzle of who they were, why they did what they did, how they came to be who they were and what they did as well as where they lived.
For me, I want to stop my relatives in their tracks and ask them the worse question: “What did you do?”
Are you that way, too? Where do you draw the line in your research?
Most Recent Articles by Lorelle VanFossen
- Choosing Between RootsMagic and Personal Historian
- Sharon Knapp Lee 1944-2014
- When Family Gets in the Way of Family History
- Library of Congress Railroad Maps Collection
- Flickr and Library of Congress Open Archives