Gene Notes

Some random and some not-so-random thoughts on family history.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Limited or Limitless

Intriguing? Years ago, and I've mentioned this before, I knew a gentleman who only worked on the male lines of his family. His reasoning was since only the males carried on the family name, the women weren't important.

When the RED cleared from my eyes and my blood pressure returned to normal, I asked him if his mother wasn't important and if his wife wasn't important in his lineage and that of his children. He was speechless for a few minutes, because few people left him speechless, and I was just getting started on my own genealogical journey. Of course, I often have that effect on people, but this man was really speechless. When he recovered enough to answer my query, he admitted I was right and what was he thinking. Fortunately he had collected that information, just didn't think it was important to put it in his genealogical database.

So when I see someone who claims to be doing a "surname study" I sigh. I roll my eyes. And if I can control my tongue so that I don't sound snide, I ask "Why would you limit yourself that way?" I've gotten answers that range from "Well, if I can identify all the male Smiths in the United States, I can find their common ancestor." Or I get the answer my friend above gave me over 20 years ago. I will confess that I have no idea why only one surname in someone's family is important enough to research. I suspect these people are name collectors and not researchers at all.

If I had limited myself to just my maiden name, there is so much I would not have learned about all the other ancestors who are responsible for me. Besides the Percivals, there are Bowmans, Chinns, Kirtleys, Davidsons, Webbs, Zimmeths, Meyers, Knosts, Kettlers, Cleasotts, etc. who all contributor to my DNA. If I limited myself to the male Percivals, would I have cared about the dozens of letters written by my ancestor Susan (Davidson) Percival later Holt wrote to family members? Would I have cared that at a time when the average woman was illiterate my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann (Kirtley) Percival later Webb could read and write and relate the news of the war around Kentucky to relatives in Missouri? These are women whose husbands died way before their time, one in an accident and one during the War Between the States, and incidentally were daughter-in-law and mother-in-law to each other. Would I have cared that my great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Graves Chinn, a Kentuckian by birth, couldn't live in Missouri because he was so opposed to slavery that he returned to Lexington, Kentucky where he took up a pro-Northern stance and still was elected Mayor in the late 1860's. If I limited myself to Percival research, intriguing though it might be, would I have learned what a character my ancestor Alexander Oliphant was? Would I have cared about the hardships the Maitlands and Skirvings endured after emigrating to Canada?

Instead I embrace the eccentric along with the intelligent, the adventurous and the reticent. I don't care if I am connected to George Washington, I care more that it is through my illegitimate line of Chinns. Are there Kings in my ancestry? You know, honestly, I don't care. I care more that people who had nothing in their home countries of Scotland, France (Alsace), and Germany left families behind and ventured to those far flung places like Plymouth Plantation, Virginia and Canada to perhaps make a better life for their children.

Those wonderful ancestors of mine have given me dozens of mysteries to solve, many leads to chase and many hours of scratching my head trying to figure out where to go next.

Proudly researching: *Beckmeier, Boegler, Bowman, Carter, Chinn, Cleasott/Klesat/Kleesaat, Davidson, Estes, Graves, Kettler, Kirtley, Knost, Kreyenbrok, Lacher, MacMekin, Maitland, Meyer, Moerschel, Oliphant, Parker, Percival, Puttmann, Reker, Schacht, Skirving, Webb, Zabrack, Zimmeth. (Those are all my surnames going back for six generations. I am missing 3 people in my six generation chart.)

Copyright 2010, ACK for Gene Notes


  1. Very nicely said. And I can vouch for the fact that you can leave people speechless. Searching just one name, one generation back means ignoring 75% of your heritage, right? Two generations back, and it's about 92% ignored!

    On the other hand, maybe the gentleman was from the south, and one name was on both sides of the family tree, only one generation back.

  2. Not long after I started researching I encountered a man who only researched his male line. "That's my name" was his response to my questioning why. When I asked him if he wasn't just as related to his mother and all of the grandmothers in his ancestry as he was his father and the grandfather's who shared his surname he was baffled. The light finally went on for him when I pointed out that if I had adopted that approach we wouldn't be sharing information because "his name" was the name of my paternal grandmother and by his standards I shouldn't be wasting my time on them. It really had never occurred to him that he should be researching all of his ancestors.

  3. Unmitigated: Nope, Michigander born and bred, so can't claim his parents were cousins or siblings.

    Linda: My response to this man was "What will happen if you try to do a pedigree chart for one of your daughters (he had no sons if I remember correctly.) Again you could see the wheels turning in his head.

    Carol: Thanks.