Genealogy and taking good notes

The logistics involved can sometimes be daunting unless you prepare from the start to take and organize your notes. There are times where I was tempted to just add some children to a husband and wife just to see how the genetics would pan out against other similar DNA related cousins. However, I know I need to substantiate information before making that attempt.

On a tree with over a thousand names in it, one has to be meticulous with trying to make non-identifying information align just right. To save time, it makes sense to document the successes as well as the failures so you don’t end up facing the same challenge weeks later trying to run a similar set of circumstances out to a likely end.

Nothing can be more frustrating to realize you have already tried something before and had forgotten to write it down, repeating the whole procedure once more. There are times when I feel like the evidence is all around me, but the information we have to go on just may be false. Meaning that a birth mother or social worker who took down the information intentionally falsified it, so as to make it more difficult to find the truth.

The assumption adoptees make is that the birth relatives did not want to be found. It is possible, but it also could be that someone just got extra lazy and simply wrote down information they thought was accurate, but never intended on verifying it; and there it stayed in that form. If you don’t believe me ask any genealogists for the accurate spelling of names from census polltakers. Those can be just plain wrong. You start to learn how to compare variations of names, the kind of handwriting used, and even those who have tried to interpret the documents incorrectly.

What can be particularly interesting is watching family members as they moved in with one another over the decades. Grandparents become widowed and move in with their children. Sometimes the polltakers get it right, other times you have to just plain know the older tenant living with the family is not a border, but actually a relative. I’ve even seen borders listed as children because the polltaker only took their first name and listed them under the head of the household; which automatically gets them reigned in as a relative.

Documentation can sometimes be taken and acknowledged using the names that were interpreted by someone else. Recognizing the kinds of shorthand being used can also be helpful. I have seen hundreds and thousands of people’s names shortened to two or three characters to make it that much easier to record them quickly on paper. Considering the type of mediums available back in the old days and it becomes perfectly understandable.

There are times when too many stars align over a family you are working on, and you have to go the extra mile to find out for sure if no children were ever born to a couple. This can go from a search for documentation, to actually trying to contact genealogical associations in the region this family lived in. Not every scrap of paper has made its way to the digital online realm. While I enjoy the ease of staying at home, sleuthing through information in a library can be exciting to perform. Finding something that only exists offline, well, that can be downright exhilarating; not to mention justified when it occurs.

Not every dive goes so deep, nor always produces worthwhile results. It sort of becomes a personal challenge to not become frustrated, and enjoy the whole experience. I used to be in the art and restoration business over twenty years ago, so snooping around old, well preserved, and cared for texts has a certain amount of kinesthetic pleasure to me.

Knowing what is at stake helps keep one’s head clear and motivated to stay the course, but it can still become frustrating coming back empty handed. Although I seem to learn a new trick or a better way to approach each attempt, each time it is performed. So there is some value in being more efficient the next time I go haunting some library.

In the case of helping adoptees it is important to separate everything done so that a pattern can be used to navigate notes quickly. I do not like to stay away from a single case for too long, as it becomes a chore to have to reread one’s notes just to get back up to speed from where you might have left off the last time.