Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.” While politicians seem to be focusing more on their opponents’ jugular veins this year, there are still a lot of researchers and journalists who are equally intent on digging up their roots. No matter what we may think about the candidates or their stand on the issues, the methods professionals use to uncover their roots can also be applied to our own work.
There have been almost weekly news stories regarding the heritage of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. With my Irish roots, I found it interesting that they all had this in common with me. This week, a press release from Ancestry.com revealed more on the candidatesâ€™ family histories, and one even featured a story about George Washington, and what would have likely happened had he decided to go along with plans for establishing a monarchy instead of a presidency. The Ancestry Publications team approached Ancestry Chief Family Historian Megan Smolenyak to do the research on the project, and the article, “The Man (or Woman) Who Would be King,” appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Ancestry Magazine. Based on Megan’s research and some fascinating interviews, it was determined that an 82-year-old retired regional manager from San Antonio, Texas would be King of America today.
When the â€œWashington as Kingâ€ press release was first posted on the 24/7 blog, several people commented on to say, â€œWhy canâ€™t that be done on my lines?â€Â
There are several possible answers to that question. Almost all of us become stymied in our research at some point or another, and although teams of researchers worked on these high-profile cases for quite a while, even these famous candidates probably have some lines that are tough cases to crack.Â That said, there are some tricks for getting beyond those dead ends we sometimes encounter. Letâ€™s take a look at some detours we can take:
While it may not be a good thing when a politician side-steps a question, side-stepping in your research to a sibling, or even a cousin, can be a very good thing. My third great-grandmother, Catherine Kelly, died at age twenty-six in 1851, leaving behind two children, a husband, and not much of a trail. The records of her daughter, my great-great-grandmother Emma didnâ€™t reveal much either, but by tracing Emmaâ€™s sister Ann Eliza, we found reference to an aunt that helped us to slowly fill out the family structure. It was through this approach that we were able to finally learn the names of Catherineâ€™s parents. Continue reading