Monday, February 28, 2005
Genealogy requires a healthy amount of serendipity. In tracing one's family history, you start with what your living family already knows (or thinks they know!) and with the obvious records, but sooner or later you run into a brick wall and can't figure out how to get further. Every once in a while, you'll randomly come across some new resource or meet some new person who provides the missing puzzle piece and breaks through the wall. This will happen most often if you run into a distant cousin who is researching the same ancestors, or if you run into someone who is researching the same times and places (i.e., your ancestors moved in the same circles). Traditionally, this would be a slow process of serendipity, at best facilitated by genealogical or historical society newsletters. But today with the Internet, such serendipity is greatly accelerated. Online bulletin boards, organized by surname or geographically, allow researchers to easily post queries and discover those other researchers with common interests (and mutually helpful clues). The Internet is also increasingly a repository for source records, but there still remains the larger bulk of historical records that just don't exist in electronic form. Thus, at least for now, I think the greatest power of the Internet for genealogy is in facilitating networking and collaboration of researchers with similar interests. I have been tracing my roots in earnest less than a year, but have already had several such serendipitous meetings thanks to the power of the Internet. Just last week, I received an email from a Mark Chatt who asks if I'm related to the Chatts who came from Northumberland, England. He found me as a result of a query I had posted. And so I became acquainted with a 3rd cousin who had a great deal of research already accomplished. Mark has our family traced back to John Chatt, of Hexhamshire, born 1680!
Posted by Tom Chatt at 10:57 PM