13 July 2012
How Far Is Far Enough?
"My tree is complete."
I'll give you a moment to puzzle over that statement. For many of us, those words strung together make no sense. I know the first time I saw it, I was convinced I was just tired and my eyes were playing tricks on me. How in the world does a family tree become complete? What does that even mean? Even if you've followed your direct lines as far back as documents will take you, aren't there always new living relatives being added? And why stop with only your direct line? Often when we lose sight of an ancestor, they are living with a sibling, an aunt, a cousin or whatever. Researching every descendant of your common ancestor leads to more living relatives who may have information you don't. So really, a tree is never complete. You may lose interest and say your research is complete, but your tree is still growing.
But when you start to "fluff" out the collateral lines of your tree, can you get carried away? I know many family history books that will trace only the male lines of a family. They may mention the daughters' husbands, maybe a few kids, but the emphasis is on the males. Makes sense when you consider it's about a particular surname. However, families often intermarry and following only half the descendants only gets you half the story. Most modern researchers feel that way and will include the female lines as well. What about in-laws? You may have no direct link to your cousin's husband, but you are linked to her children. They may appreciate your hard work one day when they take up interest in genealogy. Or maybe they won't.
Eventually we come to the question of "How far is far enough?" Where one person may feel just as connected to a 10th cousin as a 1st, others will think that the blood connection is too dilute to matter. Where one person will want to research in-laws, another will find it "creepy" that they'd want to know about people not related to them. And what about in-laws of in-laws? They are not tied to you by anything but marriage.... do you really need to know about them? For some of us, yes. But as with anything we do, we must be careful of the feelings of others. There are no end to the complaints on Ancestry's Facebook page from people who's information and photos is "taken" by someone who is remotely related (if at all).
Now, as always, I warn that anything online is up for grabs. There are rules, regulations, and policies put in place to protect you, but they can only help you so far. If you want people to get your permission before they use your photos, stories, information, etc. ... make your tree private. While you may want them to contact you, not everyone wants to make a social connection. Since there is nothing in the terms and conditions about asking for permission to add photos from a public tree to their own, many don't think about it. Now, adding it to another website or publishing it without your permission is against copyright laws. However, taking the photo and adding it to their tree by directly connecting to your tree and giving you credit for originally posting the photo is NOT. While you may feel it is common courtesy, they may not feel the same. It may not occur to them that you'll be bothered, because it doesn't bother them when others take their information. With that said, however, if you connect to another person's tree, assume they are one of those hyper-sensitive styled folks and message them first. (And for goodness sake, make sure you have the right relative!!!!!)
I honestly don't care what people take from my tree. I'm trying to share it for a reason. I don't care if they add my photos to the wrong person. I know who they are. And usually the other user's tree is so garbled, it's obvious they've made mistakes. Of course, I also watermark all my photos with the name and information of the person pictured as well as my email address........ Anyway, back to the point at hand. Just as folks will get upset about photos being taken without asking, there are those who won't understand why you care to know more about your 7th cousin 3x's removed. To them, that's too far. Why do you want a photo of your adopted brother's birth mother's stepfather's cousin? They aren't family!
Well, for me at least, filling out those unconnected connections gives me a bit of practice. They may present obstacles that my own family doesn't. Researching them improves my skill. It can also give me a break from a frustrating "brick wall" in my own lines. More than that, since families often migrated together and intermarried, sometimes I find they aren't so unconnected after all. While researching my Kemper line, I found distant cousins living next door to my direct Gibson line. I've not found an intermarriage yet, but proximity gives it a good chance. Even still, they were neighbors. They probably talked to each other. They have a shared history, even if it would be another 2 generations before they shared a common blood. My great uncle's mother was my great grandfather's first wife. I followed her line from Michigan back to Norway. Why? She's no kin to me. My great uncle has done a lot of that research, so his children won't be contacting me for it. On the other hand, I've no Norwegian connections in my direct lines. It's interesting to see how different it is to research a patronymic name. It increases my critical thinking skills. But every day brings the possibility of someone messaging me to ask why I would do something so "invasive". To them, I shouldn't care. To them, I am over-stepping my bounds. I've always had the philosophy that we're all cousins of some degree, I just haven't found all the connections yet.
And really, like anything else in genealogy, it's a personal opinion. It's up to each and every one of us to figure out where we want to stop on a line. It'll never be complete, but we all reach a point of being "done" with some aspect of it or another. I research a surname at a time, always going back over myself to find new records and connections periodically. I carry a line through each descendant until I reach a dead end or I get bored. By doing a surname at a time, I can clear all the hints on my Ancestry tree for that surname. When a new hint pops up for anyone with that name, I see it quickly. Naturally spouses and their parents are researched, but unless the surname pops up again in the tree, I rarely follow it past that point. Of course, that's for now. My family is large and loves to travel. Researching the in-laws usually leads to making them kin soon enough. Then it's back to fluffing out their line and seeing how far I can go with them. There are those who may not appreciate that I'm the 3rd cousin 5x's removed from their aunt's second marriage. Just the same, there are those who find that exciting. To quote one of my favorite movies "It is a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart."
So where do you stand? Feel free to comment with your opinion on where to end your research!