by Delia

“The other day, I looked at that document again, and noticed….”

I’ve heard that many times from our customers, and have experienced it myself. One looks at a document for the umpteenth time, but for the first time notices a piece of information that answers a question or opens a new line of thought on research.

The first time I experienced it, years ago, was when I was trying to make sense of a family story that stated that a husband and wife died at the same time (supposedly murdered), leaving the children for the grandparents to raise. In the family Bible, I had noticed that the death dates for the two were really months apart, but was told by an older relative that there had been a mistake in the Bible. After examining the difference in the dates multiple times, I finally noticed that the wife’s supposed death date was three days after her last child was born, leading me to conclude that she may have died from postpartum infection. This cast doubt on the whole story of the murders, so I could back up completely and start over.

Then recently, a customer told me that she’d been re-examining records for siblings of an ancestor, and one actually had a birth place listed! She’d been concentrating on her direct ancestor and had totally missed this in earlier perusals. Again, this opened up a whole new avenue for research.

Sometimes, when we acquire a new document, we are so busy gleaning just what we need right now, that we barely see what else might be noted, so multiple examinations are often helpful. Also, as we gain experience in research or new insights into the family dynamics, information we failed to note earlier may become of greater import.

So I make a habit, at least once a year, to browse through the various research and original documents I have in my possession, either in print or digital format. I try to think about each person as I do this. If I know or knew the individual in life, I contemplate what his or her life was like, challenges faced and how that person fit into the family and society. If this is an ancestor from further back, I contemplate what the documents tell me and consider that person’s life and times.

The benefits of this process are twofold. It allows me to re-examine my research in light of knowledge gained, which often yields new possibilities to energize the search. It also allows me time to remember that each of these people was not just a name with dates, but an individual who lived a life which, while vastly differing from my own, was still similar in terms of happiness and tragedy. Making our ancestors live in our imaginations is what family history is all about.