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What to do If Nothing FITS, WORKS, or JIVES!

By Jan Edwards


Are you a puzzle worker? You know the kind made out of cardboard cut into a zillion little pieces and you spend hours and hours putting them together only to tear them apart and stick the pieces back in the box? You know what I’m talking about!

You sit in your chair just re-arranging the pieces looking for something that might fit a color pattern or the shape of the hole you are trying to fill. You begin with the outside frame of the puzzle. It usually has one flat edge on each piece. You can usually build the outside frame in no time. Then you have the whole center to fill. You always have a helper like the color picture on the box. Most of us always have that in view while we build.

You pick something that stands out differently than the sky or the grass; maybe it’s a red stop sign. You quickly look for the pieces you know that will make that stop sign. The letters S, T, O, and P quickly go together. In no time at all, you have that puzzle stop sign put together!

You move it close to where it will go as you are looking at the picture on the box. Then you pick something else that stands out like the beautiful blue convertible at the stop sign. You gather your pieces and quickly put that car together arranging it in the frame where it goes according to the picture on the box.

The space in the frame that needs filling is shrinking. We do that type of filling for the whole puzzle. Then when we get to the sky and the grass, we don’t have such an overwhelming project.

But you cannot force a piece to fit; it just doesn’t work. No matter how much you try to manipulate that puzzle piece to fit where you think it just has to go, it won’t. It has to be the right piece to fit correctly.

I know you know where this is going.

In family history we are working a puzzle.

We don’t have a color picture on the box.

We have stories that may or may not be true

We have memories that fade. Heck, I can’t remember where I left my keys unless I put them in the same spot each time I’m done driving.

We have stories that grow with each generation. You know that old game they called Telephone where one person starts a story and tells the person next to him? Then they pass it to the person next to them until the end of the line. Then the end of the line repeats the story. There is usually some truth, but for the bigger part many times it is not the story told at the beginning.

That’s why as genealogists and family historians we have to tell our story with documents and records. We have to work each and every generation slowly, craving truth and desiring to do it right Be fussy enough to question each move like in a game of chess. Begin with ourselves and do not jump generations.

When you pop too fast to the next generation, you may miss a valuable clue that will assist you in finding the correct John Smith or Mary Jones. When you work each generation, each parent, each child, you will locate pieces of the puzzle like that stop sign and the convertible.

So when nothing fits, works or jives, go back to the generation you have proven and start over. Re-visit records you have found. As you gain more experience, you will see that many times you missed important information on a record. Locate new records. Do I have all I can find? Think outside of the box. Build your timeline looking for gaps. Find a check list, and say “Yes, I have this, this and this.” Dig deeper. Search harder. Work each and every person in that generation before.

Follow the Principles of Family History Research, the research process. I love the five step program. When I get in too big of a hurry and jump back to fast, I miss out on information that will assist me in the next generation.

If there are 5 children, find all 5 children’s death certificates. Each certificate will open new clues. One informant may have known more than the other 4 informants. You may pick up a middle name of a parent, a birth place, a family burial plot.

Never be satisfied with the index. When a person indexes, the goal is not to “glean” all of the data from the record. The goal of indexing is a name, date, place so that the record becomes searchable. Gather information from as many sources as possible, never being satisfied until all have been gathered or at least give it a good shot.

We must realize only 5 percent of the records are online. We have to be willing to call a courthouse, order a film, pay a little money and contact the newspaper. We may need to find a library, visit with a sexton at a cemetery, or contact the local genealogy societies.

Sometimes we even might want to hire a professional when we have done all we can do, or maybe we don’t know how or even want to learn this type of research. So many times, we can’t finish the puzzle because we can’t find the puzzle piece. many times we just need to look on the floor where it fell.

By the way, I seriously hate building a puzzle from a box, just hate it. Work hours and hours putting the dang thing together knowing as soon as you do you are going to scoop it up and stick it back in the box never to build again.

Family history puzzle building is the most amazing experience. I go on vacation every day as I search records throughout the world, and this puzzle doesn’t get shoved back in the box never to be viewed again!

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