Ancestry and Collaboration

It’s not just about the dead

Photo of the Dunn family, Mount Comfort, Indiana in 1895. My great-grandfather, George, is 2nd from left. Mark’s grandmother, Ruth, is the wee little girl, 4th from right. Their parents, Martha and William, are seated.

When I started my journey down this rabbit hole back in 2017, I didn’t plan on having a nearly full time hobby. I had enough books to read, furniture to paint and other projects around my house to keep me busy for a long time. I didn’t expect to find working on my roots so… fun.

I enjoy reading, and always have. I used to get my sister and myself in trouble by violating the “lights out” rule ALL.THE.TIME. After getting into bigger trouble than I thought was warranted, I resorted to reading under the covers with a flashlight. That solved the problem of getting in trouble, but my 10 year old self didn’t want to admit that the rules were made for good reasons. Being super tired in school the next day never stopped me.

I also enjoy researching stuff. That’s fun. It’s like I’m David and stuff is the Goliath. Maybe now that school is 35 years in my rear view mirror I’m ready to learn more things? I especially like researching on the internet. I can watch a baseball game and still be successful. I’ve learned how to get very creative with my searches and sometimes pat myself on the back for discovering obscure information.

So why didn’t I expect my love of reading and researching to provide an endless source of entertainment? It’s like I’m peanut butter and genealogy is jelly. We were meant to be! And I never knew it.

I’m not posting to sell anyone the value of embarking on this hobby. Really. It’s enough that I have friends who share my obsession and family members who are kind enough to listen to me when I discover something new. I do it for myself, so that makes it a good reason.

But the unexpected side bonus is meeting the living who are indelibly connected to me through DNA and our family tree. These people were not in my life as a child, and I had no idea they existed. My older relatives may or may not have been aware of their ancestors’ existences either. Our American culture has evolved through the years, and our ancestors have migrated. Any connection that might have been possible had we stayed in one place became improbable, if not impossible.

Along came Ancestry.com and Facebook. A dynamic duo for those of us who have moved away from ancestral homes we never knew. In the past 2 years, I’ve added to my Facebook friends and correspondent friends a slew of people I never knew. What a blessing!

One particular relationship didn’t really come from either directly. It developed after one night of doing research on my Dunn line. And this relationship has become one I truly treasure. It came at exactly the right time in my life for the right reason. I’ll tell you a little more about how it began…

After the 2018 New Year, I was down my Dunn rabbit hole when I decided to do a Google search on someone who was my west coast haven after moving to California in 1988. She was my grandfather’s first cousin, and they adored each other. I moved to the Bay Area not knowing anyone, and my wise grandparents thought I would need someone to adopt me while I built a life on my own. Granddad gave me Ruth’s phone number, and I called her. She lived in Marin County, and became someone I could trust and visit when I needed someone who was really and truly family. Her children were grown and living across the country, she was recently widowed and had moved into her townhouse after losing her husband. We were really good for each other. The last time I saw Ruth was when my grandparents were visiting in 1989. I married in 1990 and moved to Colorado in early 1991, and somehow, Ruth and I lost touch. (What is wrong with me?)

So that night, I decided to Google her to see where she was living (with the intent of calling her), only to discover she had recently passed away at the age of 96. My heart sank at the missed opportunity. Instead, I expressed my condolences to her family and hit send.

About a month later, her son reached out to me after reading that note. He had never heard of me and wanted to know more about my time with his mother. Specifically, Mark is my dad’s 2nd cousin though 2 years older than I. We have built our cousin relationship from the obituary and have never looked back. Getting to know him and working on our family history and ancestry has been the biggest gift of all. To say I’m excited about finally meeting him in person soon is a gross understatement.

What I’ve discovered, through the musings of my other cousins, is that descendants of girls usually wind up with the family mementos. Mark’s grandmother was the youngest of 8; her older brother (my great grandfather) was the 2nd oldest. There was 14 years between them. After his mother died, he wound up with old photographs and household items that belonged to his great grandmother and my great-great grandmother. He and his sister worked diligently to make digital backups of photographs when California was on fire last summer. And I’ve been the ecstatic recipient of his digital collection. His generosity is very much appreciated.

In his collection are photographs of other extended family members–people neither one of us have ever known. I’ve located a few of them through Facebook and other means, and the results have been so rewarding. How on earth would I have connected with my 3rd cousin, Karin, in Kansas City?

Through Ancestry, I’ve collaborated with my mother’s maternal 3rd cousin and my father’s paternal 3rd cousins. These folks (Glen, Richard and Elizabeth, thank you!) have been extraordinarily helpful in my research and Val’s DAR application. The gentlemen live in California, far from our mutual roots in Minnesota and Indiana. Elizabeth is my family mentor and Indiana based cousin.

All of these photos are from Mark’s collection. As Mark says, Life is Good!

Martha Eleanor Wilson, 1869. Age 15. My great-great grandmother and Mark’s great grandmother
William Henry Harrison Dunn, 1869. Age 21. My great-great grandfather and Mark’s great grandfather.

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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