Okay - I admit that researching my family history is by and large a selfish activity. Starting this pursuit with no plan and no direction - I began because I wanted to discover MY family history, not the guy's down the street, not my dentist's and certainly not for relatives I had never met.
To be honest, once I got into it - a bit of altruism did creep in.This started to occur once I realized that the recently departed most certainly would have known who the people were in the old photos that they left behind. How would I ever identify the old guy with the funny beard, or the lady with the bustle? No one was around to help.
So I vowed that my descendants and their cousins and their children would be able to know who their ancestors were and that nothing and no one was going to stop me. But I needed assistance - that's for sure.
When I started and did not even know the first and last names of 6 of my 8 great grandparents - how was I going to do this without help? So I began to interview my closest older living relatives - of which there were only three. That got me a little ways - and new surnames were uncovered and through these interviews and hundreds of hours of online searches - a picture started to emerge. I got well past identifying my 6 unknown great grandparents and their parents and in some cases, their grandparents. And stories started to be found and even some old photos were shared and identified.
And in these online searches, I started to find what I fondly called - the STRAGGLERS. You know who these people are - the ones that you KNOW in your heart and in your gut are related - but you can't prove it. And a few years go by and you still can't prove it.
Help is on the Way
But it got real fun when I started a family history website and remote cousins started to contact me. And I hit the jackpot. Several 2nd and 3rd cousins appeared to me and the pieces started to fit, and even most of the stragglers were identified. And guess what - some of hem had photos - lots of photos - and lots of other artifacts - like German letters, and marriage certificates, and a few death certificates and many other documents.
And we started online photo albums and a few of us shared photos with one another and tried our best to identify them. And we identified the living descendants of many ancestors and had what I call a "representative" of each of these ancestors - all who were born between 1870 and 1914. And to a person - these representatives were excited to have found "cousins" who they didn't know even existed. And hundreds of emails flowed back and forth - discussing dates and maiden names and what they remembered. And then came the fun part - SHARING. And some did share, and some did not.
Are you a Hoarder or a Sharer?
Oh there were a few who shared every single piece of paper, every document, every photo. They scanned them and emailed them, not only to me but to others in our growing extended family - trying to find someone to identify the woman with the bustle and the man with the funny beard. And we were somewhat successful, but some of them decided to not share. They talked about the metal box they had with all of their grandmother's records and letters, or the three boxes in the garage that they had to get to someday, or my favorite - "I scanned everything I had" (when I knew that they had more). And then there were those who sent three crappy photos of their mother, when I knew that they had many many others.
So my message to you hoarders is "people die and unfortunately you may be one of them." And sooner than later (hopefully not for your sake). But guess what - when you do, all your knowledge dies with you - and your children and grandchildren will never know that the guy with the funny beard was your grandfather - and the woman with the bustle was his second wife, and they may never know that the woman who you thought was your grandmother wasn't and you never knew who your biological grandmother was. And that is because you kept all these materials and artifacts to yourself, and that by sharing, many of us could have helped YOU know who your ancestors were - because they overlapped with ours. And then your children and grandchildren would know too.
So the question that I always ask is