The statement “It’s always in the last place you look” has long amused me. If you are looking for your car keys in your own house, for example, of course you know when you find them and therefore stop looking—how could it be otherwise? The same is not true of genealogy. Still, even the experienced genealogist often stops looking as soon as a good match is found. The proper match could be the first or the last one you find, but you will not know until you have located and evaluated them all.
Imagine you are seeking the father of Isaac Jones, born in New York ca 1837, and you know that his parents are born in Connecticut. A preliminary search turns up a Zebulon Jones, born ca 1805, who migrates to New York. Your Isaac has a son Zebulon Thorne Jones—bingo! That was easy. What if you continued to look and found another Zebulon Jones, born ca 1797, married Anne Thorne, and migrated to New York? That certainly complicates matters doesn’t it?
The next step is to research all the candidates and use logic to rule out the less likely ones. Certainly if Zebulon Thorne Jones names a daughter Anne Thorne Jones and other of Zebulon the elder’s offspring can be found in the cemeteries or vital records in close proximity to Isaac Jones it helps cement the case. However, if no such evidence is found it does not disprove the relationship. It is just this tentative nature of the research process that demands a very careful analysis of all the prospects before forming a conclusion. Find them all, research them all, describe them all—and only then make your choice.
[These names are hypothetical for illustration only.]
At some time during our lives, most of us will dream of achieving fame; almost all will fall short. But, for better or worse, we all leave a legacy for those who follow. Time erodes the knowledge of this legacy, but still it lives on in the descendants of those we touch—our stories disappear but the fractals remain as part of an infinite mosaic. Just as the archeologist recreates past cultures from skeletal fragments and pottery shards, so the genealogist recreates ancestors’ stories, from a chance sighting here, a glimpse of shadow there, chasing echoes down the corridors of time, tracking footprints across continents and oceans, until enough flesh is added to the bones. Yes, we can see them if we try! They cry out to us from the mists: “Find me. Tell my story. I was once important to someone.” The genealogist hears these cries and must answer. We really have no choice in the matter—you see, we are obsessed.