Genealogy is one of my loves, but just like everything else in life, my research doesn’t always go as planned. My family lines have their fair share of those proverbial genealogical “brick walls” – ancestors who seem to have dropped out of the sky, about whom we can’t find out much of anything (or at least not the details we most want to know).
Over the years, I’ve learned a variety of tips and tricks to break down (or climb over) those brick walls. One of the simplest ways – often overlooked, because it sounds too easy; too good to be true – is to employ Master Genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “FAN club” technique.
It works like this: If you haven’t been able to find records documenting the life of the person you’re looking for, research the people around them they regularly interacted with – their friends, associates, and neighbors – their “fan club.”
I tried it. The level of connection and extent to which lives are intertwined in and around our family tree is stunning. Some families have intermarried for generations. Beyond socializing, neighbors and friends helped build homesteads, plant and harvest crops, were co-workers, became business partners, served as witnesses for marriages, baptisms, wills, and property sales. They were named as guardians for young children, as executors of estates, offered testimony for pension or passport applications. Newspaper articles and society page blurbs about what was happening in and around town provided clues to relationships and circumstances other records did not, particularly in cases where ancestors didn’t own property.
But this isn’t just a genealogy thing. Finding, nurturing and maintaining close connections matters for all of us, whether we’re family historians or not.
I was reminded just how much last weekend when my kids and I sat around the table talking after dinner. For several reasons – all those unhappy June anniversaries, the weather, and all the various personal and corporate uncertainties looming in our world – they wound up asking me that “what do you want us to do and who do we need to call when something happens to you?” question.
Losing Bill so early and so unexpectedly left me without that one person who knew (without asking) and could do what needed to be done for me when I couldn’t. Moving altered the landscape even further. I have the necessary and appropriate legal documents in place now, but 1100 miles away from where we spent the rest of our lives, my kids aren’t as familiar with my “fan club” as they used to be.
No one wants to have that conversation. But everyone needs to. And the people who matter the most to us need to know how much their presence in our lives means.
Who’s in your “fan club?” Or, as the Ghostbusters theme song asks, when you need something, “Who ya gonna call?”
Who is on that short list of people you could ask or tell anything – the ones who know you as well – in some ways better – than you know yourself, who love you without end, who are always there for you, and would, literally, do anything for you? The ones who – if your close family is not close by – you could trust to be your emergency contact, pay your bills, make decisions for you when you can’t?
Who are the most important people in your life?
Do they know that?
In the course of making a list so my kids know who’s in my “fan club”, I realized I haven’t been in touch with some of the people who matter most to me nearly as often as I would like.
If you’ll excuse me, Dear Reader, I’ve got some phone calls to make and some notes to send.
“Oil and perfume gladden the heart,
and the sweetness of friendship, rather than self-reliance.”
Proverbs 27:9, The New Jerusalem Bible