By Daniel Hubbard | December 9, 2012
The other day, a link that I clicked at just the wrong moment was dead by the time my internet connection was brought back to life hours later. I saw a number that you don’t generally want to see on the web, 404. My page was not found. But this 404 page was pretty informative. It allowed me to read stories about other people and things that weren’t found, Amelia Earhardt, Jimmy Hoffa, “Your luggage” (far worse than any internet delivered 404 message), those 18.5 minutes of Watergate tapes, Atlantis and Waldo.
I thought that 404 would be quite reasonable as an ahnentafel number. Ancestor 404 would be pretty far back, so that could really be a missing ancestor. In the binary system, 404 is written as 110010100 and those digits can be converted into that ancestor’s identity. It would be your mother’s fathers’ father’s mother’s father’s mother’s father’s father, if I got it right. That is a long way back and, sure enough, in my case he is missing. I have no idea who that man was. He lies deep in one of the Irish branches of my family.
Error 404 on the web also is an indication that something you had every reason to believe would be there, is not there. You clicked a link to nowhere, a broken link. It is something like a broken promise. You should have instantly seen something interesting and instead you get nothing.
What if I could just click on a link to my mother then click a link to her father then to his father and so on, clicking my way to ancestor 404? That would be a thrill but would we really want it to be that easy? We tend to cherish those things that were difficult to find and that are revealed gradually. A mystery movie that was trivial and lasted 30 seconds would not be spellbinding. Genealogy usually is spellbinding. Even once a part is compiled, the twists and turns taken by many strands as they weave from document to document are still spellbinding. It is spellbinding because it can be difficult, gradual, complex and subtle. At its best, it becomes sublime.
Clicking a link isn’t difficult, gradual, complex or subtle. It isn’t sublime. I’m glad, in a way, that I don’t know who ancestor 404 is and I can’t just click my way there. It will take effort to find him, if I ever do. He may remain a mystery, the goal of a quest. Or, if he is found, he will be a valued discovery and his parents, 808 and 809, would then be just beyond reach, tantalizing, waiting to be researched. There is always the next step on the quest. “404- Ancestor not found” isn’t such a bad thing. Who is your “ancestor 404”?Twitter It!