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Trying the Not

By Daniel Hubbard | December 16, 2012

Sometimes the path we walk with our ancestors is a bit convoluted. Sometimes that is an understatement. Often we reach a dead end and wonder why. Sometimes, though the path is correct, here and there our clues to our ancestors’ strange trajectories can turn out to be the reddest of herrings.

Every virtue has a downside and having the imagination to consider unusual or odd solutions is a virtue. Its downside is that one will occasionally be led astray. Every hypothesis states a possibility and implicitly asks the question, “Is this right?” Gradually, those hypotheses begin to become accepted as fact but that question is still there. What if the question is rephrased, “Is this leading me astray?”

I’ve been working through a genealogy and one part gave me a bad feeling. It was nothing terrible, just something that might have been a clue for further work seemed odd. Before and after were fine but somewhere in the middle it felt like a red herring had made its mark, a family seemed to move a long way only to move back. That happens. In this case it didn’t fit any trend that would help to make sense of the move. The people in their new residence felt subtly different, yet oddly similar. Possible, yet disconcerting.

I decided to look for things that would be impossible if all was well. The first few things turned up nothing. Then the man in question turned up at point B when he was already known to be back at point A. He was there at point B living with his wife who had died. Hmm…

If something isn’t clearly true, sometimes it might prove to be clearly false if looked at differently. I think of looking for that different angle as “Trying the not.” That is, trying what ought to be impossible.

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Topics: Research Mindset | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Trying the Not”

  1. Greta Koehl Says:
    December 16th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Yep, same thing happened with me – two Preston Moores who both served with the 37th Virginia in the Civil War, 2nd Preston’s year of birth as indicated on 1870 census was within a year of 1st Preston’s year of birth from previous censuses. But 1870/2nd Preston was shown as unable to read or write, wile 1860/1st Preston was shown as able to read and write. Close examination of the tiny writing on the service records revealed #1 was in the 37th Cavalry while #2 was in the 37th Infantry. And I later found 1st Preston on the 1870 census in Arkansas.