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What Goes Around Comes Around

By Daniel Hubbard | January 26, 2014

Do you know where your data originated? Do undocumented writings support what you have found elsewhere or has been handed down in your family? Should you wonder where that data originated? Could it, in fact, be your data? Has research circled around and bitten its own tail?

 Biting Its Own Tail

An Ouroboros, the tail-devouring serpent.

An Ouroboros, the tail-devouring serpent.

I was chatting genealogy the other day before giving a talk and it turned out that the person I was speaking with and I shared a surname. Comparing notes it turned out that it was one of those cases where not just the surname lined up but the time and place as well. Judy and I could not say that we are related but it looked like a distinct possibility.

Better yet from my point of view, Judy had a book about the family and promised to check if my ancestor was listed. I can’t call my ancestor a brick wall because I am pretty sure from indirect evidence that I understand the line but it also a line that gives me the feeling that I need more information. It was a line that was researched by an aunt of mine and she always presented it to me as a line where one could figuratively smell the answer but proof was always just beyond her grasp. I haven’t worked on it for a long time but I have added a few key points that strengthen the smell of that answer. Still the thought of a book about the family that might point me in a new direction was exciting.

A few days ago I got a phone call from Judy and she had the book out and thought she could look up my ancestor for me. Transmitting genealogy by phone when all the names are the same isn’t easy but she managed to find a person that was definitely an ancestor of mine and then worked her way back through the book and found that what I thought was true was also how the line worked in the book. Unfortunately, there were no sources listed but she said she would scan the pages that I thought sounded interesting and maybe I would recognize a clue.

A few days later I got an email from the author of the book. Judy had contacted her. She explained that she was the author but not a researcher herself. She had inherited papers from her mother that she (bless her soul) combed through, organized and published. She told me that her mother had not done this particular research but that it had been done by a woman named Melva with whom her mother had corresponded many years ago.

Melva was my Aunt Melva. I have her research papers in a filing cabinet near my desk. The book will not contain anything on that line that I don’t already have the sources for somewhere. Back when she had corresponded she had apparently been more confident that she had solved the problem than she was later when she talked to me. In the correspondence it was solid. Years later when she showed it to me she felt, rightly, that it was shaky. Now, it had come around and bitten its own tail.

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