Friday, August 7, 2015

Who Cares About Aunts, Uncles, Distant Cousins, and In-Laws? Me!

When you have an entire pedigree line to research, who cares about aunts and grand aunts, uncles and grand uncles, let alone distant cousins and in-laws?
Ladies in white hat and dark hat turned out to be Farkas cousins!

All those seemingly peripheral ancestors may be fascinating people, in fact, and learning about them is helping me understand and trace my family's history in a deeper and more nuanced way. Just as important, "researching sideways" has led to some wonderful cousin connections and even a few breakthroughs. These folks may not be in my direct line, but they knew people in my direct line and have stories/memories/photos that illuminate my family history.

This topic came up because of my recent post about the Yanpolski family. The patriarch of that family, Lazar Yanpolski, was the husband of my great-grand aunt (by marriage) Miriam Chazan. One of the Yanpolski researchers asked why I was so interested in such a distant connection. Here's why:
  • Many old-world families were quite close-knit--especially those from small towns, where there were many marriages within the town and therefore multiple connections between one family and another. This is the case with my Farkas family, I've discovered several times: a man from family A marries a woman from family B and later, the woman's brother or brother-in-law in family B marries into the husband's family A, etc. Also, there were multiple marriages as widows and widowers paired off to take care of children, as in my husband's Wood and McClure families. Therefore, I'm quite intrigued by both siblings and in-law connections, wondering whether there are more relationships within the extended family than I can see on the surface.
  • After family members left for America, some sent photos and/or letters to their family and friends in the old home town and elsewhere. These and related stories have been passed down in some families, even if the cousins don't know the name or fate of anyone or everyone. Using photos (sometimes with dates and/or inscriptions), it's possible to pin down or at least suggest who's related to whom. This was the case with my Chazan and Burk/Birk/Berk connections. 
  • One more reason: Who doesn't like to watch Who Do You Think You Are? and other genealogy shows? I always learn something I can apply in my own research--a technique, a resource, or a way of turning the situation on its head to find a new angle. Or, a way to understand the WHY of family movements--because the reasons aren't always clear to us many decades later. I want to understand what my ancestors thought and felt, not just what they did, where they moved, and when. 
The photo at top is a good example. I knew half of the people were Farkas aunts and uncles, but believed that the others were "friends of the family." Wrong: after a lot of investigation (and lots of help from a dear cousin with a super memory) it turned out two of the ladies were actually cousins of my Farkas family. I was able to prove the connections by looking at the marriage documents and following the in-law movements, since the women's maiden names weren't readily available or known by descendants today.

The result is that I'm now in touch with a wonderful circle of cousins, including one whose mother had this very photo on her bureau for decades. Distant cousins, maybe, but they played a pivotal role in the family tree--and they have stories and memories that have added to my knowledge of my ancestors.

So who cares about aunts/uncles, cousins, and in-laws?!

3 comments:

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

Marian, you are very right! People who research only in a straight line and who do not look at siblings, aunts, uncles & cousins, are missing much of the family story. Your post is a good reminder.

Marian Burk Wood said...

Colleen, having followed your blog for some time, I know you do a great job of researching sideways. Plus we hear more sides to the story that way, right?

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

Yes, Marion, you are right. Some years ago my great grandfather was doing carpentry, had an accident and broke his back. My grandmother told me the story of that day. Later, I heard the story of that day from my great aunt. Later I heard it from another sister. Putting those stories together gave me a much clearer picture of the events of that day. If I had stopped at the direct line story I would have missed many details.