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Essays on Genealogy
(First published in RootsWeb Review Vol. 6, No. 36, 3 September 2003)
Late at night, after a day of giving my clients advice they don't take and an evening of giving my teens advice they won't even listen to, I sometimes surf the genealogy query boards looking for people who have actually asked for advice They are usually grateful to get it. Three times out of twenty one of them even thanks me.
A surprising number of newcomers assume that telling the world a person was "my grandfather" pins his birth date down accurately enough to let other people help them. That isn't always the case.
Last night my mother came to our house for barbecued salmon. Her grandfather, George Waterman Cady, fought in the Civil War. He was born in 1837, rode with the 10th Missouri Cavalry (Union) and moved to Kansas after the war. He got off to a slow start; he married in 1881, at the age of 44. My grandmother Alberta Cady came along in 1892, when he was 55. Alberta grew up, married and gave birth to my mother sometime after that. Without giving away details of a living person and a dear woman, let us just say my mother gets a discount in some restaurants if she eats dinner before 6 p.m. She uses the Internet and her grandfather fought in the Civil War.
At the same table, passing the lemon dill butter, was my son. His details are private too, but not too many years ago he got crayons with his menu. He uses the Internet and his grandfather, my father, fought in the Korean War -- 86 years after Appomattox.
Ours is a rare family due to my great-grandfather Cady marrying so late, but consider this -- most people have their children between the ages of 20 and 40. Genealogy buffs on the Internet can be anywhere from 20 to 70 years old. (Some are younger or older than that, but these are nice round numbers.) If you are now 20 and the oldest child of the oldest child, your grandparents could have been born (20 + 20 + 20) 60 years ago. If you are now 70 and the youngest child of the youngest child, your grandparents could have been born (70 + 40 + 40) 150 years ago. So, if you are posting a query about your grandfather, please give the rest of us a clue; tell us when he was born. If you can't do that, tell us which war he fought in.
[Note: It can get worse. After this came out in RWR, an Alert Reader sent me
an e-mail about his great-aunt, who died in 1995 at a ripe old age. She was the
result of two men in a row who had fathered children in their 70's, by second
or third wives. Her grandfather had been a Revolutionary war vet.