Genealogy can be a funny hobby. For example, although this isn’t something I generally brag about, I may be King Henry 8th’s illegitimate great-granddaughter-in-law (about 14 generations past). More demonstrably true, if there were two of me, I’d be my own 4th cousin. I know the circumstances behind my cousinhood, but I have no idea about Henry and me. There’s probably a story there.
I never used to like genealogy. I couldn’t see the lure of dry statistics, and it seemed silly if the goal was to prove royal lineage. I thought Abraham Lincoln had it right when he said, “I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”
My attitude softened once I got hooked on history and realized that statistics, far from being dull, were often gateways to stories. Birth and death dates, in context with historical events of the times, can reveal details that make us feel closer to people of the past.
For example, when I was researching the story of John Cavarly, the Waterford sea captain who fell in love with one of his passengers, I read that his mother was a difficult woman whom he went to great lengths to avoid. That little tidbit became even more amusing when I checked my family tree and found that John’s mom was my great-great-grandfather’s sister. The old man was legendary for being pigheaded and prickly, so the siblings must have been a dynamic duo.
In another instance, while I was digitizing my family line, I…