Last night I talked about doing things yourself and tonight I’m going to talk about when to do something yourself and when to recruit the help of someone. Flipping through tv channels I came across a show that I never pictured myself watching, the Tia and Tamera reality show. I paused just long enough to get a jist of the upcoming plot and I’m so glad I did. The show was going to be about the twins investigating the Bahamian side of their roots. I think I’d watch just about any show if it had a genealogically related plot. As I began to watch, I got quite amused.
Tia, Tamera, and their two maternal cousins (who are not brother and sister) decided to go to the Bahamas to learn more about their roots. But this is what gets me, they pretty much just decided to wing it. They started with very little information, just their great grandmother’s first and last name and an unidentified old picture of someone else who they knew was somehow related. They decided to do the research themselves rather than hire someone (which, to reiterate my post from last night, I can totally understand and respect), but they really did very little research. The cameras didn’t film them doing any research before leaving other than the little info they had. Now I know that, obviously, cameras never capture everything on a reality TV show, but I got the impression that they just decided to pick up and leave.
Even in the Bahamas, they weren’t filmed doing much research. They went to one library, but were never filmed making any great discoveries. After their trip to the library, they decided to just look in the phone book and start calling people. They quickly changed their minds when they discovered the commonality of their great-great grandmother’s maiden surname, Campbell. They then decided to just hit the streets. Literally. They thought they could just randomly walk up to people and find long-lost relatives. Eventually, they got a bit smarter and talked to Tia and Tamera’s aunt and got the name of a cousin who she thought could help. But who knows how common that name would be?
Miraculously, they were actually able to locate this man and met him for lunch. He gave them the contact info for a woman who he thought might have more info. The meeting with this woman, Dora, was actually very fruitful. She was immediately able to identify the woman in the picture as Tia and Tamera’s great-great grandmother, Camille Campbell’s mother. She was also able to give the group the contact info for yet another cousin who had much more info. This meeting with Tony produced much info including a census record and a picture of Camille’s husband who they discovered was 22 years older than Camille. Tony even organized a BBQ for all of the family in the area which produced a huge turn out.
Now, what can be learned from the experiences of Tia, Tamera, and her cousins? I’m still definitely an advocate of doing things for yourself at times, but it’s best to know what you’re doing first. For example, would you attempt to change the oil in a car yourself without reading instructions, having someone walk you through it, or watching someone do it first? No. Like anything, there are many ways to self educate yourself in genealogy… books, blogs, webinars, online classes, seminars/conference, professional genealogist, the list goes on. Once you have some idea of what you’re doing, then you can attempt whatever you’re trying to do. Learning all you can about your intended task, including genealogy, can save you a lot of wasted time in fruitless searches, or worse mistakes. Had the group done some research before leaving, they would have had a much easier time once arriving in the Bahamas. They would have had a higher chance of knowing where to go and who to look up upon arriving so they could have spent their time there actually spending time in these places with these people.
Another lesson that can be learned is the proper use of terminology. Tia and Tamera's cousin Dora said that she is their third cousin, but actually a person whose grandparent is the sibling of your great-grandparent would be your 2nd cousin once removed. While the majority of the population uses these terms incorrectly just as Dora did (I know I did for years myself and was shocked when I finally discovered the methodology behind the proper terminology), it's still important to know and use the correct terms for describing the relationship between two people when talking to others so that they understand you properly. It's much easier to explain to others what "removed" people mean when you use that term and people look at you blankly than to use, for example, the term "3rd cousin" with someone who knows proper genealogical terminology when you actually mean your "2nd cousin once removed" because they'll think you know proper terminology and thus their thoughts will go to the wrong person in your tree. More on relationship terminology tomorrow.
In spite of their ill preparedness, I do like that they talked to everyone they could. Even if you’re going to hire a professional, talk to everyone you can about your search and what you want to get out of it. You never know who may know something that you don’t and the more information you have, the easier the search will be for whoever does it, whether it be yourself or someone else.
So lesson of the day, if you’re going to do something yourself, make sure you know what you’re doing first.