An ongoing joke in the research department is that we all ‘need to get out more’ and we’ve all been guilty of indulging in what some would call a Busman’s Holiday. Photos will often fly back and forth of someone investigating a local graveyard, when they should be sunning themselves on the beach, or pouring over family trees and documents with distant relatives when they really could be nestled in front of the fire with a good book.
I myself was guilty of this recently when a weekend away to the homestead in the west quickly turned into a Busman’s Holiday when some distant cousins from Australia came to stay (Hello John and Kerryn if you’re reading!). But this recent visit really put into perspective the importance of connecting with disparate branches of the family. There are several good reasons for connecting with what a first seem like distant relatives (for the record John is a 3rd cousin of mine).
Firstly, every family has their own oral history. Now often this oral history will be dominated by more recent events, but sometimes you are fortunate enough that a story passed down on a different line to your own, can provide vital clues to a common ancestor in a much earlier generation. Or it may simply put more ‘flesh on the bones’ of your family history and provide more insight into events in your ancestors past.
Secondly, most separate branches have their own family artefacts. This may sound like a grand term, but what I mean by this is photographs, documents, heirlooms, etc., that relate more specifically to the branch of the family that has them in their possession. But these artefacts can also often contain records relevant to your branch or earlier common ancestors. You will often find family portraits survive in one branch of the family, but not another. The best example of this that I can think of in my own family is a photograph of my Great x2 Grandmother which only came to light to our branch of the family in recent years when a connection was made with another set of Australian cousins who had it in their possession.
And finally, for a DNA perspective it can be interesting because if you have a documented connection to another individual (even distantly) and you add a third individual into the mix, it may be possible to determine if a connection is on a shared (documented) line or another line, which for whatever reason has not yet been traced by documentary evidence.
So while there can sometimes be a temptation to be dismissive about distant relatives, be they identified by tracing records or matched via DNA, it is always worth exploring what hidden treasures might be lying in wait, and sure at the end of the day, aren’t they family after all!
By Stephen Peirce