Remember the childhood game called telephone? The first child whispers a sentence to her neighbor who in turn whispers the message down the line. The last child then blurts out what he heard. The result always provided my friends and me with a belly laugh because the final statement was so wildly different from the first. “I’m going to Aunt Mary’s house” turned into “Ida giving ants in Mary’s blouse.” When you’re eight years old this is hysterical; when you’re researching passed down family stories it isn’t funny.
My maternal grandmother was our family’s storyteller. Whenever called out that her tale was an embellishment she would cock her head to the side, smile broadly and reply, “Close enough to the truth!” When I heard her infamous words I didn’t realize she was providing me with non-examples of several golden rules of genealogical relationship building. Thank you, Non!
Regardless if you are working on your family tree with a relative, friend, or a professional genealogist, a healthy relationship provides numerous benefits to ensure you, as the Seeker, reach your desired goal. Non’s exaggerated stories, however entertaining, broke several fundamental guidelines that are crucial for success in a Seeker-Helper relationship.
Clear two-way communication is most critical for without it, your project is stalled. In speaking, articulation is key unless you want to play the adult version of telephone. Written communication is even more important as it requires the Helper to interpret the message the Seeker sent. Which of the following AncestorCloud proposals do you think would provide the quickest results?
- Looking for a picture of my 4th great grandfather, C. K. Smith.
- Seeking a photo of C[harles] K[itchner] Smith, born 1863 Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Married 1883, Margaret “Maggie” Mae Jones in Cleveland, Ohio. A lawyer, he died in Sacramento, California in 1932.
Although the first statement is succinct, as good writing often is, that statement is too brief. A Helper may be confused about the type of “picture” requested. As there is no time period specified, does the Seeker want a photograph or a portrait?
Always difficult when researching a common surname like Smith, providing only initials of first and middle names makes the research more cumbersome. Adding C. K.’s complete name, residence locations, dates, occupation and spouse increases the likelihood of fulfilling your request. If C. K.’s first and middle name is unknown, it would be wise to seek that information before looking for his picture.
When a Helper responds to your inquiry, a relationship has begun. Answering the Helper’s email in a timely manner benefits you in that your request and relationship can move forward.
As always, honesty is the best policy. Your helper will be aided by knowing circumstances of the individual you are seeking. Every family contains folks who bucked the system and your ties to them will not be held against you. One of my husband’s great grandfathers was issued the first divorce in New Netherlands in 1655 because he said great grandma left him for another man. She claimed he abandoned her in Rhode Island Colony and absconded with her inheritance. When details are provided, Helpers, using their experience and knowledge, can look for records that may have been compiled specifically for recording the situation in a particular locale of which a Seeker may not be aware.
When communication is open and honest, trust has been established. As is often the case with genealogical research, documents may be discovered that redirect the course. Although discovering conflicting information may be problematic in a relationship fraught with distrust, a positive partnership leads to mutual respect and appreciation of differences in viewpoints so that the new information can be analyzed and appropriate conclusions drawn. By valuing the ideas and insights of each other and recognizing individual strengths, the project moves forward even if it may be in a different direction.
With a strong Seeker-Helper relationship, you are more apt to achieve success and reach your desired goal quickly. In addition to obtaining the information you sought, by working together you may have gained the added benefit of learning from each other in an enjoyable way. It’s a Win-Win for all!