As I was adding information to my genealogy database on a 4x Great Uncle's descendants, it struck me that collateral research has been my main form genealogy research lately. I don't know when the last time was that I was able to add a direct ancestor to my tree, but I've certainly added tons of aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. That realization got me thinking and asking myself a few questions: why is this happening, and it it worth the effort?
I think there are a number of answers to why I've been doing collateral line research as opposed to trying to discover a new direct ancestor. First off, it's easier. The line I'm working on right now, the McCurley family of Elbert County and Hart County, Georgia, goes back to William McCurley, born around 1774 somewhere in South Carolina. Today I added information on some of William's Great-Grandkids, who were born in the 1850s. Obviously, it's much easier to research someone born in the 1850s than someone born in the 1770s.
Secondly, I sorta feel like I'm not going to be able to go back any further than I've already gone. This is was depressing thought, and also not true. Yes, researching in the 1700s is harder than in the mid 1800s and beyond. But it's not impossible. For example, I recently went to the Lincoln County, Georgia, courthouse to do some research. I was looking for the parents of my 5x Great Grandmother, Mary Glaze, or really any information I could find out. I didn't actually find any new information about her, but I was able to determine that some other Glaze folks in the records were not her parents. So, I didn't find a new generation, but I did find some information to direct further research. This is hard work!
This leads to the third reason: without any recent breakthrough's I've lost some enthusiasm. Making genealogical discoveries is something of a high. You feel elated to uncover a new ancestor, which gives you energy to keep going. Without making these discoveries, I've sort of lost some enthusiasm.
Second, researching these aunts and uncles, might help me break down brick walls regarding older ancestors. With my Waters family, I was able to gather and add together bits and pieces of information on my 3x Great Grandfather by finding records from all of his children, until I had a full picture. If I had only looked at my direct line, I'd have never broken through that line, because there were gaps in my 2x Great Grandfather's records.
One final reason for collateral line research is that it keep my hand in the game. No, I don't get the same high researching aunts and uncles as I would uncovering a new many-times-great grandparent, but it's still genealogy. Heck, I have fun doing family trees for friends and co-workers; adding a new 2nd cousin 4x removed is a lot more personally beneficial than that.
But after thinking about the why and the worth of collateral line research, I do still have to wonder if it's enough. The answer is No. Though I enjoy collateral line research and find it valuable, I would be overall more pleased to find a new direct ancestor. And that's really the main goal isn't it? To extend you family tree (if you'll excuse the expression) back to Adam and Eve. I really do want to go back as far as I can with all of my lines, even if it's slow going.
So I think I need to find some new inspiration. Maybe I need to just pick a line and go for it: plan a research trip or mail off a records request, track down some family trees and send off some emails, try and find a DNA match on a brick wall line. I'm not sure what exactly I'm going to do, but I do know that the next time I log into Ancestry, GenealogyBank, Georgia Archives, etc, the goal will be to go backwards, not sideways.