I get so many people telling me how hard they find it to “just concentrate” on their direct family lines back that it has set me thinking. In the “old days” when letters had to be written and weeks would go by before you got a reply, genealogy was taken at a leisurely pace. You really had enough difficulty finding your direct line of ancestors without worrying too much about those aunts, uncles and cousins who left the parish to find their fortune elsewhere.
Now of course with the advent of the computer and the internet (and didn’t genealogists take to that technology – like ducks to water!) we have the GRO indexes, census, military records and increasingly parish registers all at our fingertips and more often than not they are indexed. Finding your 3 cousin 7 times removed is as easy as typing in his name. It is no wonder that we gather in all those people who have blood ties how ever distant, it is all so easy.
So does it matter if you get side-tracked, are you less of a genealogist if you go sideways as well as up your family tree? Of course not. I have so often found cousins staying with cousins, aunts bringing up orphaned nieces and nephews, in-laws staying with in-laws all of whom give vital clues to help progress the pedigree backwards.
During a conversation the other day about this sideways research I decided that a name needed to be given to this new phenomena. Extreme Genealogy. You get extreme sports so why not extreme genealogy? I practise this type of research, I don’t necessarily go looking for all the cousins etc, but if I come across them then I record them. If they look as if they led interesting lives then I look a little deeper. I can get quite fond of some of my distant cousins and they can lead me into some interesting reading. Henry Pottinger who became the first Governor of Hong Kong and was central to the negotiations to end the 1st Opium War with China is my 8th cousin and is about to become my next focus of attention. He may only be a very distant cousin, but he sounds to be a very interesting chap!
Become a practitioner of Extreme Genealogy if you like, don’t feel guilty about it, you will be surprised where those distant cousins take you!