HomeThoughts and MusingsFinding Your Ancestors Titanic-Style

Yes, folks, I’m afraid it’s true. I’m here to make another analogy – the latest in a long line of analogies: puzzles, jalopies, basketball…and now sea exploration.

Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic in 1985. He produced a documentary, “Save the Titanic” timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of its sinking. To promote the show, he appeared on the Colbert Report, which you can view below. I found his description of how he found the Titanic, the approach he used — particularly applicable to our field of genealogy. The interesting part starts at about 1:45. On a side note, I’ve also used diversionary tactics very similar to the one he describes in the video. I pretend to be going someplace for one thing, when I am really going there for genealogy. Except in my case, I am trying to fool my wife, not the Russians.

I thought the “following the debris trail” comments particularly appropriate. Too often in genealogy we are anxious to find “more about John Doe.” This vaguely defined goal leads us to a series of criss-crossing, double-tracking searches that waste much time and effort and often result in not finding what we are looking for. If instead we start at the first clue, which is often a death record in our case, and methodically work our way through the “debris trail” – the records left in reverse chronology by our John Doe, seeking and noting patterns and tendencies, we are more likely to arrive at the correct origins of our John Doe than had we suddenly started running in mad circles once we found our first clue.

And the deer hoof print comments? Brilliant. Kinda sounds like using indirect evidence to find your ancestors, doesn’t it?

Leave your a comment below about your thoughts on the comparisons (genealogy to ship-finding, not the Russians to my wife).



Finding Your Ancestors Titanic-Style — 2 Comments

  1. I have seen Dr Ballard on other shows talking about how he had to hide his efforts to find the Titanic and it is quite cloak and dagger. As for genealogy pursuits – my husband and I have been married long enough that he knows the difference between my attitude when I am headed to the grocery store vs off to find yet another elusive ancestor – LOL.

    • Pat, you are lucky to live somewhere the grocery store is in close proximity to your ancestor hunting grounds! I’d be hard pressed to convince my wife here in Cleveland, Ohio that I needed to run out get a few things from a store in say, Dover, Delaware!

      I updated the post to include my comments about what I actually found interesting regarding the comparison. I loved the deer footprints analogy. It smacks of using indirect evidence in our searches!