"Researching descendants can multiply your success"
As a student at BYU many years ago, Joel Warner of Jacksonville, Florida, went to his grandmother and asked for a copy of the family genealogy. It turned out to be a little more than he was expecting.
"She said, 'It's all in Salt Lake, and you can get anything you want for 10 cents a page.' I said 'No, I want my own copy.' She said, 'Did you bring your suitcase?" Then she took me down the hall and opened the closet . . . I counted 22 Books of Remembrance, each three or four inches thick," Joel says.
"So I went and asked my grandfather (other side of the family) the same question: 'What can I do in genealogy?' He said, 'Nothing.' I said, 'You're not going to tell me it's all done.' He said, 'Well, it pretty much is, and you're going to school, so why don't you just go to school.' I said, 'I'm sure you're stuck somewhere. Can't I help out?' And he said, 'Where we're stuck, you can't help.' It turns out the family was employing professionals to see if they could push the line back further."
Joel and his family moved around a lot in the following years. Many years later, when he retired, he decided to devote more time to his early interest.
"My sister and I have had far more success on descendancy research. Historically, people find a line, and they just keep going further and further," doing their own ancestors but not the other children in the families. If they do list the other children, they don't go to the bother of saying, 'Well, whom did they marry?' And then they have descendants. Descendancy takes advantage of the explosion that comes from an ancestor who has a lot of decendants. Church policies let you do all the direct descendants from your direct ancestor," he explained. (Joel and his wife currently serve as family history area advisors in the LDS Church.)
He also has been working his daughter-in-law's lines.
"She's a convert," he said. "She got two or three generations along before the babies came, so she's on leave and I am her surrogate researcher. Our daughter-in-law's family went from Florida back into North Carolina. One of her ancestors, a Dawson, married a woman named Ada. And the only name we had on her was Dawson. I had to do a lot of scrambling, put a lot of pieces together, find a smidgen here and a smidgen there to find out that her maiden name was Dawson. So now she was Ada Dawson Dawson. I had a great time piecing together a family that were fragmented in the records–but the records were there, if they got pulled together."
His best genealogy story, though, comes from his mother's family.
"My grandmother had been looking for a name for many years, 30 years. And I think–and in my mind this is a prerequisite–she had explored every avenue open to her. Her sister, years before, had picked up a book on Spanish at some used bookstore–picked it up for her because she was very interested in studying Spanish till the day she died, practically–and sent her this book. Several years later, my grandmother noticed the book and she was riffling through it, and found a piece of paper in it. And she opened the piece of paper, and it was in her mother's handwriting. Her mother had been dead for 33 years. Her mother had just jotted out some genealogical information on the paper, which gave her this name she'd been looking for since forever."