The metaphor is too obvious to escape anyone with even the slightest interest in genealogy. Who hasn’t asked themselves at some point where that one missing piece of their family jigsaw lies?
But let’s face it – even with minimal experience in genealogy, we all have to face the fact that our family tree is not a single jigsaw puzzle in the strictest of terms: we don’t have a prior idea of what the final result will look like, and the number of pieces will always be unlimited.
Any family tree is, for want of a better expression, a massive puzzle of of smaller jigsaws. Each branch, each generation and each individual is in itself a piece of the puzzle, but don’t forget that what makes up a person’s individual story is also a missing piece!
Take my latest “case” – my Spanish 3x grandfather’s younger brother José, a legal notary who lived in the same city for many years. All that changed when his wife unexpectedly died in 1896, and poor José retired and began spending extended periods with his children. The problem is that he had six children, and with some of them with jobs of their own which took them everywhere across Spain, tracking José down during the last years of his life has proven a hard nut to crack. A distant cousin, now deceased, once told me he died in Barcelona in 1928, but I can find no proof that he did; one of his grandchildren’s birth certificates mentions he was living in Madrid in 1907, but another one states he lived in Barcelona in 1912! These facts aren’t contradictory in themselves, but I have a nagging feeling something is amiss, perhaps because none of José’s children lived in Barcelona before 1932 – so why would he have moved there if he had no apparent connections to the city at all?
While searching for his death certificate, I’ve realised how many other pieces of his life I’m still missing. He obviously had a life after the passing of his wife, and while searching for his own demise I’ve noticed just how much I have yet to discover about him. For all I know, José may have remarried, or he may have achieved something extraordinary in the winter of his days.
Do you want my advice? Don’t get too hung up on finding a specific piece of your family jigsaw – but keep an eye open for pieces you may not have considered previously, and let serendipity play its part! The missing piece is out there, it’s a question of time, thoroughness and of course luck before you find it!
Written by Daniel Smith-Ramos