What Is Backtracking?

animal-tracksWhat does it mean to backtrack our kin?

Have you ever trailed an animal?  Have you tried to find and follow an animal without the ground being covered with snow?  When I was much younger, my older friend Larry Drewery put on a clinic.  We and his brother Terry “struck” the trail of a wounded animal around 9:30 pm.  In the darkness, with only a flashlight, Larry trailed him for over two hours through the briars and brambles of a dark creek bottom.  His success that night is still the finest display of trailing I’ve ever personally observed.

Is Larry’s success an example of backtracking?  No.  Think of backtracking as striking the trail of the same wounded animal and working backward to find where he was wounded and then all the way back to where he woke up that morning!  That’s backtracking and it, like your family history, can be very challenging.

footprints

I call my blog “Backtracking the Common”.   I’m discovering most of the family in my past were common, salt-of-the-earth kind of people.  They’re not just my kind of people — they’re my people.

Backtracking the common is much more difficult than backtracking the famous. 

I grew up with absolutely no knowledge of my great-grandfather Roberts.  I “cut his trail” (came across evidence of where he had been) in 2012 and backtracked him from Lamar County, Texas to Calloway County, Kentucky.  I learned the name of his father.  Like his, it was John.  From there I backtracked them to Williamson County, Tennessee and learned my great-great-grandfather shared the same name with his father—yep, John again.  I had to learn how to distinguish the “track” of my great-great-grandfather John R. Roberts from his cousin John D. Roberts who also lived in Williamson in the early 1800s.  From Williamson County I backtracked my 3 x great-grandfather John Roberts (That’s right, same first and last name with an unknown middle name or initial) to Lunenburg County, Virginia.  I’m presently comparing the “tracks, broken twigs, and overturned rocks” of THREE John Roberts in the area, near the same age, in the middle-to-late 1700s!  Difficult and tedious are two words that come to mind.  This may take some time.

Backtracking John Roberts sometimes feels like backtracking a John Smith.

Here are a few suggestions for backtracking your common kin folks.

  1. Stay focused. Avoid of the “shiny objects”.  Stay focused on the next “track”.
  2. Set attainable and reachable goals. Make your plans to accomplish your goals and stick to the plan.
  3. Understand you may need to learn about the lives of your kin’s family, associates and neighbors to follow the trail of your ancestor. I now know most of the family names in southern Williamson County, TN and northeastern Lunenburg County, VA.
  4. Let others help you. Taking the time to read this post is an example of seeking help in your research process.  There’s an abundance of excellent free help on today’s internet when it comes to researching family history.  When you need it, take advantage of it.
  5. Refuse to allow difficulty to overcome your desire to learn and tell your family’s story.
  6. Take a break when you need it. Switch family lines or stop all together.  Recharge your emotional and mental batteries and then pick up the trail!

Happy backtracking!

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What is your all-time favorite tip for “backtracking” your family’s history?

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2 Replies to “What Is Backtracking?”

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