Genealogy enthusiasts are often amazed by the connections that they make with others who share family links. How often have you heard people tell stories about how extraordinary it was that they should meet someone who shared an interest in their family line. What are the chances? Can you believe it! Finding these links is wonderful and a part of the appeal of genealogy. But why does this happen so frequently in the world of family history?
In my view, the answer is very simple. It is because people ask. Anyone from a smaller country or community, such as Ireland, makes such connections all the time. If I am overseas and meet another Irish person, I can unfailingly make some connection with them by asking only a few questions. The link may admittedly not be close. The person may have gone to the same school, they may know my brother, work with my friend, live beside my cousin etc. etc., but it is usually the case that there are several such connections between us. I have often met cousins in this way. What is going on here? It is not the case that everyone in Ireland knows each other, although social networks do seem to be wider than in some other countries. What underlies this phenomenon is that some communities are small enough to be assured that if we investigate, we will find those connections. Therefore we ask the questions. The process is greatly assisted by the fact that other Irish people do not find the process of investigation in any way strange or invasive of their privacy. Indeed, they will enter into the process of investigation with enthusiasm in the absolute expectation that we will jointly find these connections. The degree of probability that these links exist is high enough to warrant a confidence in asking the few questions which will root it out.
If I am from a big country or community it is highly improbable that I will find such a link. This is simply because of the scale of the population. If I am from California, the chances of making a connection with another randomly selected Californian are fairly remote, so I will probably not even bother exploring the possibility. A friend from Maine, on the other hand, tells me that finding connections occurs in much the same way as among Irish people. Small scale does have some advantages.
Genealogy creates the same conditions as being from a small community, and it also creates the circumstances whereby it is perfectly acceptable to explore linkages. It is therefore not surprising that these connections are made. But they are wonderful when they happen, so don’t be afraid to ask the questions !