There’s a practical limit to how far into the network of the non-biologically connected people to an ancestor a researcher should delve. At least there is in my research world. I know there are some who believe that researching the step-father of your third cousin’s blacksmith is a valid research approach, but I’m not one of them. There’s a limit to how much time and money one can spend.
I will admit that curiosity got the better of me briefly when I saw the name of the notary on the 1946 mortgage signed by my grandparents for their farm near Carthage, Illinois. I was curious because I did not recognize it. The mortgage was likely signed at the nearby small bank that held the mortgage. It was the same bank where the family banked until the bank closed.
But I knew that the connection my grandparents had to the notary was fleeting and that the chance of garnering any real genealogical knowledge was essentially nil. The likely scenario was that the notary was an employee of the bank who served as notary on bank documents when needed. My quick search for information on her did not mention her bank employment, but did indicate that her sister was later my high school English teacher. The failure to locate an obituary or other reference to the employment was not surprising as many women during era had a short-term job that they terminated before or upon their marriage.
Was I surprised that I had a tenuous, peripheral connection to this person? Not really. This was nothing more than one in a long-standing series of connections that one discovers when one is from a small town where your family has lived for some time. The bigger surprise would have been if there had not been some connection of this type.
This search was not a “what connection did the notary have to my Grandparents?” search. It was a “who is this person search?” There’s a difference.
If this had been a notary on an 1848 document for a set of ancestors about whom I knew very little, I would have had a different reason for the search for more information on the notary. But even in this case, I need to ask myself “what connection did my relative likely have to this person,” “was this connection a ‘one-off’ meeting in a clerk’s office,” “did my relative interact with this person on other documents,” etc. But I also have to ask “does knowing more about this person tell me more about my ancestor even if they have no other connection than the one on this document?” It’s always possible that if I know little about my ancestor that information on a notary public will help me determine when and where my ancestor was in a certain place. That can be helpful.
There are times to go down the rabbit hole. Just think before you dig. And know when to stop.