There are genealogists who attempt to trace every possible relative that they can find, no matter how distant they are and no matter how remotely related they are. I understand that. I understand the reasons for that. I get the desire to “search” and the excitement over “finding people.” Distant relatives can sometimes hold the clue to a family mystery, have long-lost family ephemera or mementos in their possession, or be willing to assist with research.
But one has to draw the line somewhere. How much will it help me to learn about my 5th great-grandmother’s step-father’s first cousin’s third wife’s descendants by her first husband?
Just where is that line?
There’s not really a right answer to this question. It depends. But I have to draw a line if for no other reason than time and money. Keeping my sanity and my focus are good reasons as well.
If I’m researching a man who was born somewhere in New York in the 1810s and died in Vernon County, Missouri, in the 1880s (Benjamin Butler for anyone who is interested) and I’m totally “stuck” on him, it might be helpful to try and locate as many of his descendants as possible, with the hope that one of them has some information or is able to assist me in some way, shape, or form. Do I have to completely research every detail of the life of every one of his descendants? Probably not.
I should probably research his known children and grandchildren pretty extensively in hopes that some clue in their lives shed information on their father. This would include more than simply locating their date and place of death and census enumerations. An unknown relative may be mentioned in the records of one of the children (eg. perhaps providing testimony in a court case) or a death record, biography or a similar record may provide a location of which I was unfamiliar.
I may even choose to expand my research circle on this ancestor to include individuals whom his children married, who he purchased property from, who he owned money to when he died (or who owed him money), etc. It’s probably not going to help me on him to research the first cousin of his great-grandson’s third wife.
The other thing is that it is difficult to completely research the people I need to (Benjamin, his children, and his associates) if I’m researching completely anyone and everyone who has any sort of a tie to him.
Are there exceptions? Sure.
Are there times when this approach is helpful? Sure.
But if I’ve got gaps in my work on Benjamin’s children, then that’s probably where I need to focus my time.