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Don’t delay in that research

Tempus fugit,” the Latin saying goes, whether we want it to or not.

Time flies.

And when it has flown its full course, all of us — The Legal Genealogist included — will suffer losses from which there may be no real recovery.

One of my most treasured memories is accepting an invitation from distant cousins I met online to attend a Buchanan family reunion in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, many years ago. I can’t find the photos this morning, but it had to be at least as far back as 2005, and probably farther back than that.

It was held at an outdoor park in Spruce Pine, so I showed up in sneakers and casual slacks… only to find all of my North Carolina cousins dressed to the nines. It was a momentary “ulp” moment for me — and not even a glitch for them as they welcomed me in with open arms.

There were moments from that get-together that will stick in my mind forever.

• The moment a cousin whose Buchanan father had died in a railroad accident when she was a toddler leading her mother to move away — more than 60 years earlier — spoke through her tears of reconnecting with her father’s side of the family.

• The moment I saw my own name on a forty-foot-long family tree chart my cousins had prepared.

• And the moment that the laptops came out. The genealogist cousins grabbed a table at the front of the picnic area and got serious. Jamie Buchanan, my cousin in the Navy. Rhonda Gunter, a Buchanan descendant who taught genealogy at a local community college. Me, with my fledgling research into my Buchanan roots.

And Joel Buchanan.

Joel was a joy to meet — a real live nuclear scientist who’d co-founded the Nuclear Safety Information Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s and served as director of the Nuclear Operations Analysis Center.

And oh how passionate he was about our shared Buchanan heritage.

Both of us could trace our descent from James and Isabella (Wilson) Buchanan, who were in Charles County, Maryland, back in the early to mid-1700s, through their son Arthur. I trace my line to Arthur’s son William; Joel descends from Arthur’s son Arthur.

Our Buchanans went from Maryland into northern Virginia and ultimately into western North Carolina. Joel’s line strayed back across the border into Virginia and then into Tennessee when Joel was very young. Mine — well, mine was footloose: from North Carolina to Kentucky to Iowa to Texas. But both tracing back to those early Maryland settlers.

Taking our Buchanans back across the pond, however… that was a whole ‘nother issue — not a simple matter at all. There’s simply no documentation any of us has ever found of James’ origins. Was he the original immigrant or a native-born Marylander? We don’t know. Where were the Buchanans from? We had no proof.

So the Buchanan men from many branches of the family did what only Buchanan men could do: they tested their YDNA.

Joel in particular went the whole distance: he did what’s called the Big Y test from Family Tree DNA.

And we now have a working theory based in large measure on tests by people like my cousin Joel: because he’s a match, in that looking-at-all-the-nooks-and-crannies YDNA test, to a documented descendant of the Buchanan Chiefly Line via the Drummakill Cadet Branch.

What that means, in plain English, is that we have a particular part of Scotland, in the Loch Lomond region, and a particular clan, to look at for our origins.

A priceless gift to all the rest of us that only Joel and other Buchanan men could give us.

So it was with great joy that, this past Saturday, I discovered that Jane Buchanan — Joel’s wife — was in attendance when I spoke to the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society, and we realized that her husband and I were not just cousins but had met at that family get-together all those years ago.

I’ve meant, for so long, to get back in touch with many of those Buchanan researchers to share what I’ve found in the interim, and to see what else they’ve found, but you know how it is, right? Life gets in the way…

Until — all too often — it’s too late.

As, I discovered Saturday to my dismay, it is with Joel.

Jane told me that we lost Joel, just this past May, suddenly and unexpectedly, there in Tennessee.

His obituary is still online at It tells me how much I could have learned from my cousin Joel if I’d taken the time… if I’d done better at staying in touch…

So I pause a moment, this Monday morning, to remind all of you — and more particularly to remind myself — tempus fugit. Those cousins will not be out there to share information with forever.

Reach out.

Share your information.

Share your stories and data — and ask for theirs.

Take that DNA test, ask your cousins to do the same, and share the results.

Before it’s too late.

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