It’s not about climbing the tree

It's not about climbing your family treeOne of my takeaways from RootsTech last week was how much one can learn about one’s ancestors by digging deep into the records. I learned techniques for how to use historical maps, military records and tax records to learn more about my ancestors. I can’t wait to dig in.

And that got me thinking: Do I want to learn more about my ancestors or learn about more ancestors? It’s a bit of a quandary. I find myself really excited every time I break into another generation on my tree. I’m anxious to try to verify my initial findings (using unverified sources), for example, that I descend from the Mayflower. I can’t do that if I’m still working in the 19th century.

But I realize that I want to know more about my ancestors than their dates of birth, marriage and death. I’d like to know how they lived, why they migrated, what their military experiences were like, among other things. And that’s going to require locating multiple sources about each ancestor and resisting the temptation to just climb the family tree.

I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and checklists, so I think I’m going to create a checklist of categories of sources to try to find on each ancestor before moving to another. This will also help me when I come back to an ancestor.

I can’t wait to see what I learn!

Photo by Juanjo+Willow via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Rededicating myself to collateral lines

reunionchildrenWhen I rebooted my genealogy research a few years ago and started my family tree from scratch, adding only those people for whom I had verified source information, I focused on my direct-line ancestors. That approach felt less overwhelming, less tedious, and it allowed me to move up my family tree more quickly, which felt rewarding.

In August 2013, I pondered whether I should be adding collateral lines (the siblings of my direct ancestors) and concluded it would be a good idea. I started adding children I found on censuses, properly sourcing them, of course. It did prove to be a bit tedious and it sort of dropped off my radar.

Then I took an Ancestry DNA test and transferred my DNA results to Family Tree DNA. Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of distant cousins. While I’m still trying to figure out how to use the DNA results to further my research, one thing has become very apparent: Having those siblings in my family tree would help me, as well as these cousins, figure out our relationships.

I’d like at the very least to have their name and approximate birth dates, easily obtainable from my ancestors’ census records. More information would be great, and maybe I’ll do more research on these siblings eventually, but right now I’m setting my sights on names and birth dates and states.

So I’m going for it. I’ve moved the goal of adding collateral lines to each family to the top of my list of things to accomplish when I’m focusing on a certain line. I’d added a sheet called Siblings Entered to my progress tracker. (I was glad to see that I’ve already entered the siblings of eleven ancestors; it’s a start.) The clues these collateral lines will give me should make them less tedious to enter. At last, I’m really seeing the value of the effort.

I look forward to having a more robust family tree!

Questioning my assumptions

marriage record snippetThis past October, I wrote a post called Using a timeline to solve a problem. In it I reported how pleased I was that I could use a timeline to address a discrepancy between records I had seen that listed my great great grandparents’ wedding day as March 14, 1865 and those that listed it as May 14, 1865. I concluded, after taking into account the timeline and applying logic to the situation, that they must have been married in March, when my gggrandfather was on furlough from a “disabled camp” during the Civil War, rather than in May when records seemed to indicate that he was in a Union prison-of-war camp.

However, since that time, I sent away for records from the courthouse in Shelby County, Alabama, where they were married that spring. These handwritten records seem to clearly say May, not March. Even more compelling, it’s a chronological record and this one falls after a marriage that occurred in April. So it seems like my great great grandfather’s recollection was correct when he listed his marriage date as May 14 on the Alabama Census of Confederate Soldiers!

Perhaps he was paroled a couple weeks before the June 3 date listed in his records. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never find out. But today, anyway, I’m going back to May 14 as the date in my records.

I’m certainly not discounting timelines as a viable way to analyze information. But what I am taking away from this is that I should avoid thinking of any problem solved, just because I reached what I think is a logical conclusion. I imagine this lesson will come back to me on more than one occasion as I do genealogy research!

 

Had my DNA tested: now what?

DNA test. Now what?Last spring I blogged that I wanted to do a genealogy DNA test but was overwhelmed by the options. In July, I reminded myself that done is better than perfect and I took advantage of a sale that Ancestry DNA was having and sent for an autosomal DNA kit.

I got the results back in August, and was tickled to see my ethnicity breakdown. I’ve never felt a kinship with any particular nationality, but I was very interested to see that my primary ethnicity is Ireland (38%). That didn’t come as much of a surprise since the first immigrant ancestor I’ve confirmed so far in my research was from Ireland. After Ireland, the breakdown is West Europe (23%), followed by  Great Britain (11%), Scandinavia (9%) and Finland/Northwest Russia (7%). Before this, when asked my ethnicity I would have guessed Great Britain.

I saw a few DNA matches on Ancestry DNA, but beyond reaching out to one match, I haven’t done much with it. Recently, I decided to upload my Ancestry DNA results to Family Tree DNA. For a small fee, my matches were displayed. They presented me with some 900 matches, ranging from 1st to 3rd cousin all the way to remote cousin. I just reached out to the closest match.

At this point, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and wondering “now what?” I was contacted by a cousin and asked to join a surname project, which I did. I uploaded my GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA. But I’m not sure what, if anything, I should do next. When I start to read about genetic genealogy, something in my brain rebels. (I’m more of a social science than a hard science person.)

My inclination is to sit tight and wait for people to contact me. But I’d love to hear any suggestions from you about more active ways to benefit from my DNA test. Thanks in advance!