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!

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!

My 2015 genealogy goals

In my last blog post I wrote that I don’t usually create genealogy goals and that this year would be different. I’m starting to really question my memory, because a search on my blog revealed the genealogy goals I set for 2013 and 2014. So I guess I what I really mean is that I need to set genealogy goals and keep them top of mind.

A year ago I created a quarterly research scheme for 2014 that actually worked quite well for me. (I described and evaluated it in this post.) I decided that I would divide the year into quarters and focus on one line of my family (that is, the ancestors of one grandparent) per quarter. At that time I outlined all the things that I would endeavor to do in that quarter. The list was lengthy and I think I knew at the time I was writing it that I’d never get it all done.

I’ve learned that when I create unrealistic goals I tend to ignore them. So I decided that for 2015 I need to structure my genealogy goals in such a way that I set myself up for success.

I created a list not dissimilar to last year’s, but instead of expecting myself to do everything on the list, I am striving to do four of the eight things on the list for each family line.  I’m sticking with the quarterly plan, but I’ll be jumping for joy if I accomplish four of the things per quarter. And I imagine the four things I do accomplish will vary by the family line.

Most of the items on my list are things within my control, which I think is important because so much of genealogy research feels outside my control. For example, one of the goals is to spend an average of two hours a week researching. The goal isn’t to solve a particular mystery or achieve a milestone, which I may or may not be able to do, but rather to put in the effort. (I did include one milestone among the goals, because it will feel so good to achieve it.)

The menu of eight items vary in level of effort, so if I have a quarter where I’m not able to spend as much time as I’d like researching, I can probably still get a few Xs. (For example, I’m sure I can find photos on my hard drive and add them to Reunion or add ten pins to my genealogy map.)

So here’s the little table I made in Pages on my Mac.

2015gengoalsscreenshot

I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement here, but I’m feeling good that these goals are achievable and something that I can keep top of mind. I’m going to print out the table and pin it to my bulletin board so I know I won’t forget them this year!