Monthly Archives: June 2014

Adventures in building a family history.

I’ve gotten off the subject of the specific ancestors that I am tracing. For a bit of a change, I want to share some of the pitfalls, stumbling blocks and errors I’ve come up against, and goofs I have done myself,  while researching family history. In the process, I’ll share some tips and give suggestions that have helped me, in the hopes it might spare others a bit of hair pulling and banging the head on the desk frustrations.

Words of warning, genealogy can be addictive. Especially if you like history in general, tend to be detail oriented, and love to solve mysteries.

The first step is to decide what type of tree you want to put together, and where to draw the line.

There’s the kind of family tree that is nicely printed up and framed for display over the fireplace. This is what I consider a “skeleton” tree; it primarily contains names and dates only, going back maybe to your great great great grandparents. You may or may not want the parents of each individual parent, grandparent, great grandparent and so on. You might want a separate family tree for each of your parents.  You might choose a paternal or maternal line only. See how quickly it can become confusing as the names start adding up?

Are you trying to write up the world’s largest tree going proving that each of us is somehow connected to each other or so that others can refer to and admire your tree? By all means, include every possible combination of every possible connection.  Go ahead, add your great grandparents’ children, their children, their spouses, second marriages, step children from their second spouses first marriage, the step children’s biological parents & their parents, their step  children, aunts, uncles and cousins and several generations of step grandparents. Whew! That tires me out just typing it! 

That type of tree also seems to go hand in hand with the ” must have as many names as possible” trees, full of mistakes, duplicates, parents born before their children, children with two mothers and one father……just a clear reckless disregard for any semblance of concern for a representation of facts as recorded (accuracy). The name I’d give to that type of tree might be insulting vanity so I’ll just quietly leave that for you the reader to decide. 😉 Let me just repeat a line from a song: “that don’t impress me much.” 

The family history tree is my favorite choice; it includes as many ancestors as I can find information to warrant adding to my tree. I do include collateral kin of blended families but I’ve had to decide where the line needs to stop. Uncle James Public, his spouse, children, his second wife, her children, their biological father, and her father and mother are added for clarification of who’s who. If the second wife’s parents turn out to be descended from another family who is already connected to the family through a different line or marriage, I’ll connect them. Not only does this  flesh out the family tree,  it can also give us a snapshot of history. Friends neighbors and family of course, barring rifts in the relationship, naturally helped each other with many aspects of daily life. It may very well lead to a discovery that your great grandfather signed a witness statement for a neighbor who came home from the War Between the States injured and unable to work for a time. These documents establish residence, and reinforce community ties. And that might lead to finding that elusive Maiden name of that great great grandmother. 

If this type of tree interests you the most, be forewarned; if you are starting with basic information, names, dates and general information,  a family history will not  be written in a weekend or two. They take time, patience, attention to detail, a lot of reading, willingness to keep an open mind, ability to solve mysteries and some days…. a couple of aspirin and a neck massage.

That’s another thing. Keep an open mind. Don’t cling so tightly to that family oral or written history as to be unwilling to accept that it might be chock full of inaccuracies. Family histories are only as accurate as the people relaying the story, and that can change over time for a variety of reasons, whether accidentally or not. That great great great great grandaddy that you think fought and died for the freedom of America during the Revolutionary war may well turn out to have fought for the British, was a spy, lived to be 91, married twice and had 17 children.  It happens to most everyone.

Just be open to the truth and try to be neutral about passing judgement too quickly on ancestors.

Always check as many resources as you can find before adding information or names and dates to your tree. If something comes up that you cannot verify and you’re not sure of, keep it in a ‘to be looked at later’ file for future reference. When  or if it’s later verified to be correct, add it to your tree. Don’t be too hasty to add fluff to your tree.

Take your time, relax, and enjoy the search.

Till next time, happy hunting.

B.L. Stroud


Fill in the blanks. No, don’t!

You’re working on that family tree on You get as far back  as the fifth generation of ancestors. Then, it happens. That blank space–you know the one.  Where you add the mother’s name. The name you don’t know.  At least not the full name. You know what you should do, but you can’t seem to help yourself. It just sits there big and blank and empty and you just have to put something there. Before you know it,  your itchy fingers reach out to the keyboard and fill in that blank. With Jane UNKNOWN.  Immediately, cute little leaves start dancing at you with the proclamation that you have hints!!!

Oh joy. Hints. That thing we love so well on

You point and click.

Congratulations. You now have hints. For Jane Knowles. Jane Knowlton,  Jean Knowleton, J. Bowles, Jane Unitas, Jenn Unity,  and need I go on? Some are in Boise ID, some are in Ireland  and are 300 years ‘off’ from your ancestor’s lifetimes.

For the uninitiated with, its search engine  pulls combinations of names, dates, locations of the data you input along with  any possible combination  of ‘near’ matches.  It looks for numbers in  the date fields, letters names fields, and a minimum of the State  (or region) and the Country for the place. I know, DUH!  Imagine you are a search engine trying to match those items up and someone has entered this information:

name: John Doe ; Birth – somewhere around 1770,  Georgia;
death: at home; residence: Carolina;

spouse Mrs. Doe; spouse birth maybe 1770-1780 in Ala????;
death; don’t know;
residence ?????

The search engine can’t find computer logic in the fields; it’s going to bypass question marks and fragmented sentences in the date fields. If the lady’s maiden name is entered as MNU, the search engine will match up any and every name with any and every possible combination of M, N, and U in it.

This is one reason that the  hints you click on, and/or the ‘search records’ feature  can come up with 119 pages of results that  can be 95%  irrelevant to your search. Most of the “hits” wind up  being “misses”  and lots of time is wasted sorting through all that, or either one gets frustrated and gives up.   Another reason is, it’s just results happy and wants to make you suffer by wading through all that just  in case that ONE relevant clue might turn up.  At least that’s my opinion.   😉   It also opens up the possibility you will get no matches or hints at all.

It seems easy enough:
if you don’t know the information that goes in a field, then don’t put anything in that field .

Leave it blank.

Yet so many people seem  flummoxed by this simple concept.

A pet peeve of mine: messing around with women’s  names, especially the maiden name.

Unless you know, or find records that prove her last name prior to marriage to John Q. Smith  really was Smith, don’t put Mrs. (first name) Smith  (maiden name).

Here’s an example of actual women’s names I’ve seen on family trees.
Names are changed of course, for privacy. 🙂

Mother (spouse)                        Father

Jane Smith                             John Q Smith
Mrs. Smith
Jane LNU
Jane MNU
Jane Unknown
Unknown Smith
FNU  Smith
—-      —–
**** ****
Mrs. John Smith
Jane Maiden Name
Jane Not Known
Jane Don’t Know
Mrs. Unknown wife of Mr. Smith. (:O)

I kid you not. While these apparent bloopers might initially seem amusing, this is non informational filler which serves no purpose.

If is new to you, I hope you find this helpful. Hang in there, it gets easier with time and experience. We were all new at something one time or fifty others.

If you’re doing it for some other reason,  please stop. You’re only clogging the system and making research more difficult for everyone, including yourself.

And is it respectful to fool around with our ancestor’s lives and names like that?  I don’t think so.

By leaving the “unknown information” fields blank you are leaving your tree open for future hints from matches with other future trees. Remember that documents and records are constantly being uploaded and updated, and new people sign up every day to work with  You never know when that distant cousin might just have information you’re missing, and vice versa. It can mean the difference in brick wall breakthroughs.

Happy hunting.

B.L. Stroud


Fill in the blanks. No, Don’t! Part II


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Another kind of family tree

The kind in which one feels they must include ‘famous’ people, even if facts have to be bent or stretched a bit to make it happen. Otherwise, what’s the point of a family tree if it’s not full of royalty and famous people, right?:)  Well, ok, if you really DO have family connections and have the documentation to support it in some way….that’s just fine. But making up pseudo facts to suit your purpose and build that ego does no one any favors, and very likely your ancestor from 1759 is unimpressed at such endeavors.

Here’s a website full of interesting observations, painstaking research, and thoughts  similar to mine, but expressed more eloquently than I can manage at this moment. Especially the last paragraph on the page.

Happy hunting.

B.L. Stroud

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