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Adventures in building a family history.

12 Jun

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

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2 responses to “Adventures in building a family history.

  1. chmjr2

    June 12, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    A great blog today. Not really sure what kind of tree I have. It combines my wife’s family line and mine. The best find so far is that we are cousins, 10th cousins that is. As you say you never know what you will dig up. But I just keep digging. Now if I only had a ladder to climb out of this hole. 🙂

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    • blstroud

      June 12, 2014 at 9:02 PM

      Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind remarks. The first tree I started on ancestry.com got away from me quickly. It included both my parents and every possible connection I came across, winding up with more than 9000 names. As a result, I have quite a few double and triple relationships to the same individuals through each of my parents, many going back to “Olde England”(and other countries) and can likely never be “proven” due to lack of records. I use that tree now only as a reference of sorts.

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