a blog based on exploring my family tree
My youngest sister, Kathryn, first inspired my interest in genealogy. She drew an illustrated family tree for a grade seven school project, a version of the history of our family going back as far as she was able to discover at the time. It was three generations deep on three sides of the family, but really missing out altogether on one of the grandparent’s families, my grandfather Wilson.
I remember being inspired by the idea that all of those people were a part of me, and that, in some amazing way, I was an extension of them. We shared bloodlines and a cultural history, both of which define who and what I am, to some very significant degree. It’s still an extraordinary realization.
Over the years since 1969, the year of my sister’s illustrated family tree, the first time I really remember thinking about the history of my family, I didn’t do a lot of genealogical research until about 1990, when I came upon a extended family software program I could run on my personal computer.
My first step then was to enter in all the information I could gather on my two parents, and their extended families. Over the next decade I traced my relatives back to England, Scotland, Sweden and the United States and gathered together stories and pictures from my relatives, including my Maternal grandparents and my fraternal aunts and uncles. My tree expanded exponentially, as one might expect.
Once I gathered all the names, birthdates and vital statistics on my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and first cousins, I already had a sizeable database of names, dates and important information.
It was around 2005 when I took my tree online, trying out several different available programs until I settled on Ancestry.com online and Family Tree for my personal computer. I liked the combination because they allowed me to do most the work on the database on my home computer, and then update the online database. The program on my home computer was familiar to me, in that it was similar to other programs I used at work.
I uploaded my database of several hundred immediate family members into Family Tree, and then Ancestry.com. I soon came to realize that what I was tapping into is a resource far greater than I had imagined possible. Ancestry.com provides me with an intuitive and responsive database, but also far more than that – all of sudden my little personal database of a few hundred was instantly transformed by a new ability provided through the program, which paralleled the process I had been going through in terms of expanding my database of family members.
Suddenly, I started to receive “hints” which extended my own research beyond the living memories of my relatives and even their old documents.
At first I went wild with my enthusiasm, adopting every hint sent my way by the program. My tree grew over the next few years into an unruly mess of verified and unverified connections, many of which led me off on many a wild goose chase. Unfortunately, a lot of the information turned out to be incorrect, and based on information entered incorrectly by well meaning but sloppy researchers, eager to develop their own connections to previous generations. Including me, unfortunately.
From time to time I still find myself wandering down paths that turn out to be factually incorrect, and ultimately end up with me having to trim my tree, sometimes whole branches.
Sometimes I discover the errors on my own, and work hard to fix them. Sometime it’s other people who come to my rescue, pointing out the error of my ways. Sometimes they are even nice about it, although from time to time, not so much.
And I don’t blame them. When they contact me with a serious genealogical error after they may have spent years labouring under false information promulgated in one of my branches, and shared with them through hints drawn from information contained in my data. Sometimes this false leads have cost them hundreds of hours of work before they realized that it they are unverified or even proved to be false.
From time to time I’ve received very angry missives, complaining about my sorry ass lack of discipline and accuracy. Mea culpa. It’s true. Even now, after years of pruning and verifying wherever I am able, there are still significant mistakes in my Ancestry.com tree history. All I can say is “Sorry, I’m working on it!”
The introduction of DNA testing by Ancestry.com has improved matters considerably. More and more members of the extended world family are spitting in a cup and submitting their DNA.
I now have a high degree of confidence in my family tree on Ancestry.com to level of five generations prior to my own, and two generations after my own. This level of confidence would not have been possible even ten years ago, but reflects how radically DNA has advanced our ability to verify the connections between relatives of different generations.
This blog is written with the idea that I’m going to talk about people in my family tree, who are “probably” related, as defined by “We’re Related” a tool provided for owners of a smart phone who have a membership in Ancestry.com. Pretty much every day a new “possible” relative is introduced by the program.
I spend a few minutes checking out the relationships provided by Ancestry.com, sometimes finding them valid as provided, and sometimes finding that the referred “relative” is a mistake, usually brought about because I haven’t completely eradicated errors in my own tree yet.
My initial thought is that I’m going to take one of my “probably related” relatives as the subject for each blog, and wax poetic on what that person represents to me, sometimes about myself, sometimes about my family history, sometimes about history in general, and sometimes about how a connection they seem to me to be to me and mine.
I think I’ll also probably pick out a few of my more colourful direct ancestors and explore them as well.