Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Up the Tree, Down the Tree

I enjoyed the recent post by Kirsty on her Professional Descendant blog asking "who belongs in your family tree?" There are probably as many methods to building a family tree as there are people searching for ancestors.

When I started years ago with the few bits of information from my grandparents, it was a one-person-at-a-time process. Finding people on the internet wasn't a concept. Back then, I ordered a microfilm reel of the census, found the family, found the neighbors, and then ordered the next older census. And waited. Then I ordered a death certificate. And waited.

Now when I find a new lead, I usually copy in the family information. Compared to years ago, finding a related family and entering their census data takes a matter of minutes, as opposed to days or weeks when waiting for microfilm. If they are in a similar location to my ancestral tree branches, I will probably pursue them further. If that family has vital records in a database I am already familiar with, I'll probably search there, too. Boy, I love to research and dig!

Today, after 20 or so years of searching, I have about 6,000 people in my database. But that doesn't mean they are closely related to me. My research style is sort of "up the tree and down the tree." If I am working on a direct branch and I am confident I am back another generation, I will start tracking down those children and grandchildren: casting a wide net, as it were. This method works to a point. I have had several people contact me regarding distant lines in my tree. At best, we can compare notes. But if we can't help each other land more relatives and connections, the communication usually ends. On the rare occasion we are close cousins, we seem to connect more, stay in touch over time, and bump into each other on the internet. For me, these have been very rare.

I am not a "name collector." I do not see a purpose in having 200,000 names in my tree. In the past, I would message some of those tree-holders only to be told they had no information, or that the data was uploaded from yet another tree. Does that really help anyone? I feel most of the people in my database are there for a reason: because they are connected, however tenuously, to my family lines. You never know what that vital piece of information might be and to whom it is connected.

Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come via collateral line and sibling research. I try to find and enter as much data about collateral family members as possible. It may be a longer and loopier path but it really does work. Anyone you think that may help you connect belongs in your tree.

Most of my branches are full of "twigs" back to the early 1800's and late 1700's. I am happy with this. Of course, I always want to find more. And really, isn't that why we search?

© 2013 Sally Knudsen


  1. I only started researching a few years ago, so much of what I have researched is available online. I've not had to wait weeks to receive microfilm of census records - they are available at my finger tips. So...I have a number of twigs in my tree as well. While I research mainly on my direct lines, I never know when connections to those collateral lines may lead to new discoveries. I met an entire side of the family through one of those twigs! I like the "longer and loopier path". Thanks for you insight!

    1. That's great! The line I started with is fuller, but I am no farther with ancestors than was was years ago. I am also finding that I have better luck with European and UK records than US!

      Good luck with your searching!