Thursday, October 14, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 4 - Knowing when to stop

By now you are starting to see a family tree take shape!  It has become something you can literally touch and feel.  Most computer-based, genealogy programs allow you to print different reports, some even narrative in nature.  You can now share your research with friends and family members, in an organized and coherent manner
 
You should be proud of what you have done so far but imagine the information you will have after a few months of research!  I could publish thousands of pages on my family, almost too much to handle!  Most genealogists have the goal of printing their family history book someday.  If you have followed my advice so far, you are well on your way to that accomplishment.
 
The biggest problem with genealogy is knowing when to stop.  Everybody in your tree has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.  Each of those people probably had numerous children who gave them numerous grandchildren.  In no time at all, you could be adding thousands of names to your family tree.
 
You have to make a conscious decision, early in your research process, as to how far you will trace a particular family.  This is especially true when it comes to cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.  There are just so many people in a family that it becomes both time and cost prohibitive to learn about them all.
 
It is commonly accepted that you should at least learn about the brothers and sisters of your direct ancestors.  For example, you might not find the maiden name of your great-great-grandmother on your great-grandmother's birth, marriage or death records.  You could lose hope but remember that your great-great-grandmother had other children.  You might find her maiden name on a record pertaining to one of those other children and not your direct ancestor.
 
You then have to decide if you are going to trace down through the children of your great-aunts and uncles.  There is one major reason why you should trace these children...finding living relatives.  They might have old family photos, documents, Bibles, etc. that you would not find otherwise.  On the other hand, you will spend time tracing their lines instead of learning about your direct ancestors.
 
This is an important balance that you must strike when starting out.  I would suggest that you focus on your ancestors first, and then all of their children.  Try to answer the "eleven questions" about each of them but I would not worry too much about the children of aunts and uncles.  Other researchers out there who share a common ancestor, through these collateral lines, will probably find you eventually.
 
At least in the beginning I would suggest that you focus on quality, not quantity.  It would be very disappointing to find out later that you misread something and wasted time tracing an ancestor that turned out not to be your ancestor at all!  There were a lot of guys named John or William married to women named Mary or Jane.  It is hard to distinguish between some of them so focus on the quality of your connections, not the number of them.  You can always add volume later.

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