Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ancestry Family Trees

There's a constant drumbeat in the genea-tribe, the one that sounds like prove it... prove it... prove it. We're told over and over again, "do your own research" and "don't accept what it says in a database--see the original documents." And of course, for those relatives nearest and dearest to us, it's what we do. We collect the documents, study their content, draw our conclusions, enter the data and, if we're really toeing the line, we create a detailed source citation that would pass muster with Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Most of us, I'm guessing, have family tree software installed on our home computers, and that's where we enter and keep track of our important data. In fact, I'll post a poll below and we'll see. In any case, my own computer is where I do my most important electronic stockpiling of genealogical information (never mind the ten thousand pieces of paper), because it's where I can always quickly access the data and keep control of it, print out exactly what I want, make adjustments easily when needed, keep research notes, etc. I've done it that way since the early 1990s when I got my first home computer, a Mac Classic, and the now-defunct Family Heritage File software. When I replaced the Mac with a PC, I switched to Family Tree Maker. Years later, when Legacy waved their innovative SourceWriter under my nose, I switched again.

For most of those years, I did not have an Ancestry membership, so I did not have a tree on Ancestry. A few years ago I finally found it expedient to put Ancestry into my budget, and when the shaky leaf later came along, I really had to post a tree there because I had to find out, does Ancestry know something I don't know? Is there an easily-fetched document I've missed? Thus, for me, Ancestry is not so much the home of my data as it is a research tool.

As such, I've found it very helpful in some cases to create a tree rather than just do a simple search for someone I'm researching. For example, I might want to build a tree for someone who was a godparent or marriage witness for someone in my tree. The person may or may not be a relative, but I can learn a lot in a short time by constructing his or her tree on Ancestry, and maybe a relationship will become evident. Creating a tree enables me to quickly locate and add documents (and therefore more data to enhance Ancestry's search for leaf-shaking finds), not only for the particular individual but also for his or her other family members.

I've also built a few trees for unconnected individuals whose surname is the same as someone in my own tree. My hope, when I do that, is to discover a possible relationship somewhere back in time. But until I do, there's no reason to add that individual to my own permanent tree, nor does it make sense for me to invest a lot of time or money to document everything for someone who may turn out to be unrelated. But I do investigate other trees the individual appears in. I don't use the Review button for this investigation--I click through to each of those trees to get a broader look at them (how many people are in those trees? how often are the tree owners logged in? how extensively have they researched the surname I'm interested in?). If I find a tree which appears to be reasonably well-constructed or, better yet, created by someone closely related to the person I'm researching, I might add people from that tree to my own, to see where it leads me over time. I may get lucky and find a cousin, or someone who's done enough research to assure me that I'm not a cousin and never will be.

Either way, I've rarely been contacted by anyone from whose tree I've clicked-and-claimed, and the same is true of people who have clicked-and-claimed from my trees. And I understand that. I rarely initiate contact myself, only doing so when I believe the contact will be of particular value to at least one of us. I learned from experience to be selective about contacting people. We are not all on the same page! I observe what I can from someone's tree(s) and profile before deciding whether to invest myself in making contact, and if it seems worthwhile, I send a message and hope for a reply that's at least courteous, even if it's not filled with things I want to hear. On the whole, I've found that genealogists are a friendly and helpful lot. I suspect the rude or selfish ones are new and haven't learned our ways yet! And the foolish ones? Maybe they came to the table after watching a little TV genealogy. Either they'll get it after awhile or they won't, but there's no point in letting it spoil my day.

Two of my Ancestry trees were created solely because I have photographs or other items that belong to families other than mine. In one case, my grandmother had photos of some friends we're not related to; in the other, I purchased some postcards and other correspondence from an estate sale dealer. These items would probably be treasured by someone, and maybe someday they'll be found by the right person via these Ancestry trees.

As with any other resource, all who use Ancestry do so with their own motivations and goals, their own skill sets, their own hopes and expectations. Theirs may not match mine. I can't control that, and I don't expect to. I only get to control one body and one mind--my own. If others' trees can help me or mine can help them, that's great. If not, we can move along and look elsewhere. But no matter what, the drumbeat goes on and the same old advice applies. Do your own research. Don't accept what it says in a database as gospel (even on Ancestry!). Seek out and scrutinize original documents to see if they support your claim. You know... prove it... prove it... prove it.

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Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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