Engaging Family History

What makes for engaging family history?

I am certain it’s not a mere rambling of names and dates–even if there are a great deal of documents in chronological order. That’s a great way to share and preserve what has been located, but I’m not certain it is all that engaging. I’ve read a great deal of those things and while they are useful for research analysis I don’t think they are all that fun to read.

It would be like reading a “series bible” used by an author when creating a book series. For those who are so inclined, it would be comparable to reading a glossary or dictionary. Those are not bad activities and some of us engage in them more than we may care to admit, but it’s not writing designed to actively engage an audience to read it from start to finish.

I’ve often seen a discussion of the difference between genealogy and family history. I think I’m settled on the difference. The “genealogy” is the reference item used when a specific fact or piece of information is desired. The family history is more readable.

Sometimes more readable…depends on the author.


The Biggest Shared Match May be Inconsequential

I’m occasionally reminded when going through my AncestryDNA matches that shared matches are helpful, but that they can be misleading as well.

My match Linda shares 28 cM with me on 1 segment. She is a descendant of my 3rd great-grandparents Clark and Mary (Dingman) Sargent. The shared match with whom I share the most DNA myself is one I’ll call “cc.” Cc is a known descendant of a different set of 3rd great-grandparents, Mimke and Antje (Jaspers) Habben. The Dingmans and the Sargents have no connections to each other. The Habbens were Ostfriesens and the Sargents have no known connections to that area at all.

The other shared matches with Linda are all other known descendants of ancestors of Clark and Mary (Dingman) Sargent. Cc is an outlier in terms out analyzing my matches. Somewhere in their ancestry, cc and Linda have a common ancestor with each other that they do not share with me.

Do not assume that all the shared matches you have with a person have to be related to you through the same family. It is possible that they share a connection with each other that they do not share with you.

This is just one reason why it is important to identify as many of your matches as you can…even on those families “you didn’t test DNA for.”


The Birth Certificate: An American History

I’ve not read it yet, but this looks interesting–The Birth Certificate: An American History, by Susan J. Pearson and published by the University of North Carolina Press . Given how genealogists rely on civil records of birth and how they have changed over the years, there hopefully will be some good background information in here. Understanding the “why” behind the records we use in our genealogical research is crucial to fully understanding them. Like all records, birth certificates were not created for genealogists but over time have come to serve more and more purposes. This should be a good read. We’ll have an update after I’ve had a chance to read through its pages.


At Her Father’s House in 1817

The 17 December 1878 statement of Thomas Tredway indicated that Jemima DeMoss and Elisha Meads were married in Harford County, Maryland, “at her fathers [John DeMoss, Jr.] house in Harford County” on 9 November 1817.

I do not think that’s strong enough evidence to conclude that Jemima’s mother was deceased on the date of Jemima’s marriage. Use of the word “father’s” to describe the real property of a person’s parents in the 19th century was not uncommon. Her father could actually have been deceased at the time of the marriage as well–even though the word “late” or “deceased” was not used in the reference–and her mother could have been living.

I already knew that John DeMoss, Jr. lived in Harford County, Maryland, but the statement would have been helpful had that not been known. I knew that John owned real estate, but the reference to his “farm” would have suggested real estate ownership instead of him being a tenant farmer.


My “Incomplete” Tree

My ahnentafel chart (an ancestor table that lists direct-line ancestors) had blanks in it. I don’t have any gaps until I get to my third-great-grandparents. That’s where the blanks in my pedigree start. I don’t have the names of three of my Irish ancestors in that generation.

And it grows from there.

In my 4th great-grandparent generation, there are eight ancestors of probable Irish origin whose names are not currently known. They may never be. Another 4th great-grandmother, probably from Pennsylvania or Maryland, is also a mystery. The number of blanks only increases as my tree goes into the generation of my 5th great-grandparents and beyond. Unknown ancestors from New York State and various areas of the American South are unknown to me at this time. They may remain that way.

I don’t know what percent of my tree in the generation of my 5th or 6th great-grandparents is incomplete. It’s not because I cannot calculate percentages. I don’t care because it frankly does not matter. I’m not in a competition. Some locations and time periods are more difficult to establish parent-child connections in. Some ancestors, for one reason or another, are more difficult to trace to their parentage.

The goal for me is to document as many ancestors as I can as completely as possible. Sometimes that is easier to do than others. There’s no need to set an arbitrary benchmark to meet.

We have the ancestors we have with the research challenges that come with them. It’s the path of discovery that matters…not the largest accumulation of names and relationships.


Are Your Sources That Specific?

The ability to merge sources (particularly census) into a tree at Ancestry.com is really a nice one.

However, one must be careful not to indicate that a source says something it does not. The reasons are pretty obvious–but here’s an example with the names changed.

Thomas Smith was born in Harford County, Maryland, on 2 May 1865 and you have three primary sources to back it up. The 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 census all indicate he was born in Maryland. Let’s say that they all point to a year of birth of 1865

Yet if you aren’t careful when you tie the census record to his date and place of birth, you seemingly indicate that the census indicates he was born on 2 May 1865 in Harford County, Maryland. I’ve never seen a census between 1880 and 1920 that provides that specific of a place of birth.

Shouldn’t you create a “new” place/date of birth that is 1865 in Maryland and tie the census source to that?

Or am I just a stick in the mud?


Evaluating ThruLines Relationships

ThruLines at AncestryDNA is meant to be a tool to help analyze matches that have at least a partial family tree attached to their DNA results. The purported tree connecting you to the DNA match may or may not be correct.

The white boxes (John G, John M, and Theodore Trautvetter) in the illustration are names and relationships that are in the tree I have attached to my test results. The gray boxes (with “evaluate”) in the corner are names and relationships that have been pulled using AncestryDNA’s automated “tree stitching” based on one or more user submitted trees.

The tree of the match may only go back so far as the parent of the match. The names and relations may have been pulled from one or more trees others have submitted to AncestryDNA and those trees may or may not be connected to any DNA results. Each name and relationship in the gray boxes will have to be evaluated manually.

The white boxes are from your tree. The others are not and, like a therapist, you’ll have to evaluate those relationships for viability.


ThruLines Splits Alexander and Concludes without DNA Evidence

Ancestry.com’s ThruLines is a means to facilitate working with DNA matches that have trees attached to them. ThruLines then extends the tree in an attempt to show you how you connect with the DNA match. People are only in your ThruLines if they are:

  • a DNA match to you,
  • have a tree attached to their DNA results,
  • able to be connected to your genealogical tree using the “big ol’ tree” Ancestry.com uses to make connections.

The connection to you and the match via ThruLines is only as accurate as the genealogical pedigree information in their “big ol’ tree.” Because that “big ol’ tree” is made from compiled trees, the information in it may be inaccurate. Because of that the suggested path of connection may not be entirely correct. There may be extra generations, not enough generations, etc. It is also possible that your genealogical connection to that DNA match is through another family and not the one that ThruLines suggests.

The illustration is a good example of individuals who are connected to me, but whose connection to me is incorrect–because it is based on trees of other individuals that contain incorrect information. To make the craziness of the ThruLines as simple as possible to understand, a man named Alexander Neill (son of John Neill shown in the illustration as my 3rd great-grandfather) is in the big ol’ tree three times–twice as nephews of his actual father and once correctly (but not shown in the illustration). These two incorrect Alexanders have lines of descent down to my known DNA matches.

So all the DNA matches in the illustration actually descend from John Neill (my 3rd great-grandfather). None descend from any siblings of this John. ThruLines suggests that the DNA shows evidence that I descend from an earlier John Neill (born in 1773) and his father Charles McNeill. That’s not correct. All my DNA matches (related to this family) are known to come from John Neill my 3rd great-grandfather. The only way a DNA match would suggest a descent from the earlier John or Charles would be if that DNA match descended from the earlier John or Charles–without descending through my 3rd great-grandfather John Neill.

There’s “tree evidence” of the connection between John Neill and his “father” and “grandfather”–using that phrase very loosely–but no DNA evidence at all. The paper “evidence” of the earlier John (and Charles) is weak, weak enough that I’ve not put that information in my actual tree. And there’s no DNA evidence (yet) connecting the earlier John or Charles to me because no DNA matches to me have John or Charles in their tree without also being a descendant of my 3rd great-grandfather.

ThruLines is a tool. Personally I find it helpful to sort out matches that have a tree. But I have to doublecheck those connections.


Images on FamilySearch Webinar Released

We’ve released the recording and handout for my “Images on FamilySearch” webinar. More details have been posted on our announcement page.

The introductory rate will work through 4 October 2021–despite what it says on our announcement page.

If you pre-ordered and have not received your materials, contact me at the email address on your receipt.