Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can you document all names back 10 generations?

No, I cannot. Even with my "fine New England ancestry" I get "holes" in my pedigree chart in the 5th generation back, I'm missing names for 2 out of 32 3rd great-grandparents; and in the 6th generation back, I'm missing names for 16 out of 64 4th great-grandparents.

Why did I ask this question? Because there has been a civil debate in the Comments of my post I'm Puzzled by DNA Claims on "Faces of America" between Tamura Jones, Martin Hollick and Patti Hobbs after Tamura said:

"Being able to document all names for ten or twelve generations isn't all that rare. In many Western countries, BMD registrations started around 1600 or 1650, that is 350 to 400 years ago."

Martin said:

"I respectfully disagree. Perhaps Randy can ask the question. How many people who read his blog know all their ancestors in all lines up to the level of 10 generations (counting yourself as generation #1). That is 512 ancestors. I'm guessing it's maybe 1 or 2% of people doing genealogy."

Patti commented:

"Tamura, when I re-read Martin's post, he didn't say that it wasn't possible or couldn't be done. He just said it was rare. I agree with him. I'm not saying it's impossible either. Maybe it depends on where your ancestors were, but there are almost no birth, marriage, and death records in much of New York and Pennsylvania until 1883-5. I have a lot of ancestors from those places."

And on it went.

Tamura lives in Europe, where the civil records and the church records usually go back to the 1500s, unless there are major record losses in the country or provinces. I have a 50% American and 50% European ancestry back 10 generations, Martin has perhaps a 75% Slovak and 25% American ancestry back 10 generations, I don't know what Patti has.

Here are some of my family tree statistics (generated by making ahnentafels and counting the number of names in each slot):

1) Number of full names (first name and last name) in my father's ancestry (going back 10 generations, counting him as the first generation). My father has 75% colonial New England and 25% English ancestry:

* Generations 1-4 - 15 out of 15 possible names (100%)
* In the 5th generation - 16 out of 16 possible names (100%)
* In the 6th generation - 24 out of 32 possible names (75%)
* In the 7th generation - 38 out of 64 possible names (59.4%)
* In the 8th generation - 71 out of 128 possible names (55.5%)
* In the 9th generation - 129 out of 256 possible names (50.4%)
* In the 10th generation - 219 out of 512 possible names (42.8%)
* 513 names out of 1,023 possible names in 10 generations (50.1%)

2) Number of full names (first name and last name) in my mother's ancestry (going back 10 generations, counting her as the first generation). My mother has about 50% colonial New England about 37.5% European immigrants (in the 1700s to NY, PA, NJ), and 12.5% English ancestry (immigrated in 1840s):

* Generations 1-4 - 15 out of 15 possible names (100%)
* In the 5th generation - 14 out of 16 possible names (87.5%)
* In the 6th generation - 23 out of 32 possible names (71.9%)
* In the 7th generation - 31 out of 64 possible names (48.4%)
* In the 8th generation - 39 out of 128 possible names (30.5%)
* In the 9th generation - 49 out of 256 possible names (19.1%)
* In the 10th generation - 70 out of 512 possible names (13.7%)
* 241 names out of 1,023 possible names in 10 generations (23.6%)

3) So I have the names of:

* 287 out of 511 ancestors (56.2%) in 9 generations starting with myself (back to about 1700)
* 465 out of 1,023 ancestors (45.5%) in 10 generations starting with myself (back to about 1670)
* 754 out of 2,047 ancestors (36.8%) in 11 generations starting with myself. (back to about 1640)

Now some people may argue that I may have missed some of my people through shoddy research or poor counting, but those numbers are about right. I am doing very little name-gathering these days because there are no records online or in books for ancestors without a name (i.e., parents of the "end-of-the-line" people that I have with names). The one exception is the Martin family ancestry in New Jersey that just came loose last November through Mark Putman's efforts. I'm still in the Survey Research phase for those family lines, but I've included most of them in the numbers above.

In my present research, I am concentrating on finding primary information and original source records for the people that I do have, in hopes of finding the parents names, or leads to those names, in those records. The vital records data is either non-existent or exhausted for the "end-of-the-line" folks - I'm in military, church, land, tax and probate records.

Now there may be 10-generation family trees posted on WorldConnect or that are 100% colonial New England and have all of the ten generations filled up, but I've never seen one. There are too many "females without a surname" that marry in the 1607-1850 time frame. For example, in the 10th generation of my father's line, I have an additional 55 persons with a given name and no surname. That is very typical of New England records - without a marriage record the female surnames are often not known.

On the other hand, I have seen some 7-generation ahnentafel lists posted in periodicals (e.g., The Essex Genealogist) with all 64 slots filled in in the 7th generation.

My English ancestral lines on both my father's and mother's ancestries are hampered by a lack of church parish registry records before 1800 - my Richman family line starts in 1790 and I know nothing about any of the Richman-Marshman-Rich-Hill lines in Wiltshire before then. That's 25% of my father's ancestry. My mother also has a significant English immigrant line, and I have only one family back into the 1600s on that line. Many English parishes have fairly complete records, but they are incomplete for my particular lines.

Massachusetts didn't mandate civil registration at the town level (with reports to the state) of births, marriages and deaths until 1841, and the other New England states did so in the 1790 to 1870 time frame. Before civil registration at the town level, the town record books often included birth, marriage and death record entries, but they were not complete, and in many towns, the returns were pretty sparse, especially in the 1750 to 1850 time frame. Records between 1630 and 1750 are pretty good in most towns. All of this makes it difficult to obtain a complete record of the families involved.

Coastal New York and New Jersey were settled by the Dutch in 1624, and then populated by the English after 1664. Pennsylvania was settled by the English in the 1680's along the Delaware River. German immigration in the early 1700s into all three states expanded the population tremendously. Scots-Irish started immigrating in the mid-1700s into Pennsylvania and points south. In New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, some areas have decent church records once towns were established (New York City and Long Island Dutch and English churches, Hudson River Dutch and German churches, Pennsylvania German churches, New Jersey Dutch, English and German churches), but there is not 100% coverage within a town or 100% coverage of all towns. That's just the facts of genealogy life in the USA. We generally use military, church, land, probate and tax records to try to define our families and relationships before 1850.

I don't have any ancestry in the states south of colonial Pennsylvania so I can't give a general synopsis of availability of records, but the situation is similar to the mid-Atlantic states - researchers have to rely on military, church, land, tax and probate records before 1850.

Martin estimated that perhaps 1 or 2% of all researchers had their 10-generation chart filled up - every name. I'm not as optimistic - I sincerely doubt that any person has all 1,023 names filled out in a 10-generation pedigree chart.

My thanks to Tamura, Martin and Patti for the spirited discussion - hopefully we all learned something useful.

Hmm, I started this at 8:38 p.m. and it's now 10:20 pm. - spent almost two hours crunching numbers. Oh well, sleep comes and goes anyway! I had fun!

Does any reader have a completed pedigree chart back ten generations or more?


Wendy Hawksley said...

A very interesting post. For both myself and my husband, we can document all names back 6 generations (beginning with our son). After that... Phew.

The surname-less women often come into play.

GrannyPam said...

No, not even close. After 32 years of part-time and 8 years of half time genealogy, I am missing 6 of 16 great-grandparents. I guess I fail!

John said...

I can only go back five generations with documentation on my Eastern European Jewish branches. A cousin managed to take one line back seven generations with 20 years of research involving travelling to Lithuania several times.

I start developing holes in the seventh generation for my other (mostly Colonial American) branches, even though some of those ultimately land me in England.

I admit I haven't personally visited England to conduct the research - but I haven't had success with internet research so far.

theKiwi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
theKiwi said...

I wrote about this last August - - but from a different angle.

16 gg grandparents - check
32 ggg grandparents - 3 gaps
64 gggg grandparents - 26 gaps
128 ggggg grandparents - 95 gaps

now switching to what I do know

256 gggggg grandparents - 31 known
512 ggggggg grandparents - 33 known.

So - "Not even close"!!!!

In total that comes to

2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 29 + 38 + 33 + 31 + 33 = 192 out of 1022 possible. I guess that's a fail.

Lynn Palermo said...

My Irish lines only go to 6th generation, my Polish line to 7th, and my German lines to the 8th. And some of that I don't have all the primary documentation on yet. So I still have some work to go hit that 10th generation mark.

Brenda said...

I thought something was wrong with me, I guess I am not doing so bad afterall. Those pesky no surname females get me everytime. Thanks for the post.

Martin said...

Valerie C. said...

I wish I could go back 10 generations on every line! My first "break" is in the sixth generation, with more in the seventh an so on. I honestly think I'll never break through on one line due to an unmarried 3x-Great Grandmother who never married and had seven kids. Another line that stops in the 5th is very frustrating due to an abundance of records that give me the names of that 5th generation, but I can't actually find the couple!

The only lines that I have (six) that go back 10 generations are the ones that I can track to Europe.

Ryan said...

I can go back 5 generations on my father's side with just one hole--a female without a surname. After that, though, everyone is in Germany, and I haven't even started to look there yet. So gen 6 on that side has only 2 slots filled in. On my mother's side, I have 5 complete, then about 75% of gen 6, about half of gen 7 & 8, then except for a couple of lines, I'm pretty much at an end. I'm motivated now to find that one missing surname in gen 5 just to be able to claim 100% coverage through 5 generations!

Heather Rojo said...

My ancestry is about 75% New England (with a few others thrown in) and 25% Mill English (my grandmother arrived in 1915 from Yorkshire) So the breakdown is:
5th generation- 100% known
6th gen.- 85% known (28 out of 32)
7th gen. - 84% - 54 out of 64
8th gen- 62% - 80 out of 128
9th gen- 57%- 147 out of 256
10th gen- 50%- 258 out of 512
After about the 8th and 9th generation I have so many cousins marrying cousins that it seems like I gained ancestors! LOL!

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

I'm with Randy. To start, my maternal grand-mother came from Denmark, so right off I'm blank from 5th back. I have some lines that are 12-16 generation in American... didn't count, sorry, but a lot... I do know practically all in USA. See my Surname tag, if you like numbers.

Bill ;-)
Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

TheGeneticGenealogist said...

Here's my 2 cents:

5 (15 of 16) 94%
6 (28 of 32) 88%
7 (43 of 64) 67%
8 (62 of 128) 48%
9 (62 of 256) 25%
10 (80 of 512) 16%

A recent adoption in my line and an immigrant from the Honduras create two very significant gaps in my tree!

rozek19 said...

From a Polish perspective in English language:

Kassondra Coxson said...

I've only been at this about three and a half years and I already have a ton of information however, I see that the original post here was in 2010 so I'm thinking it must be getting exponentially easier because more and more records are digitized each year. Regardless, I have encountered some of the typical problems; poor records for slaves prior to the US Civil War, poor access to European records prior to 1900.

My father is African American and I haven't been able to get past the US Civil War which takes place approximately between generations 4 and 3. On his side I can trace:

Generations 1-4: 13 out of 15

My mothers' family is from Belgium, Poland, and Russia. On her side I can trace:

Generations 1-4: 13 out of 15
Generation 5: 3 out of 16
Generation 6: 1 out of 32
Generation 7: 1 out of 64

My husbands' family was a lot easier since his paternal grandmother was a Doan (part of the largest family association in North America).

On his fathers' side (the Doan line) I can trace:

Generations 1-4: 15 out of 15
Generation 5: 12 out of 16
Generation 6: 5 out of 32
Generation 7: 3 out of 64
Generation 8: 4 out of 128
Generation 9: 3 out of 256
Generation 10: 4 out of 512
Generation 11: 3 out of 1024

On his mothers' side I can trace:

Generations 1-4: 15 out of 15
Generation 5: 13 out of 16
Generation 6: 17 out of 32
Generation 7: 6 out of 64
Generation 8: 2 out of 128
Generation 9 2 out of 256
Generation 10: 2 out of 512
Generation 11: 1 out of 1024
Generation 12: 2 out of 2048

Not bad for only a few years but I have a lot more work to do.

Darel said...

I've been up to this for about 20 years now and I think it is unlikely that one could accurately document the names of all ancestors back 10 generations. It is more likely that you could do that for one line. For instance, I have my mothers Cannon line back 12 generations but this is only for the Cannon men and the women they married. In other words, I do not know the names of the ancestors for which these men married. For my ancestry I have accurately documented all names for 5 generations. These are my GG-Grandparents all 16 of them. I have 29/32 GGG-Grandparents and only 35/64 GGGG-Grandparents. Us Western European "commoners" will find it difficult tracing all names back 6 or 7 generations much less 10.

Wayne Stauffer said...

This is very interesting indeed; a nice measure of the "completeness" of our work.

My numbers are:

5th gen. - 94% known (15 of 16)
6th gen. - 69% known (22 out of 32)
7th gen. - 55% known (35 out of 64)

22% overall.

But it is quite tedious to calculate.

I entered the counts into an Excel spreadsheet, which calculates the percentages. The spreadsheet I can easily update or copy and reuse for another person. The problem is getting the counts.

Does anyone know a way that's easier then printing an Ahnentafel report and manually counting the individuals in each generation?

I've searched for reports or utilities for this, but I haven't found anything.