Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ancestry.com: "You don't even have to know what you're looking for..." - Post 3

After the last two posts in this series (Ancestry.com: "You don't even have to know what you're looking for..." - Post 1, and Post 2) where I tried (and succeeded) to find useful family tree data for my second great-grandfather, Isaac Seaver, and a spouse of Anna Auble, a distant cousin), I wanted to do something a bit more random.

But how should I select persons?  I recalled that I had very little information on the spouses of the siblings of my wife's grandmother, Edna (McKnew) Schaffner.  I knew their names, but had no information about their parentage.  So I went into my Ancestry Member Tree and did the searches, based on the green shaky leaves, for:

*  John William Runnels (1859-1912), married Allethia Jame McKnew (1867-1959).  I found no likely parents for him.

*  Alice G. McCann (1872-1936), wife of Alfred Henry McKnew (1869-1943).  I found her parents, John McCann (born 1842 in Ireland) and Catherine (born 1847 in Ireland), but could find no ancestors further back.

*  Anna Marie Goff (1872-1958), who married Henry Lee McKnew (1870-1934).  I found her parents, Charles P. Goff (1826-1890?, born in Vermont) and Louisa C. Jorgenson (1835-????, born in Sweden), and their children, but could find no ancestors further back.

*  Phineas D. Hayes (1860-1929), who married Alice Louise McKnew (1872-1959).  I could not find his parents.  He apparently was born in England.

*  George Olson (????-????), married 1897 to Lilly M. McKnew (1876-1958).  I could not find any information about him at all.

*  George Frederick Samwell (1878-1958, born in Canada), married 1905 to Belle E. McKnew (1882-1974).  I could find nothing about George Samwell.

*  William C. Kenealy (1882-1932, born California), married May Jane McKnew (1886-1918).  I found his parents William Kenealy (born 1853 in Ireland) and Louise (born 1854 in Panama).

*  Agnes Matilda Hansen (1889-1970, born in California), who married Leland J. McKnew (1889-1933).  I found her mother, Annie (born 1853 in Norway).

*  Harry Rose (1882-1965, born in Germany), who married Gladys Hazel McKnew (1892-1965).  I found nothing for Harry Rose.

I looked for information about nine persons, who all resided in the San Francisco area in the 1900 to 1920 time frame.  I found at least one parent's name for four of the nine, and found no grandparent's names.

This test was, I think, fairly representative of the types of challenges many researchers will face when they start using Ancestry.com's shaky green leaves.  Perhaps 50% of the attempts will add at least one generation, but about 50% searching for immigrant ancestors in the 1900 time frame will be able to find some records but very few will find parents of that immigrant ancestor. 

That doesn't mean that the immigrant ancestors cannot be found.  The mother of these McKnews was an immigrant from Australia (see the Whittle Research Compendium), and it took significant online research (much of it outside of Ancestry.com) to find her ancestry and family history. 

These shaky green leaf searches on Ancestry.com can be very useful, but they must be used only as finding aids.  There is a wealth of online genealogical information and much more in offline, traditional, repositories like libraries, archives, societies and homes.

Unfortunately, many researchers that spend their time only in the shaky green leaves on Ancestry.com will get frustrated by the experience and will not pursue the other online and offline resources.


Martin said...

John William Runnels possibly the son of George Footman Runnels and Abigail Locke of Peoria, Illinois. See Moses Thurston Runnels, Runnels/Reynolds Genealogy (very likely on google books), p. 212.

Gives John William a birth year of 1860.

Jim's Girl said...

Randy, I found an Ontario birth record for a George Samwell born 3 aug 1879 son of Matthew Samwell and Hannah Hewitt. We just missed his birthday! This record appears to match the George in martymck's "brandtree" on Ancestry and the California Death Index, 1940-1997 Ancestry record for George Fredrick Samwell. Are these your guy?

Jim's Girl said...

Oh Randy, I feel like a bloodhound on a fresh trail! I've got a marriage record for George's parents: Matthew's father was George (no mother given; Hannah's parents were George and Mary Hewitt. The names are spelled several ways: Samwell/Samuel; Hannah/Anna/Anne; Hewitt/Hewett/Huett or indexed Hewill. The ontario birth and marriage records point to a couple of siblings for George Frederick, if I'm not mistaken.

I could send you what I've found offline -- lunchbreak is over!