Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear Randy: Do You Research All Family Tree Connections?

I received an interesting email from Joan recently, asking the question above:

"... there is one question that I can't seem to get an answer to, from people in this field.  How far back into distant relations do we research and where and when is it appropriate to stop?  My daughter keeps telling me that if they are not directly related to me then they are not our relatives and I shouldn't keep wasting my time on them.  In past generations, people had extremely large families and these offspring married into other extremely large families.  Are these distant relations part of my family tree?

"For instance, my great-uncle Benedict was a bit of a rogue and in his twenties left his family in Chicago and moved to California to work in the oil fields.  He married a young woman, Pansy, but that marriage fell apart within a year or so.  He then married again to a young woman, Minnie, of Mexican descent and rapidly had 5 children. When Minnie died a few months after giving birth to her last child, he abandoned his family and married again to a woman named Vera.  Each one of these women has an intriguing family history and story and I have spent time digging into their families and connections. 

"Minnie is the only one who had children. One of Benedict and Minnie's daughters married into the Dana family who through other family members can be connected to the pioneers who were influential in establishing the state of California.  Also most of these families had between 12 to 15 children.  Do I include them all?  Do I trace their spouses and their children?  When do I stop?  

"Is there a clear rule in genealogy that answers any of these questions?  What do you do as I have noticed in portions of your family tree that you post you also have family members with a large number of children.  Do you research all these connections?

"Any advice and suggestions that you could offer would be greatly appreciated as I am beginning to feel a little frustrated that I might be heading off in directions that have no relevance for me."

1)  My first answer is simple:  "There is no clear rule.  It is 'your' tree - you can put whomever you want into it."  

2)  My general rule is that I add persons, and content for those persons, that may be my cousins.

Now the persons I choose to add are completely my choice.  I have chosen to:

*  Add all siblings of my ancestors, and their spouses, and their children, and their spouses, and sometimes more generations.  These are, after all, my cousins.  I tend to follow the lines from the more recent 19th century great-grandparents than from the 17th century great-grandparents.  This has become even more important with the widespread availability of autosomal DNA tests.  Those 3rd and 4th and more distant cousins, that the DNA tests show a match to me, may have a surname several generations removed from my ancestral surnames.

*  Add families that may be my ancestral families, but I haven't yet found the link to them.  For instance, I have done some work on Newton families in Maine, because my third great-grandfather, Thomas J. Newton, was born there in about 1800, but I don't know who his parents are.  Those families are a "family bush" in my database.  I have several like that!

*  Add all persons with my "one-name study" surnames, and their spouses, and perhaps their children.  My "one-name study" surnames include Seaver/Sever, Carringer, Auble, Vaux, Dill, Buck, McKnew, etc.  By "collecting" these persons, I may be able to help other researchers who are just starting their research. 

*  Consequently, I have one large "family tree" of my ancestral families, and many smaller "family bushes" that are not connected to the bigger family tree because there is no link found to date.

*  I couldn't find a way to show all 43,000 persons in my RootsMagic 6 database.  Here is a small portion of a chart for 6 generations of descendants of James Vaux (1787-1839), my 4th great-grandfather:

This chart extends over 100 feet side-to-side...this is why a family tree program is very useful!

3)  Joan's question really relates to her own research, and her great-uncle's two spouses and their children, one of whom married into a famous family, that Joan has researched.  

My advice to Joan is to keep that collateral family information in her family tree program, and share it in a book (published or ebook), and/or in an online family tree, whether a separate tree (like an Ancestry Member Tree) or a unified tree (like FamilySearch Family Tree).  In the future, someone from that family line may become interested in family history, find Joan's work in a book or online tree, and appreciate the work she's done on it.   Do what you want to do, but prioritize your efforts.  don't ignore your own ancestral families, but don't forget the collateral lines.  

Thanks, Joan, for the question!

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


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

Excellent answers, Randy. Surprised there are no comments, yet. For me, and yes, it is totally individual decision, I've gone back on all direct ancestral lines, including the female lines, and researched and recorded all known descendants. I'm pretty sure this is the same as Randy says "seeking cousins." A final note: It is, and cannot ever be, "done." There is no end. Great hobby, therefore!! ;-)

Louis Kessler said...

"This chart extends over 100 feet side-to-side...this is why a family tree program is very useful!"

... and why a family tree chart is so useless. :-)


mbm1311 said...

I research direct lines and siblings. I don't research the families of spouses, but I do note the name of the spouses parents.

I keep lines in binders by immigrant and their descendants. A professional genealogist helped me set this up and it's been very effective. I wouldn't miss researching collateral lines -- I get a better picture of the family and the times they lived in.

Rochelle Butler said...

Dear Randy,
Thank you so very much for addressing a problem I've been having forever! I have never seen the answer, though I have searched! I'm pretty sure I've gone way too far out of the loop to ever get a grasp on it again! But at least I have something to shoot for..AN ANSWER!!!
Thanks so much!!!
Rochelle Butler