Thursday, November 8, 2007

Connecting the Dots

The theory behind "The Mother of All Genealogy Databases" (MOAGD) that was in the news in September was that "everyone will share their genealogy data and be able to connect the dots to earlier generations and create one big database containing all of the families that ever lived."

Two recent emails concerning my Seaver database illustrate both the possibility and improbability of this hoped-for MOAGD.

In the first email, a distant Seaver cousin was excited to find my Seaver family genealogy reports on my web site. He found his great-grandfather listed, and emailed me with data on the later families. I, in turn, made a genealogy report with more information on his Seaver line that included his updated information. In this case, the system worked well - my info helped him, his helped me, we're both pleased with the result. In the ideal world, this is how the MOAGD would work - someone would connect the dots with documented information.

In the second email, my correspondent had seen the Seaver data on my web site but did not find her earliest known Seaver male, Adam Seaver (1811-1889) - an appropriate name, eh? Adam was born in NY, moved to IL and IA, and died in KS. I looked in my Seaver database - but I don't have him included. I have heard of him before from when I was doing my Seaver census collection project. So I checked the Ancestry historical records, family trees and publications/stories. There was one family tree with some information and descendants - created by the person who wrote me. The census records for 1840 to 1880 for Adam Seaver are complete - 6 kids, 2 wives. That matches the family tree data (which probably the same sources). But I still can't place Adam as a child with a set of parents. I looked in the counties where Adam Seaver lived, especially in New York, but did not find any other families with the Seaver (and variants?) surname in the 1840 and earlier censuses. I input Adam and his family data into my Seaver database so that I have it available next time someone asks. It's a brick wall for now.

The only way the "parents of Adam Seaver" problem will be solved is if there are land, tax, or probate records in the places he resided that identify his parents, siblings, or his previous location. The state of online genealogy does not include records like these yet. They might in the future - when the LDS digitizes and indexes these records. The only way for my correspondent to "connect the dots" in this case is to find the pertinent records, if they exist, on LDS microfilm or in courthouse files.

By the way, Adam's wives names were Nancy and Louisa. Adam has a long list of descendants who are proud of their ancestor's life and accomplishments. Unfortunately, Adam's parentage and ancestral lines have not been found yet.

This last example shows the problem with the MOAGD concept - a significant number of ancestral lines have this "connecting the dots" problem - the evidence is hiding in unindexed and hard to find records. Even with exhaustive searching in repositories for all records, many "brick wall" genealogy problems are not solved because there is not enough information, or there are conflicts between different records. My educated guess is that perhaps 40 to 60% of all ancestral lines end up like this - a person born in the 1770-1840 time frame with as-yet unknown parents.

What say you? Is the MOAGD possible?

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