Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What about unclaimed ancestors?

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has an intriguing blog post titled "Coroners and Genealogists Join Forces in New Show to Tackle Quiet Epidemic of Unclaimed Persons" on her RootsTelevision blog. Of course, there is a video also about this story - watch it here.

My semi-twisted mind wondered about the millions of unclaimed ancestors lying in graves around the world - marked or unmarked.

I wondered how many of them have never been put into a family tree by a descendant or genealogy researcher. There are over 500 million entries in the Rootsweb WorldConnect family tree database (the same as in Ancestry's World Tree), and hundreds of millions more in other family tree databases, but many of them are duplicates.

My SWAG (super wild-a$$ guess) is that only about 10% of people in the 1900 US census are in online family trees. The percentage is probably a bit higher for people in the 1850 census. What about the 1790 census -- higher or lower than 10%?

How can we figure this out? I'm going to try by looking at about five random pages from each census and see if the families are in the WorldConnect databases. I'll report back later on this.

Many of the unclaimed persons that Megan wrote and videoed about have children, siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins still living. The living relatives obviously don't know about the situation of their unclaimed family member or they don't care enough to find out about them. Both are sad situations to be in.

How would you like to be an abandoned or unclaimed ancestor? You could be moldering away in your grave worrying that nobody really cared enough to find you in a census or even write a memory story about you. Not mine - I'm trying to find out everything I can about them in order to honor their lives and their contribution to my genetic makeup so that my progeny, siblings and cousins can understand better their roots.

Don't let it happen to you - document your genealogy and family history and make sure that it is distributed to your family members. Make photo albums (with labels), family history books, collections of family papers, genealogy databases, family newsletters, blog posts, etc.

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