In my early days of genealogy research (yes, just a few short months ago), I became obsessed with collecting every little scrap of information that popped up on my computer screen. It was as if I was a teenager playing a video game, in which the goal was to collect all the family history gems as fast as I could to win the game. But there wasn’t any game to win, and this process of collecting everything I found without really reading was a habit I couldn’t shake. Very quickly, It became overwhelming.
Then I transitioned to the “I-guess-I-have-it-so-I-should-read-it” phase. I spent months scouring the documents, websites, papers and photographs I’d collected, trying to glean even the smallest piece of information from them. Sometimes I get lucky and find something truly valuable, and other times I’m not even sure what I am looking at, let alone the reason I thought it was a good idea to save. Can you relate?
Recently, I found myself chasing rabbits down side branches of my family tree: following a sibling, their children, and sometimes even their children’s children. For more recent generations, this makes a lot of sense to me. I know my cousins, their spouses, and their children. Why shouldn’t I put them into my tree? However, how do you know where to stop? How do you make a decision to end a family line? I will have to cut it off sometime—otherwise my database would be overflowing with people that I’m only tangentially related to.
Of course, it’s easier to find information and documents on people who have been alive within the past hundred years. There are census records, Social Security records, school records, phone book listings and so much more. Cousins, close and distant, seem to leap off the pages whenever I examine records from my hometown. Once again the dilemma arises: Do I collect them all or just leave them be?
For example, my parent’s families are from small towns in southern Indiana. While the current generations are smaller, a hundred years ago they were both very large families that married into other large families, which then, on occasion, married back into the main family line a couple of generations later. Each one had between five and 10 children, and they in turn averaged six apiece. My mother’s mother was one of 19 children (two wives, and a couple sets of twins in there), and while not all of them lived to adulthood, those that did choose to have kids averaged three per family. I’m starting to give myself a headache with visions of twisted lines tangling together on my pedigree chart as I stumble forward, backward and sideways in time.
Granted, I know that my trusty genealogy software will keep this all organized, or at least I hope it will. For now, I think that I should really only go one or two generations down tangent lines. That should give me a good trend for relatives living in the area at the same times, as well as cousins helping one-another out on the farm. You know when that odd, out-of-nowhere name pops up on a census record? If I had a close cousin already charted with that name, it just might solve the question of who they were.
Now, back to sifting files and citing sources.
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.
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