Building Out My Family Tree

For a while now, I’ve been working on my family tree. It has been one of those background pursuits that I spent an hour or two on each year until recently my sister-in-law invited me to add to the one she had been working on. Since then, the family tree has gone from around two hundred entries to over two thousand. I’ve spent a ton of my free time working on it. I’ve been hounding people in my family for more information and unfortunately many aren’t really interested or don’t have the time, so I’ve just had to scrounge things up primarily on my own.

Thankfully, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, most of the work I’ve been doing is really just copying information from other sources and double checking that it is correct. I use my own gut checks as well on information, and if it feels off or fishy, I try to get secondary validation or dump it. This seems to be going pretty well, though, with so many people in the world with the same names, it can be very difficult sometimes.

In my additions to the tree, I’ve found connections between myself and my brother-in-law’s wife and between my sister-in-law’s husband and my brother-in-law’s wife. Basically, this means that some of my wife’s family have married people that share a common ancestry. Makes you wonder if there is something in our genes that they like? This is just one of many interesting discoveries I’ve made through my efforts.

So how have I been adding things to the family tree?

Screenshot 2016-05-14 18.22.12

With MyHeritage, the site that my sister started the tree on, you will get notifications if there is information from other family trees on the site. Most living people’s information is private, so it is really more useful when you get to before 1900. Also, as you go back in time, numbers are on your side as each generation means at least two more people. So if you go back ten generations, there are 1024 people at that line, and hopefully, more than a few people on MyHeritage are related to them providing the little icons letting you know that there is information you can quickly add to your own tree.

They also have third party information that they try to clue you into from time to time, so you’ll see a different notification letting you know that a third party database might have relevant information. This has typically been less helpful, but still worth pursuing, especially when stuck.

You can get a free account with a limit of 200 people from MyHeritage, but it won’t take long to need to go passed that. The paid account limits you to 2500 people. I have had to upgrade my account to the top tier to have unlimited people on the tree.
I also have an account on Ancestry. They have a similar family tree option, but I currently only use them for database search. I also try to double check and confirm much of my work on Ancestry, since they have some different information that will either confirm what I’ve entered on the MyHeritage tree, or have me remove things and go in other directions. They have tons of records, but it isn’t always easy to pour through them. The good news is that when people have the person I’m looking for in their family tree, the interface is pretty good for helping me go through all the data and move around to different family members.

It is pretty expensive to gain access to worldwide data and not just a single country or continent, but paying the full price gives you access to a huge database of information, much of it isn’t available on other sites.

Another secondary database for me. This site is only useful in a supplementary way. Every once and a while, when I’m stuck, I try searching on here to see if anything comes up that will allow me to continue. If you can’t find it on MyHeritage or Ancestry, it is rare that you’ll find anything more here. MyHeritage will often point to information on Geni as one of their secondary data sources.

I like this site, but it is a small database. I will admit that it seems to have a fair bit of unique content here and there. I like the user interface, and again, this site comes up as a secondary information source when working on MyHeritage.

Our Family Histories
This site has been amazing for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to find four or five major family lines listed here that have quickly led me back in time, sometimes into years marked by B.C., how amazing is that!? The database is super limited, but when you find something on here, it can be amazing! I’ve spent dozens of hours copying data from this site to MyHeritage and have been really happy with the results.

Some Things I’ve Learned

One of the first things I learned is that none of my main family lines are easy to trace. My grandparents all have last names that stall out very quickly in searching through their histories. So most of my additions have been through other names than what I consider my “main four”.

It takes a huge amount of time to move information from other databases and systems to MyHeritage. Most sites don’t have easy ways to export data in a format that can be imported, so I do a bunch of manual copy and pasting. I’ve probably spent a hundred hours copying information from other places into MyHeritage.

It seems like people with large English or French backgrounds will be connected in some way in ten to twenty generations. To be fair, at twenty generations you are probably around the 1300’s and there are over a million grandparents for any person at that line, so it isn’t difficult to see that there could be overlap at that point.

There are many cultures and periods of time where last names change quickly and can be super difficult to track and understand. Sometimes the last names change based on the place they live, John “from Place X” son of John “from Place Y”. Other times, they shift simply based on the parentage, John “son of John”.

Searching for people that seem famous or interesting on Wikipedia can be tons of fun, but it is usually a waste of time.

If anyone in my family or my wife’s family wants to help add to the tree, I can easily show sources of information that I have at hand that needs to be migrated over to MyHeritage. There are thousands of records, and I only have so much time to enter them into the tree…

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