Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Can You Actually Find Someone New to Add to the FamilySearch Family Tree? -- Part One

The traditional idea about doing your family history or genealogy was to discover your "ancestors." In many cases this inquiry was limited to one or two family lines, primarily the surname line. The goal was to extend your ancestry back in time as far as possible. One of very common questions I am asked when I mention my "interest" in genealogy is "How far back have you been able to go?" I am somewhat aggravated by the question, but the real question should be, "How accurately have you been able to establish your relationships?"

Approaching the Family Tree for the first time can be daunting, either because of the amount of information or the lack thereof. If you think of genealogical research as creating a circle of relationships rather than a line, you may be able to grasp the concept that as you add people to your pedigree on the Family Tree, the number of possible relatives increases. Doing research increases the circle as as that occurs, there are always a greater number of people outside the circle.

If you still want to think linearly, you will immediately realize that your "direct line" ancestors can increase geometrically: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc. But one of the most common mistakes made when starting to do "research" is to run out to the first missing person in the Family Tree and decide to do the "research" for that person. This trend is unfortunately reinforced by looking at a pedigree using the "fan chart view." For example, here is a fan chart of my family starting with my Tanner grandfather.

If you were just starting out to "do your genealogy" you would immediately assume that "all the work has been done." The chart is complete. But what if I change my starting person to my maternal grandmother?

Wow, look, I can see that there is "work that needs to be done." Where do I go with this new bit of information? The answer is nowhere. The missing spots on this chart represent people we have been searching for, for many, many years. Starting with the empty spaces on a fan chart is a recipe for failure. Come back to these empty spaces when you gain a lot more experience and a much greater perspective. Then where do I go to start?

Even if you open the Family Tree for the first time and find it filled with names, YOU ALWAYS START WITH YOURSELF. The key to progressing in family history is accuracy and methodical, systematic research. The process may not seem important or even interesting, but it will be productive. We have found that by systematically correcting, editing and adding sources to the existing people in the Family Tree, you will ALWAYS find additional people.

Working on the Family Tree means working both back in time and then forward with the descendants of all those in your family lines, i.e. all of your cousins.

One very common mistake and one that very unfortunately is promoted as a starting point, is to "jump back" to a starting point by selecting someone you do not know and with whom you have no established relationship. Just because someone appears in the Family Tree it does not mean you are related to that person. You need to have a degree of confidence that the relationships showing in the Family Tree are accurate. You do this by adding specific sources or looking at the sources that have been already added. I spent thirty years of my life getting to know my family tree, you can spend a few hours doing the same thing.

If you need help, just ask. If the person you ask starts talking about all the genealogy they have done and how you need to learn Danish or Spanish or whatever, go ask someone else. If you really want to get started, go to The Family History Guide or and work your way through the Projects.

Stay tuned for the next installment.


  1. Have you discovered Descendants with Tasks on the FS Mobile Tree App? Super fun. And also Ancestors with Tasks on the same app. Your advice to prove relationships first always precedes anything else though.

  2. Anyone new to add? Just a few!

    My wife’s father comes from the island of Stord, Norway. It is covered by a single parish whose records start in 1725. The records are excellent and easy to use back to 1815. Between about 1780 and 1815 they are pretty good. There are very good censuses in 1801, 1835, 1865, 1875, 1891, 1900, and 1910 which are fully transcribed.

    We have followed with careful documentation his direct lines back six generations from him which takes us to that 1780 point.

    Take just two of the 64 ancestors in that 6th generation, one couple. Assume for simplicity that that couple had five children that grew up and got married and that each succeeding generation did the same. Coming forward those same five generation, who all were born more than 110 years ago and so candidates for temple work, gives:

    Original couple: 2
    Children: 5 plus 5 spouses = 10
    Grandchildren: 25 plus 25 spouses = 50
    G-Grandchildren 125 plus 125 spouses = 250 people
    G-G-Grandchildren = 625 plus 625 spouses = 1,250 people
    G-G-G-Grandchildren = 3,125 plus 3,125 spouses = 6,250 people

    There has been a lot of extraction work done for the area, but it stopped before reaching the last two lines. All the extracted records need to be found and merged with our edited and sourced copies of them in Family Tree. The last two lines all need to be added, which would be 7,500 new people for the tree. That does not even count all the children that never had children.

    To take a very rough estimate for the extent of pedigree collapse moving forward in time, let me assume that 3/4’s of that 6th generation do not provide any additional g-g-g-grandchildren due to intermarriage and lines dying out. That leaves 8 couples which would result in 50,000 g-g-grandchildren and g-g-g-grandchildren still to add to Family Tree.

    I do hope we run into some distant cousins that are also working on this!

    The parish register for Stord which covers 1879 to 1909 and is all online, has 20 birth records per page and has 121 pages. This is only 2,420 births so clearly my estimates are widely excessive. What this implies, however, is that my wife’s father is related to every single one of those 2,420 people thorough one line of descent or another. That also implies that the only way to be “done” with my wife’s ancestors and relations on just Stord is to be sure that every person in the Stord parish registers is properly recorded in Family Tree. In other words, we will never be done.