Sunday, December 31, 2017

Counting the Minutes

This has been a year for keeping track of progress. I've been counting that incremental increase in the four family trees I pursue for more than a year, of course, but the idea right now—on New Year's Eve—is to see just how far that inch-by-inch progress brought me over the course of an entire year.

Before I check the results of a year's worth of work, let's take a look at the usual biweekly count, comparing what I was able to achieve in spite of over this holiday season.

Right away—and this will be no surprise, as it seems to be part of the pattern as well—it is clear that my mother-in-law's tree gains the most from my effort. Those family lines seem to be the easiest to track, and the ancestors who were most likely to have large families. Since my last count, that tree increased by 158 individuals, bringing the total of individuals included in that tree to 13,930.

My own mother's tree fares second best, as usual. In the past two weeks, I was able to add seventy six names to close out the year with 11,967 in her tree.

Also par for the course—though I tried, really, I did!—once again, neither my father's nor my father-in-law's tree budged a single count. My father's line is stuck at 452 names, and my father-in-law's tree at 1,392. I'm hoping for better results next year, now that I've confirmed a DNA match with someone related to me through my paternal grandmother's family; we've promised ourselves to collaborate, once the holiday season and all its family gatherings has passed. And I'm still wishing for a discovery like that on the side of my father-in-law's Irish heritage, so I can have a collaborator on that side, as well.

It's that steady plodding, week after week, that makes a difference in the long run. Granted, some lines will stubbornly resist research progress—witness the family trees of our two fathers—but the steady effort will eventually produce a breakthrough.

Taking the long view helps bolster that resolve to keep at it. When numbers are incremental—and usually small—for each step of the way through a year, it is hard to comprehend what a decent amount that bit-by-bit effort can eventually yield.

In my case, here are the numbers. For my mother-in-law's tree, I started out on January 1, 2017, with 9,523 names—and closed out the year with 13,930. That's an increase of 4,407 for the year. For my own mother's tree, I started out with 9,305 and closed out with 11,967. That tree jumped by 2,662 in the same year. And even though I didn't make much progress on either father's tree, my father's tree increased 106 from the starting tally of 346, and my father-in-law's tree grew by 312 from its January start of 1,080 people.

Seeing how many matches we both had on our DNA tests was also informative. What people may not realize, when starting out in this brave new world of genetic genealogy, is that as the year progresses, matches keep getting added to your tally. Thus, over the course of the year, my matches at Family Tree DNA grew by 1,091 and my husband's by 693. At Ancestry DNA, where we count only those relationships which are at least fourth cousin or closer, my match count grew by 378 and my husband's by 221, over the course of the year.

The strange reverse trend I spotted for our tests at 23andMe would likely never have been noticed if I hadn't kept a tally every two weeks. Though I've only had my test results since May, I lost eighty matches from that first count, come the end of the year. And my husband, who had tested with them in February, saw his match count dive, over the year, by a net result of 175 names. Who knows if those were all "distant cousins" who wouldn't have mattered to me anyhow. I'd like to think that is so—perhaps the genetic genealogist's version of sour grapes—but I doubt that would be the case across the board. There really is no way to know.

For those who may weary of the tedious part of genealogical research, seeing numbers like this year-long panorama can be encouraging. Of course, I don't really need this kind of encouragement (I'm one of those more ecstatic researchers) but I can see how keeping a simple log like this might provide incentives to just keep at it.

Next year—like, in a matter of hours on this New Year's Eve—I'll continue this habit of counting the biweekly progress, but I'll be adding in another detail. With the holiday sales at all the DNA testing companies, my husband and I snatched up the bargain at MyHeritage, so now we'll have a tally for this fourth company. Other than that, my goal will be to continue progress on tracking all the descendants of each family line already laid out in my trees. Don't let those tens of thousands in my count fool you—I have a long way to go before I can say that process is complete.

In the meantime, let's all enjoy a mellow (and safe) New Year's Eve, shall we? 


  1. Happy New Years eve! We are still two hours plus away from the ringing in. You have made progress that is what is important! I wish you and your family all the best in 2018:)

    1. Thank you so much, Far Side. And best wishes for a wonderful New Year for you and yours, as well, in 2018!


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