Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Clean Up Crews and
Phantom Family Trees

All of us have been guilty of complaining when there is little we can find on a “brick wall” ancestor. When the opposite occurs—we have so many search results that we hardly can come up, gasping, for air—we make nary a peep.

And no wonder. We’re tap dancing as fast as we can, leaving records, notes, books, files, and other extraneous material strewn in our path as we chase the no-longer-elusive ancestor straight back to the lair where his or her full genealogical records are stashed.

I’ve had a lot of that good fortune this past fall and winter. From the looks of the disheveled stacks of notes left in the wake of this sprint toward genealogical serendipity, it’s high time I cleaned things up. That, however, is becoming part of this catch-all week’s domain: go back and see what was found but not followed through yet.

A reminder came in the form of an email yesterday, gently broaching the subject. In this particular case, in my tear across Ireland, then Canada, and finally trailing our Tully ancestors into the United States, a few possible distant cousins’ burial plots were located, thanks to Iggy, who, in addition to being a regular reader here, also happens to be one of the many volunteers who make Find A Grave the useful resource that it is.

It’s time for me to go back and round up the many memorials he set up on my behalf, and take them over as a volunteer, myself. This I’m tentatively beginning to do.

In addition, since I’m not yet certain about how—or if—some of these Tully people fit in our family’s bigger picture, I’ve decided to go back and construct an official family tree to connect the right ones with their own families. The best way to do this, I’ve concluded, is to set up a private family tree on Ancestry.com.

My thinking on this is relatively straightforward: I know how the parents and the children—and maybe a few siblings—connect, but I don’t know how they all plug into the bigger Tully picture, so why perpetrate errors? If I construct my phantom tree under cover of a “private tree” at Ancestry.com—where I’m already a subscriber—then my work won’t be out there for anyone to come by and snatch away, before I have the chance to warn my fellow researcher that, hey, I’m not entirely sure what I’ve posted is correct.

Perhaps this is no more efficient than leaving notes scribbled to myself on the back of scratch paper. But at least I’ll have all those notes gathered together in one place, and in a form that makes more sense—and maybe even gains some documentation, as well. The only place that would leave a mess, now, would be in a private file that only I can see—and the few brave passers-by who, as Ancestry suggests, ask me nicely for permission to gain access.

These two tasks alone may seem trifling, but when you consider all the photographs my husband has snapped of headstones in Ireland, coupled with Find A Grave entries set up for those Ontario and Michigan Tullys we’ve since found, that can add up to a sizeable chunk of work. Not that I’m going to get that all done in this brief hiatus between Christmas and New Year, either. But this is the lull between holidays when I can think these things over. And believe me, there is a lot of thinking to do to gather the many loose ends I’ve strewn all over the blogosphere in the last few months.

I like to think of this exercise as my way of preventing myself, in the future, from reinventing my genealogical wheel—at least on this family line. Perhaps it will also be the device that keeps others from having to reinvent their research wheel, as well.


  1. Making the family tree private is a brilliant idea! I wish I had thought of that!

    1. Iggy, I've found the private tree to be a versatile tool. I first picked up the idea from Donna Moughty, the professional genealogist who served as our guide during our research trip to Ireland. She first suggested using the private tree as one way to find out who is looking at your tree--you never know when you will flush out a distant cousin that way! It gives you a chance to ask questions like that when someone asks to see your tree :)

  2. Happy New Year Jacqi!! Thanks for sharing. I'm trying to figure out how I can best focus on my genealogical pursuits next year. I think I know what I want to do. I'm not sure how to make it actually happen in the time allocated.

    Regards, Grant

    1. Oh, dear...sounds like you either need more time or less assignment. Hope it works out for you, Grant. Whatever you do, tell that story!!!

  3. Thanks for the reminder, I need to do some Find A Grave corrections and add some photos of family. Good idea with the private tree...it may make things easier to "see"

    1. One good thing about the private tree on Ancestry is that it still allows access to possible matching documents. So, you can still build this particular branch of the family tree based on sound principles, even though the actual point at which it plugs into the main tree may still be in doubt.


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