Saturday, March 26, 2016

Disrupting Genealogy

A shake-up is not always a bad thing, even in genealogy. Yes, we all like our pedigree charts in order and our online subscription services instantaneously at our fingertips. We even can be found to be somewhat disgruntled when our favorite free online resources aren't behaving up to expectations. But sometimes, when things go differently, it does give us pause to reconsider what we've come to take for granted.

The other night, for instance, while I worked on my online trees at, one of those "we'll be working on stuff so don't mind us and our bogged-down website" messages flashed at the top of my screen. True to their word, the site seemed to slow down more and more, until I just gave up and went to do something else more productive.

It wasn't but a few hours later that that small voice—the one I've regretted not heeding in the past—reminded me that I haven't synced my online database with my desktop-resident program. I got to thinking about what a massive amount of data is entrusted to how catastrophic it would be if a glitch out of nowhere got the whole thing tumbling down. Wouldn't that be a disruption.

Of course, it hasn't helped to read about a real, ongoing disruption in the genealogy world—that of the discrepancy over opinions on security issues held by Family Tree DNA versus Gedmatch. Of all people, I know nothing about the furor that set-to entails, but I do know how enigmatic the latest press release on the topic seemed to me, especially the part advising participants to make copies of results with old kit numbers—"please do so now."

Ah, those jarring prompts to take immediate action. Not comfortable for a procrastinator like me.

So, as I make my bi-monthly review of numbers for genealogical progress, I remember how much more work there is yet to go.

This half of the month did show some progress, although not as much as could be expected. As I had been doing some review of those accumulated "hints" on my trees, I realized how much pruning those family trees are in need of. Since there's no time like the present, I set to, using the "merge with duplicate" tool at Ancestry, to remove as many extraneous entries as I could find. With a family line that favored marrying cousins, there were bound to be a few such instances. So, in a way, my count went backwards.

A second change came in realizing newly-added records at Ancestry meant some people might have additional documentation available—some, even, being additions of family members showing up in the 1940 census. Yes, as incredible as it seems, there are some parts of these far-reaching family trees for which I hadn't revisited their entry since before the 1940 census became available online. Engaging in that little exercise yielded me a few extra names in a tree that hasn't seen any action in quite some time—my husband's paternal tree, where a boost of eighteen extra names brought the total count there to 955 people.

I should try that same exercise on my own paternal tree, which still sits at 180 people, with no changes since last fall. Perhaps some 1940-vintage news on family members in that tree will yield me a few clues on how to proceed with that brick wall.

As usual, the two trees with the most progress are the maternal lines for both myself and my husband. There, my mother's line now sports 7,436 names—up 71 since the last count. Even better, my mother-in-law's line, while only at 3,798 names, had an increase this time of 284 entries.

Still, I realize there are several branches of each tree which need to be targeted for growth. While I've been busily filling out the filigree in some branches, other lines have been entirely neglected. Just that thought should be enough to shake things up. Sometimes, it's better to have a specific strategy for making a difference in research progress. I've been raking it in, hand over fist, with the distant cousins in my husband's Snider and Gordon lines, but it might be better to assess where the gaps are and target those surnames for further inspection.

True, while all this effort is mainly for the benefit of seeking the how of DNA matches at both Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA, I realize there are some parts of these growing trees for which I am clueless about matches. Take my own maternal line for instance: I have no idea exactly how we connect with the Laws surname beyond my second great grandmother, Sarah Catherine Laws of North Carolina, born in 1833. Who knows what cousins branch out from that missing connection—potential DNA matches I'm unable to determine, for lack of information.

And there are plenty of DNA matches over which to puzzle. I'm up to 1,078 matches at FTDNA and 268 at Ancestry DNA, while my husband currently has 646 and 104. Most of these have not had their connections confirmed—and I'm making only glacial progress on these, as it is. Yes, some targeted research in the face of these threats of genealogical disruption may be just the prompt I need to start getting that job done.


  1. Computer disaster recovery begins with backup! But only begins there - but so many folks never backup anything on their own computers.

    1. So true, Iggy. And yet, with my own handy backup duly in the bag, that nagging thought remains: what if, by some glitch or hack, Ancestry itself were to go down? All the more incentive to keep my desktop-resident program synced with my work at that online site.


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