Sunday, December 18, 2016

Closing Out the Year

Yeah, I know everyone is thinking about Christmas right now—shopping frenzy and all—but here we are at another weekend when I usually tally up my research project for the previous two weeks. I'm starting to look at a year-end wrap-up, despite the fact that, yes, there could be another two week sequence still to come. I want to take a look at some encouraging numbers to remind myself that slow and steady is the pace that gets a lot of work done, genealogy included. Then, I'll button up the task for a couple weeks, enjoy the holidays, and then resume the counting game with the new year.

Right off, I can tell there is a payoff to keeping track of progress. It seemed discouraging, solely taking the short-range vantage point of week-in-review retrospectives. But when I step back and take in the big picture, it's easier to realize how much research territory has been covered in 2016. I need a moral boost like that, every once in a while.

Admittedly, in the last two week sequence, I did have enough time to get some research done, so the short term count was more encouraging than some have been in 2016. For instance, on my maternal line, I added sixty four names—and their corresponding documentation, of course—to bring my total on that family tree to 9,217 individuals. On my mother-in-law's tree, I was really zooming this time, adding 308 names for a total of 9,343. While things stood stock still for both paternal lines—mine and my husband's—I still ended the year, so far, with 346 in my dad's tree and 1,080 in my father-in-law's tree. Those are numbers I can feel good about.

Even better, though, is when I get to stand back and take in the year's panorama. For the entire year, I increased my maternal tree by 2,165 people. My mother-in-law's tree jumped an astounding 6,673 people (I definitely had to double check the numbers for that surprise). Even the trees in which I made little progress still had enough to make me happy. My father's tree increased 166 for the year, and my father-in-law's tree went up by 150 names.

The other part I've kept track of has been the number of DNA matches. Admittedly, I have little control over those numbers. It's the luck of the draw if a distant cousin happens to choose to do a DNA test. But seeing the increase, from beginning to end, is still informative.

I've had an increase of 517 matches at Family Tree DNA this year, including 17 specifically matching my paternal side. At AncestryDNA, where my results weren't completed until the end of January, I still received 191 since that initial readout. My husband experienced similar results, seeing an increase of 391 at FTDNA and 102 at AncestryDNA. And since each company continues to add information as new test results are processed, we'll continue to see increasing numbers of matches.

Part of the reason I started counting these various numbers was to track my progress in specific tasks that I needed to complete for our family's genealogical records. For one thing, I have some files resident on a genealogy database program in an old computer which I wanted to switch over to my records at Many of these were records I had worked on with a research partner, but which had not been fully verified in those pre-Internet research days. As I added each name in the new file, I wanted to run through the full gamut of hints, check each civil record and confirm as much as possible, using now-available online resources. Keeping count was one way of showing myself whether I was making progress. Believe me, I still have a long way to go, but looking backwards at the progress sure encourages me to keep up the onward pace.

Another reason I wanted to keep tabs on progress was that I was double-checking some entries I had found, mostly for my own maternal line, in those hundred-year-old genealogy books. Who's to say those entries were correct? Considering the limitations naturally placed on researchers from one hundred years ago, it's amazing to see the mass of data they were able to collect—but now that we're so spoiled with click-of-a-mouse resources, I felt the need to fact check. This, of course, means engaging in a tedious process; I needed some way to encourage myself that, yes, I was making progress. Keeping stats once again helped to perk me up when I felt myself bogging down in the minutiae of the project.

A final reason—and one that seems to be the easiest to lose sight of—is my goal to provide a framework for zeroing in on mystery DNA matches. The more complete my family tree is, the more detail is available for the other researcher to examine as we try to figure out just how we relate. Not only that, but for those adoptees who are exact matches on my matrilineal side, we're still in that quest to find our most recent common ancestor, whichever eighteenth-century woman she might turn out to be. Fingering each of my matrilineal ancestors to examine for all her descendants—and then documenting their specific lines—is indeed a challenge, but a task I need to continue.

Granted, these are all projects I need to keep working on next year. I intend to keep up the counting process for 2017—or at least until I complete those three major tasks. Somehow, though I can't gain any encouragement from seeing the end in sight—it's too muddied in the distance to determine the shape of it at this vantage point—being able to see how much ground I've already covered is sufficient to keep my spirits up. At least, it's enough to keep me plugging away at those goals. And that's what really counts.

Above: "Tinker Place," undated composition by Indiana landscape artist Theodore Clement Steele; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Wishing you more DNA matches for the new year! All best wishes for the holiday season to you and yours.

    1. Thank you, Marian! Warm wishes for a pleasant holiday week for you and yours as well!

  2. I like the way you keep track to see progress! :)

    1. Thanks, Far Side. When I started, I didn't realize what a boost it would be to take the long view of the whole year, but it certainly was encouraging!

  3. You have such huge numbers - you should just be proud of them as they are... 10,000s in a family tree is mind-boggling!!!

    1. Well, yes, I guess it does seem mind-boggling...until you realize I've been at this for decades. And the numbers don't merely represent a family tree of my ancestors, but each of those ancestors and all their descendants that I've been able to locate. That's what multiplies those numbers!


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