Sunday, December 1, 2019

Fortnightly Findings

Today is the first day of the last month of 2019. Time flies—especially so in the last two weeks. Here I thought I didn't find enough time to work on my own family trees—after all, the fortnight included a trip to southern California for a family vacation, plus a holiday weekend on top of it all. Hardly enough time for those document-by-document verifications which prove the ticket to being added to the family tree.

I had to triple check my math when I saw I had added an unbelievable 504 individuals to my mother's tree in the past two weeks. Yes, I know I'm trying to kick in the afterburners in a rush to flesh out the Virginia side of her tree in preparation for my class at SLIG next January. But that number surprised even me—and I was the one doing all the grunt work. Her tree now includes documentation for 20,060 individuals, including a surprise that I can't wait to write about.

As I expected, focusing on my mother's tree on account of my upcoming class about researching colonial Virginia families meant that next to nothing was accomplished on the other three trees I've been researching. Zero progress on my mother-in-law's tree, which has stood still at 17,194 since the beginning of November. Ditto for my dad's tree (at 654) and my father-in-law's tree (stuck at 1,563).

Another interesting aspect to watch on my biweekly check in has been the variations in match counts for our DNA tests at the major testing companies. In general, over this past year, the increase in match count has slowed to a dribble. For both my husband's tests and my own, most companies barely bring us more than a handful of matches every two weeks. In one case (23andMe), that match count can go in reverse, if a customer decides to opt out of participating in the match process. The only exception to that "handful" count is at MyHeritage, where my husband received thirty nine new matches in the past two weeks, and I, forty two. Getting past the holiday season will certainly tell the tale if interest in DNA testing is waning.

There have been a number of benefits of keeping track of my research progress in such small units of time as this biweekly review. For one thing, the spreadsheet I keep allows me to see how well I've applied myself in such a limited amount of time. But it also gives me the bigger picture view, as well. I can, at a glance, see how far I've come, by each family's tree, in a year's time. Seeing the cumulative picture is indeed encouraging.

My personal spreadsheet approach may also have echoed a general slowing of enthusiasm for participation in DNA testing across the country—and possibly, around the world. I realize I administer a very small number of tests—certainly no yardstick for judging an entire nascent market—but the rumblings I read elsewhere seem to be echoed in my own experience. I hope that turns out to be a temporary dip in an overarching trend, but that remains to be seen. What happened over this holiday shopping weekend will either provide confirmation of a downward trend, or surprise us with a welcome uptick in sales—the latter, I hope.

Despite the ups and downs of the numbers on my spreadsheet, I realize there are inputs which are beyond my control. While my slow-and-steady theory of genealogical research does strengthen my quantitative results, I've noticed that, given one family or the other, numbers rocket upward when I am researching families who had many children—and, in particular, children who, unlike their counterparts in those previous centuries, actually lived to adulthood and to the point of giving their parents grandchildren...many grandchildren.

In retrospect, that is likely what happened to my count in this past two week period. I can't fathom what else might have contributed to such an increase in my mother's tree. No matter how hard a researcher works, one document—say, a census record—with many names added to the same family is an easier add to the evidence collection than many documents added to the profile of one individual whose life produced many accolades but few descendants.

Of course, I want to keep track of collateral lines in all the branches of my family tree, but I also need to capture all the stories, as well. I find that "fast" often ends up with boring results, while the most fascinating of my ancestors tend to slow down my research progress. The one may be great for the fortnightly accounting posts, but it's the other which makes for the more interesting blog posts.


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