Sunday, March 7, 2021

Pruning the Family Tree


With springtime comes certain annual chores, not the least of which involves turning my mind to the plants—including fruit trees—outdoors. Likewise, from time to time, I find myself needing to prune a different type of tree: my family tree.

Such was the case this week, when I came face to face with two men by the same name—George Gordon—with similar dates and place of birth. Both of them (unfortunately for me, at least) married women by the name of Sarah. The only thing that saved me was that one of the Georges decided, later in life, to move from his native Ohio to Illinois.

As if this weren't enough to drive one to distraction, a second discovery caused an extra need for caution. This came about, owing to the fact that this branch of our family tree was one I had worked on nearly two decades ago, in tandem with another Gordon researcher whose hands-on research savvy was nearly impeccable. 


I discovered, in sorting out the two Georges, that one of the Georges had a record of descendants which included not one but two Sarahs named as spouse, each with a different maiden name. 

That began the struggle to sort things out: two Georges and three Sarahs. In the end, it required me to delete several names, as both sets of children were intertwined. For today's biweekly count, I braced to see the numbers drop—and wondered whether I had made the right move, or deleted the wrong people.

While I'm sure the net change was microscopic in the long view, it reminds me of the need to always be reviewing our work, and to check every detail—even if we've already assured ourselves of the verification acquired.

In the end, the tree—it was my mother-in-law's side that involved the changes—now stands at 20,175. Thanks to several other additions made to this tree, it still gained eighty seven individuals despite the pruning. And I now feel more confident about the new shape those Georges are in.

Thankfully, there were no surprises in my own family tree, which now includes 25,303 names, up ninety one in the past two weeks. But I'm aware errors can happen at any time. Review of data and applying appropriate questions can sometimes bring errors to the forefront. As I add new DNA matches to each tree, it helps to review the lines in question to see what new documentation can be found, and to see if the records still support the conclusions made, the last time I passed this research way.

After all, when we have been in the process of building our family tree for many years, the chances that new discoveries will prompt us to review old conclusions are high. Taking the time to periodically check each branch for signs that it might need pruning makes for a wise family tree arborist. 

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