Sunday, November 14, 2021



If a family tree is never really "finished," what sign does that bode for those of us pursuing our DNA matches?

Lately, behind the scenes, I've been plugging away at my mother-in-law's tree. That's the tree which favors Turi King's characterization of an "interwoven thicket," thanks to the several generations of intermarriages occurring in that tightly woven and isolated community where my mother-in-law grew up.

Suffice it to say I can't be satisfied with simply drawing up a pedigree chart for her family's history. This densely-connected community doesn't produce simple, straightforward relationships. To more fully appreciate the relationships requires consideration of collateral lines over several generations.

In one sitting at my computer, I can easily add dozens of family names for yet another reason: multiplication. Coming from a Catholic heritage, my mother-in-law's extended family took to heart the biblical admonition to be fruitful and multiply.

It's that familial multiplication which has driven my research numbers again in the past two weeks. It hardly seems possible to add 231 names to her family tree in two weeks' time, but that is easily what happened. When adding a census record to a family in her tree might mean adding ten to twelve additional children—almost all of whom will produce nearly a dozen of their own children in the upcoming generation—suddenly realizing hers is a tree with 24,193 names no longer seems unreasonable. This family has indeed taken multiplication to heart.

Granted, on the other side of the biweekly equation—researching my own parents' lines—it can be a rough go to find any new names to add to the tree. Secret name changes might have stumped me at first, but there are other issues tamping down the numbers. Some lines include children in, say, the 1920s who each decided to pursue careers instead of family matters, becoming the last leaf on that branch of their family line. Others ran into hardship—finances or health issues—which prevented raising a family.

Right now, in my own family's tree, I've been struggling with those Polish roots of my paternal grandfather. It has taken quite a bit more time just to find—let alone prove—the sixty one individuals I was able to add to my tree in the last two weeks. While there are 26,784 people represented in that family tree, each confirmed name has been a hard-won victory. 

I have to remember that, if it weren't for DNA testing, I wouldn't have found a large percentage of the cousin matches now connected to that tree. Some of the analytical tools produced by dedicated—and, in my opinion, genius—programmers have become the "magic" which has enabled me to discover how these DNA relatives actually match. The DNA tests might have led me to people I would otherwise never have met online, but it was in those matches' sharing with me the "rest of the story" that we could sort the pieces out and put the puzzle picture together in a coherent way.

Whether a family's story represents the fingerprints of generations of hardship, or the abundance of fruitful multiplication, we need to remember that all families contain valuable stories for us to share. Still, I certainly can say it is far easier to trace the collateral lines of those families which multiply heartily.  


  1. The difference in my tree, with the families staying in the same community with great records for generations and generations and my husband's tree - he's third generation from Poland with a grandfather who went MIA in Arkansas after immigrating, and of course, inbetween censuses.

    1. That's the real eye opener, Miss Merry. We have such great resources with all the preserved records in this country, despite the woes of "burned counties" and other difficulties. When we compare research progress with that of working on immigrant families, it really shines a spotlight on the differences. In your husband's MIA case, sometimes the only remedy may be through DNA testing in hopes of finding a pertinent match.


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