Sunday, January 29, 2023

Life, Genealogy, and the
Evolution of my Family Trees


A comment on my post from several days ago raises some questions which I'd like to take the time to answer. Ideally, I would have responded right after the comment appeared, but for some reason I'm once again having difficulties signing in to my own blog to reply to reader comments. There is, however, another reason for not simply doing so then: it would have made for a long answer.

The comment followed one of my customary biweekly counts, in which I track progress on each of my family trees. Being a new follower of A Family Tapestry, this reader wanted to know whether I saved each of my family trees as a separate file within the same database management program I use. Of course, the logical follow-up question was concerning which program I actually use. Finally, what do I see as the pluses and minuses of using such an approach?

Well, to answer those questions, I need to rewind to dates long before I started this blog almost twelve years ago. Like, in the early 1990s. Back then, I began my computer-assisted foray into genealogy using an early version of Family Tree Maker. No particular reason for this choice; it was for sale on an end-cap at Costco around Christmas time and I was tired of keeping everything on paper. I had been using personal computers—albeit in their most primitive form—for work and for launching the first of my businesses for several years by that point, so switching to a database management program for genealogy made sense.

I started with lumping all my family into one big tree—ancestors, siblings, in-laws, outlaws, the whole shebang. But I ran into a problem.

Back then, family history fans had ways to gather together online, mostly through ListServs or online bulletin boards, or the genealogy forums which soon followed. We'd all be sharing online what we had found in our research, exchanging resources to help each other. Once two or more of us would discover a family connection, the inevitable follow-up question would be, "Could you send me a GEDCOM?" 

Not long after complying with those requests for sharing, I'd often get a response like, "Well, I only wanted the info on your maternal line." That instigated my decision to split my one gigantic mess of a tree into four separate trees—one tree for each of my child's grandparents.

That worked...for a while. Along came another disrupter to the scene: DNA testing. By then, I had migrated my four trees onto, which I found more convenient for attaching documentation to specific ancestors. But when I tested various members of my extended family and wanted to link their DNA results to "the tree," I found myself having to choose between using my mother's extensive, American roots tree, or my father's brick wall stub of a tree (which also happened to need the most help from DNA matches). Rather than have to make that choice, I decided to combine my mother's tree with my father's tree, and likewise for the trees of each of my in-laws.

In the end, having started from one tree and morphed to four trees, I then shrunk down to two. So, to translate that sloppy explanation about how to choose the number of trees into a succinct response, I have to say: it depends. Whether for me or for you, that answer will always depend on your goals in creating a family tree in the first place.

Who knows what changes will come our way with subsequent technological developments. Whatever you start with, make sure it makes sense to you and suits your purposes—currently. But just know that you may find reasons to make a switch in the future. Sure, a transition can be a lot of work, but if your decision is backed by reasons which fit your emerging situation, then do it.  

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