Sunday, November 12, 2023

Following the Twisted Trail


Delving into the details on the many branches of our family tree may lead us down twisted trails, but what we find can be so helpful in unraveling the mystery of some unexplained DNA matches. Come next March, I will have been puzzling over some of those DNA cousins for ten years now. While some recent developments in tools have made the search easier, it is primarily one specific habit I have instituted which has made a great deal of difference for me: I build out my family trees with all collateral lines, including the descendants of those lines, up to the level of sixth cousin.

With my weekend project of examining all my Tilson cousins, that has been a helpful habit for identifying the multiple matches which I've finally been able to link to that line. While the process still requires confirmation with documentation—and the farther back in time I go, the harder it gets to come by such records—almost all of my Tilson matches have now found their place in my extended tree.

As a corollary, that means those family trees are ever expanding. Since I appreciate celebrating mile markers, every two weeks I've made a note of my progress. By now, after so many years of work on this task, the numbers almost seem mind boggling. I assure you though, each name has been added to its respective tree, one individual at a time, complete with several links to documents to confirm the identity of the right person for that place in the family.

Today, since I've been working on my own family tree (rather than that of my in-laws), I'm celebrating another 318 individuals added to that tree. The tree, combining the weekend work on the Tilson DNA matches with my weekday work on my father's challenging Polish roots, now includes information on 35,468 individuals. Sometimes the progress unfolds excruciatingly slowly—for instance, when I can't find a way to access Polish records—but other times, such as tracing Uncle John's in-laws once they arrived in New York, the work can move along quite quickly.

Finding the right tools for each task can make progress on this research path go much more smoothly. Revisiting my old standby research friend, the Old Fulton New York Post Cards website—how could I have forgotten that?—turned out to be a gift, now that Blanche's Aktabowski siblings have been the focus of my work. At another time, a different resource may rise to the occasion of providing answers to questions which had stymied me. Having a research bag of tricks with multiple tried-and-true resources can help move along the process.

While absolutely nothing was done on my in-laws' tree—it stands frozen in time for nearly a month now, ever since a wedding on that side of the family added a few names in mid-October—that, too, is a healthy tree, with 34,031 documented names.

Eventually, as we close out this year and look forward to new projects for the next year, I'll draw up another "Twelve Most Wanted" list for another year of research, and I'll return to working on that side of the family tree. But for now, reviewing each collateral line on the Aktabowski tree to look for further clues, and exploring new resources for Polish records online with take up the remainder of the time leading up to my next biweekly review.


  1. Inspirational! Thank you for always sharing your patient methods and habits

    1. Lisa, always glad to have you along on my experimental research journeys.


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