Sunday, November 26, 2023

Oh, the Things You Can Do . . .


This weekend, while taking care to stay far from any urban shopping magnets, I spent some time working on my family tree. My primary focus has been to build out the branches containing descendants of collateral lines, since my firm belief is that siblings of our brick wall ancestors can grant us the end run around our chief genealogical tackle.

Enter genetic genealogy, and that discovery not only fuels the raison d'être for collateral lines (at least in my opinion), but it opens my eyes to possibilities I'd never have dreamed possible, as far as discovering my family history might have gone. Consider DNA testing and my mind lights up with possibilities. Oh, the things you can do when these technology-driven tools become your research assistant.

I'm thinking first of all of an email I received just before Thanksgiving Day, inviting me to express some thankfulness for the many people sharing their discoveries on the universal family tree at Top of the customized list featured someone FamilySearch claimed was my tenth cousin, researching someone named Marianna Wojtaś, who just happens to be my second great-grandmother. 

Marianna, being my father's father's mother's mother, would not be the type of discovery which an mtDNA test might lead me to, nor someone for whose male relatives my brother's Y-DNA could uncover. Her genetic legacy lies smack in the messy middle of what we can only hope autosomal DNA might uncover—if, in fact, I inherited any of her genetic legacy at all and any of her other descendants tested their DNA as well.

Looking at one particular record this FamilySearch contributor shared shows me that, indeed, there are several scanned documents among those mentioned that I should review, the next time I head to a FamilySearch center or, for that matter, the main library in Salt Lake City. For that lead, I am definitely grateful.

That is the result of the work of only one of many contributors mentioned in that personal email to me. Inspired to discover what new program might have prompted this correspondence, I found an entry posted on the FamilySearch blog, describing a new feature on their website called "Your Impact." If you have a free account with, you can log in and see this new option on the drop down menu under the "Get Involved" tab.

Those who have done volunteer indexing for FamilySearch—even contributions going back ten years ago—can see examples of how their work has helped other researchers answer some of their family history questions.

As for this fresh discovery of possible digitized Polish records for my mystery grandfather's roots, you can be sure I'll be exploring that further. Researching these Polish ancestors, once I managed to discover them—not an easy proposition, given my grandfather's reticence to reveal his roots—has been a slow process in these last two monthly projects in my yearly Twelve Most Wanted

Granted, I managed to add 261 names to my family tree in the past two weeks, but other than a very few Polish-American cousins, the bulk of those identified relatives came to me owing to a separate DNA project of mine, ongoing since the beginning of this year: to chart all my Tilson kin. With that more fertile research field, my tree has now grown to 35,729 individuals. On the flip side, no work on my in-laws' tree means zero progress on their 34,031-person tree—but their turn will come next spring and summer.

No matter which side of the family I turn my attention to, though, the cache of digitized records available, plus the ability of DNA testing to help guide us to kin—known and unknown—still leaves me in awe of what we can do now in the genealogy world.

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