25 August 2010

My Family Tree is Young

[This post is a collaborative work between myself and my sister, Sarah.] 

     My family tree is young. Let me explain what I mean by that.

     A lot of Americans go into genealogy in order to find out "where my ancestors came from." I know that was part of the reason that I was interested in genealogy, and it still is. I'd always been told that my family was a mix of Western European and a bit of Native American.  No details were know, but my paternal grandfather had red hair, so everyone told me he was Irish. I figured that when I started researching I'd quickly find myself tracing ancestors overseas in just a few generations and soon find out everything about my ancestry. After all, simply logging onto Ancestry.com's family trees show that millions of others have been able to do it. Perhaps, I thought, it  would be just as easy to log onto EllisIsland.org and start plugging in names. It should be a simple enough process, right?

     Now, after seven years of research, I can tell you that didn't turn out to be the case.

Unlike a friend of mine, Nikki, who is a third generation American on every branch of her family tree my search wasn't so simple. My ancestors didn't come over in the massive immigration periods of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The most recent immigrants arrived in the middle of the early 1700s. So far, I have not found any ancestor who arrived later than that (though I haven't yet traced all lines to this time period).

Each person on this chart is a "tree-top" on my family tree, shown by birth year. For most of my family lines, I can trace back to someone born in the late 1700s or early 1800s in America.  Those shown in bold are my immigrant ancestors. There are not many, and they span multiple generations.No single generation contains only those born overseas.

As you can see many of my "tree-top" ancestors were born after the 1700s. Many of them can either be found in the 1850 census or have children who left behind vital records stating who their parents were. In other words, most of my research only goes back as far as the "easy" records.

Although I am still researching, and my ultimate goal is still to find out where my ancestors "came from," I am progressing cautiously. It's not just a simple search of Ellis Island records or other detailed immigration and naturalization records, as I thought it might be. Because my ancestors came over earlier than I anticipated they left fewer, less detailed records and are harder to track. It has made me more cautious and hesitant. Even when I obtain good "proof," I am hesitant to add older connections. My fear of including errors in my tree has, perhaps, made me overly cautious and likely even hindered my research.

At the same time, these difficulties have allowed and encouraged me to concentrate on post 1850 research. There are a plethora of documents available for these ancestors, including military, social security, and other vital records. These later ancestors simply left behind more documentation, which has allowed me to expand my collateral research. This, in turn, has helped to enrich my research of direct line ancestors. I have discovered many clues to direct ancestors by researching their siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins which I may have otherwise ignored if I was simply trying to "go back to Adam and Eve."

So, although I get frustrated by the difficulties in researching the earlier immigrants to this country versus the more recent ones, I have developed a full and broad family tree of my post 1850 ancestors. I am still on the hunt for those elusive immigrant ancestors. For now I have established a strong, well researched base to my family tree and I can continue to search for older ancestors, knowing that there are no errors in my lower branches.


S. Lincecum said...

Great post! I've been researching for about 13 years, and my family tree is still quite "young." My branches have been in the good ol' USA for a very, very long time.

Greta Koehl said...

(Trying a second time to leave a comment) Excellent overview of your research. I also find myself getting caught up in the more recent ancestors; guess we never know where our research will lead us.


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