Genealogy 101, part one.

When doing a family tree, it’s always an incredible feeling to come across either a new ancestor or a distant cousin, depending on your search priorities.

Here are some things to take care of or to avoid when putting together a family tree.

1) If you do not know the family name of one of your female ancestors, leave the field blank (whenever permitted) unless your female ancestor falls into one of three cases:

a) Her last name is the same as her husband’s due to them being related (i.e., cousins);

b) Her last name is the same as her husband’s due to them having fairly common last names; or

c) Her last name is the same as her child who is also your ancestor because the father is unknown.

It’s pretty commonplace in most countries for the wife to take the husband’s last name, so there is no need to repeat this. Plus, in entering the husband’s last name as the wife’s last name, your search for any of her ancestors may come to a screeching halt, unless you’re on a website which gives research suggestions. Even there, one might give up searching for more ancestors here because there will be no birth records for “Mrs. John Smith”.

2) Anecdotal information and family accounts of an ancestor do make for good stories but are far from anything official. Some official sources include:

a) Cemetery records

b) Census records

c) Birth and/or Baptism certificates

That said, family accounts and anecdotes can provide clues. To give an example, one of my grandmothers once told me that one of her grandmothers was born in Cork, Ireland, although she couldn’t be sure which one. As it turned out, this little nugget of family folklore was useful once distant cousins of mine had determined that said ancestor was born in Ireland – it helped to narrow the search, as Ireland can be a big place at times.

Conversely, in another branch of my family, we were all told that we related to Scottish poet Robbie Burns. After many hours spent researching this subject, including going through every sort of family tree related to Burns, it turned out to be false. In all likelihood, however, there is a strong possibility of this branch being related to Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. More news as it develops.

3) Take a little time to learn history, geography, and historical geography.

Countries as we know them presently did not always exist as such. Boundary changes, war, name changes, territories rising and falling, revolutions – any of these can stop you in your tracks while researching. Despondency can set in.

Take a deep breath. Relax. Hug a loved one. Go for a walk.

Now return and restart your efforts.

Stay focussed on one branch of research. It lessens the confusion that way.

Next, go to a fairly simple search site like Wikipedia. Again, stay focussed. You’ll make some headway.

4) Expectations

Keep them low-to-non-existent. Less disappointment that way.

This is related to Point 2 about anecdotal info or family folklore. It’s surprising just how fast an entire mythology can develop around such information, and the more it’s repeated, the more solid it becomes, the more difficult it becomes to convince people otherwise.

In another branch of my family, there is a persistent rumour that a born-out-of-wedlock great-great grandfather’s biological father was a dispossessed Scandinavian noble who was born in the UK, indicating royal blood of some sort. While the name and origin of said biological GGG grandfather remain a mystery, it’s since been proven genetically that this is impossible.

By the same token, it is possible to do grab-a-lifeline research and choose the most plausible ancestor for lack of any proof. In the case of the GG grandfather mentioned in the previous paragraph, several distant cousins have claimed to have found his true parents, except that these “parents” were in a shire/county far away enough that there was no way they could have travelled that far just to have one kid, knowing the modes of transportation of the day. This is where Point 3 comes in handy.

I hope to provide more insights soon. Stay tuned!

Published by khmcmurray

Born in a seaside town in BC and raised in the Greater Vancouver area, I started writing not long after moving to Montreal in 1987, where I've lived for the most part since. A few of my earlier poems were published in student newspapers and in an anthology in the first half of the 1990s. In 1997, I published a chapbook titled "A Visit" which was once a chapter to my upcoming novel "Boomerangs and Square Pegs" but now is a stand-alone work. "Boomerangs" is now available via Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and via a general search. Print form is available via this website. My second novel, "Then Let's Keep Dancing", is also available on Smashwords. My third novel is due out in July 2023. Reading is an escape for me, while writing is a kind of release. Writing enables me to get things out in the open in a way that I couldn't through other media or situations. My writings deal with plausibility -- if I'd wanted to write my life story, I'd have written an autobiography, and trust me, my life just isn't *that* interesting. No, I'm more interested in the in-betweeners, the damaged goods, the beautiful losers, the broken poets, the taken-for-granteds: I consider myself among these types. When I don't write, I teach English as a second language, edit texts, and translate from French to English (and sometimes the other way around). I also get involved in social and environmental causes from time to time.

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