Organizing research Personal History

Is My Tree Finished?

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Written by Ericka Grizzard

I won’t keep you in suspense because I can tell you without even looking at your tree, that the answer to that question is going to be “No.” I’ve actually encountered a few people who have proclaimed their entire tree to be “finished,” and they’ve definitely garnered an eye roll because they may be done, but their family tree will never be truly finished. Are there lines that will stop short? Absolutely – eventually they all will. But there are always more stories to find, new generations being born, more connections to be made, and more resources becoming available to search. The sheer number of your direct ancestors is so mind-blowing that no one could possibly have them all listed.

I’ve seen a graphic floating around the internet that puts the number of people involved in your being here on earth into a humbling perspective, and I’ve condensed ten of those generations into a table here:

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This chart offers an eye-opening perspective because we rarely view our family tree grouped by generation, or even think about our ancestors with regard to a numerical value. There are 1,023 individuals represented in that table. The number doubles with each generation, and if you were to add in generation 11 it would have 1,024 individuals represented in that generation alone. Have you ever stopped to fathom that you have over 1,000 eighth great-grandparents? There are more of them than there are ancestors in the first ten generations combined!

I encourage you to look at your tree and see how many direct ancestors you have identified for each generation. This chart can be really motivating because it shows what or who you are missing and you want to see those numbers balance!

When I think about the names of my ancestors swirling in my head and the knowledge I have about them, and then look at the visual representation of my tree Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 9.43.56 AMin pedigree charts the number of documented direct ancestors seems  fairly substantial. I’ve actually filled in this chart with my own number of ancestors, and I can say that I have identified everyone through generation 5. At generation 6 I’m missing 1 person, and generation 7 is when the gaps in my tree really begin to show. By the time I tallied up my ancestors to generation 10, I discovered that I only have 266 of 1,023 individuals identified – that’s only a humbling 26%! The proof that my tree is nowhere near “finished” is in the numbers.

How can this help to propel us forward in our research? Rarely can we see the incredible scope of our ancestors, so this type of chart helps to put the volume of people into perspective and clearly identify gaps. The first thing I notice is that one mysterious culprit missing from generation 6! Who am I missing? Where do I find him or her?! When I took a closer look at that generation, my missing person turns out to be the biological father of my ancestor Emily Cumper. I know of the man she considered to be her father, but I may never find the identity of her biological father – not that it will stop me from continuing to look for him! Then I move to the 12 individuals I am missing from generation seven. This generation for me spans the late 1700s to early 1800s, which is a tough time for written records, but I can review what I know and renew my focus on finding those individuals. Have I really started the search for them? Are there new records available since the last time I checked? These are just a few questions that can help to focus and renew our research and fill in those gaps.

There will be many generations when the numbers won’t “balance,” but I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll find yourself far from finished because there is still information out there waiting for you to find, so let it renew your interest and motivate you in your search.


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