Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leaving 2016 Behind, Moving on in 2017

2016-17 by Philip Barrington, source: Open Clip Art

It's that time of year. Time to look back and see how many additional ancestors I have been able to identify sufficiently to feel confident in adding them to my family tree. That is something I had done each January for the past three years after reading Randy Seaver's blog post and watching Crista Cowan's YouTube video.

My method has stayed the same and has been the subject of a previous blog post.  As always, I continue to be grateful that I can simply generate an Ahnentafel Report of my direct ancestors by using my genealogy software, Family Tree Maker. Here is what my report for 2016 looked like.

DateGenerationRelationship# in generation# identified% identified2016 increase
4Great Grandparents88100%
52 Great Grandparents1616100%
63 Great Grandparents323197%
74 Great Grandparents645891%2
85 Great Grandparents1286148%4
96 Great Grandparents2563815%?
107 Great Grandparents512398%10
118 Great Grandparents1024364%36
129 Great Grandparents2048251%25
1310 GreatGrandparents40961212
1411 GreatGrandparents819288
1512 GreatGrandparents16,38488
1613 GreatGrandparents32,76822
1714 GreatGrandparents65,53622
35147% *109
* Percentage of those identified in Generations 1-10

I realize that some of the totals in my table may seem strange. For starters I have no increase in known ancestors for Generation 9 because I obviously had a typo in my previous year's report. It is possible to remove or change a relationship or two based on new research, but I know that I certainly did not lose almost 30 ancestors in that one generation during the year! I would probably still be shaking my head in bewilderment if that had actually happened.

In the report for 2016, I also stopped trying to determine the percentage of ancestors identified after Generation 12. The percentages were just too small to have any significance. Instead, I will continue to just look at the increase in numbers over the previous year's report.

Similarly, I decided to use those ancestors in Generations 2-10 as my basis for determining the percentage of ancestors I have now identified. Identifying ancestors in Generations 11-17 or beyond is just a unexpected bonus in my research.

But it isn't just a numbers game. The report prompts me to try to analyze where I found information, strategies that worked, and questions that still linger.

By using the Will and Probate Records available through as well as browsing similar records on, I was able to identify with some degree of confidence a number of ancestors in generations 11-17. By studying names of beneficiaries listed in a will and comparing them with known children, siblings, and/or spouses, I succeeded in pushing my family tree back additional generations through information found through these will and probate records.

Looking back, I knew that during this year a lot of my personal research had focused on ancestors who had lived in New England. Bless the clergy and town clerks of those areas who had maintained such detailed records of births, marriages, and deaths from the mid-1650s and forward. These records, combined with will and probate records, kept me dancing around. Sometimes going one step back, then a few steps sideways, backwards and forward a lot, but eventually these records helped me identify more of my Massachusetts ancestors.

For me there is real value in doing this report each year. It isn't just about the total number of ancestors I have identified, although it is nice to document. It is more about seeing where and how I was able to learn about these new people in my family tree. And yes, it continues to bother me that I still cannot find the name of the wife of my 3 Great Grandfather William Vaughan. But it also convinces me that there are additional resources I haven't used, strategies I haven't tried, more hints to prove - or disprove. All part of trying to learn more about my ancestors.

Lessons Learned in 2016
  • I spent enough time studying wills and probate records that I actually got where I could understand the terminology and learned more about how our the legal system functioned in earlier times. These records also spoke volumes as to the nature of slavery as well the legal status of  women in the past. This prompted me to write several posts about the slave records I found in wills, posts that are now linked with the Slave Name Roll Project developed by Schalene Dagutis.
  • Ancestry's indexed Will and Probate Records were easy to use, but I frequently found additional information by browsing the unindexed will and probate records on Browsing page by page, section by section continues to provide fruitful information.
  • There have to be some new strategies for learning about women in the 1800s. I plan to use some techniques suggested by Jennifer Dondero of The Occasional Genealogist. Finding the elusive Mrs. William Vaughan is a research goal for 2017.
#analyzeinformation #genealogyresources #lessonslearned #researchgoals #slavenamerollproject #vaughangenealogy

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