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Genealogy or Family History? Big or small trees?

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Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 14 Feb 2008 00:19

Is someone with a big tree necessarily a name collector and does it matter? Is a small tree always researched more carefully?

In view of the recurring discussion of how different people approach doing their own family trees I think it needs pointing out that there are subtle differences between the terms genealogy and family history, though these overlap and many use them as if they mean exactly the same.

Genealogists (especially professional ones) are especially interested in producing family trees or other kinship charts. These are often used to prove lineages or inheritances and may be done for legal, political or religious reasons. The LDS are creating their huge database because their religion requires it.
Throughout history the families in power have normally kept careful records about who they are and the major events in their lives have usually been very well documented. Genealogy was very important to medieval nobility because they were forbidden to marry within strict degrees of kinship (known as degrees of consanguinity). Although there were occasions when this was ignored there are a lot of examples of marriages being annulled due to the couple being distant cousins. Despite the rules the medieval nobility tended to marry others of the same group so they all share the same very early ancestors.

Some genealogists enjoy trying to unravel this complicated puzzle. There are those whose idea of fun is working out the lineages of modern day celebrities and modern royals and finding links.
There are genealogists who are collecting the many different ways that Prince William or American Presidents (for example) descend from Charlemagne……..there are millions of lines by the way! When a new line is found genealogists are comparing notes and dissecting it to verify it.
Each to their own but it does mean that anyone finding a medieval link can also link into much of this research which is all online and easily accessed.

Most of us start this hobby doing our own family trees and we want to know as much as we can find out about our great grandparents and so on. We may have started by talking to elderly relations and we are interested in learning about their lives, homes, what they did etc. Family history is made up of personal histories and that is what can make it fascinating.

Some of us are both family historians and genealogists. Many of us are doing what is called cluster genealogy. A person’s cluster contains their extended family, neighbours and business partners and so on. Studying a cluster can often tell us a lot about an ancestor’s life and can enable us to break down brick walls. Some of the large databases online started as parish or area clusters. Other databases may be One Name Studies which can be very helpful to contacts. Often the researcher of the large database is not directly related to everyone on their database or hasn’t proved their own link to every example of the surname studied but their research can have a lot of value to others.

People generally have different hobbies and find different things interesting. Some people collect coins and stamps and may want to make a huge collection. Others might find this something that wouldn’t interest them at all.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 14 Feb 2008 00:19

While we often share information and help each others in genealogy/family history it is in many ways a private hobby. How we choose to do the research, the order in which we study the different branches and the luck we may have in finding information (where it still exists) is unique to each of us. Some people, as in life in general, are lazy and slapdash in their approach to their research while for others it becomes a passion and they are zealous in their desire for accuracy. It may be the work of a few weeks, something on which someone spends just a few hours doing occasionally or it may be the result of thousands of hours over many years.

Small trees may be so because someone has just started their research, because someone is unlucky enough to have very difficult ancestors to research or the records may have been destroyed. It could also be because someone just hasn’t bothered to do much or lacks the skills.
A small tree may also be because the researcher has gone as far as they wish for the moment and is fleshing out the family history.

Large trees may be because someone is happy to gather information without checking it carefully, they may be content to add “ancestors” based on dubious sources or to leap to the assumption that because information is online that it must be correct. However large trees may also be because the researcher is very good at the research or lucky, or has been doing it for a very long time.

On Genesreunited we have all sorts of researchers. Some have a lot more time to devote to the hobby than others. Some are happy to gather rather than do original research.

The disagreements we have on these boards tend to be when someone has found a living relation appearing in someone else’s tree. This is partly the fault of the site which makes it too easy for trees to be accidentally opened but the fault is also with people who use the GR tree as their only one and add living people to it. This I think is something Genesreunited should warn new members about more forcefully.

However you choose to do your research I wish you luck and hope your findings will give you pleasure for years to come.


Joe ex Bexleyheath

Joe ex Bexleyheath Report 14 Feb 2008 11:29

I recall giving some starter points to a beginner who was researching his family - Brown - and a few weeks later thanked me for my time and he had got back to 1600 !! Impossible.
So one other point that should be mentioned is that this 'hobby' may become slapdash for monetary reasons.. One thing that should be mentioned is that it is pointless collecting names in the belief that these are your ancestors - you need proof which can be obtained from certificates of birth and preferably of marriage and maybe death too. Zealous researchers may spend £21 per generation plus the cost of being a member of Ancestry or Findyourpast
Too many people on GR do not appreciate how high the costs may be.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 14 Feb 2008 14:00

In many ways true Joe.

Often looking for deaths of ancestors is the first thing to do. There is no point in tracing the ancestry of someone who turns out to have died in infancy.

The real fact is that to do the hobby properly is either going to cost a lot of money or a lot of time.........or both.

If, like me, you live in an area where many ancestors lived and if you can do the research yourself using the local records office then it will cost mainly time. Making copies of census pages or pages from parish registers is very cheap in a records office but it can take many hours to find what you are looking for.

I have close relations doing the same in different parts of the country and sharing their results. I know I can trust them to be thorough and whenever there is a puzzle I have been told of any.

If everyone making a new contact who has new information to share bears in mind that this may already be second or third hand information and it may not be 100% accurate then perhaps more trees online would be better.

What really concerns me is that every time someone complains that parts of their tree have been "stolen", someone else on the same thread comes along with the assumption that a large tree must have been gathered like that.

It could have been but to assume everyone with thousands in their tree is just collecting names is unjust and actually a completely different topic from the one of adding living people to trees online.


Amanda S

Amanda S Report 14 Feb 2008 19:20


Very well put. I agree completely with your remarks.

I also agree with you, Joe, that many people do not realise how costly family history can be. Because they do not want to,or cannot afford to spend money on certificates, they tend to expect others to do the work for them.

Many people who use this site are very kind and very generous with their time. But..... it can test people's patience when someone posts a thread asking others to spend time doing complex research on their behalf (either online or at a records office) when a certificate, costing £7.00, could provide the answer and a starting point for subsequent research.

When this course of action is suggested to them, they often find a range of excuses for not wanting to buy the cert. For many people, £7.00 will be a lot of money, and it is understandable, but others just want maximum output for minimum input. Family history is probably not the best hobby for someone with this attitude.


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 14 Feb 2008 21:49

Thank you Amanda.



Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 22 Feb 2008 21:05

I'm nudging up my own thread because of one on the General board complaining about someone with a large tree.


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 19 Mar 2008 17:15

Having a large tree doesn't mean someone is adding living people to their tree or collects thoughtlessly.

The Tree Bandit thread has reappeared and I feel there is the possibility that some people automatically feel worried if they discover others may have very big trees.


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 11 Apr 2008 23:30

Nudged for anyone concerned about large trees as such.



Nightowl51 Report 12 Apr 2008 04:20

Hi everyone,
With the availability of knowledge easily accessible at local archives and libraries, access to graveyards etc,why do a lot of people assume that someone has "stolen" their tree when that person could have come by exactly the same info the way you have.
If we didnt have some same rellies on here as someone else we would come to a full stop.
I thought thats what tree matches were all about.
I am in a very fortunate position that 3 sets of my mothers ancestors come from the Strood, frindsbury and Rochester areas, where the parish records are on line at City arc.
Any one who has access to a computer can look these records up.
Some parish records more descriptive than others.
I recommend that instead of relying on the IGI entirely for info that you actually go and look up original or micrfiched copies of parish records as they can be more informative than you realise. I find the IGI limited and very occassionally incorrect. Mistranscription.
So if my GGG GF and GM had 10 children and the descendent of one of those siblings was researching the same lineage, then we would have a very similar tree wouldnt we?
I may have not gone as deep at that time with a particular sibling , but If another rellie contacts me with their details of a sibling I hadnt investigated I would check on the details and add it to my tree.
I have one more certificate to buy to confirm that my William Jessop b 1817 who married Mary Longley in 1841 , that his father is a Nathaniel Turner Jessop.
What am I getting excited about?
Well someone on the LDS has put an ancestral tree of this Nathaniel that goes back to 1520.
I have bought all the certificates from my grandmother back to the last cert of my John Jessop birth.
I was fortunate that a couple of marriage and christening certificates are on city arc.
Some of Johns siblings have the middle names of Nathaniel and Turner so I am 60% sure that Johns grandfather will be Nathaniel. BUT I could be wrong, maybe the siblings are in fact named after their Great Uncle.and not their grandfather.
I have been caught out.
So what do I do then if it tuens out he is another generation back , I have from Nathaniel a ready made tree, I dont know whos contributed it or where they fit in.
Of course I will check the details as much as I can as fortunately most of the entries are from the Kent area,but not on City arc.
Sooooo do I do a 500 mile round trip to confirm all this info or "steal" it and just add it to my tree?


Susan Report 12 Apr 2008 09:30

Hi Nightowl51,
If I were in your position, I would try to contact the submitter on the LDS website, and explain how I am (if you discover that you are!) related, and ask if it would be possible for them to e-mail any of their documents to verify their tree.
They may be willing to share information with you, and may also be interested to know more about your research.
Worth a try anyway,

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 14 Apr 2008 23:36



Nightowl51 Report 15 Apr 2008 00:49

Yes I could well do that. But I have to get that precious cert first lol at the end of the month when I get paid!!

Regards Carol

Tiger Lil

Tiger Lil Report 15 Apr 2008 11:56


You are right as usual. I am personally not interested in adding loads of relatives to my tree (they mean nothing to me), so everyone I have has been researched and I know about each one of them - this makes them 'come alive' for me. Hence my tree is fairly small. Even when people have shared their trees with me I haven't added anyone to my tree until I have verified the information myself - they then mean something to me.

Having said that, other people may take a different view and it really doesn't matter to me if they want to copy my tree - yes, it has cost me time and money (quite a lot of money in fact), but if it helps someone else I don't have a problem.

I have been helped by people on this site who have no particular interest in my family and I am grateful for that - what goes around comes around, and good luck to everyone - however they choose to do their trees.


Kate Report 15 Apr 2008 12:09

Something I've found really interesting - I was in Preston records office on Saturday - is finding out extra details from marriage and baptism details. My great-grandad had three sisters - one died aged 3 and the other two (Kate and Susan as they were known) lived to the ages of 85 and 90, but never married. But by going through the parish records, I have been able to find them standing as godparents to various nieces and nephews.

In the same way, I have found out about their grandma - another Susan/Susannah. She was a Hurst and married a Hurst so although I'm still looking for her marriage, I have found her acting as godparent to her brothers' and sisters' children with and without her husband, so I've formed an idea of when they became a couple. Also, I think to identify little bits like when someone was a godparent or witnessed a relatives wedding gives you a glimpse of their life between or even before census records.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 29 Apr 2008 19:08

Nudging as a reminder to people that we may be doing various forms of family history or genealogy.


Selena in South East London

Selena in South East London Report 29 Apr 2008 19:34

Sue thanks for putting that up, I found it very interesting.

I don't have a big tree as my particular interest lies in working back on the direct lines only. But that is just my personal interest.

Having said that, on occasion, I have found it essential to work 'sideways' in order to get backwards.

Hope that makes sense.

Thanks again


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 29 Apr 2008 22:41



Peterkinz Report 30 Apr 2008 05:03

I have 30 of my 32 great great grandparents, documented with a high degree of certainty - can't be sure as I have not got DNA proof that the fathers are really the fathers. Unfortunately my g grandfather was illegitimate and I have no clue who the anonymous sperm donor was.
I also have a lot of other reasonably close relatives and over 20 years research have amassed about 3000 people who are in my tree on here - not all completely documented but I would be pretty sure.
However, in my off line tree I have over 44000 people and for good reason. When my daughter was born she had a very rare genetic disorder - to the point that there were only 3 other cases in the UK. This is caused by a double recessive gene and must be carried by both parents. I have been researching - it is interesting because only girls normally carry it - boys spontaneously abort. As a result, and because the side effects are potentially severe she is an only child.
My research has ancestors of both my wife and I living a mile apart in Lincolnshire, and there looks like being another close point in Suffolk.
Somewhere we are related. Eventually I will find the relationship.
Consequently I have no hesitation in using any data I can get my hands on - it doesn't neccessarily have to be guaranteed, but if I get a connection I will check...every time I update the tree I have to check to see if I have added someone who was on there already, then cast around for families with unusual patterns of daughters and no sons, with lines dying out. Fun, and not critical, although the research may save someone else from having to decide whether to risk a pregnancy or not.
So - call me a tree collector if you like, but it does have a purpose - and if anyone needs the data I have I will share it


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 4 May 2008 21:08

Nudging for Ben who's doing a cluster genealogy