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Genealogy or Family History? Big or small trees?

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Benjamin Report 4 May 2008 22:06

Hi Sue

Very interesting reading.

Also, with illegitimate children, if the parents wed several months afterwards, it was usually, but not always to the natural father. But in most cases it was, and maybe the reason for the late marriage could have been because:-

The father wanted to leave it until he had got a suitable job or one of the spouses wanted to marry at a certain time of the year, or if he had just been widowed, he needed time to get hiself sorted out before marrying his mistress, or they may have been arranging it for months beforehand etc.

Btw I have sent off for Sarah Brain's bosses marriage cert, to see if that will help me find out about Sarah when she moved to London, and maybe a rough date, if I look her boss up in directories or ratebooks for 1862 and 1863.




Peterkinz Report 4 May 2008 22:30

...another reason for marriage after children were born was because they wanted to ensure that the wife could bear a son, to make certain that land could be inherited - no son=no marriage!!


Glen In Tinsel Knickers

Glen In Tinsel Knickers Report 4 May 2008 22:32

More often than not i view the information found in other trees very cautiously.

I have been contacted by several distant cousins who ask if we are connected. Usually they have little or no idea of the spouse for their grt grandparents and the family groups displayed are based purely on the census returns and unproven via certs or baptism etc.

One person got in touch to tell me that because there were three children i had listed (via hot matches) that don't appear in the census my tree is wrong. When questioned it transpired that they have no certs, baptism records, death certs or burial details.

The family group in question is a sideline i had, not my direct line but documented via the records mentioned above and additionally the headstones were photographed by me too.

The person who contacted me was a direct descendant of this family (a great grandchild of the 1891 and 1901 head of house), however despite my evidence they still refute the accuracy of my tree.

They don't have ANY certs ("don't need them, the census says who is related to who so why spend the money?"). Their tree was opened to me, several missing children and all dates are quoted as per the 1901 census (mostly innacurate by at least two years).

I wonder why some folks bother at all, their tree is so flawed it is just pure fiction..........oh and it has 27,000 names and NO certs.



Lynn1976 Report 5 May 2008 09:41

I just stumbled upon this thread and have found it an interesting read.

The one question i have is about classification? What is a small tree and what is a large tree?

I know it may seem insignificant to you all, but I am curious :)

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 5 May 2008 12:21

I think it is all a matter of comparison Lyndsay.

I've seen people on site muttering about what they call huge trees containing perhaps 10000 people, which has then sparked heated debates about how on earth anyone can have found so many ancestors.

This has then often resulted in members like me pointing out that there are well researched genealogies online with many more than that.

There can be several reasons for this as explained in this thread.

A One Name Study can easily result in a huge tree (though this will often have several as yet unconnected branches in the hope of making a connection sometime).

A cluster genealogy may spread outwards in a vast sideways direction making connections by marriages and the owner of such a database may not be a blood relation of a lot of entries. Cluster genealogists may be trying to work out how all the people in a given area relate to each other. Their databases can be really useful to other researchers.

Then there are those who have a link into nobility or royalty within the past 400 years or so, and have parish record evidence of it or other proof. If you find a link to nobility this probably means you can find your ancestors on Burkes peerage or a similar genealogies of aristocracy. Lots of professional or very experienced medievalists like to compare notes, dig up obscure documents in Latin and argue about their findings. There are some excellent websites with vast medieval genealogies which can be trusted to err on the side of caution before adding any new entries. My favourite of these is

Certificates (or other proof) for the recent people on a tree are important but certificates do only take you back to 1837 which is really hardly any time at all in genealogy.

If you live in an area where your ancestors came from you can save money on certificates by doing research in parish records, land records etc etc in your local records office. This then costs time rather than money.
This is what you have to do as soon as you get any earlier than 1837 anyway.

So if you have a huge tree (especially one going backwards rather than sideways) then it is going to be clear that you won't have certificates for the vast majority of your ancestors. You then have to decide how many pieces of proof you are going to feel happy about accepting for each one. I have a number of women on my tree with just a first name because they may be mentioned as mother in a baptism record but no marriage has been found yet. Some recent male ancestors are just a name on their child's marriage certificate and no other proof found. I tend to pencil in some ancestors on my print out trees while others are definite and inked in.

Someone who has a tree with only perhaps a couple of hundred entries and who is struggling to find any more, for whatever reason, may wonder how accurate a tree with perhaps 30000 entries can be.
Someone who knows their medieval ancestors may easily have that large a tree and will know that most of the early individuals on it ought to be duplicated many times over. If you find one medieval link it probably means you have dozens of ways back to the same early ancestors.

This hobby isn't about creating a bigger tree than anyone else. We've all got many millions of ancestors but it is down to luck or hard work how many of them we are likely to discover and how much we can find out about them.

Good luck everyone



Carter Report 5 May 2008 13:16

i never know where i stand with these debates. i started 3 years ago and just concentrated on my maiden name tree and then branches took off on all sides. i bought certs went to libraries spoke to rellies etc.. and then when i hit a brick wall started on my husbands side. then my siblings partners asked if i could look into their trees at first it was for a birthday present just a quick look into the past but as you know it never stays like that. so on my tree i now have my lines and my husbands and my step mothers family lines and my husbands step fathers family lines ( i feel these lines are so important because although not blood related they brought us up ) then i have 4 brother and sisters and all their partners lines.
in all i have circa 4000 names and they are all on one tree because some of my relatives dont have computers or cant afford to have the right software etc.. relatives have helped enormously with the research and cost. i have 3 folders of certs would hate to think how much they have cost. and yes i have been lucky with the contacts that i have found either on here or on ancestry. one in particular went back to 1730 all with documented evidence of the families emmigration to new zealand and excerpts from books and written articles about them.
i have received lpages from diaries, funeral bills , photos and help tracing war graves.
so all my 4000 are a tribute to family and friends and not just to me.
so is 4000 a large tree should i feel i havent done a good job because i havent found each and every piece of info myself?
would i pass it on to someone else who i knew was a connection - the answer would be yes definatley - why keep it all to yourself ?
so my tree will keep on growing and is always subject to change as facts unfold. its not written in tablets of stone.
a lady i have had contact with when she first started to research into her tree and left postings on different forums found that she had a distant relative abroad who was a professor of genealogy - now how great is that - you wouldnt turn down his info would you?
so i suppose its each to their own
linda x


Lynn1976 Report 6 May 2008 09:35

Thanks for your replies :)

I was just curious as I feel that at close to 1000 rellies, my tree is huge. However I have been granted access to a tree that had over 12000 and it made my tree feel really insignificant LOL

I am in NSW Australia and it appears that most of my rellies come from England so for me, it is quite hard to go and find info at the source. So I do rely on others for a fair bit of info. However I am in touch with a relative who has been researching for many, many years and if I am in doubt I verify with her.

I can't even start on my fathers family because there are so many discrepancies, that unless I can get over there, there is no way to verify or even check.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 6 May 2008 12:04

The really fun part about family history is its unpredicability.

No-one can tell you when you start what sort of tree you are going to end up with or where you may find your ancestors. Family stories only go back so far and are often tinged with wishful thinking.

I managed to trace my maiden name ancestors back to Norfolk while my husband's main male line turned up as having been from a village about 2 miles down the road from mine! We never suspected that and wonder if eventually we may find a link.

I've found ancestors living in abject poverty and whose whole lives must have been a struggle while on one line there are royals and fabulously rich aristocrats (pity my lot are all by the youngest sons for generations and no money came my way!).

More and more gets put online and there is always the possibility that another researcher lives more locally and is doing some of your mutual ancestors. From time to time I pick someone on my ancestor list and spend time searching for them again just in case.

It's surprising what you can find. I did a tree for my stepmother (who didn't know her grandparents' names) and within about 6 weeks I managed to work out a really good tree. Some researchers had done whole village studies for her ancestors' area and a photograph of her great grandfather turned up on an website devoted to the history of the brassworks where he worked.

When you get stuck you can always fill in gaps and find out about the places and occupations for the ancestors. Sometimes it helps to put the direct ancestors on a fanchart and you can spot a gap you may have missed, It's easy to focus in on one branch that interests you and forget you have a lot of ancestors just as related to you.

Have fun and good luck


tineke Report 6 May 2008 16:04

Sue in Somerset

I so agree with what you say

Following the threads to see where they lead - a bit like sitting on a raft in a free flowing river, you don't know where it will take you.

I appreciate records going on line, I am not free to travel where I wish but at the same time I do feel that the records going on line has caused a few problems of its own. When I used to go to records offices there was the element of human contact, the opinions of others, not knowing who you would meet and getting a wider view of life. Of course there were the secretive ones but that is something you respect. Taking a long time to carefully follow a thread is good for the mind, lateral thinking and the knowing that you have an object which you constructed, sharing with others was a pleasure as it was likely that the sharing would be mutual.

By researching purely on line that personal contact has gone, research is something that is a click or 2 away. Maybe I am just feeling a bit hurt at the moment, I spent a number of years seeking an event, I found it and got all the relevant documents by going to records offices, the print was unclear so I spent days transcribing those documents. I shared them with several genuine researchers, one of them sent it to another person who was just starting out. I have no problem with that except he said that he had been sent the article and shared it with others - again no big problem as long as he credited me with all the work.

I looked at Ancestry a couple of days ago and that person had now got a large tree on site, from the pattern of dates I would say that it isn't original work - a lot of things bolted together. I had a look around as he had given the impression that he was closely related to the event, he is in fact not a blood relative, quite remote actually. That suprised me as he had been very emotional in terminology at the time, I felt a bit sorry for him as it had seemd that he felt the loss of his apparent relatives very deeply. I had stopped contact with him when i felt there were 'issues'. I found an attached document to the persons involved in the event, that document was all my research data, same typeface, same marks indicating unreadable sections, the only thing missing was the credit to the person who had spent 10 years and a lot of legwork visiting records offices. Another person has now linked to that document, that person had been with me in the records ofices on a couple of occasions as I looked for the event, again that person hasn't even given me the credit. I can tell you, it is hurtful.

I think the point that I am trying to make is that there is more than arguing about whether trees should contain 200 names or 200,000 names, from what I have seen so far there is, possibly by co-incidence a big difference between attitudes in the 2 types of people. I am annoyed about it, I resent that those persons have made me feel that way.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 6 May 2008 16:30

That is very sad and I think that to do that to you shows a lack of care and insight into your feelings. Some people are just takers in this world and I am sorry you have had this experience.

To me what matters is not the size of a tree but its integrity. A number of people on GR have come across those who are happy to attach anything they find onto their tree with no real care about who did it or no research themselves into whether it is accurate or not.

I agree that we must all be careful about what we find online because ,while some findings may be the result of years of research, others may be cobbled together trees with mixed accuracy.

The problem comes when the grabbers of information who create vast trees give a bad name to others who may have very large and accurate trees.

I started this thread off some weeks ago in response to some threads expressing disbelief that anyone could legitimately have a huge tree. I remember one poster on one thread saying he/she thought anyone who had thousands on their tree and had known medieval ancestors was delusional so this was partly to put forward the argument that it was indeed very possible.

Best wishes


FamilyFogey Report 6 May 2008 16:58

I know that there are people out there who seem to enjoy being able to say they have x amount of people on their tree and I have fallen victim to people who just like to add whole lines to their trees when there is a very distant connection - like a couple of years ago - someone thought that their great grandmother's second husband was the brother of my great grandfather. I pointed out a few things to him and pointed him in the right direction - as it wasn't my great grandfather's uncle. But he took no notice and then happily put all of the family info going back to the 1800s (as far as I had got with them) and then all the way down to me and my siblings! From then on I have been very careful with who I let view my tree, set all my living relations to be hidden and complained about him. Another person he had been in contact had copied all of my family information too - and thankfully he was a nicer person and once I pointed out the error in research, he removed them all. Eventually the first man did remove it all but it took some complaining.

I myself have a fairly large tree - because not only am I researching my own family (that of both my parents) but also of my partner's family (both his parents) so it has become rather large. I include all the children of each generation as it increases the chances of getting a match with someone who perhaps shares the same however many times great grandparents as me, and also because you get a better picture of what that family was like. Often cousin's marry, or in many occasions on my tree - brothers who married sisters - linking up families twice!

I also know that some people can go off on a tangent and research a line connected by marriage because it is quite interesting - or because they add it on to help someone who is related to that line. I have done that a couple of times to help out distant relations.

The problem is that its an addictive hobby - some people rush in and try to fill their trees with as many people as possible without checking the research (a major problem I have found with many contacts on here where the same mistakes in research get passed around from person to person and no-one checks) and often we get sidetracked and research generations of a sibling of a direct ancestor, but hey - if you enjoy it - whats the harm? This hobby is a great pasttime - I love the fact that I feel closer to history than I ever did learning it at school. I like to know what happened to people, how they lived their lives, how close or distant some families became etc.

Each to their own - but for those who just like to gather as many names as possible - I really dont see the point in it!!



tineke Report 7 May 2008 11:03

Thought for the day

If everyone who claims to be related to royalty/aristocracy is correct, then who did the washing up?



Kathlyn Report 7 May 2008 11:59

This is a hobby that was always in the back of my mind. I promised myself for a very long time that I would "see where I had come from". I have learnt more about history in the three years I have been researching, but not just "history", I have managed to see just how my fore bearers lived.

All four of my main branches ended up in the East End of London, starting in about 1860. Following the lines back from that date has shown me why they work was very poorly paid and as the docks were being built.....that's where the money was. I now understand the living conditions that had, and when the "new town" Canning Town/Plaistow/West Ham in general, was developed, this is when more decent housing conditions were available. Imagine your own toilet, even though it was outside, a small, in fact very small, garden in which to keep a few chickens. They must have thought they had more than come up in the world.

One branch on my maternal line seems to have been in the London area prior to the mid 1800s, and having obtained a book that contains very graphic photo`s of those living conditions, I can only admire the fortitude of my ancestors.

Just by looking at the early census and noting the neighbours occupations, one can bring up a mental picture of just what it was like.

I went to a boot fair on Sunday and there was a stall selling old 1p pieces for 25p......If I could have told my old grannie that I would pay 5 bob for a 1p, she would have laughed me out of the room.

I managed to make contact with someone who shared an ancestor with me, and I checked my tree to find we agreed 100% right up to a certain point.....then she went off in a different direction to my research. This is something I will now knuckle down to and check my findings, just in case it is me that has gone off at a tangent.


:) still smiling :)

:) still smiling :) Report 7 May 2008 13:06

Hi All,

I love this hobby! the idea that you can find out where you came from and see how the generations follow certain patterns is fascinating.

I like finding what was going on in society etc at a certain time in a certain area and exploring all the avenues of how this could have affected my ancestors. i love to discover the dircect line but i am alse veryinterested and quite guilty of going off on a tangent. i love to see cousins,aunts,uncles grandparents and where they were all living in relation to each other.

i am not a name collector as such but when i find an ancestor/relative i like to put them on my tree. i think this comes from only having a small amount of family i regularly see.i find others histories just as interedting as my own and could spend hours reading the boards.

i use the tree on genes to help verify all my info. i put the person on this tree first then when they are confirmed with certs,censi etc they go on my paper copy which i feel is far more beneficial. so i have many possibles on here that still need investigating fully.

a great thread, thanks,

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 7 May 2008 15:56


Well I just checked my ancestor most recent aristocrat would be (as far as I know) one of my 9x great grandfathers. That generation contains 2048 9x greats so I expect the other 2047 were doing the chores!!! Or maybe 2046 allowing for the fact that his wife would have been a Countess after marrying him!

Looking further back.......I have my most recent royal as Edward III. I know I've got him several times over because I'm descended from more than one of his children but he's just one of my 17x greats and there are 524288 of them. Most of them unknown and never likely to be known.

So unless you happen to be Prince William or Harry (and even they have a lot of very ordinary people on their trees) anyone with a royal or noble link on GR is likely to have it very very diluted.

The maths in genealogy means that it is more than likely that everyone has royalty of some sort or another in their tree. The trick is being able to prove it and sadly most people are unlikely to find evidence of it. To prove it and link into loads of ready made medieval royal genealogies you have to find an ancestor from a well documented aristocratic family who was alive after parish registers began.

The great thing about this hobby is realising how closely we are all related and what mongrels we all are.



tineke Report 8 May 2008 15:03


I don't know if you have worked this one out, it took me some time for the penny to drop but.... When you see the old book pictures, particularly engravings, treat what you see with caution. Remove the political element if there is one -eg rich people treating the lower classes badly. Have a look at your ancestors occupations, if it was, say, scavenger then they were poor and mostly likely living in disgusting conditions. What I came to realise was that tradespeople often lived over the shop, literally. I found several ancestors living in a street illustrated by Gustav Dore, the place looked a Hell hole, the ancestor's wills indicated that the were not megga rich but certainly not poor. Also consider the religious element, some areas had people of a specific creed who might not have been really poor.

Another indicator about how poor they were might be a studio photograph, if they were destitute would they have gone to a studio, I know that it was the in thing to have done but if they had the choice of eating for a few days or having a photo taken, what would they have done?

If they had their own grave rather than a common burial then that could also be a good indicator, many eastenders would save for years for their own plot and headstone, if they had a something a bit more special than a stone with a bit of carving then they might also not have been very poor. Also the position of the grave in the cemetery can be important - the first 2 rows in from the path cost more, corner plots were especially desirable.

To me that kind of information is important, that makes family history interesting, I don't feel any great interest in discovering shed loads of relatives no matter how distant, I have concentrated on those who have gone before. What I have also found astonishing is that there are clear family traits spread throughout history - occupations which are not ag lab or servants. I looked at what interested me in life and found that it is reflected back over the years.

Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 28 May 2008 00:02


Karen in the desert

Karen in the desert Report 28 May 2008 09:28

What a fantastic thread, Sue, with oodles of interesting points and tips.
I must bookmark it.
Some great reading here.

Many thanks.


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 28 May 2008 12:17

Thanks Karen

I try and nudge it up any time someone comes on with a comment about large trees!

Not that I think it's a great idea to have a huge one on GR since the Hot Matches alone would get overwhelming and huge ones are usually so complicated and interweaving.

I do think though that working out the family group around a particular ancestor can often lead to unexpected discoveries. People did tend to marry within their own social group and often to relations of some sort. Spotting a familiar surname marrying a cousin can sometimes help unravel mysteries.


Sue in Somerset

Sue in Somerset Report 28 May 2008 13:09

Hot Matches do seem a bit random. I think they focus on particular names.

I tend to get abour 4 new pages of Hot Matches at a time and sometimes a few are useful but a lot are for very early ancestors. I'm hardly likely to contact someone who only shares William the Conqueror LOL, and recently most of my matches have been for him or for John of Gaunt.

I did put in a few new names found on my husband's tree this past week and some of those popped up yesterday so that was encouraging.