Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Family Trees

Yesterday over at the Facebook group called The Organised Genealogist there was a discussion about public trees versus private trees.

I shared the fact that I have one private tree on Ancestry with no source material. I also host the same tree with all the source material and notes on my laptop with appropriate backups. I also shared the fact that I only have one tree. Having shared those details and reading through the other comments, I might review this in the future, but I thought that I might write a blog post and here we are!

My ancestry file is kept in the last version of Family Origins. I am going to change I think, but that will not be until the later part of this year at the earliest. My tree is called Main File and has existed for about 20 years.

Main File is in two parts - an electronic version as I mentioned above and a paper version which is the evidence and proof that supports and develops the electronic file. The paper file effectively starts with me and works back through my ancestors in generation order. The paper file allows me to expand and read what information I have about an ancestor or their siblings. The electronic version does that too, but I like to see the paper!

When I started researching my husband's ancestry that was added to Main File, although his paper file is separate.

  • Main File (electronic)  
  • Main File (paper)
    • JDG - My file
    • SPG - hubby's file
Documents that do not fit into the A4 ring binder have a sheet inserted into the A4 binder with the location of the material in a large A3 binder.

The rest of my material exists in a mixture of paper and electronic versions. References that do not fit into my tree are kept in the same format in either an electronic or paper version. The format is a filing cabinet with simply A-Z hanging dividers, with each surname covered. The electronic version is a series of files on an external hard drive.

In the early stages of sorting - showing the structure

The reason for this structure is fairly simple. My maternal line is located in the United Kingdom, in what we refer to as the Home Counties - Surrey, Sussex & Hampshire. For more than 200 hundred years my family in broad terms never moved out of those Counties and frequently crossed the County boundaries. I have therefore a repetition of several surnames - Butcher, Ellis, Denyer, Earle, Harris and Holt is just a few. I even have a Goacher transcribed as Goucher on my Grandmother's line, compared to the Goucher transcribed as Goacher family that I married into. What a headache that is! In fact my own Grandparents were 6th Cousins although they never knew in their lifetimes and I wonder what they would make of that!

I also host two One Name Studies for the surnames of Orlando and Worship. The main bulk of these details are kept in a separate filing cabinet drawer, although the links to Orlando relating to me are in my Main File and the link to the surname of Worship is kept in my husband's Main File.

Information relating to my One Place Studies is held in the filing cabinet and the Puttenham material is located in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet.

I have several family lines that spent time in India as part of the Honourable East India Company and other branches that migrated to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

So, am I organised? - not a chance! Every day there is a reference made to a new online source, book or a thought that needs to be explored and developed and whilst that exploring is taking place the clock is ticking away merrily.

The plan over the coming months, especially with a pending house move is to reduce the pile of paper and folders left from my previous filing system to a set of nice and tidy files in the filing cabinet. Once that is achieved I plan to go back through the paper main file and transfer my material to a new piece of software ensuring gaps are noted, sources are linked and potential blog posts about specific ancestors are highlighted.

At some point I will have to be strong and stop researching, so that I can re-evaluate what material I have and what I need to do. Organising family history research is actually more important than researching. There is simply no point in continuing to gather information and do nothing with it. It's a bit like going shopping and always buying baked beans, sooner or later you will be swamped with baked beans and not much else. 

Organisation is the key to success of that I am sure.

The debate of public v private trees essentially comes down to trusting other individuals. Some researchers simply acquire others research and hard work. Some subsequently pass that research off as their own. Other researchers, and I believe the majority are honest and want to share equally their information, photos and hypothesis.

Whilst I have a tree on ancestry that is private, but shared access is given to a family member, I prefer to explore my ancestors through this blog and perhaps my web page. That works for me and enables me to share and gain interaction with other researchers.

With genealogy there is no right or wrong way on how we individually share information. The internet allows us to collaborate and explore others concepts, thoughts and by sharing that information we surely become more educated, entertained and rounded individuals, and more often than not build friendships and relationships that would not exist, or would be harder to sustain and maintain without the internet.

The internet has revolutionised the way we undertake genealogy and family history research of that there can be no doubt.


  1. Julie, I am so envious of how organised you are. I think family trees are fascinating, I'm probably going to have to pay someone to research ours.

    1. I think it depends where you are researching. Certainly in South Africa you might need some help, but there is material online and I would personally explore that first.

      As to being organised, there is always a plan, but sometimes researching is much more fun than filing!

  2. You are so right about stopping the research and organizing the material! More than once I've found material I had forgotten about or that told me something I hadn't noticed first time around.

    1. Absolutely Kristin. I noticed this morning something in a document that I had not, as far as I can remember noted down which was a big help when searching for something else. Of course, the to do list has grown by another 14 items!

  3. Anonymous8:37 pm

    Its a Private Ancestry Tree for me now Julie because far too many people were wrongly attaching my family to that of a stranger and not changing it despite being advised... grrr.

    Not understandable errors, either e.g. the man purported to be my GGGrandmother's father was 4 years old when she was born!!! I suspect it's often caused by people taking up a 14day free offer, jumping on, grabbing anything that seems to fit and then leaving it there with all the errors... never again to return.

    Like you I always give family access... and genuine researchers always request information which I'm more than happy to provide.

    You're right about the importance of organising and I am gradually getting better at it... phew! Cheers, Catherine

  4. If only someone had told me about being organised when I started! I still have my paper folders but now have most things scanned and uploaded in family folders on my computer (then back up regularly).
    I agree with Catherine. My tree is now private due to the errors on others trees and attaching photos to the wrong people etc. I also got sick of people saving my photos as originals to their tree. If someone really wants to know something (normally direct family) then they will contact me and I am happy to share. Yes genuine researchers always ask permission.


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