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Geneaology - How Far Should You Go in Your Research?

Updated on July 17, 2013
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

Just as a forest can become overgrown, so can our database
Just as a forest can become overgrown, so can our database

Data Collection

I never know when to quit. My family tree research just keeps getting more widespread and I don't know what to do with it. How do you know when you're collecting too much irrelevant data?

For most of the 35 years I've spent researching my family, I concentrated on one ancestor whose roots have remained a mystery. She was the reason I began researching my family and continues to be the catalyst for my family research. Sadly, the ancestral report I run on her today from my genealogy software (Roots Magic or Family Tree Maker) contains no more data today than it did 35 years ago. It's almost funny to think of the hours I've spent on her and yet I have learned nothing about her. Sometimes I think I'm nuts.

She is my obsession and although I only know her name and date of birth/death, the research has taken me up tree trunks and down through branches I never knew about. I have become friends with relatives I never would have met or known about. I've stumbled over tangled vines, tripped over roots, and been so lost at times that I didn't think I would ever find my way home.

Somewhere along the line I made a subconscious decision to collect any piece of data I could find on my family, hoping that maybe one branch or even a leaf might lead me to her. Finding other family branches was easy and my database started growing like a newly planted tree that had been fertilized. A single session at the library or court house would sometimes result in the addition of dozens of new "relatives". That was exciting, sometimes. I remember bragging one day, to other researchers at the local library, that my database had over 2000 names in it. I was so proud. One of the researchers then shared that she had over 10,000 names in her database and another said he had 15,000. My bubble burst. I felt so green at this research stuff, even though I had been doing it all my adult life. I had been challenged and I was not going to be beat!

For the last few months I have been completely obsessed with collecting data on anyone even remotely related and have added almost 1000 names to my database. I'm a real researcher now, I thought. Research is much simpler when you aren't so specific in what you're looking for. For instance, I was still up at 3:00 A.M. this morning, pounding the keyboard, because I found another "nest" of relatives in the far, outer branches of my tree. Name after name, I entered birth dates, date of death, parents, children, occupations, military data, all the usual stuff that can be found on the or Family Search web sites. I was so tired but I couldn't stop until the last snippet of data was entered. And then it hit me. What on earth am I doing? There is no doubt that this is madness.

Does our research have more color when we limit ourselves to one tree?  Quality vs Quantity?
Does our research have more color when we limit ourselves to one tree? Quality vs Quantity?

Defining the Mission

It is 3:10 A.M in the morning I have been startled by feelings of doubt and insecurity. I don't know what I'm doing. I feel like a hoarder being consumed with all the clutter around them. I need professional help and so I am turning to other researchers who might also be awake in the wee hours of morning reading my rambling thoughts.

How do you do it?

  • Do you collect everything you find?
  • Do you collect data on those that marry into the family?
  • Do you collect data on the families of those that marry into the family?
  • Do you collect data on the family of the families that marry into the family?
  • Is your research a FOREST or a TREE?

Where do we stop? I find myself with these questions because I can't discern how all these extended families fit into the plan. Who will ever see this data? Now that I have it, how do I share it? With who? When? Where? So many questions.

And with that said, I am putting the research away for the day and will eagerly await the professional advice of other researchers. In Native America, it is said that "we are all related". At the rate I'm going, I will soon have the scientific proof of it. I need help ! lol

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

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  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Millionaire ! You sound like my twin. lol

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

    My genealogy is definitely a forest. I try to focus on a particular branch, or particular group of people, but I often find myself wandering, and have gone from relative of a relative of a relative, to a point where the person would never show up on any chart of relatives, and the relatives probably wouldn't even know who they were - like following the new spouse of the ex. They were interesting though - they named their children with military titles, and I wanted to see how long they continued to do so.

    I do it for the enjoyment, and for whatever reason, if I found the particular group of people interesting enough to study, I don't see how that would be a bad use of my time. I could have been playing solitaire or other online game and wouldn't have been productive that way either. Plus it makes the number count on my tree bigger.